Checking In: 10 Games Later
Here we are. Ten games later.
The anticipation of Opening Day has come and gone. The fireworks have past and Angel fans have long since rubbed the smoke from their eyes, feeling the hangover from an offseason filled with predictions of 162-0.
The exciting new season that Halo Honks had hoped for is finally upon on us, and all they can do is complain.
Sure, the team has its flaws, and they didn’t exactly come charging out of the gate. But, as true Halo fans know, a fast start isn’t what this team does well. In the past 5 years, the Angels have finished their first 10 games with a record above .500 just once.
So, sit back. Relax. It’s not all that bad!
The Good: Offense, C.J., and The Weav
Most people predicted that the acquisition of Albert Pujols would have a pronounced effect on the Angels offense. The consensus was that the addition of Pujols and the return of Kendrys Morales would greatly improve upon a 2011 team that finished 7th in the AL in team batting average and 10th in runs scored.
While the team has struggled to pick up wins during the early part of the season, the bats have definitely been hot. The Angels have averaged 4.8 runs/gm over the first 10 games of 2012 and their .270 team average is tied for 2nd in the AL. The last time an Angels offense started off this hot was 2009. Does that year ring a bell? It should! It’s the last time the Halos made the playoffs.
The offense wasn’t the only topic of discussion this offseason. With the signing of C.J. Wilson, many analysts believed that the Angels were poised to have the best rotation in the AL, and maybe even all of baseball. The quirky left-hander who Scioscia lovingly refers to as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” was quick to make his impression felt on the mound for the Halos. Wilson is 2-0 in his first two starts with his new team, going 13 innings while giving up just 2 runs and holding opponents to a .191 average.
The newest starting pitcher may have just been following the lead of staff ace Jered Weaver who was brilliant in his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Angels. Weav pitched 8 scoreless innings, giving up just 4 hits and 0 walks while striking out 10. After a rough outing in his second start, the former Long Beach State Dirtbag was on his game against the A’s last night. Weaver pitched 6.2 scoreless innings and picked up 6 strikeouts, including career strikeout #1,000.
With the Angels bats swinging strong and signs of brilliance from the pitching staff, it may be too early for fans to throw in the white towel on the season.
The Bad: Pujols, Wells, and the Rest of the Rotation
Let’s keep the theme of predictions going. Many people predicted Pujols – a pure hitter in the truest sense of the word – would have no problem transitioning to the AL. Some even scoffed at the idea that he would struggle. “He’s the greatest hitter of his era,” they would say. And maybe they’re right. But, for now, he’s pressing and he’s pressing hard.
In his first 10 games as an Angel, Pujols is hitting a deceptive .268 with 4 RBI and an OBP of just .318. He has 6 strikeouts, 4 doubles, and no homeruns. At times, he looks jumpy in the batter’s box and seems to be rolling everything over to SS. Let’s just say it! The man who prefers not to be called El Hombre is in a bit of a slump. Though it’s not unlike the slump that started his season last year when he hit just .150 with 1 HR and 4 RBI after 10 games. He would end 2011 at .299/.366/.541 with 37 HR and 99 RBI. (Fun fact: The Cardinals were also 4-6 after 10 games last year. Look how their season ended!)
There’s not much to say about Vernon Wells. Reports claimed that he spent the offseason working with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo to rebuild his swing after a disappointing 2011 campaign in which he hit .218/.248/.412. Unfortunately, early season returns on Wells have shown little difference in his approach at the plate. He continues to chase pitches outside of the strike zone and shows very little in the way of discipline or patience. After 10 games, Wells is just .237/.256/.421. It is a slight improvement over last season, but still not where the Angels would like to see him. With Bobby Abreu petitioning for more playing time and Mike Trout tearing it up in the minors, I imagine Vernon’s leash might be a little shorter this year.
And then there’s the rest of the rotation. As was previously mentioned, Weaver and Wilson have been stellar so far in 2012, going 4-0 with a combined 1.78 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 5 games. The rest of the starting staff? Not so good. Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Jerome Williams have struggled in their starts, going 0-4 with a combined 10.52 ERA and giving up 24 runs in just 5 starts. (Compare that to the 7 runs given up by Weaver and Wilson.) Overall, Haren has shown the most promise of the three struggling starters. He pitched well in Minnesota on Thursday, April 12, holding the Twins to just 3 runs on 9 hits through 5 innings and leaving the game with a 6-3 lead that would be eventually spoiled by the bullpen. Which brings me to my next point...
The Ugly: The Bullpen
I’m not going to go into too much detail here. If you’ve been following the Angels this season, you know the bullpen is their Achilles’ heel. Their 4.88 ERA is 3rd worst in the AL, barely beating out Cleveland and that mess down in Tampa Bay. Fans have seen Angels relievers give up 12 extra base hits, 16 runs, and go 0-for-2 in save opportunities.
As Scotty Allen pointed out in his LAAI article, “Six Steps Toward Improving the Angels,” bullpen woes are not new to the Halos. Fans will remember the issues the team has had with relievers over the past few years – Cough! Rodney! Cough! – but the bullpen trouble may have reached its pinnacle on that Thursday afternoon against the Twins. Following a solid outing by Haren, the Angels lead Minnesota 6-3 after 5. Hisanori Takahashi and Kevin Jepsen combined to pitch a scoreless bottom of the 6th before the wheels fell off the bullpen. Jepsen gave up 3 runs in the 7th while recording just 1 out before handing the ball off to Scott Downs who suffered an injury when Denard Span rolled over his ankle as Downs tried to cover the first base bag. The rest of the game belonged to Rich Thompson. The Aussie struggled to locate his pitches in the 8th, giving up a lead-off single to Joe Mauer followed by a monster home run by Justin Morneau. The final line for the bullpen did not look good. Angels relievers went just 3 innings, giving up 11 hits and 7 runs while walking 2. The next day, Rich Thompson was designated for assignment and young right-hander David Carpenter was called up to take his place.
This may be just the first of many bullpen moves made by the Angels this season. New GM Jerry Dipoto has been public in saying that while the quest for relief help is not easy, he is trying everything he can to improve the team’s overall situation. For now, fans just need to show some patience. The market for relievers is weak, and the Angels would likely have to give up more than they would get back in any trade.
I know how easy it is to overreact. I understand how frustrating it can be to see your team lose. Especially a team with the kind of talent and expectations that we’re going to see take the field for at least 81 games at Angel Stadium this year. A slow start does not equal the end of the season. It merely stands as an obstacle that the team must overcome. Many people have been throwing around a certain stat lately. It goes like this. After 10 games, the 2002 Anaheim Angels were 3-7. After 20 games, they were 6-14. After 178 games, they were World Series Champions.
Now, I’m not saying that the 2012 Angels will repeat the success fans saw 10 years ago. I’m merely saying that it’s not out of the question. And the road to that next World Series starts tonight as Haren toes the slab for the Halos against the division rival Oakland A’s with a chance to improve the team’s overall record to 5-6.
Where will the Angels go from there? Only time will tell.
Patience, young grasshopper.