Tuesday, May 22, 2007

So, the Sweep

That really was a great sweep, wasn't it? Two fairly equally matched teams, one just kicking ass on the other all weekend. Of course, I'm referring to UC Riverside's sweep of Long Beach State, vaulting the Highlanders into first place in the Big West, and probably locking up no worse than a spot in the field of 64 for the second time in school history. They can clinch a share of the conference title with a win against UCI this weekend. If they win one, and LBSU loses at least one in their season finale against Cal State Fullerton, the Highlanders take the title outright.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the Angels. Alright, so I missed Saturday's game. It happens. I was unavoidably detained, drinking heavily with friends, including one who writes a national baseball column, so at least baseball was on the conversation menu. And Sunday was more or less spent recovering from Saturday's activities.

As has been the case recently, the pitching dominated yet again, and early offense set the tone, with the Angels getting first inning runs in every game. Ervin Santana continued his home goodness allowing one run over six innings to win the opener. Jered Weaver got himself back to .500 with another quality start, pushing his ERA down to 3.46 for the season. And on Sunday, Kelvim rebounded from a rough start to shut out the Dodgers over eight innings on Sunday.

It's been pointed out that Reggie Willits has a knack for getting on base. But one of his most useful tools is his ability to see a lot of pitches in every plate appearance. As mentioned in the Times article, this helps the Angels get to their opponents bullpen earlier. But what's occasionally overlooked is what this does for Orlando Cabrera, and nowhere was this benefit more evident than in game one. Willits drew a walk in a long at bat, seeing (IIRC) about seven pitches before getting the free pass. Not only did Cabrera get a chance to see much of Brad Penny's arsenal from the on-deck circle, but Penny had extra incentive to start the at bat off with a strike to avoid another long at bat. The result was a fastball that Cabrera hammered to left center field for an RBI double, and just like that, the Angels led 1-0. It's another example of Willits' value to the Angels, and it's why Mike Scioscia is going to have a hard time getting him out of the line up when Garret Anderson returns.

So the lead is up to 4.5 games as the Angels hit the road to face the Tigers and Yankees. The good news is that Ervin will start only one game on the trip, and it's in a pitchers' park. They've now won 8 of 10, and we're reaching the point of the season where champions open up ground on their pursuers. A 3-3 trip would be acceptable. A 4-2 trip would be great. Anything else is gravy.

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