Angels flush with confidence, talent
Halos boast swagger missing from last year's short stay
ANAHEIM -- These are not the same Angels, by any stretch of the imagination, who were gone before they could settle into the 2007 postseason, swept unceremoniously into winter by the eventual World Series champion Red Sox.
Mark Teixeira, for one, wasn't around to help those Angels dig out of rough spots. He is their first baseman now, a man with few equals as a total player. Bringing power and judgment to the No. 3 spot, Teixiera gives manager Mike Scioscia the brand of 3-4 weaponry in concert with Vladimir Guerrero that Boston's Terry Francona brandished in a three-game American League Division Series sweep of last year's Angels.
Teixeira, truth be told, doesn't know all that much about last October. He was busy watching college football.
"I don't watch a lot of baseball when the [regular] season's over," said Teixiera, venturing into postseason play for the first time in his sixth Major League season when the Angels open their AL Division Series showdown with the Red Sox on Wednesday at 7 p.m. PT on TBS. "I'll watch a few innings here and there, but I don't remember much about the Angels and Red Sox. I've heard what happened, of course, but everything is different this year."
Behind Teixeira and Guerrero in the heart of the Angels' batting order is another new guy, Torii Hunter, who has given this team an energy, toughness and commitment, along with power, speed and a perennial Gold Glove in center field.
Garret Anderson, who had conjunctivitis in his right eye, blurring his vision, in the playoffs last October, comes roaring into this postseason on fire in the No. 2 spot in front of Teixeira. Leadoff catalyst Chone Figgins has overcome a tender elbow and is entrenched at third base, not needing to occupy an outfield spot as he has in seasons past.
There is a stability and confidence to this club that it did not carry into last year's brief playoff run. This is a team that won a remarkable percentage of close games -- putting Francisco Rodriguez in position to obliterate the single-season saves record -- and was the Majors' best road team (50-31) by six games over the runner-up Phillies. Those are the usual indicators of mental toughness and togetherness.
"I think we're all anxious to get to the postseason," Teixeira said. "This game is not like football or basketball, where energy can drive you. You get too hyped up in baseball, you will not perform. When the time comes, hopefully, it's just another game and we play the way we're supposed to play. If we do that, we'll be all right.
"This team has everything it needs. Top to bottom, we're a solid team. This has been one of the top organizations in baseball the last six or seven years. To see it firsthand now, it's great to be part of."
To be remembered as a great team, the Angels will have to win it all. Teixeira knows that, and so do his teammates -- especially those who experienced the 2002 ride to the World Series championship.
"The '02 team to the baseball world wasn't a great team, but we played great when it counted," Anderson said. "This is probably the best team I've ever played on. It's a very strong team, top to bottom. There's no weakness. But you get judged in the postseason. It's a double-edged sword."
Still around to show the way from that 2002 magic carpet ride are Anderson, Figgins, Game 1 AL Division Series starter John Lackey, closer supreme Rodriguez and his setup man, Scot Shields.
Starter Jon Garland celebrated a World Series title more recently with the 2005 Chicago White Sox, delivering two postseason gems en route to the championship. Hunter has appeared in four postseasons with the Twins, his bid in 2002 for the Fall Classic ruined by the runaway Angels.
Experience is plentiful, in a fine blend with eager, gifted young talent. It's the kind of mix Scioscia can toss around like a healthy Italian salad.
The only question surrounding the Angels after their uncommonly early Sept. 10 AL West title clinching was if they could retain their competitive edge in the remaining 2 1/2 weeks of the regular season.
They seemed to answer that with more inspired baseball as they pointed their energies toward claiming the league's best record and ensuring home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Another goal was reaching 100 wins and becoming the first club in franchise history to do so.
The final piece to the puzzle fell into place when All-Star southpaw Joe Saunders passed a kidney stone in Seattle on Wednesday and got back on course for his Game 3 ALDS start.
Scioscia, in his ninth year at the helm, is fully aware of the importance of carrying positive momentum into the postseason.
"Momentum means that your team is playing well, where it should be, and that's always a positive going into the postseason," Scioscia said. "I think it's one indicator if you're winning games that you're gaining momentum, but it can come in other forms as well -- getting guys healthy, your bullpen coming together, your lineup having continuity. There are a lot of things that can generate momentum, but, generally, if you're winning, it's because you're doing a lot of things right.
"In 2002, we started 6-14 and finished with 99 wins, so that meant we were 93-49. So yeah, sure, we had a lot of momentum going into the postseason. We had a great second half and took it into the playoffs. Last year was different. We had some guys get hurt, some things happened, and we didn't take momentum into the postseason. You try to prepare and do everything you can to keep your guys healthy."
Stronger across the board than in 2007, the Angels venture into October primed to make it a run to remember.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.