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Five Cuts: With Fuentes' struggles, Angels lack established closer

1. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has a problem. He no longer has an established closer. Maybe that should have been obvious in the second half of the season, when his nominal closer, Brian Fuentes, had more walks (15) than strikeouts (12). Fuentes struck out seven right-handed batters after the All-Star break. Seven.

But it became most obvious in ALCS Game 2, even before Fuentes gave up the game-tying home run to Alex Rodriguez in the 11th inning. It was obvious because Scioscia wasn't even tempted to so much as warm up Fuentes in the ninth or 10th innings when the Yankees had left-handed batters at the plate and the winning run in scoring position. He elected to leave the game in the hands of Kevin Jepsen and Darren Oliver, prepared to lose without ever using his closer. They were the right moves to make, but it spoke volumes about how Fuentes is not a lockdown closer.

So what does Scioscia do about the ninth inning of Game 3 Monday if he has a one-run lead? Jepsen has much better stuff, but doesn't have the experience. Even Ervin Santana can't be ruled out as an option. Fuentes looks more and more like a situational lefty. He might get the last out, but only if it's a left-on-left matchup after some combination of Jepsen, Jason Bulger, Oliver and Santana do the heavy lifting.

The Angels owe Fuentes $10 million next year. And if he finishes 55 games (he finished 57 this year), they'll have to pay him $9 million in 2011.

2. Memo to Randy Wolf, the Dodgers' Game 4 starting pitcher: One guaranteed way to get yourself in trouble against the Phillies is to put people on base with walks. This team is going to get its hits, so the free runners compound the element of danger. Through seven postseason games, Philadelphia has more than twice as many walks as it has allowed, piling up a 34-15 advantage.

Phillies starter Cliff Lee extended that differential by walking no hitters in NLCS Game 3 while striking out 10. How rare is that this time of year? Lee became only the third pitcher to win a postseason game with at least 10 punchouts and no walks. The only other pitchers to do so were Sterling Hitchcock of the Padres in the 1998 NLDS and Deacon Phillippe of the Pirates in the 1903 World Series -- in the first World Series game ever played.

3. One last word on the 0-and-2 fastball Fuentes threw Rodriguez: it's one of the most ill-advised pitches I can ever remember in the postseason, up there with the slider Dennis Eckersley threw in 1988 to a hobbled Kirk Gibson, speeding up Gibson's bat. This is not a second guess. I said at the time as Fuentes came in from the bullpen that Scioscia, pitching coach Mike Butcher or catcher Jeff Mathis should have gone to the mound to talk to Fuentes about not letting Rodriguez get anything he could square up, even if it meant a walk. Why? The hitters behind him were Freddy Guzmán, Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano. (If Rodriguez had walked, the Yankees were going to have Guzmán bunt and then use Jerry Hairston Jr. to hit for Gardner.) Alas, no one talked to Fuentes, who later proved his own misguided thinking by saying something about how you never can walk the leadoff batter holding a one-run lead.

Well, you have to know where you are in the lineup. Fuentes has one job there: don't let Rodriguez get a swing at anything out and up over the plate, the pitch he has been pounding over walls to center field and right field. He is Barry Bonds. You must defend against the home run.

The worst thing to happen to Fuentes, according to former Yankees pitcher David Cone, is that he got an 0-and-2 count when Rodriguez took two strikes. Now Fuentes thought he could get him out. So what does he do? He tries to throw an "elevated fastball." Please. This is a guy who throws 89 mph, not 99. Right-handed hitters can get on top of that kind of cheese, especially if he doesn't get it up enough, which is what happened -- and especially if the hitter is red hot.

"It was," Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said, "right in his happy zone. You look at the chart we have on him, and that's exactly where he likes it."

4. It should have been obvious at the time that Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis had no business throwing to second base in the 13th inning of ALCS Game 2, not when the bouncer by Melky Cabrera took him toward first base. Take the out at first base, and one more out and you're off the field. You're not turning a double play on Cabrera.

And yet when I asked Izturis if he had one out or two outs in his mind when he decided to go to second, he said through an interpreter, "Two. If I get the ball to Erick [Aybar], with Erick's arm we always have a chance for two. I don't want to lose that aggressiveness. It just didn't work."

Said Scioscia, "You're not going to turn two. If we get an out on any base we're in good shape. It's a way out of the inning."

Instead, Izturis threw the ball away for a game-ending error. It was only the fifth walk-off error in postseason history, and the latest ever. Take a look at the company Izturis and the Angels joined, and see if you can spot a trend:

The answer: all four previous teams who lost a game on a walk-off error wound up losing the series.

5. Vladimir Guerrero keeps getting eaten up by fastballs he used to crush. His bat is slow, especially when trying to get to inside fastballs. Asked if Guerrero was getting fastballs to hit, Hatcher said, "Oh, yeah. He's just a tad late on them." Hatcher mentioned that Guerrero will need to get himself healthier and fitter in the offseason to combat the effects of injury and age that have sapped some of the pop from his body. Guerrero, a free agent after the season, will play next year at 35.

"But he's real good at turning the page," Hatcher said, "and he could come in here [today] and do it."

Guerrero is 0-for-6 with runners on in the series. In Game 2 alone, he ended the first inning with a runner at second, ended the fifth inning with the bases loaded, ended the seventh inning with the bases loaded, and ended the 13th inning with runners at second and third.

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