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World Series Baseball

Bye Bye Angels

Once again, the Angels didn't make it back to the World Series. You can't blame it on the pitching -- against the White Sox average offense and the Yankees' potent one, the pitching staff put up the same ERA and strikeout rates as they did during the season. No, the problem was hitting. Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Orlando Cabrera, Adam Kennedy, Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins and Steve Finley combined (combined!) for a 549 OPS and just 7 walks and 4 home runs in more than 250 plate appearances in the playoffs. Particularly egregious were Finley (390 OPS) and Figgins (412 OPS). The only bright spot was Bengie Molina, while Juan Rivera did basically what should have been expected of him.

The White Sox won the ALCS by such a large margin that Mike Scioscia's roster mismanagement didn't really matter. But it's the playoffs! Why is Steve Finley playing center field, Darin Erstad playing first base and Casey Kotchman riding the bench? Erstad and Finley can give you the same fielding in center, while Kotchman's bat is so much better than Finley's that there's no excuse for keeping him out of the game.

It's fitting that the Angels went out the way they did. This is a team that relies on putting the ball in play and has virtually no secondary weapons should they be slumping in the extra-base-hit department. You can talk about small ball all you want, but if you don't have any baserunners, then sacrifice bunts and stolen bases are useless.

This shouldn't have happened. Casey Kotchman had an 836 OPS this year; Steve Finley was at 645. It was obvious that Kotchman should have been in the lineup. The Angels have enough money, so much money that they can afford to eat the contract of a non-performing player like Finley, play Kotchman instead, and not let it affect their ability to win. But they didn't do that. Their commitment to "good guys" and veterans made them worse, and they didn't care. In fact, they prided themselves on it, and the beneficiaries were White Sox fans.

Hopefully for Angels fans, team management sees the error of their ways and fixes the problem next year. But I doubt it. As Brian Sabean showed Giants fans, individual attitudes in baseball change at glacial rates. Mike Scioscia and Bill Stoneman can point to consecutive division titles and a World Series ring and excuse their way out of any legitimate changes to this team. If the Angels start next season by giving away wins with Darin Erstad and Steve Finley in the field, then you'll know immediately that they're not going to win it all.

What about the World Series?

At this point, it looks like it will be an anti-climactic White Sox-Astros battle. There are some interesting lessons to take from this year's results:

Yankees - $200M-plus payroll - Money doesn't buy you titles
Boston – Money together with Moneyball doesn't win you titles
St. Louis – deep pitching and great hitters don't win you titles
Angels – Good guys don't win you titles
Atlanta – Just because you try 14 times in 15 years doesn't mean you'll win
Houston – Just because you never score doesn't mean you can't win
Chicago – who the hell knows?

Chicago and Houston are very similar teams -- they have anemic offenses, though the White Sox live and die by their home runs, while Houston is better at getting on-base. Their real strength is their pitching staff. They both have very good strikeout-to-walk rates, though Chicago is stingier with walks and Houston puts up more Ks. The World Series could quite easily go seven games, with each one decided by one run.

Anyways, like the vast majority of baseball fans, I could care less about the outcome. I'll check the scores once it's over and move on to the NHL and looking ahead to the 2006 baseball season.