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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Santana Bails Out His Offensive Offense: Angels 3, Tigers 2

I complain mightily that the Dodgers insist on playing stiffs like Andruw Jones ahead of visibly better players such as Andre Ethier. The Angels are a little better about this, but only just, and Mike Scioscia's obscene insistence at batting Matthews in the one or two slots is one of those blind spots that is absolutely killing the Angels of late. As you can see from the Baseball-Reference lineups report, Willits has had exactly three chances to bat leadoff, where he has hit a small-sample-sized .154/.267/.231; last year, that was .267/.359/.322 in 273 plate appearances. A .359 OBP is nothing to sneeze at, especially when the Angels are struggling to get men on at the top of the lineup.

All of this is to say that, given the team is struggling to score runs, why is Gary Matthews, Jr. playing ahead of Reggie Willits? While I think everyone knows the answer to that is the silly contract handed out to GMJ, the real danger here is that one or two hits if sufficiently located will continue to get him playing time. If you're going to stick a weak stick in left, doesn't it make sense to put the highest OBP one there? It was no coincidence that Willits provided the rally-sparking infield single in the eighth, pinch-hitting for the hapless Brandon Wood. Matthews should be close to playing himself out of a job (and frankly, off the team), but for the team's veteran fetish. The Angels won on a pair of singles, Garret Anderson's in the eighth and Matthews' in the ninth. I'll complain about the team's lack of power after they start showing they can even hit.

Ervin Santana, therefore, almost had to pitch a complete game shutout. The CG he got, but not the shutout, as he allowed a two-run jack in the second to Miguel Cabrera. Aside from that, he faced the minimum, so only 29 batters came to the plate. That, darlings, is something special, and one of the best outings we've seen from him all year. (A special word to his catcher, Jeff Mathis, part of the offensive cipher at the bottom of the lineup, but who caught Curtis Granderson stealing on an 0-0 count pitchout in the sixth. He was out by a step or two, from memory.) A good show, and especially necessary considering yesterday's extra-innings game.

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It's easy to point the finger at Matthews, but he's driven in what, three of their last six runs? When you're forced (and they are forced) to play Wood and Rodriguez, and you compound it with Mathis, it's like starting three pitchers in an A.L. lineup. They just have to weather the storm until Figgins and Kendrick return, if they ever do.

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