Five Cuts: Falling Angels
1. The Angels are staring into an 0-2 hole in Game 3 of their American League Division Series against the Red Sox on Sunday night. To say that the Angels, who won 100 games in the regular season -- including eight of nine against the Sox -- are not playing their game would be a vast understatement. "We haven't seen what won us 100 games out there," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Sunday in Boston. "We haven't seen our team on the field. That's what's been frustrating for us." Especially galling is the fact that the Angels have not stolen any bases. Howie Kendrick is feeling some heat for that. Scioscia is vowing to stick by his second baseman, though he hit just .267 (with a .313 OBP) in six September games after his return from a hamstring pull and is 0 for 9 in the two ALDS games.
2. J.D. Drew's home run off the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez on Friday night in Game 2 was huge for a lot of reasons. It squelched an L.A. comeback. It put the Sox up 2-0 in the best-of-five series. And it showed that the tender Drew, when used correctly, can be counted on this postseason. The home run was nearly impossible to fathom, given the state of Drew's health. The Sox outfielder is still fighting back problems that limited him to 16 games since the beginning of August. "I've got some residual issues going on," Drew admitted on Saturday at Fenway Park. "But I'm able to heat it up enough ... to stay out there on the field." Manager Terry Francona will see how Drew feels on Sunday before deciding whether he wants to play him against lefty Joe Saunders in Game 3.
3. When it comes to the Great Flameout of 2008, it's going to be hard for Cubs' fans to forgive Alfonso Soriano. The free-swinging left fielder and leadoff man had one hit in 14 at-bats against the Dodgers -- that's .071 if you're counting -- as the Cubs' got swept out of the National League Division Series.
It wasn't so much that he didn't hit, though, but that he looked awful in not hitting. Soriano struck out four times in the three games, and even worse for a leadoff hitter who's not hitting, failed to work a single walk and, in fact, looked painfully impatient in almost all of his at-bats. In the Cubs' season-ending Game 3 loss on Saturday night in Los Angeles, he had two one-pitch at-bats and one two-pitch effort. In his final time up Soriano tried to show a little patience, taking the first pitch from closer Jonathon Broxton for a strike. He then swung through the next two nasty sliders to end the game. His only hit in the series was a single against Chad Billingsley to lead off Game 2.
Soriano always has been miscast as a leadoff hitter. His failure to get on in front of the middle of the Cubs' lineup -- especially Derrek Lee, who had six hits and batted .545 in the series but failed to drive in a single run -- was a big reason why the Cubs scored only six runs in the three games. Chicago hit .240 and had a .282 on-base percentage in the series.
4. With a surprisingly effective 5 1/3 innings from Dave Bush on Saturday against the Phillies, the Brewers now turn to Jeff Suppan in their never-ending scramble to find a starter that can give them a few good innings. So far in the series, despite trailing 2-1 after their 4-1 win on Saturday and despite the hiccup from an undoubtedly bushed CC Sabathia in his Game 2 start, you have to give the Brewers' pitchers credit. In the three games Milwaukee's staff has given up nine runs to the Phils, a team that averaged almost five runs a game in the regular season, and only six have been earned. Surprises: Milwaukee's maligned bullpen has not given up an earned run in three games. Eric Gagne has given up only one hit in two innings of relief and lefty Mitch Stetter hasn't given up any in 1 1/3 innings.
5. The White Sox, facing their third win-or-go-home game in a week, will start John Danks against the Rays on Sunday in Game 3 of that ALDS. Danks was the winning pitcher last Tuesday when the Sox dumped the Twins, 1-0, in Game 163 to win the AL Central title. The lefty threw eight innings of two-hit ball. "[The Rays are] very similar to Minnesota in that they have guys that do all the small things. They'll bunt, they'll hit-and-run, they'll steal. Middle of the lineup you've got to be careful," Danks said on Saturday in Chicago. "So really Minnesota and Tampa Bay are very similar and hopefully we can pitch the same way like we did the other day."
Danks' key to success on Tuesday was his efficiency; he threw 103 pitches, including four innings of 12 pitches or fewer. It was only the second time he had gone eight innings all year. A little patience against Danks in the first couple of innings, a little working the count, could go a long way toward getting Tampa Bay into the AL Championship Series.