Sluggish start puts Angels on the outside

It is hard to believe the Angels came back from 11 games under .500 to post a respectable record. It does not, however, diminish their faults.

The Angels have a few large question marks heading into the winter, having missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.

But, looking back on this season, the Angels dug themselves a mighty hole, losing 18 of 23 at one point, falling from first to last place, losing 7 1/2 games in the division and eventually landing 11 games under .500.

Bad defense and a lack of timely hitting were to blame. The Angels committed an American League-high 122 errors, and their average with runners in scoring position fell dramatically from last year, when they led the league. This season they were 10th.

"I think the challenge Bill (Stoneman, general manager) has, the first priority is offense, to get our offense bolstered," manager Mike Scioscia said candidly.

The pitching was phenomenal and led the league in quality starts, and many players said openly that without the pitching they wouldn't have been in the playoff hunt until the final week.

But the Angels are optimistic after watching eight rookies make their major league debut this season and, mostly, succeeding.

"Our goal this year was to make the playoffs whether we had guys who were 45 or 25," Scioscia said. "The fact that we got close to our goal with young kids is a positive. They got some experience, and it's important to use that experience this year to have very productive, long careers. I don't know if it's a consolation to these young guys that they get to play because we didn't make the playoffs."

Players like Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Howie Kendrick and Mike Napoli all enjoyed success at times this year and figure to be prominent members of next year's club.

The Angels need to upgrade a few key positions -- mainly first and third base and center field. They are hoping infielder Casey Kotchman has fully recovered from mononucleosis and will be able to play first base next season. Owner Arte Moreno guaranteed the team will be active in the offseason, so expect the Angels to land a big-name free agent and/or make a splashy trade.


Bartolo Colon was examined by Angels physician Dr. Lewis Yocum on Saturday, and his torn rotator cuff "looked great," Scioscia said.

Colon has been rehabbing in Arizona and will head home to the Dominican soon to continue working out.

Francisco Rodriguez saved his club-record 47th game in Saturday's victory, topping RHP Bryan Harvey's 1991 mark. Rodriguez has been dominant this season, especially lately.

Rodriguez struck out the side in the ninth and showed a little more emotion than normal when he closes out games. His 98 strikeouts this season are fifth-most on the team, and he has a 0.55 ERA in his past 48 outings, converting 22 of his past 23 save chances.

"I tried to let a lot out," he said. "A lot of good moments came through (my head) in my life. My dad. I wanted to do this for him. I yelled to the sky and basically said 'Thanks.' That was for him."

It's been rumored that if San Francisco manager Felipe Alou does not come back to manage the Giants next season that Angels pitching coach Bud Black could be a candidate for the job.

Black has no experience as a manager but has been one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game since being hired by the Angels in November 1999. He directed the staff that won the World Series in 2002 and two AL West titles since then -- and perennially has had one of baseball's top pitching staffs.

Black is a Bay Area native and spent four seasons pitching for the Giants. He joined the team as a free agent in November 1990 and remained with the Giants through the 1994 season, spending two years as Barry Bonds' teammate. He went 34-32 with a 3.95 ERA with San Francisco.

Adam Kennedy is a free agent this offseason and is not likely to return to the Angels despite being an integral part of their three playoff teams the past five years.

"You don't know what the future holds for anyone, but he really grew up in this organization," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's worked as hard as anyone I've seen in my 30 years of being around baseball."

Kennedy and fellow veteran Darin Erstad, who will also be a free agent, have been two of the few unequivocal leaders throughout their Angels tenure. If they both aren't with the team next year, it will force other players to step into the role they have occupied for so long.

"Those two guys are pivotal, and part of what has made our club very strong and the reason we've been able to get through the tough times is the leadership we've had in that room," Scioscia said. "If they don't come back, that will be a void that will have to be filled."

Vladimir Guerrero was named the Angels' team MVP, as voted by the players. He had team highs in games, hits, average, home runs, RBI, slugging and on-base percentages.

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