02/03/11 4:18 PM EST
Angels aim to recapture road swagger
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Next best, with a total of 92 road wins those two seasons, were the Phillies. The Yankees had 87, the Cardinals 85. The Red Sox and Rangers claimed 78 each on the road.
All that changed, along with just about everything else, in a 2010 season the Angels plan to exorcise with a return to power in the American League West in 2011.
On the road last year, the Angels fell to 37-44 -- a far cry from 50-31 in '08 and 48-33 in '09. The road warriors became road worriers.
As painful as the fall was, the Angels trailed new division kingpin Texas by only two road wins. The Rangers prevailed with a dominant home record (51-30).
What's intriguing, in retrospect, is that for all their troubles and issues, the Angels remained the best of the four-pack in head-to-head division play. They were 35-22 against the AL West, followed by Texas at 32-25 and Oakland at 30-27.
Numbers are wonderful. You can do just about anything with them.
What the Angels understand, and will spend the spring working on, is that they have to bring a different mindset into 2011 after plunging to third place on the heels of claiming deed to the division for three consecutive seasons and five of the previous six.
"We have to get our swagger back," clubhouse leader Torii Hunter said. "A lot of things went wrong last year, and we weren't the same team. We have to get that hunger back that we had when we were going to the playoffs. We were two wins away from the World Series [in 2009]. We swept Boston [in the AL Division Series]. We were so close.
"We have to get that attitude back that we had then, being together as a team and playing together as a team. That's the only way you win in this game. I'm confident we can do it. The talent is there. We just have to perform the way we can."
What's amazing about the Angels' road performances in 2008 and '09 was that their travel schedule traditionally is more demanding than any team in the game except division rivals Seattle and Oakland.
In 2010, the Angels logged more air miles -- 50,509 -- than any team in the Majors. By contrast, the White Sox were in the air for 22,832 miles, fewest in the game.
Two of the Angels' division rivals require a fairly lengthy commute. Texas is about 1,200 miles away, with Seattle 1,000 miles from Anaheim. The trip from Dallas to Seattle, one the club often makes, is roughly like going coast-to-coast.
"No one wants to hear a big league player making a lot of money complain," Hunter said. "But I had no idea what the travel was like for teams on the West Coast when I came out here. It's crazy.
"We're always adjusting our body clocks, losing three hours flying to the East, two hours going to the Central [Time Zone]. We come home from a trip and I'm getting up at 7 a.m.; my body is still on Eastern Time."
The Angels need to perform at a high level on the road. They don't get as much of a bounce out of the home-field advantage as most clubs.
Teams love to come to Southern California. Players are energized by the cool summer weather and great field conditions after dealing with the heat and humidity of other parts of the country.
"Playing in Anaheim as a visiting player and standing in the outfield and just soaking in the atmosphere -- the fans, the field -- it's obviously the best in baseball," newly acquired outfielder Vernon Wells said following his move from Toronto. "It played a big part in [not invoking his no-trade clause].
"It's one of those places you go to on the road where you say to yourself, `It'd be fun to play here.' Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia stresses that his athletes should make no excuses about their travel demands.
"You play your schedule," he said. "The real challenge in our sport is getting through the 162-game season. Winning a division is not easy."
Hunter, and teammates who have played in other time zones, are keenly aware of the challenges presented by the road.
"It's not an excuse; I'm just saying travel is a whole lot easier when you play in the Central or East with your opponents so much closer," the former Twins star said. "Every trip is an hour, maybe two, three tops. Here, we always seem to be in the air for five or six hours."
Given all that time on flights, club chemistry is important. You want to be spending those six months -- seven, hopefully -- with people you like.
"We've got some great guys on this club," Hunter said. "I'm excited about bringing in the new guys [Wells, Scott Downs, Hisanori Takahashi] and seeing how they interact with us.
"Chemistry on the field is what's most important, but you always want to have a good feeling about your teammates. You're in this together. It's a family. During the season, you're brothers -- with a purpose."
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Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.