With Kazmir, Angels aim to avoid playoff slump

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Los Angeles Angels have done plenty of Octobers lately as the ballclub that would pitch just well enough to lose in some searing, painful manner, often because the Red Sox could both pitch and, well, hit.

It's why the Red Sox have held two parades this decade and the Angels one – that and the fact Disney sold the Angels, otherwise there'd be, like, two a week, just to get Snow White out in front of something and selling videos.

Point being, the Angels have hummed along all season, winning ballgames and presumably running toward their fifth AL West title in six years, and just to kill a little time, they might have debated which was worse: their starting rotation or their bullpen.

Yeah, they scored with the big boys, up there with the Yankees and Red Sox, better for most of the season. They got on base and hit for average and when they got guys in scoring position, then they really hit. And of course they ran like they were 7-year-olds and the ice-cream truck just rounded the corner, sometimes just that discerning, too.

They won. And they're still winning, mostly. It just looked so different around Angels Stadium this summer, what with all the big scores and all the different starting pitchers (14) and all the innings from the relievers. If Mike Scioscia didn't drop a pants size or two just getting to the mound and back, he just wasn't trying.

A good half-decade spent trying to win championships with pitching, defense, baserunning and a trap-door offense was gone, replaced by blown elbows and fat pitches and enough fifth starters to fill an airport shuttle van, which incidentally they did more than once, given all the guys they were running in and out of Salt Lake.

They were getting outpitched by the Rangers, who aren't going away. In fact, they were getting outpitched by every team that had even a remote chance at the playoffs. So, the Angels were going to club their way into the postseason, or not. And then, if they got there, they were going to club their way to a championship, a bit like they did seven years ago, or not.

Because, five months in, they were exactly who they were – a pitching staff that was injured early, that bucked up when they lost friend and prospect Nick Adenhart(notes), that couldn't get much right beyond Jered Weaver(notes) and Brian Fuentes(notes) and Darren Oliver(notes), that was going to live with a season that wouldn't ever go quite right.

"Hey, whatever works," John Lackey(notes) said Tuesday afternoon. "Seems like we've tried it several different ways over the years."

This was before the Angels beat the Mariners in 10 innings, 3-2. Before Scott Kazmir(notes) allowed a run in seven innings, becoming the eighth starter in 10 games to allow one or no runs. Before the offense went for three or fewer runs for the sixth time in seven games.

And just as we became convinced that this would be an Angels team unlike most others in recent memory, it's beginning to look like many others. Must be October up ahead. The Angels have scored three runs a game for a week, against the Mariners, Royals and Mariners again. They've run into Felix Hernandez(notes) twice and Zack Greinke(notes) once, which didn't help, but won two of those games. Lackey is pitching again like an ace, or at least getting there.

"My last couple months," he said, "kind of speak for themselves."

So there you go. Weaver does remain sturdy enough, and deserves special mention for being there, end to end.

"People forget," Gary Matthews Jr.(notes) said, "he pitched really well for us when we needed him to. We didn't have anyone to turn to and Weave became that guy for us."

Joe Saunders(notes) and Ervin Santana(notes) are difficult to read. The key now would appear to be Kazmir, the slight lefty from Tampa with the big lefty stuff, who in two starts for the Angels has drawn King Felix both times, allowed two earned runs total and has a loss and a no-decision to show for them.

By the time he got the ball Tuesday evening, the Rangers had won once in Cleveland and were well on their way to winning again. He allowed three hits, none between Franklin Gutierrez's(notes) first-inning home run and Jose Lopez's(notes) sixth-inning single. He wore out the inside corner to right-handers with fastballs. He tuned up a slider that's still coming, having abandoned it for his changeup (and, perhaps, lingering elbow issues) last season and having lost some touch for it while on the DL this May and June.

Down for most of the season, Kazmir's velocity has been better since the middle of August, and he did dabble in the mid-90s on Tuesday night. The old Angels offense (of, like, two weeks ago) would have made for an easier night, even against Felix, who wasn't as sharp as he's been and still went a good, hard seven.

Fuentes blew Kazmir's win on the second pitch of the ninth, which Mike Sweeney(notes) hit over the center-field fence. Kazmir later shrugged. He was happy for the run in the 10th.

"I'm just trying to do my part out here," he said.

Asked if he'd arrived in the trade with anything particular in mind, perhaps retaking his reputation as a developing ace or becoming that full-bird ace, anything like that, Kazmir said, "If you're talking about winning a World Series, yeah. That's the objective. Nothing less."

Funny, now, how things have turned on that front. Looks like the Angels are pitching again, at least for the moment. The rest, well, that would be just cruel, wouldn't it?

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