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Sunday, September 21, 2008

S-Rod's Three-Run Jack, Lackey Dominance Highlight Halo Sweep: Angels 7, Rangers 3

There's probably an argument that Mark Teixeira's two-run homer in the first that kicked off scoring in this game was the crucial catalyst, since it really provided John Lackey with his first lead. Sean Rodriguez's three-run jack came too late to do much for Lackey, who pitched the last scoreless frame of his appearance. By that time, Lackey had already flirted with tying Nolan Ryan's franchise mark of fanning eight consecutive batters, but Ramon Vazquez lined out to third to lead off the fourth to snap the streak.

It was hardly a concern. Lackey clearly had his A stuff, fanning a career-high twelve batters over six frames, his pitch count going far too high to let him stay in any longer. The rest of the Angels' pitching staff did their jobs without too much difficulty, Jose Arredondo with a pair of scoreless innings, and Jason Bulger with an all-too-predictable three-run homer in the ninth that made me wonder whether he's ever going to be a useful major league pitcher.

But beyond today's game — beyond perhaps even this postseason — it's vital that the Angels know they can count on Rodriguez to produce. As happy as I have been to see Howie Kendrick in the lineup, his injury history has left his 2008 something of a disappointment. He has yet to have 400 or more at-bats in a season, and he really needs to show he can stay healthy over a whole year. Unless Howie starts facing live pitching, and this week, he's a scratch for the postseason. More, Howie really fell apart in August with a .236/.277/.270 line. S-Rod's September is actually out-slugging Howie's August (.215/.268/.354), so it's not like the drop-off is quite as steep, especially when you consider that S-Rod is on much better terms with Mr. Ball Four.

Not that I'm trying to cast aspersions on Howie's future value; far from it. At his best, Howie was slugging .694 (in April), which is somewhat over his full-season PCL numbers by about .200, but no one expected him to carry that through the whole year. Hopefully, the lesson he takes from 2008 is how hard he can push himself and when to back off. As for S-Rod, the Angels have discovered a useful replacement for, at the very least, one of Maicer Izturis and/or Robb Quinlan.

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