The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have long had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball and there is a 25-year-old hard throwing sensation which has made this feat possible.
Ever since Francisco Rodriguez led the Angels to the 2002 World Series victory at the young age of 20, the expectations haven’t been easy.
Rodriguez was considered the franchise’s savior after going 5-0 in the postseason and striking out 28 batters in just 18 and two-thirds innings.
His burden continued to grow with the Angels letting fan favorite Troy Percival walk away in free agency, leaving Frankie with the closer role.
Since that time, Rodriguez has been the premiere closer in all of baseball.
He became the youngest ever to record 100 saves at the age of 24, and he is currently converting saves at an 85 percent rate.
Rodriguez recently shut down the Yankees over the weekend, including a 10 pitch duel with Derek Jeter in the ninth inning with the tying run on third base, to help the Angels sweep the slumping New York Yankees.
It is a testament to the Angels that they are the only team to have a winning record against the Yankees since Joe Torre took over in 1996, but than again a solid pitching staff always beats good hitting. And these days, the Angels seem to be thriving in the former category while the Yankees continue to invest ridiculously in the latter.
But the match up with the Bronx Bombers also showed Yankees owner George Steinbrenner what Rodriguez is capable of.
There are rumors spreading within the Yankees organization that they are interested obtaining Rodriguez because of the Angels’ inability to lock their star into a long term deal.
In the past years the Halos have let Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina, Bobby Jenks, Derrick Turnbow and David Eckstein all leave to play for other teams. Glaus routinely hits 30 home runs for the Blue Jays, Molina continues to be a clutch hitter for the Giants, Jenks led the White Sox to the 2005 World Series in the closers role, Turnbow is with the resurgent Milwaukee Brewers and Eckstein was the World Series MVP last year.
The Angels haven’t had a respectable offense in the past three years and only Vladimir Guerrero has hit 10 or more home runs. Gary Matthews Jr., who is stuck in a Human Growth Hormone controversy, is the next closest with six home runs.
With these dismal power numbers, no batter instills any fear in an opposing pitcher and if the Angels continue to win, the bullpen will have to play an integral part to their success.
Other pitchers continue to shine for the Halos with Scott Shields continuing to become the best set up man in all of baseball.
The one-two punch of Shields and Rodriguez is almost unbeatable and with teams continuing to demand Shields in any trade the Angels possibly make this season, his loss will be a devastating blow to the team.
Angels fans shouldn’t be thinking of the World Series yet as they still need to add one more hitter to the lineup to support Guerrero.
A trade is highly unlikely with General Manager Bill Stoneman still calling the shots, but the recent play of rookie Reggie Willits and a healthy Howie Kenrick have the base stealing, situational hitting and scrappy Angels back to full strength.
As of Sunday, the Halos have the best record in the American League West at 31-20 and have won nine of their past 11 games.
Along with the bullpen, the starting pitching has been superb. John Lackey continues to shine with a major-league leading eight wins and Bartolo Colon and Jarred Weaver look to have recovered from early season injuries.
The Angels need to learn that Ervin Santana apparently can’t pitch on the road and try to schedule him when the team plays at home. So far this year, Santana is 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA at Angels Stadium but a 0-4 with a 7.86 ERA on the road.
The last Angeles starter, Kelvin Escobar, has been on his game as of late, but if the Angels put him in the bullpen during the postseason, the Angels should make another trip to the World Series. Right now the ideal move is to keep him the rotation but with a stacked starting five, the Angels should consider other options to utilize his skills.
Almost a third of the way through the season, Manager Mike Scioscia has the Halos on pace to win 90-plus games.
It is going to be a tough road to the rest of the season for the Angels but it looks as if they have regained their dominant form and are likely to advance to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.
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