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October 18, 2009

On the Beat

Digging a Hole

by John Perrotto

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The Angels find themselves in a large hole in the American League Championship Series following their 13-inning loss to the Yankees earlier this morning at Yankee Stadium. As a result, the Angels are down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series to a Yankees team that had the best record in the major leagues during the regular season. Though the series shifts to Anaheim on Monday, the odds seem stacked against the Angels.

However, the Angels have one factor working in their favor-their skipper, Mike Scioscia. While he has about as low of a profile as any manager who has been on the job 10 years can have, many baseball people believe there is no one better at his job than Scioscia. Scioscia has compiled a 900-720 record in his decade with the Angels, leading them to six playoff appearances, five AL West titles in the past six years, and the franchise's lone World Series appearance and first World Series victory in 2002.

Perhaps the best indication of Scioscia's work is that his team's actual record has been better than its Pythagenpat record in each of the last five seasons, including by a whopping 11 games in 2008. Normally, Pythagenpat tends to even out from one year to the next, but the Angels' record for continually outplaying the numbers of victories they should have relative to their runs scored and allowed, a sign that Scioscia gets the most from his talent.

Scioscia had the reputation of being one of the most astute players of his generation when he was a catcher with the Dodgers from 1980-92. His reputation has only grown since replacing Terry Collins as the Angels' manager prior to the 2000 season. "I have had a lot of respect for Mike for a long time," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I played against him. I had a chance to coach against him. He plays a fast-paced brand of baseball. He is aggressive and I think he understands very well the pressure it puts on the pitcher-catcher relationship when you do that. I've always had a lot of respect for the way he's run his club. I felt that in a way he's been the face of that club for the last 10 years. They've been very, very successful under him. He's not afraid to sit a guy down if he feels he has to sit a guy down. He seems to have a very good handle on his club."

"Face of the franchise" has become one of the current catchphrases in professional sports. Almost always, it refers to a player. However, in the Angels' case, Scioscia really is the face of the franchise, as just three players remain from the '02 World Series winners: right-hander John Lackey, disabled reliever Scot Shields, and third baseman Chone Figgins. The self-effacing Scioscia laughs when it is suggested he is the FOF. "That's an ugly look," he said.

Turning serious, Scioscia brushed off the idea that he is the Angels' focal point. "I don't think it's accurate," he said. "I think being the manager and having the privilege to work with such a great organization, from the owner down to the general manager all the way down to the guys who are in player development and scouting, it's a team effort. It's not one guy that's running point on this thing. It's a whole group of guys that I think are very creative, have great baseball minds. It's just fun to be around and fun to keep moving in the right direction. I know it's not a one-man deal. I think that if you're going to look to someone of being the face of an organization, I think you're probably going to look to a player who's contributed a lot over the years, whether it's Timmy Salmon or Vlad Guerrero or Garret Anderson or John Lackey, or Torii Hunter now. Those guys on the field are who you are going to win or lose with and that's where the focus should be."

---

The weather has been a factor at times in the postseason, something not totally unexpected since the start of the regular season was pushed back a week to accommodate a longer spring training that was necessitated by the World Baseball Classic. Because of the late start, a potential World Series Game Seven is scheduled for November 5, which would be latest a Fall Classic game has ever been played. The first two games of the ALCS were played in frigid conditions at Yankee Stadium, with game-time temperatures of 45 in Game One, and 47 in Game Two to go with a stiff wind.

The weather figures to be no better tonight when the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Phillies resumes in Philadelphia with the series tied at 1-1. The National Weather Service is calling for a game-time temperature of 38 degrees at Citizens Bank Park, with winds as high as 16 mph.

While players like to use the time-honored cliché that both teams have to play in the same conditions, the managers admit the elements definitely have an effect at this time of year. "It has an effect on everybody to a certain degree but I think bad weather favors the pitcher," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "I remember back to when I was catching for the Cardinals and Bob Gibson would pitch in San Francisco in the cold weather. We used to watch it and enjoy it, especially when you're on his side, because nobody wanted to hit against him. Hitting is a little bit tougher. The tough thing about pitching is obviously the feel of the ball. If it gets really cold, then all of a sudden the ball becomes a little slicker and you may not be able to have the command you'd like to have, especially if you're a touch-and-feel guy. So it affects both but I don't know of any hitter who really enjoys hitting in cold weather."

The Phillies played in frigid weather in Denver during the National League Division Series winning both games in which the temperatures at first pitch were 35 and 48. "I think it affects the hitter more than the pitcher, I think," said Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, scheduled to start tonight against the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda. "As a pitcher, you're steadily moving around and your heart rate is up. The position players, the guys behind me and the guys having to swing the bats, are more worried about the cold than I am. Once I get going, the blood is flowing and I'm up there working consistently, I don't feel the coldness. Sometimes maybe the ball feels a little slick, so you've got to be conscious of that. That's why you blow on the hand, lick the fingers, hit the resin bag, things like that, to keep some feel in your hands."

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The Phillies are trying to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champions since the Reds won back-to-back titles in 1975-76. In fact, no team has won consecutive World Series since the Yankees captured three in a row from 1998-2000. Torre managed those Yankees teams, and understands the difficulty the Phillies are facing in trying to repeat.

"First off, you've got a bulls-eye on your back," Torre said. "Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. Then, if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what he can do against the world champs. So, I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there."

However, Torre believes the Phillies have what it takes to repeat after experiencing the challenges of a regular season as the defending champs and surviving to win the NL East with a 93-69 record. "I think that's the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they've been," Torre aid. "Early in the year, they didn't win any games at home. It didn't seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that's why they're so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch-hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then (right fielder Jayson) Werth, who's that blue-collar guy, they're going to fight you every step of the way. They're a ballclub that has a purpose."

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Larry Bowa is the Dodgers' third-base coach, but a part of his heart will always belong to the Phillies. He played shortstop for them from 1970-81, managed them from 2001-04, and he still makes his off-season home in suburban Philadelphia.

Now he is in the odd situation of facing his former team in the NLCS for a second straight season. Though the Dodgers lost to the Phillies last year, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Jerardi that he did not begrudge them just the second World Series championship in franchise history. The other came in 1980 when Bowa was playing. "The fans deserve that," Bowa said. "I told (the Dodgers' players), 'You don't want to go there and play because they're diehards.' These are polite fans (in Los Angeles), very polite. I think it makes you tougher when you play (in Philadelphia). They're just good fans. I know they're mean at times, but that's the way the Northeast is."

Bowa was also happy that some of his ex-players were able to win a World Series. "You know what I liked about it?" Bowa said. "I had (Pat) Burrell, I had (Brett) Myers, I had Jimmy Rollins, a little bit of (Chase) Utley, not a lot. I don't want to say anything or pat myself on the back. I took over a team that was terrible. We came in second place four years in a row. We came up short, no question. But to see those particular names … When I first took the job and was talking to them, I said, 'You guys have no idea what it is to go down Broad Street in a parade.' And Jimmy kept saying, 'Yeah, right.' When we played them the first time this season, he goes, 'I know what you're talking about.' They tasted it and they want to do it again. They're a tough team."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Indians aren't saying who they have interviewed for their open managerial job, but it is believed that Triple-A Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo and short-season Mahoning Valley manager Travis Fryman are internal candidates, and three former major league managers-Manny Acta, Clint Hurdle, and Bobby Valentine-are also on the list. … The Tigers are likely to non-tender outfielder Marcus Thames after he became a non-factor down the stretch this season. … The Cubs are expected to make a strong run at hiring hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who was fired by the Rangers this past week. … The Giants are giving thought to promoting Triple-A Fresno hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens to replace the fired Carney Lansford, although the organization's long-time minor league hitting coordinator Bob Mariano is also likely to get consideration.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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