Friday, September 16, 2005

I've been an Angel fan for awhile -- all my life -- so I have borne witness to a certain number of folds and fades over the courses of seasons. And I don't only mean the big dramatic 1986 and 1995 sort of years. There were also those years in the late 1990s where we'd hang around in the race for awhile before something kooky would happen -- Tony Phillips freebasing cocaine, Chuck Finley falling on his wrist and breaking it, Todd Greene getting injured in the midst of fulfilling his potential -- and we'd just fall apart. (Come to think of it, all three of those wacky things may have been in the same season, but I don't want to look it up.)

Anyway, I don't remember any of the meltdowns looking like this. Most nights, the starting pitching is good and the offense will be nonexistent. Then, randomly, the offense will score runs -- but the starter will get rocked. Or the offense will get just enough runs to support the starter, but then the bullpen blows it.

Last night was an all-new low, where the defense elected to emulate a bunch of t-ballers for the evening. Aside from Vlad's crazy misjudgment and drop (which might cost us the division if that tweak to his shoulder turns out to be bad), Legs Figgins had one of the worst defensive games I've ever seen a centerfielder have -- it was the center field equivalent to the game Ashley Lelie had for the Broncos this past Sunday.

Figgins made an error by overrunning a ball; crashed into the wall five feet away from another ball (and three seconds too early), causing an inside-the-park home run; and allowed a ball to drop in deep left-center where Orlando Cabrera might well have been the closest guy to catching it. Maybe that last one wasn't his fault -- we obviously didn't see the positioning on TV -- but the others were horrible. The home run was particularly vexing, and might have put a crimp in Bartolo Colon's Cy Young chances, as all three runs that scored were earned, despite the fact that just about any real center fielder would have either timed the jump right and jumped where, you know, the ball was ... or at least played it into a double.

The sad thing is that I don't think Finley would have done any better. Aside from one sterling play in Minnesota, he was terrible going up against the wall all year. And as for the ball Figgins overran, there's a decent chance Father Time wouldn't have gotten there in the first place.

Now that it's all said and done, we are tied for first with 16 games left. Obviously, it's doable. We can. But will we?

The hell if I know. We have a slightly more favorable schedule than the Oakland Athletic Club from here on out, but the Angels have demonstrated an ugly ability to play down to the level of their competition. When we play Seattle and Detroit, that means we play pretty damn badly. Add in injury questions about Vlad and Colon (who hasn't seemed 100% in the two starts since his back starting flaring up), our two key players, plus an understandable concern about a bullpen that's had to deal with far too many close games than necessary ... and it's just a mess.

And do we have any reasonable expectation that we wouldn't just get rocked right out of the playoffs, anyway? I would still like our chances against Chicago, or even Cleveland, but the prospect of facing the Yankees or Red Sox is pretty uninviting.

I don't know. I don't want to sound like I'm giving up, because I'm not. But we have a pretty good team that feels thisclose to being a very good team, if they could just get their act together (or maybe put their best possible team on the field every day, which might involve Juan Rivera getting to use his glove [and arm] and a certain shift from first base to center field). They have 16 games to do it, and not a second to lose.

I too am a lifelong fan of the Halos, and refuse to concede the season. This year's team just seems to lack that driving force. They almost seem complacent in their mediocracy. Someone needs to call one of those closed-door player meetings that results in a renewed conviction to win. Continued tinkering with the lineup will only get the team so far. I want to see that agressive playoff style of play that helped them win in seasons past.
Sole possession! Sole possession!
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