|Casey Kotchman heads for the dugout after striking out in Game 1. (ELISE AMENDOLA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Angels couldn't get off the ground
LA never had prayer with series of injuries
ANAHEIM, Calif. - When cleanup hitter Garret Anderson came down with conjunctivitis right before the playoffs, the Los Angeles Angels should have realized they were in trouble.
After playing through injuries all season, the Angels simply didn't have it in their Division Series against the Red Sox, hitting just .091 with runners in scoring position and .192 overall while being outscored, 19-4.
The three-game sweep left the Angels with a seven-game losing streak in the playoffs dating to 2005, and a nine-game postseason losing streak to the Red Sox.
So it's wait until next year for a team that had baseball's best record (91-62) as late as Sept. 20 before losing six of its final nine games to relinquish home-field advantage in the postseason - a major blow considering the Angels' 54-27 record at home was baseball's best.
"I thought our team was very talented, I thought it was deep," manager Mike Scioscia said following the Angels' 9-1 series-ending loss Sunday. "I thought it was deeper at some times during the season, and we played at a much higher level at times during the season.
"But we couldn't get anything going in these playoffs. As disappointing as this is in this series, you have to look back and see what a terrific season we had to get to this point."
In retrospect, the Angels would have been better off beginning the postseason several weeks ago, when they were at the top of their game.
After the Angels clinched the AL West with a week left in the season, Scioscia focused on getting his players healthy rather than pushing for wins to gain home-field advantage.
While that made sense, good health didn't necessarily follow.
Anderson was one of several Angels to spend time on the disabled list, along with fellow outfielder Juan Rivera, catcher Mike Napoli, starting pitchers Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, and Bartolo Colon, reliever Justin Speier, and infielders Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar.
Shortstop Orlando Cabrera played in 155 games and slugger Vladimir Guerrero appeared in 150. Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. was next at 140, but he wasn't available against Boston because of an injured right knee. First baseman Casey Kotchman played in 137, but an undisclosed illness kept him out of the final game against the Red Sox.
While Guerrero didn't spend time on the disabled list, he was hampered throughout September by an inflamed right triceps. The fact that he was hit by pitches in the left forearm and right elbow in the season's final week just added to his discomfort, and he managed two harmless singles in 10 at-bats against the Red Sox.
Anderson, who had 65 RBIs after the All-Star break, overcame the infection in his right eye to play in the first two games but was pulled after the second inning in Game 3 because, as Scioscia explained, he couldn't see well enough to continue.
"I don't offer any excuses. They beat us," Anderson said.
Scioscia agreed, saying, "This series wasn't lost on injuries. They beat us. It wasn't because of our health."
After qualifying for the postseason only three times in their first 41 years of existence, the Angels have reached the playoffs four times in the last six.
"We have a great team," said Kendrick, one of several outstanding young players on the roster. "We've got a little mix of everything - power, base running, pitching, defense."
The pitching certainly seems solid, with 19-game winner John Lackey, 18-game winner Escobar and youngsters Weaver, Joe Saunders, and Ervin Santana giving them a solid rotation and standout closer Francisco Rodriguez heading up one of baseball's best bullpens.
The Angels ranked fourth in the AL with a .284 batting average and 822 runs, and were second with 139 stolen bases. But their 123 homers ranked 12th.
"Every year you try to improve," Scioscia said. "There's not an offseason that goes by where you're not trying to improve your team, whatever the area might be.
"One of our issues has been slugging percentage, driving the ball, home run power. We still managed to score a lot of runs this year without that. And if it can be improved, obviously we'll know that Bill and Arte will look into it."
Scioscia was referring to general manager Bill Stoneman and owner Arte Moreno.
Guerrero hit 27 homers and drove in 125 runs. Nobody else hit more than the 18 homers delivered by Matthews. The 35-year-old Anderson has hit as many as 35 in a season, but often sidelined by injury, he hasn't hit more than 17 since 2003.
"It's a team game and we'll go on to next year," said the 25-year-old Weaver, who is 24-9 with a 3.33 ERA since joining the Angels in 2006. "As Scioscia said, we have nothing to hang our heads about. There's obviously some positives to take out of this season."