The Yankees’ series win over the Angels felt too easy. It was strangely and almost eerily easy. Sure the Yankees nearly blew both their wins over the Halos with a shaky bullpen and some shakier managing, but they came away with the series win despite those things. Even though the Yankees won their third series in as many tries to open the 2010 season, I feel like they could have and should have swept the Angels. And if Javier Vazquez didn’t lay an egg against Joel Pineiro, maybe they would have.
I think the Angels are close to forfeiting their title as an elite team in baseball. Now this isn’t as sure of a thing as it was for me to put the finishing touches on David Ortiz’s career as “Big Papi” last week, but I believe we are watching the Angels’ slow fall from grace. This doesn’t mean that the Angels won’t wind up winning the West – a division in which even the A’s have a chance – it just means they are no longer the threat they used to be.
I used to look at the Yankees schedule and search for series the Yankees could win, series they could split and then series against the Angels. The Angels were their own separate entity on the Yankees’ calendar and they deserved to be. The most wins you could pencil the Yankees in for against the Angels in a three-game set was one, and then hope they get lucky and win a second game.
Mike Scioscia might very well be the best manager in baseball and the Angels might run one of the best fundamentally sound organizations in the game, but they have slowly pulled key pieces of their franchise out like blocks from a Jenga tower, and their carefully constructed foundation looks ready to crumble.
Prior to the Yankees’ ALCS win over the Angels last October, I would have rather had the Yankees play any team other than the Angels. I would have gladly gone through the physical and emotional grind of another Yankees-Red Sox seven-game series if it meant the Yankees wouldn’t have to face the Angels. But after the Yankees beat the Angels in relative ease in October, it became obvious that the team built to expose every flaw of the Yankees over the last decade was no longer capable of doing so.
Howie Kendrick’s three days in the Bronx best summed up the state of the Angels. Kendrick, a career .409 hitter against the Yankees in 31 games, left town after going a miserable 1-for-11 with a walk. Over the last few years, Kendrick had become the biggest Yankee killer since Ortiz, and as a favor to the pure fastball hitter, the Yankees always made sure to give him a steady diet of middle-of-the-plate heaters.
Kendrick wasn’t the only Angel who consistently hurt the Yankees though; it was the entire lineup one through nine, the starting rotation and the bullpen. I grew to despise Chone Figgins, Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero and was pessimistic about the Yankees facing John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez. But all those players have left, leaving the Angels with a completely different cast of characters to try and keep the Halos as the best in the West.
There is no one on the Angels I fear the way I used to, and because of that, there is no one I have a strong dislike for on the team anymore. With the Angels looking like they will experience a decline in success, my animosity has turned to other players around the league that aren’t just Red Sox. Here is my All-Animosity Team in the majors:
Catcher: This is the only lineup in which Jason Varitek gets to start for, so I’m sure he would be happy to be a part of it. During Varitek’s freefall over the last couple of seasons, the fact that he was more of an automatic out than National League pitchers wasn’t an issue in Boston because Bostonians were made to believe that he could call a great game, and that was enough to offset his atrocious abilities at the plate. Now that he has been relegated to a job formerly held by Doug Mirabelli and Josh Bard, we will no longer have to see Varitek stand up behind the plate for a high fastball, or see his uniform with “C” on it with any frequency.
First base: Kevin Youkilis plays the game hard, and he is the textbook example for a guy you’d love on your team, but hate to see playing against your team. His entire look, demeanor, unorthodox batting stance and approach to the game is worth despising, and that’s before you factor in his .317 career average against the Yankees. Youkilis has taken over as the most feared hitter in the Red Sox lineup, becoming one of the toughest outs in baseball, and therefore my disgust with him has grown ten fold.
Second base: Everything about Dustin Pedroia’s game says that I should like him. His blue-collar style of play, knack for big hits and bigger defensive plays are the qualities anyone would want in a player on their favorite team. But he falls under the same category as Youkilis as a player you hate, but would love if they were on your team. Pedroia is the last person I want to see at the plate for the Red Sox in a big spot, and for that, he gets the nod at second base.
Third base: I could write an entire piece on the daggers Chone Figgins has dealt the Yankees in his career. Figgins had been the most important hitter to get out in the Angels lineup for opposing teams and allowing him to reach base meant stolen bases and runs scored. Without Figgins the Angels are a different team, and with him the Mariners are as well. The Yankees have yet to get a taste of Ichiro and Figgins hitting back-to-back, but I’m sure when they do it will include a lot of pitches, infield singles and stolen bases.
Shortstop: If Jose Reyes didn’t play for the Mets, I probably wouldn’t mind him, but he does, so I do. My dislike for Reyes began when Mets fans began the debate as to whether he was better than Derek Jeter, and they even believed they had sufficient evidence to support their case. But Mets fans will believe anything, including the idea that their one-man rotation can keep them in contention this season.
Left field: I didn’t even want to look up Manny Ramirez’s career numbers against the Yankees for a fear of flashbacks and cold sweats, but I know he is the right person for left field. Manny’s removal from the AL East was as relieving as Dom’s removal from Entourage, and his departure immediately destroyed the middle of the Red Sox lineup. Seeing Manny share a dugout and high fives with Joe Torre has only added to his career of torment for Yankees fans.
Center field: Vernon Wells’ demise since signing that albatross contract should be enough for me to forgive him for his clutch hits and web gems throughout his career against the Yankees. Wells appears to have found the talent that J.P. Ricciardi thought was worth giving $126 million, and the Yankees don’t see the Blue Jays until midsummer, but something tells me that Vernon will solidify his spot in this lineup at some point.
Right field: With 20 home runs and a .311 average against the Yankees, Magglio Ordonez and his floppy flow is an easy pick for right field on the All-Dislike Team. It was Magglio’s home run in Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS that got the ball rolling for the Tigers offense as they put an end to the ’06 Yankees. Now Magglio is hitting behind former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson and former Yankee Johnny Damon and ahead of Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup. There will be plenty of more opportunities for me to increase my animosity for Magglio.
Starting pitcher: The 2003 World Series is plenty for any Yankees fan to forever hold a distaste for Josh Beckett. Then he went to the Red Sox and that just made everything worse. Even though I am not as worried about him on the mound as I am with Jon Lester or John Lackey, since the Yankees seem to hit him around (5.51 ERA in 18 starts), there is just something about Josh Beckett that makes me not a fan. I don’t think it’s the oddly uneven dirt patch on his chin, the 53 necklaces he wears during starts or the fact that he is always getting bailed out from taking a loss, but it’s something. I’m just not sure exactly what it is.
Closer: When The Departed came out, I liked the song “Shipping Up To Boston.” I even had downloaded it on iTunes. I haven’t played it since Jonathan Papelbon began using it as his entrance song, and after “Sweet Caroline,” it is the only other song that makes me cringe now. Papelbon’s stare and infield dance routine are bad enough, but him thinking he is somehow greater than or equal to Mariano Rivera only makes his personality less appealing. Papelbon hasn’t been as lights out as he was when he first took over as closer of the Red Sox and his fastball seems to have lost a step. I can only hope it loses all the steps.
Manager: For Joe Maddon it’s a combination of things. It’s his glasses, his “I’m 56 years old, but I manage a team of 20-somethings, so I’m going to act hip” attitude and his cockiness about the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Maddon is the creepy old guy that is a regular at popular colleges bars, and becomes a school wide icon and a fixture in the background of Facebook photos. It’s time he lost the Drew Carey glasses for some normal old-guy glasses and became more worried about the fact that he has only one lefty in his bullpen and it’s Randy Choate, and less worried about being hip and cool with his player.