When the Angels broke for spring training last season, I was more than apprehensive. I wondered aloud whether they would even make it out of the division. I worried that not signing Texeira would leave us with a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup, and it turned out that we somehow improved on our offense from the previous year without him there. That had everything to do with the signing of Bobby Abreu and the maturation of Morales and Aybar.
The season started, and Nick Adenhart died in a car crash. The team floundered for about a month as they tried to find themselves, and then destroyed MLB pitching from June-July. I loved it. Our starting pitching which had normally been a strength, was flopping with all the injuries that guys were having. Lackey started the season on the DL; Escobar pitched one game before being shut down for the season, again; Saunders lost his 2008 form, until he was able to rest his shoulder when the rest of the staff finally stabilized; and we never had a fifth starter until Kazmir joined the team in September. In spite of losing Rodriguez to free agency, Shields to injury, and Jose Arredondo to wild inconsistency, we still had a decent bullpen. Good, but not great. Sufficient, at least until the postseason.
More than anything I have to applaud Mike Scioscia for his handling of this team. I absolutely could not be more happy that we have him locked up through 2018. His handling of the team through the tragedy, the class with which he always handles the game, and his decision making in games are always top notch.
You can argue that he shouldn't have taken out Lackey in Game 5 when he did, but it was a fair enough choice to make. Of the 38 HR Tex had hit that season, 30 were from the leftside. Scioscia wanted to turn him around with the left-handed Darren Oliver, who was having probably the best season of his career. I mean the guy made 63 appearances and had about a 2.50 ERA. Although he got robbed of a K that turned into a walk, Lackey was getting a little wild, throwing a bunch of first pitch balls. In hindsight, obviously the decision looks bad, but I think it was just bad luck. Darren Oliver happened to have his worst stuff on the night that it would be magnified the most. Otherwise, the guy had been awesome for us in the series. Probably our best reliever.
I don't think anyone really had much faith in Fuentes, but not pitching him in the 9th of that game 5 sends a clear negative message to him and the rest of the team. If you don't use him for what you signed him for in the offseason than how do you ever restore any faith in him at any other point during the playoffs, or even next season? Charlie Manuel had a similar dilemma with Brad Lidge having terrible stuff in the year, but he had to go with his established closer. That's unavoidable.
Don't forget that it was Scioscia who called that pitch-out that knocked down the baserunner who would have been the go-ahead run on that Rodriguez HR in game 3. It was Scioscia who kept in Mathis in extra innings when he could have been lifted for a pinch runner. The thing that I love about him is that he shows confidence in his guys, even when they show signs of struggling.
When was this most evident? With Guerrero looking horrid in that game 2 loss, I was the first one to say that he should be knocked down in the lineup. Instead, Scioscia sticks with Guerrero, who all of a sudden shows some patience and starts taking balls in his at-bats, and ends up having by far the most productive postseason of any of our players. The guy hit almost .400 in the ALCS, and how many clutch at bats did he have? The inning changing walk in Game 3 versus Boston. The series winning hit in the same game. The game tying home run in Game 3. The guy finally woke up when it counted most, which is a lot more than can be said for just about anyone else in that lineup.
The thing about that ALCS was that it never felt like we were in control of any of the games. Last year I was more upset about losing because I really thought we were a better team than the Red Sox, we just caught some bad breaks. But in this series, the games we won, we were scratching to either get back in or hold the lead. Nothing ever felt safe for us, so I feel like the better team won. It's never fun to lose, but I think it's easier to concede when you know that the other guys are legit.
The Yankees team they faced was a good one, but still a far cry from being the force that they were in the late 90s. Those guys were seriously invincible. This team is the beneficiary of one superstar starting pitcher, the best reliever of all time, and a couple of future HOFers who had a good series, but they showed tons of chinks in their armor. Beyond Sabbathia, their starting pitching is very questionable, and that bullpen relief leading up to Rivera did not hold it together against an Angels team that was slumping offensively at the wrong time. The thing is, the Phillies seem to have the same vulnerabilities, but I think I like their lineup more, plus they have the pedigree of winning it all last season. Also, I think Joe Girardi's tendency to over-manage is going to catch up at some point.
In any case, I feel good about this upcoming offseason. Although I've lost my faith completely in Scott Kazmir, Reagins has been able to swing some amazing deals that have brought us great returns. He got Torii Hunter to sign with us in a Del Taco. He replaced Tex with Abreu. He made the deal for Texeira in the first place, and then the deal for Kazmir which was looking good until the guy decided to explode in the playoffs. With Stoneman you never had much hope for anything working out, but Reagins gets it done. We have an awesome owner, an active GM, and one of the best managers in baseball. You can't overestimate the value of a stable and solid front office. Trust me. This is coming from a Raiders fan. I know dysfunction all too well.
With several years of success under our belts, now the Angels are becoming a destination team where players want to come and sign with us because we know how to win. Even with all of the potential departures, I feel confident in the guys we have going for us. I'm sad about them losing, and not fulfilling the movie plot storyline of winning it all for Nick, I think this season exceeded my expectations. 2009 was a good year and lines us up well for great years to come.