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Rally Flunkies
2003-09-22 01:31
by Mike Carminati

Unrespited, unpitied, unrepriev'd.

-John Milton on Satan's fall from grace in Paradise Lost

The reigning World Champion Angels fended off the Texas Rangers, 11-6, tonight thanks to a seven-run seventh. At the start of the seventh, the Angels trailed 5-2 and were within three innings of being swept by the Rangers by a cumulative score of 21-8. Not only that, if the Angels had fallen tonight, their lead on third place in the AL West over the Rangers would have been cut to one game. They could have gone from World Champs to one game above the AL West cellar.

There has been only one team in baseball history that has gone from World Series champion to last place. That was, of course, the infamous 1998 Florida Marlins, whose place in history is secure as the team that "bought" the 1997 World Series and then sold off all its players the next year.

The Angels are now three games ahead of Texas with six games to play. The Rangers will play a series against the surging A's, who are looking to clinch the AL West crown, at Oakland. The Angels host the equally floundering Mariners for three games. Seattle is still fighting for a playoff spot though their effort of late doesn't really reflect that. The two teams will meet in Anaheim for the last three games of the season, but by that point their fates may already be determined.

Anaheim, even if they win all of their remaining games, is assured of joining an unhappy crew: They will be the seventeenth team to go from World Champions to sub-.500 team. That is including the Temple Cup champions of the 19th century. Here are those few, those unhappy few, sorted by winning percentage:

TeamYearWLW PCTRank#Tms
Florida Marlins199854108.33355
Brooklyn Bridegrooms18916176.44568
Cincinnati Reds19917488.45756
Chicago White Sox19185767.46068
St. Louis Cardinals19327282.4686T8
Kansas City Royals19867686.4693T7
Baltimore Orioles19677685.4726T10
Toronto Blue Jays19945560.47835
New York Giants18906368.48168
Los Angeles Dodgers19897783.48146
Boston Red Sox19196671.48268
Providence Grays18855357.48248
Pittsburgh Pirates19617579.48768
St. Louis Cardinals19837983.48846
Los Angeles Dodgers19648082.4946T10
St. Louis Cardinals19658081.497710

Anaheim's current .468 winning percentage puts them right up (or is it down?) with the top five worst teams on that list.

If the Angels do fall to worst to join the '98 Marlins, they will have gone about it in an entirely different way. Whereas the Marlins divested themselves of their championship players due to payroll issues, the Angels tried to retain the same team this year that they fielded in their World Series run.

So the on-field product has not changed, then what happened? I've seem a few broadcasts in the last month or so that have blamed the Angels condition on injuries. They have had their fair share of injuries, it's true-Darrin Erstad, Brad Fullmer, Troy Glaus, and Bengie Molina are all currently out-, but they can't explain away all of the Angels problems. Even before all the injuries the Angels were never contenders this year.

The problem was that a number of those players had career years and the Angels collectively are returning to their previous talent level. Their pitching is sixth in ERA in the AL, but their starters have had an ERA a hair under 5.00, about a run higher than last year. The Angels offense is tenth in the AL in runs scored and in team OPS. This is a far cry from last season when they were fourth in runs and fifth in OPS. Their one saving grace is the bullpen, which ranks first in the AL in ERA just a hair over last year's league-leading performance (3.02 vs. 2.98).

One must remember that the Angels were 75-87 in 2001 and had been playing out a string of mediocre seasons for about the prior 15 seasons. The Angels will go into this offseason with basically the same weaknesses as last (i.e., starting pitching and a few weak position players). The only difference will be that they won't have the glare of their World Series rings to blind them to those weaknesses.

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