09/30/07 8:00 PM ET
Angels' speed game sets them apart
AL West champs plan to ride aggressiveness to a title
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"Taking the extra base is drilled into you from the day you sign," said Reggie Willits, the dynamic young outfielder who brought more speed and energy to the attack, along with plate discipline and a quick stroke. "I've been blessed to be with this organization. I wouldn't want to play any other way, honestly."When he was dealt by the Rockies to the Angels for Kimera Bartee in 2001, Chone Figgins was given an initiation into the Angels' aggressive approach by outfielder Nathan Haynes, who finally reached the big time this season after years of injury-related struggles. "Nate told me the day I got here that they turn you loose in this organization," Figgins said, grinning. "That's right up my alley, so I was pretty happy to hear that. I've made my living with my legs." A superior athlete capable of excelling at six positions, Figgins has settled in as an everyday third baseman with a career year, a catalyst with few peers. Overcoming fractures to the tips of his right index and middle fingers suffered during Spring Training, Figgins broke out with a spectacular June, collecting a franchise-record 53 hits. The little big man has led the Majors in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot since midseason.
American League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||6:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||3 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||9:30 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||6:30 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||6:30 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||6 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
One Major League advance scout trailing the Angels recently called Figgins the club's MVP for his total impact.A dream No. 2 hitter, one who uses the whole field and gives himself up to advance runners, Orlando Cabrera established career bests in runs scored and hits, his opposite-field singles sending Figgins and Willits scurrying from first to third in front of Guerrero and Anderson. Gary Matthews Jr. has provided speed and muscle hitting all through the order as Scioscia's favorite lineup chess piece. "We had great offensive continuity most of the season," Scioscia said. "We applied pressure, and that's the way we have to play the game. We don't hit a lot of home runs, obviously, but we can score runs other ways." Fourth in the AL in run production, the Angels have managed to overcome inconsistency in the pitching staff that at times has been dominant, yet has disappointed in other stretches. Speed, unlike power, is a constant. It doesn't come and go. It's always there. The Angels, Stoneman noted, haven't had any prolonged slumps this season. One reason for that is their aggressive manner on the basepaths. They can beat out slow rollers, force errors, push, push, push. "We have to keep the pressure on for nine innings," Scioscia said. "That's how we get into our game." There is in all this emphasis on speed and daring one obvious splash of irony. The ringleader, Scioscia, cut his teeth in a Dodgers organization that practically invented the running game with Jackie Robinson, later reinventing it with Maury Wills. Yet for all his talents as the club's rock-solid receiver, Iron Mike never was known for his swiftness afoot. Just because he wasn't a burner, it doesn't mean Mike doesn't value the fires a running game can ignite.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.