The Daily Prospectus: SoDo Mojo vs. Anaheim Paradigm

by Jonah Keri

The following will cheese off Mariners fans. Sorry. Feel free to send me your black cats and cracked mirrors if this blows up in your face.

It's on. Leave work early, get to a radio, a Webcast, anything that will carry today's Angels-Rangers and Athletics-Mariners games. If the Angels lose and the M's win today, get ready for what could be one of the most exciting series in years--Angels-M's, in Anaheim. After being left for dead just five days ago, the M's could then complete one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

How the hell did we get to this point? As the Angels and M's readied for last Saturday's matinee, the Angels needed one win in its next eight games to clinch a playoff spot. If the M's lost even once during that time, same result, Angels get in.

I don't have a stats professor from Columbia handy. Let's just say the odds of a one-game playoff at the end of the week were roughly equal to a BP-Meets-Chippendales calendar.

But weird things started happening. Last weekend, I flew up to Seattle to catch Saturday's M's-Angels game with Derek Zumsteg and Jeff Bower. Friday's loss set up a chance for me to see, for the first time in person, a team clinch a playoff spot.

Instead, I saw Jeff Cirillo, he of the 248/299/328 season, blast a monster double in the third, his first extra-base hit since the Taft administration. In the fifth, the M's exploded for six runs, keyed by a Troy Glaus error on a routine throw to second.

Even with a five-run lead, cynical M's fans expected trouble. A Ben Molina solo shot and a Darin Erstad two-run blast cut the lead to 6-4 in the seventh. That set the stage for a nervy ninth, with Kaz Sasaki bringing his increasingly gimpy arm in to try and save it. After loading the bases for Garret Anderson, Sasaki looking awful all the while, I fully expected to see Ben Weber and Brendan Donnelly maniacally dousing each other with Rally Monkey-brand champagne on SportsCenter that night.

Except Sasaki capped a 34-pitch, 968-fake-throws-to-first inning by getting Anderson to fly out to left.

The next day, even weirder things. Fifth starter Ryan Franklin pitched a Moyeresque game. Willie Bloomquist, the man who makes Shawon Dunston look like Jim Thome, smacked four hits. M's 3, Angels 2.

Despite the two weekend wins, Sunday night's Seattle Pizza Feed featured three solid hours of M's fans' complaining. Why is Piniella so stupid? When will Jose Offerman make Pat Gillick look like a genius again? Anyone have any shady uncles who can make Luis Ugueto disappear?

Following a 116-win season by missing the playoffs will do that to you. After all, the M's couldn't possibly sweep the mighty A's, could they? Even if they did, who was Texas going to turn to if they wanted to beat the Angels? Anyone have Jon Matlack's number?

It's all happened so fast since then. Bloomquist gets three more hits Tuesday, the M's put a four-spot on Oakland in the 8th and win it. Mike Cameron hits a two-run bomb halfway to Vancouver to win again Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Angels' bats go cold. The third-best doubles-hitting team in the AL hits three in four games. The team batting .287 with runners in scoring position (also 3rd in the AL) knocks in just five runs with RISP in those four games. Ranked 11th in walks, the Angels eke out just nine walks in those four games.

Teams that rely on high batting averages, trying to get by on low walk totals and clutch hitting, are prone to nasty slumps like these. The fact that the slump has hit at the worst possible time may not have been expected. But you won't find the Angels chapter in BP2003 predicting a division title either.

So Angels fans, get your Colby Lewis voodoo dolls ready. M's fans, try to forget the damage BP's inflicted by touting the likes of Ryan Anderson.

Baseball fans, enjoy.

Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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