Monday, September 28, 2009

Angels Capture AL West

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim clinched the AL West Division tonight with an 11-0 victory over the Texas Rangers. This is the Angels fifth AL West title in six years. It will also be the Angels sixth post-season appearance in eight years.

The death of Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart on April 9th threatened to derail the team. The New York Yankees ground to a halt in 1979 when Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash late in the season. The deaths of pitcher Steve Olin and Tim Crews during spring training ended the 1993 season for the Cleveland Indians before it began. The St. Louis Cardinals struggled in both 2002 and 2007 after the deaths of Darryl Kile and Josh Hancock, respectively.

Yet somehow the Angels found a way to turn Adenhart's death into a source of inspiration. The Angels hang his jersey in their dugout during every game, wear his number on their uniforms and look at a picture of him displayed on the centerfield fence at Angels Stadium. This was undoubtedly due in no small part to the steady hand of manager Mike Scioscia who is rapidly making his way to the class of Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa.

The Angels did it despite the fact that starting pitchers John Lackey and Ervin Santana missed significant time due to injuries. Brian Fuentes is no Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez but he was one of the most effective closers in the AL. Fuentes 44 saves are all the more remarkable considering the injury to Scot Shields who was K-Rod's set up man for many years. That void was filled by 30-year-old rookie Jason Bulger and 38-year-old veteran lefty Darren Oliver.

But perhaps the most significant development was the emergence of Kendry Morales at first base. When both Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter went down with injuries in the middle of the season, Morales became the team's offensive leader. It also vindicated the Angels decision not to re-sign Mark Teixeira. Their signing of ex-Yankee Bobby Abreu in the off season might have been the best $5 million ever spent by the Angels.

For the third consecutive year and for the fourth time in six years the Angels will face the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS (as of this writing the Sox magic number to clinch the AL Wild Card is one.) The Angels have lost all three contests. The Red Sox are their albatross. If they can beat the Red Sox then the Angels can beat anyone and have a strong chance to win their second World Series title this decade. The Angels won the franchise's first World Series championship in 2002.

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