The LA Angels Are Playing Without A Clean-Up HItter

Steve WaverlyContributor IOctober 18, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 30:  Vladimir Guerrero #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 30, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It’s too bad this isn’t golf, where a weaker player gets a handicap, because the Angels are playing every game with one less player.

The clean-up hitter.

It’s a vacuum, a non-existent, game-sucking, anchor-dropping, win-defying, gut- wrenching, can’t-stand-to-watch-anymore shadow of a once great player.

Vladimir Guerrero has left the building.

And unfortunately, he’s taking the entire Angels team with him.

Vladimir will be remembered as a great guy and a great player, one who had some great years for the Angels.

Just none in the playoffs.

You could feel the anticipation (fear!) every time the line-up turned over in game two of the ALCS. You would count the hitters until Vladdy came up. Please, Bobby, please, Tori, do something first, don’t let the inning become dependent on Vladdy.

But they did, time and time again.

Vladdy left more runners on base in Game Two than most TEAMS do.

And the worst part was that it was like watching a train wreck you knew was going to happen.

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No matter where the pitch was, Vladdy would swing. No matter what the count was, Vladdy would swing. No matter how many runners were on base, Vladdy would swing.

And miss.

Vladimir Guererro has no plan at the plate. And he knows it. He refuses to make any adjustments to the fact that he is not hitting balls he used to hit. He doesn’t take into account that this is the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, with your team in dire need of a run and the bases loaded, you might want to put a little pressure on the pitcher to throw a strike.

The crowd yells, the intensity goes up, the stakes raise, Vladdy swings.

And misses.

The only good thing he did was to force a wild pitch. You could see that one coming, too. Jose Molina went out to talk to A.J. and you knew he was saying, “whatever you do, don’t throw the ball anyway near the plate.” So A.J. threw it ten feet outside.

The amazing thing was that Vladdy didn’t swing at that, too.

It’s hard as an Angels fan to endure Vladdy’s at bats. You hope against hope he’ll stay off those crazy pitches. But he won’t. He refuses to. He’d rather stay in his stubborn mindset and swing at anything, and shrug it off as, “that’s what I do.”

Well stop doing it. You can’t do it anymore.

And to those of you who say, hey, he got the game winner in Boston! Well, yes he did, and I’m sure Papelbon is still kicking himself for throwing a baseball anywhere near the vicinity of Guerrero’s bat.

But it’s not just the wild swings. Vladdy is missing fastballs right down the middle of the plate as well. Not because he can’t hit a fastball anymore, but because Vladdy once again has not changed his mentality at all and considered the fact that this team doesn’t need him to hit homers every at bat.

So he’s swinging from his heels and staring at the fans on the third base side after his follow-through.

The one time he didn’t, the one time he had a controlled swing to make contact, he won the game. But rather than make that the rule, he’s made it the exception.

Of course, as bad as Vladdy was, he wasn't the only reason the Angels lost Game Two.

There was also Tori Hunter—who missed countless opportunities to knock in the go-ahead run.

There was Bobby Abreu—who missed countless opportunities to knock in the go-ahead run.

There was Kendry Morales—who missed countless opportunities to knock in the go-ahead run.

There was Mike Scioscia—did anyone else wonder why he left in Gary Matthews Jr., a .250 hitter, in a key at bat in the game rather than bring in Howie Kendrick, a hot .300 hitter? How is it that Howie doesn’t get ONE AT BAT in a 13 inning game? Are you kidding me? A game in which the Angels left an entire team on base? Scioscia blew this one.

There was Maicer Izturis—it was painful to watch that last play, when it looked like the tough part was catching the ball, which he managed to do before throwing it away. Izzy also made a little noticed, and not talked about, mistake on the Yankee’s first run when he did a Chone Figgins and dropped the relay from right field, killing any chance of getting the runner at the plate.

There was Chone Figgins—hey, way to panic and drop the ball when you still had time to cut down that final runner.

And of course, there was Brian Fuentes—Mr. Fuentes, you have filled the goat shoes that all of us were so afraid you would fill. Worse, even. The idiot shoes.

A fastball over the plate on an 0-2 count? When you’d thrown two fastballs right in front of it? To Alex Rodriguez, with two nobodies coming up behind him? Unbelievable.

But still, in the end, Vladdy wears the crown. That’s because not only does he chew up the clean-up spot, he has clearly added pressure to Abreu and Hunter.

You can see Hunter pressing, and part of it is probably because he thinks he has to get the job done or it won’t get done. You can see him mouthing encouragement to Vladdy after his own failed at bat—encouragement that comes not from confidence, but from the lack of it.

So now the LA Angels find themselves in a deep hole. They once again resemble the team of years past that has excelled in the regular season, and disappeared in the playoffs.

One thing we do know is that this is the last hurrah for Guerrero and Fuentes in an Angels uniform.

The only question is, how many games before they peel it off.