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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Angels 10, Tigers 4

You might be tempted to think Lackey had figured something out in yesterday's 10-4 subduing of the AL Central's 2004 surprise team, the Tigers. But for my taste, there were too many circumstances surrounding the win that made it less than a cause for celebration:
  1. Lackey continues to struggle to get the last out. Even against the Tigers, he couldn't close the seventh. And while he did put up a brilliant 6 2/3 frames prior to his exit...
  2. ... It wasn't against the best team in the division, either. Even on Pudge-roids, this is not a team that's going to be anything better than .500.
  3. Lackey's strikeout drought is very worrying. Voros taught us that strikeouts, strikeouts, and strikeouts are what make a pitcher consistently great, and Lack's failure to collect some K's from even this weak lineup is cause for still more concern. Given that John's prior appearances have all been against good-hitting AL West teams, you might let Lackey slide, but I'm not so sure that excuse holds anymore. His K/9 is now a dangerously low 2.01; he'd better get that up there soon or he might find himself on the wrong side of a demotion to the bullpen. (Kevin Gregg, your 9.42 K/9 is calling to me...)
  4. Likewise, the schedule has hidden the injuries. That is, the team's struggles against Oakland in the first series are more representative of their general level of play than the recent road sweep, which, as Sean put it, "seems to have exposed their weaknesses more than our strengths." Are the Angels' bats coming alive? Well, not against Mulder and Hudson they aren't, and not consistently against Zito, either. If we can somehow hypnotize Billy Beane into thinking Nate Cornejo is the answer to their five spot problems, we'd be all set... We'll need a completely healthy lineup to play well against the A's. Anderson's back, Vlad's knee, Eck's groin, and on occaision, Troy's hamstrings haven't cooperated.
  5. The bullpen misses Donnelly something fierce. Of course, in defense of Shields, he was pitching in some awful conditions -- well below 40F on field at the time, and according to the announcers, around freezing with wind chill. The Tigers pen, facing the same conditions, had similar problems. But that's the Tigers, you might think, and I'd be inclined to agree.
Nonetheless, a win's a win, and the Angels got to the postseason in 2002 by whupping up hard on the weak teams and taking their licks from the strong ones. The bad news is it's not at all clear anymore whether there are any bad teams in the AL West, not with Texas roaring out of the gate the way they have, and Seattle still having a strong if not dominant pitching staff. 95 wins could take the division this year.
Addendum: for what it's worth, Lackey's average on balls in play (BABIP in DIPS-speak) has risen to a remarkable .242, much higher than the .222 and .217 he posted in 2002 and 2003 respectively. It's a sign he's pitching in bad luck, but as we also know from Voros' work, pitchers in bad luck seldom get to stick around very long, so we infrequently get to see whether the bad luck evens out.

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