Angels in the Infield
I went to the Red Sox-Angels game on Tuesday. I was horrified at the Angels infield. Not sure what I was expecting given that Adam Kennedy was declared out for the remainder of the season two weeks ago and Troy Glaus has yet to play in the field since returning on the last day in August. But I was shocked nonetheless when I took note of the Angels in the Infield.
Darin Erstad (.295/.346/.400) at 1B, Alfredo Amezaga (.161/.212/.247) at 2B, David Eckstein (.276/.339/.332) at SS, and Chone Figgins (.296/.350/.419) at 3B must be one of the worst infields ever to start in a postseason game. Let's face it, when Figgins has the highest slugging percentage among your infielders, you're in a world of hurt.
The aforementioned quartet hit 16 home runs all season. Yes, you read that right. SIXTEEN. In other words, the Angels starting infield in Game One of the ALDS went yard fewer times than Mark Bellhorn over the course of the 2004 regular season despite approximately 1,250 more plate appearances than the Red Sox second baseman.
I think one would need to go back to the 1988 Dodgers to find such an inept-hitting infield that started during the postseason. The Dodgers that year featured Franklin Stubbs (.223/.288/.376) and Mickey Hatcher (.293/.322/.351) at 1B, Steve Sax (.277/.325/.343) at 2B, Alfredo Griffin (.199/.259/.236) at SS, and Jeff Hamilton (.236/.268/.353) at 3B. Including Stubbs at first, this infield hit 20 homers. With Hatcher, they hit just 13.
If the Dodgers could win it all with such a weak infield, could the Angels? Perhaps. Consider the following similarities.
The Dodgers had Kirk Gibson, who won the N.L. MVP. The Angels have Vladimir Guerrero, who seems destined to win the A.L. MVP this year. Gibson and Guerrero arrived as free agents during the off-season to rescue franchises that were several games under .500 the previous season.
Both ballclubs faced long odds going into the playoffs. Just as the Angels find themselves in an uphill battle against Curt Schilling (21-6, 3.26 ERA) and Pedro Martinez (16-9, 3.90), the Dodgers were forced to overcome the one-two punch of David Cone (20-3, 2.22) and Dwight Gooden (18-9, 3.19) in their first series.
Darryl Strawberry, who led the league in HR (39), SLG (.545), and OPS (.911) was second in the MVP voting in 1988. Manny Ramirez (43, .613, 1.009) led the A.L. this year in those very same categories and could easily finish second in the MVP voting.
The Angels and Dodgers both had the home field advantage in their first series, yet lost the opening game.
Mike Scioscia provides another eerie connection. He was the starting catcher with the Dodgers back then and is the manager of the Angels today. Two members of that fabled Dodgers infield--Griffin and Hatcher--are now members of Scioscia's coaching staff.
Both ballclubs had deep bullpens. The Dodgers had three relievers (Jay Howell, Alejandro Pena, and Brian Holton) who totaled 244 innings pitched with a combined ERA of 1.88. The Angels have three relievers (Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, and Brendan Donnelly) with 176 IP and a 2.40 ERA.
Heck, the Dodgers even had a Guerrero on the team that year. However, he was peddled to the St. Louis Cardinals in August for John Tudor in a move meant to improve team chemistry similar to the suspension of Jose Guillen. Both teams played their best ball of the season from those points forward.
The biggest dissimilarity? The starting pitching. The Dodgers had a Big Three of Orel Hershiser (23-8, 2.26), Tim Leary (17-11, 2.91), and Tim Belcher (12-6, 2.91) vs. the Angels' trio of Bartolo Colon (18-12, 5.01), Kelvim Escobar (11-12, 3.93), and Jarrod Washburn (11-8, 4.64). Hershiser not only was the Cy Young Award winner that year, but he ended the regular season with a record 59 straight scoreless innings--including five consecutive shutouts in September.
Whether the Angels bounce back or not against the Red Sox remains to be seen. It could also dictate the course of action the Halos take this off-season. Do they re-sign Glaus? If so, will he be healthy enough to play third base? If he plays third, what becomes of Dallas McPherson? Does it make sense to slide Glaus or McPherson over to first base, move Erstad back to center field, and Garret Anderson to left to replace the good-as-gone Guillen? Where does Casey Kotchman fit into the picture?
Is Nomar Garciaparra willing to take a "hometown discount" and sign with the Angels? Do you play him at shorstop or third base? If he plays short, do you move Eckstein over to second and trade Kennedy or do you make Eckstein the new utility player and trade Figgins to whichever team hires John Kruk to be its next general manager?
No matter which direction the Angels go next year, it is a safe bet that the infield will be much stronger than the one they are forced to put on the field this postseason.