Angels need Figgins to find his stroke
Leadoff man has to produce to put pressure on Yankees
NEW YORK -- It's hard for an offense to go when the engine is sputtering. Sure, the Angels take pride in their balanced attack. But the man who makes them go is speedy leadoff man Chone Figgins.
At the moment, Figgins is a non-factor, because he is unable to get on base. After going 0-for-4 in the Yankees' 4-1 win in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, Figgins is 0-for-16 this postseason.
Somehow, the Angels swept the Red Sox in the Division Series without a hit from their third baseman. But if they are going to move past the Yankees, they will need his bat -- and legs -- to play a major role in this series.
"It doesn't help," Figgins said of his slump. "I personally love trying to get on base and create havoc. Like I said, I'm staying positive. Having good at-bats is what I can do, but I'd like to see some results before this ends."
Figgins faced the wrong pitcher to try to break out against in Game 1. Yankees ace CC Sabathia had everything going.
"He didn't give us too many opportunities," Figgins said. "It's huge when you can't get runners on against a team like this in this type of game. He got stronger as the game went on, and he finished us off."
The Angels didn't have a leadoff batter reach base in an inning until the ninth frame of Game 1. In Saturday's Game 2, they will try to set a far better tone against Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett.
"Nobody is panicking," Figgins said. "That's the best part about it. We have a couple of more games to go out and play. [Saturday] will be here soon, and we'll go at it again."
By then, maybe Figgins will see his results begin to change. The one time he got on base in the postseason proved to be crucial: His two-out walk against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in Game 3 of the ALDS kept the Angels' rally alive in what proved to be an epic comeback win.
"I've been having some good at-bats," Figgins said. "I just haven't been having any good results. I'm mad because the results aren't there but I still have to stay positive. The at-bats I want to have, I'm having. They're just finishing off with some good pitches. When I take some good swings, I don't get any hits. I'll be ready to come back [in Game 2]."
Starting off on right foot
The Angels can only hope so. So often this season, the Angels have followed the lead of their leadoff man.
During the regular season, Figgins hit .298 with a .395 on-base percentage and stole 42 bases.
"He'll be fine," said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter. "He's scuffling a little bit. He'll be all right. I'm trying to stay positive for him."
Perhaps the reason the Angels were able to get by without much from Figgins in the Division Series is that No. 2 hitter Bobby Abreu was utterly dominant, hitting .556 and drawing four walks. The lefty-lefty matchup with Sabathia was not a good one, however, as Abreu was 0-for-4 in Game 1.
"You have to understand, CC is one of the best," said Hunter. "You can't do anything about that. Tomorrow, we have a different pitcher. We should be happy about that. We should be fine. It's the first to four, not one."
Burnett also has electric stuff. The Angels just hope the right-hander can miss just enough to allow them to rally.
How does Figgins turn the tide?
"I just need to get some hits or get some walks. It's pretty simple," he said.
Divergent performances from leading men
But nothing is simple for an opponent when the pesky Angels are on base. That's why the Yankees hope their pitching can again be a neutralizing factor.
"Having guys like CC, A.J. and [Andy] Pettitte and the strong bullpen that we have, it's allowed us to get to this point, and we're up 10 against a very good team," said Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon. "So hopefully [Saturday] night A.J. shows up and pitches well."
Even if Burnett does pitch well, the Angels are confident they can at least muster something of substance, which was hardly the case against Sabathia.
"Just go out there and be ourselves and don't put too much pressure on yourself," said Hunter. "That's all you can do. Come back tomorrow and have amnesia."
That, and have Figgins find a way - any way - to get on base.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.