09/30/08 10:57 PM ET
Halos bring power to postseason
Teixeira, Guerrero two big reasons why Sox should be wary
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
So it would seem a bit odd that the Angels feel much better about the middle of their lineup going into their American League Division Series against the Red Sox that starts Wednesday at Angel Stadium.
But the Angels do feel better.
"Much better," said Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who still cringes over what happened against the Red Sox last October when his team hit .192 and scored four runs in three games.
"Last year, we just fell apart at this time," Hatcher said. "We just lost our whole offense and nobody knows why. It was more frustrating than anything."
Here's why the Angels feel better about the middle of their order right now than they did a year ago against the Red Sox:
They have first baseman Mark Teixeira batting in the No. 3 spot after acquiring him from the Braves at the Trade Deadline. He has played 54 games for the Angels -- exactly one-third of the season -- and is batting .358 with 13 home runs, 43 RBIs and a .691 slugging percentage. Angels first basemen were 0-for-9 in the ALDS last year.
Vladimir Guerrero is healthy and swinging a hot bat. He hit .412 with a .691 slugging percentage in September. He hit .303 with a .512 slugging percentage last September, but he was dealing with inflammation in his right triceps and had just two singles in 10 at-bats against the Red Sox.
Their center fielder is in the lineup and batting fifth. Last year, Gary Matthews was left off the ALDS roster because of tendinitis in his left knee. Torii Hunter is now the Angels' starting center fielder and will be the No. 5 hitter on Wednesday. He is also a career .300 hitter in the postseason. Halos center fielders were 2-for-12 against Boston in the 2007 playoffs.
"I think we're a deeper club now, and hopefully, we're going to see it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's tough to lose when you're not bringing your best game on the field. Last year against the Red Sox, we were a skeleton club, and hopefully, we're going to get on the field and play well and show a more representative outlook of what our club is."
The Angels scored more runs last season, but this year's team has hit more home runs with the addition of Teixeira, plus getting 10 more home runs each from both Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli than it got in 2007.
"The middle of our lineup is really something now," said second baseman Howie Kendrick, who will hit sixth on Wednesday. "All three of those guys can hurt you, and really, if you go up to Garret [Anderson] in the second hole, you've got another guy. We've got Napoli down there, and he's got just awesome power. We're confident we're going to score runs with the depth of our lineup."
Teixeira ranks as the biggest difference. The Angels acquired Teixeira on July 29, and since that time, he has the highest on-base percentage and the highest slugging percentage in the AL.
"I hope they're not any more dangerous, but with Hunter and Teixeira, they're much more dangerous through the middle," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They've always had the ability to run, now you put a couple of bats in the middle that can leave the ballpark.
"Teixeira works the count very well. He makes you certainly think twice about doing something with Vlad, so it gives them a couple of different looks and adds some punch right in the middle of their lineup, and it makes their lineup deeper."
Teixeira appears to have made a huge difference for Guerrero, who has the sixth-highest slugging percentage (.614) since the trade. He had a .481 slugging percentage at the time of the transaction. Hatcher said the addition of Teixeira has taken some pressure off Guerrero.
"[Guerrero] may not have the numbers that he's had in the past, but he's turned it up a notch lately," Hatcher said. "We clinched early and were able to give him some rest. But with Teixeira and Hunter, [Guerrero] doesn't think he has to carry the team like he used to. We're solid all the way through the lineup. We don't have to put it all on his shoulders."
Guerrero finished at .303 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs, all the second-lowest marks over a full season in his career, but clubs still pitch to him warily.
"We certainly respect his ability to do damage," Francona said. "There is not a pitch you can throw that Vlad doesn't think he can hit. You throw it of his shoe tops, you throw it head high and he can leave the ballpark on any swing. When you talk about missing off the plate with him, you better miss [way] off.
"We've had success with him at times, and [there are] times when he's hit the ball a long way. With the addition of the guys they have in their lineup, though, that changes the way you can attack hitters or not attack hitters."
The Angels expect the offense to be there this postseason after going missing last October.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.