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Angels clearly Lack-ing

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff October 2, 2008 08:20 AM

In simplistic terms, it is but four letters, two syllables that allow vowels to do all the work. Yet when the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin summons them in his lede today, following last night’s Game 1 win by the Red Sox, they carry with them such deep significance that there can be no better way to sum up what has to be classified as an overall feeling of impending doom in the shadow of Space Mountain.

“Uh oh.”

Uh oh, indeed. Also acceptable would have been any expletive form of “^%$#,” “**$#,” or “*&^%$#(*^&^&$#$#$^&%$,” but admittedly, that makes less appealing copy.

After last night’s 10th straight playoff loss to the Red Sox, dating back to Dave Henderson’s home run in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, the Angels have to be feeling an annual case of déjà vu, like a 4-year-old who keeps running into the cement wall, no matter how many times you tell him not to, no matter the size of the purple welt growing on his forehead.

It’s amazing. Every year, heading into October, everybody spouts their opinion on how teams match up based on how the regular season just finished. Yet, we soon forget the vastly different nature of playoff baseball, when it doesn’t matter one lick if the Angels finished the season 8-1 against Boston, or if Jon Lester struggled in an April start. Here is where numbers in the game can play tricks on us, forcing us to make conclusions that have no bearing on baseball following the equinox.

Instead, perhaps these are the numbers regarding the Angels that we should have concentrated on heading into the ALDS, courtesy of Shaikin: “Seven consecutive playoff losses overall, 57 postseason innings without a home run, 78 postseason innings without a lead of more than one run. And, for Lackey, the ace, five consecutive postseason starts in a row without a victory.”

Egads. When did Mike Scioscia invite Bobby Cox into the Angels dugout?

As far as Lackey is concerned, last night’s loss doesn’t exactly go up there in the ’04 Kevin Brown category of worst postseason starts ever, but it’s accurate to note that for all this team’s regular season success this decade, the man has not picked up a postseason victory since his Game 7 World Series win over the Giants in 2002.

He may be an ace, but isn’t it obvious by now that there are different levels of that term? For every Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Andy Pettitte, and now, Lester, there is a Lackey, Tom Glavine, or Ryan (Dice-K) Dempster, guys who excel at their craft from April to September, only to arrive at October, pitch admirably, yet not quite good enough to win. (Based on what he's done this season, we're keeping the jury open on CC Sabathia for now, with a short leash.)

These are the guys you have the utmost faith in getting the job done, a list topped by Beckett and Schilling, not coincidentally the two primary reasons why we're no longer talking about curses and having cookie-crumbling séances on Yawkey Way. Roger Clemens had exactly zero postseason wins for Boston from 1988-1995, a situation often blamed on offensive ineptitude. There is no way of knowing, short of summoning some plutonium and the pitcher’s willingness to time travel, but put Beckett on those same mounds, and you just assume the outcome would be different.

Some aces pitch well in the postseason. Others win.

It is just quite that simple.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Red Sox now have two of these guys in Beckett and Lester, who turned in his own Pettitte-y performance last night, without, you know, Mitchell Report-related stuff. Six hits, one run, and most importantly, one walk. The plan worked perfectly, as the lefty made it into the seventh inning, handing the ball off to Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon.

Game. That's now eight straight postseason wins for Boston.

If Daisuke Matsuzaka can repeat such a performance Friday night, the series will be considered all over, even for the most cautious baseball historian, heading back to Fenway Park. And before you roll your eyes at such a possibility, not to mention the prospect of a Saturday morning bedtime sometime around 4 a.m., consider that Matsuzaka could be facing the perfect team tomorrow night, an aggressive-swinging group with a patience wearing thin as the innings tick away.

Of course, last October, he couldn’t even make it out of the fifth inning against the Angels, so it's sort of up in the air what to expect from the righty. Like that’s anything new by now.

But even if the Angels can break a 22-year-old drought tomorrow night, they have to come to Boston to face Beckett in all probability Sunday, and then, perhaps most damning of all, another Lester-Lackey matchup come Monday.

Who you like in that one?

Oh, and then there’s this, once again, courtesy of Shaikin: “The Angels have played 49 postseason games. They never have pitched a shutout.”

Never. Now, while that might not exactly be the most telling stat there is out there to define how a team fares in the postseason, with Beckett and Lester looming large in this series, it may be the best way for the Angels to steal a game from Boston. Imagine being Joe Saunders or Lackey, facing Beckett and Lester, respectively, and feeling he had to pitch a shutout in order to win.

That’s pressure. And it’s all on LA now.


15 comments so far...
  1. What was Scosia thinking about when he didn't Pinch run Vladdy? That was the game decider. Otherwise on that bloop Youk would never had gotten the out.

    Posted by R Good October 2, 08 11:03 AM
  1. I agree. Vlad looked about 70 years old running down to first on his single. On the other hand, if the Angels tied it up, who would be their DH the rest of the game? Vlad is a bat you want in the lineup.

    Oh, well. One done, 10 to go.

    Posted by John in Chicago October 2, 08 11:50 AM
  1. I absolutely agreed with you yesterday when you predicted Sox in 4 and it just looks that much better this morning. And, while I also agree that it's easy to confuse yourself if you delve too much into regular season stats when thinking about the playoffs, I don't think everyone realizes just how overrated the Angels' regular season was.

    The majority of people predicting an Angels win, including all those writers in the prediction roundup yesterday, see that big "100" in the win column and think the team is unbeatable. You hear a lot about their monster offense that just got better with Teixeira, but the Red Sox scored more runs than them in the regular season! That's huge, keeping in mind the Angels face the AL West while the Sox had to deal with the pitching staffs of the Rays and Blue Jays (i.e. the 2 best in the AL).

    That's just the offense. You get similar results if you compare the two teams' rotations as well. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but all bets should be on the Sox, not the Angels.

    Posted by JeffR October 2, 08 12:04 PM
  1. I don't know what Lackey was thinking sending Vlad to third on that blooper. And why wasn't he backing Matthews up on Ellsbury's hit? I guess Lackey just lost all his "clutchy aceness" after 2002.

    Posted by J-Bone October 2, 08 12:24 PM
  1. No doubt about it that the angels have their backs to the wall now, but it is just game one. And back in 2002 the angels lost all three game ones on their way to a world series. I am still going with the angels but i do predict that the winner of game 3 will win it all. The angels have to find a way to beat Beckett, that is just the way it is

    Posted by Kenny K October 2, 08 12:40 PM
  1. Take a look at the weakness of the American League West. One team over .500.
    The Angels are nothing more than the best of a low level division. Then you look at the AL East. 4 teams over .500. The Sox were merely the second best in a very strong division and they could actually be the top team in that division when all this plays out.

    Posted by Dave October 2, 08 12:48 PM
  1. Don't you just love it when all the skeptics are proven wrong, again? The Angels are a very good team, but they are also in an incredibly weak division. For the last three weeks of the season they faced Texas, Seattle and Oakland, while the Red Sox were up against Tampa Bay, New York, Toronto and Cleveland. I like our chances of sweeping, again.

    Posted by Bushie October 2, 08 12:48 PM
  1. J-Bone:
    Lackey isn't the thrid base coach. He didn't send Vlady to third on the bloop. Also, Vlady ran to third through a "stop sign" from the thrid base coach. If you're writting off the Angels after only one game then you really need to look deeper. The Sox took the first game of this year's season series too. Then they proceded to lose the next 8. The Angels have two all-star pitchers (Santana and Saunders) who will be pitching the next two games. Lackey held the Sox very powerful offense to only 2 runs. All this 04 and 07 and 86 playoff talk is little more than fan pride. I love Red Sox fans enthusiasm and loyalty. It's awesome! But it doesn't put runs on the scoreboard. What matters is how those players, in that game, play that day. The series is far from over. The Sox could definately win. So could the Angels. So Everyone in Anaheim and Boston shouldn't start rioting quite yet.

    Posted by JD Hall October 2, 08 12:55 PM
  1. I like how people think the 1986 playoffs have any bearing on the current playoffs. All teams are different every year.

    And Lackey wasn't the issue last night. Bad baserunning, nice Ellsbury catch, and lack of hits with RISP were.

    Posted by KDB October 2, 08 01:07 PM
  1. Weak divisions have nothing to do with it. Every team that made the playoffs is a good team and anything can happen in a short series. I would argue that you could throw Kansas City in there and they could win a 5 game series. Luck plays an enormous role in the post season. Hot teams will beat teams that are way better than them on paper. The best predictor of playoff success is previous playoff success. I'm not talking about team success, I'm talking about player success. The Angels unfortunately have a bunch of players with a history of poor playoff performance (Vlad, Figgins, Shields). They also have some players that are in there for the first time. These are the guys that need to seize the moment. They have no memories of 7 consecutive playoff losses. It's in these players(Tiexiera, Kendrick, Ibar, Saunders) that the Angels can reverse the Red Sox curse imparted by the late Donnie Moore.

    Posted by Tom October 2, 08 01:25 PM
  1. Angel fans better start loving the LAD.... Its OVER!

    With Momentum, pitching and squirrelly bats, (Pedroia is DUE for some clutch hits), better defense, and better base running... LA Angels are History. I smell SWEEP! Git your brooms ready Boston! Oh....
    And, Sox fans may get another chance to beat Torre. Whats better than that?

    Posted by What Curse October 2, 08 02:13 PM
  1. "I like how people think the 1986 playoffs have any bearing on the current playoffs. All teams are different every year."

    Yeah. We heard that song in sixty-seven and seventy-two and seventy-five and seventy-eight and eighty-six etc. etc. The Cubs hear the same thing year after year.

    Don't think these guys don't think about it. Baseball players a a superstitious lot.

    Posted by harrybosch October 2, 08 02:47 PM
  1. we have a finalist for most obtuse poster of the year: post # 8- jd hall!
    it's called sarcasm, jd. look it up.
    oh, and not sure but i think it's "third", not "thrid".
    but hey, it's just the frist game, so you have more chances to improve!!

    Posted by benjikaye22 October 2, 08 03:57 PM
  1. Even though I'm the furthest thing from a Braves fan, I think that's kind of a bum rap on Glavine. Yes his postseason record is a lacklustre 14-16, but if you look closer he would have had an outstanding record if he had gotten any support from his offence. Glavine had 5 separate postseasons in which he pitched at least 17 innings and had a sub-2 ERA. When the Braves won their only Series he was the man, going 2-0 in the Series and pitching a 1-hit shutout for 8 innings in the clinching game.

    Posted by Bob McNeil October 2, 08 06:20 PM
  1. benjikaye, I'm glad someone picked up on it. KDP put it in a way more people can understand, I guess.

    Posted by J-Bone October 3, 08 12:58 PM
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