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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 21, 2009 at 1:29 PM

Hail to the Angels, still kings of the AL West


It turns out that much of the early-season analysis of the Mariners’ chances of competing in the AL West race this season– my own included — was based on a false premise. That being, of course, that the Angels would not prove to be a dominant club.

Lo and behold, they have been. Let’s give credit where it’s due — the Angels have done a phenomenal job this year of weathering considerable adversity, including the ultimate blow, the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart on April 9. Considering that John Lackey and Ervin Santana fought early-season injuries, Vladimir Guerrero has taken most of the season to get healthy and find his stroke, Howie Kendrick hit his way to the minors, Jose Arredondo pitched his way to the minors, Torii Hunter did a month-long stint on the DL, Joe Saunders is there now, Justin Speier was released, Scot Shields is out for the year after knee surgery, and Kelvim Escobar’s comeback never reached fruition, and this surely is the best managing job of Mike Scioscia’s career.

Remember, the Angels were 9-12 in April, and as late as June 11 were still mired at .500 (29-29). Since then, they have the best record in baseball (44-17). We can forget all that speculation that the AL West could be won with a victory total in the mid-80s. At 73-46 overall, the Angels’ win percentage of .613 is surpassed only by the mighty Yankees. They are on pace to win 99 games, just one fewer than last season, when they reached 100 victories for the first time in franchise history and won the AL West by a mere 21 games. They might not hold that pace, but it’s looking like the Angels will roll to at least 95 victories — a neighborhood the Mariners were never going to occupy.

The Mariners have fallen 12 back, but the Rangers have done a decent job of hanging close, currently trailing the Angels by 5 1/2. But even with their projected 92 victories, the Rangers will probably have to find their way into the playoffs via the wild card.

Scioscia has done a masterful job cobbling together a rotation (nine wins from Matt Palmer? Three from Sean O’Sullivan?), and the Angels have proven they can flat-out rake. They have emerged as an offensive juggernaut, leading all the majors with 685 runs. On Tuesday, the Angels rolled out the first lineup comprised entirely of .300 hitters that late in the season since 1934. Actually, Mike Napoli started Tuesday’s game at .297, but by the end of the game, he had gone 2-for-4, raising his average to. 301. The Detroit Tigers on Sept. 9, 1934 were the last team to finish a game with an entire lineup of .300 hitters at least 100 games into the season. The New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in 1930 were the last team to field a starting lineup of .300 hitters each over 200 at-bats.

Here’s Tuesday’s Angels’ lineup at game’s end (a 5-4 win over Cleveland):

Chone Figgins, 3b .308

Bobby Abreu, rf .310

Juan Rivera, lf .310

Vladimir Guerrero, dh .313

Kendry Morales, 1b .303

Torii Hunter, cf .307

Maicer Izturis, 2b .300

Mike Napoli, c .300

Erick Aybar, ss .313

And here, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau, are the Detroit Tigers after their 5-4 win over Boston on Sept. 9, 1934:

Jo Jo White, cf .307

Mickey Cochrane, c .328

Charlie Gehringer, 2b .364

Goose Goslin, lf .306

Billy Rogell, ss .303

Hank Greenberg, 1b .337

Marv Owen, 3b .322

Gee Walker, rf .301

Schoolboy Rowe, p .302

The Angels appear poised to make their sixth postseason appearance in the last seven years. Santana pitched a three-hit shutout against Tampa Bay in his last start, and Saunders is due back next month from his shoulder injury. Jered Weaver has emerged as a rotation leader, and the revamped bullpen is coming around. Their lineup is a non-stop assault on opponents, and, oh yeah, they are second in the league in stolen bases with 122 (although they’ve been thrown out 46 times, also highest in the league).

That should teach us never to under-estimate the Angels.

(Photo by Getty Images)



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