Angels, Scioscia should be embarrassed

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The Yankees didn’t overpower them. Just once in the series did the Bombers really come out to play and turn a game into a rout. No, the Yankees were the better team going in and should have won this series anyway, but the Angels served it up on a platter.
Most notable were the eight errors, all of them legitimate and several of them costly. Even uglier were the mistakes on the basepaths, none more hideous than Vladimir Guerrero getting doubled on a routine fly to shallow right on Sunday. The hitters got less and less patient as the series went on. Only the pitching remained solid, but it was given so little to work with.
And while the players lost the series, Mike Scioscia’s star definitely lost some luster. Given the chance, he practically always went against the percentages and he had several decisions come back to bite him. And while Scioscia can’t control what happens on the field, the fact is that the team that he had a huge hand in assembling went out and choked. The Angels play the kind of baseball that old vets and writers lap up, but the fundamentals went right out the window against the Yankees.
Oddly enough, it turned out that the player the Angels are all ready to phase out was the star of the series. Guerrero went 10-for-27 with a homer and five RBI against the Yankees. He previously delivered the series-clinching hit against the Red Sox, and he ended up collecting at least one hit in all nine of the Angels’ postseason games. Unfortunately, Sunday’s baserunning blunder might be remembered at least as much as anything else he did against the Yankees.
Many other Angels wilted. The team totaled just three homers in the series, and the running game was pretty much a non-factor, even if Erick Aybar did go 3-for-3 stealing bases (the rest of the team was 1-for-2). Scott Kazmir struggled mightily in his start and threw away the Angels’ chances of a comeback win in Game 6 with a careless toss in his relief appearance. Chone Figgins was the biggest goat on offense, but the Angels should have been prepared for that going in.
Because Guerrero and Alex Rodriguez shined in the ALCS, Figgins perhaps now stands alone when it comes to active postseason futility. He did score one of the team’s runs Sunday after a flare to left off Mariano Rivera that barely eluded Derek Jeter’s glove. That’s about as close to hitting with authority as he came all month. He hit .130 against the Yankees, and he’s at .172/.223/.246 in 122 career postseason at-bats. Scioscia refusal to move him down after so many awful plate appearances hurt the team.
But if standing by Figgins was Scioscia’s worst sin, he would have had a fine series. Scioscia was handed what was essentially a lifetime contract from the Angels prior to this year, and he’s certainly not going to lose his job over a poor series. However, the regular-season success will only go so far.
Scioscia loves ignoring the numbers and playing favorites, and because his clubs keep winning, he gets the benefit of the doubt. It’s something that could begin to change if the October results don’t turn around. Scioscia’s teams have averaged 95 wins the last six years, yet are 2-5 in postseason series. The Angels should have more than the steroid-fueled 2002 championship to show for all of their recent success.

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

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The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.