Via the Times -
But the Los Angeles Angels pulled off a riveting two-out rally of their own in the ninth inning on Sunday to finish off the Boston Red Sox.
After Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon retired the first two batters in the inning, Los Angeles had a mere 1.3 percent chance to win, according to Fangraphs.com. But the Angels strung together a single, a walk, a run-scoring double, an intentional walk and a two-out single by Vladimir Guerrero to take a 7-6 lead. Brian Fuentes pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, and the Red Sox were swept from the playoffs.
Papelbon’s surface numbers this year were excellent – a 1.85 earned run average, 38 saves and a 4.88 Win Probability Added that led all relievers – but his peripheral statistics revealed chinks in his armor. After walking 4.8 percent of opposing batters from 2006 to 2008, he handed out free passes to 8.4 percent in 2009.
Nonetheless, his newfound propensity for walks got the better of him Sunday.
Additionally, Papelbon showed an uncharacteristic inability to put hitters away. His strikeout rate this year of 10 per nine innings was in line with his career totals, but he has shown an increasing tendency to rely on his fastball. He threw it 81.5 percent of the time in 2009 versus 73.5 percent in his breakout 2006.
In this appearance, he did not trust his off-speed stuff enough to throw a single breaking ball; all 25 pitches in the inning (excluding the intentional walk) were fastballs. Major league batters will always be able to hit 96-mph fastballs if they do not have to worry about anything coming in under 92 – particularly a team like Los Angeles that emphasizes making contact. Three Angels faced two strikes with two outs, and each of them reached base.
After dispatching the Red Sox with atypical ease, the Angels will have to contend with the game’s undisputed juggernaut. The Yankees’ lineup has no weaknesses, but it is particularly proficient at clubbing home runs.
Keeping the Yankees’ hitters in the park requires a pitching staff with strong ground-ball tendencies.
The Colorado Rockies, whose rotation of sinkerballers mitigates the effect of their high-altitude home park, allowed flies on only 33 percent of batted balls. If they had wound up facing the Yankees in the World Series, they could have hadsome success at preventing power-fueled innings (like the 9th and 11th in Game 2, when home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira propelled the Yankees to a comeback victory against the Minnesota Twins).
But the Angels’ fly-ball rate of 40 percent was the sixth highest in the majors. Starter Jered Weaver, who allowed more than half of his batted balls in the air, could have a particularly rough time. If the Angels’ pitchers cannot adapt their approach to counter the slugging strength of their next opponents, they will probably find themselves sent home every bit as quickly as the Red Sox were in the first round.
Of course, this all depends on the Yankees batters making contact first…as you have to hit the ball to create a fly-ball…
But, this is encouraging news. It’s certainly better than hearing the Angels lead the league in getting ground-ball outs, etc.