The Angels' Biggest Weakness, The Bullpen. Can It Be Fixed?
Every baseball team over the course of a season is most likely going to go through a trying time for their organization. If you’re a team like the Houston Astros, it’s more like a trying season as a whole. The worst kind of pain as a baseball fan is to have high expectations and see them fade away with every progressive game, even more so when the problem is extremely evident. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a 7-13 win/loss record so far in this month and if the team’s main problem wasn’t so bad, the team could have at least five more wins to help their cause in an incredibly intense race for the postseason. That problem has been the bullpen, the scariest of all words to Angels fans this season. Coming into 2012, the team knew that it would have to improve the bullpen to further their chances at a championship, after they had seemingly solidified the batting lineup and pitching staff, having picked up LaTroy Hawkins (who has pitched 35.2 innings with a 3.79 ERA in 38 appearances) and Jason Isringhausen (41.1 innings pitched with a 3.92 ERA in 44 appearances). Isringhausen has been something of a disaster while Hawkins hasn’t been that much better, if at all.
If you take a closer look into the statistics however, it’s certainly not their fault that the team is losing games at an alarming rate, especially when the stakes are so very high, this time of the year. One of the main reasons the team has had trouble in the bullpen, in my opinion, is the quality of the starting pitching, the last few weeks. New acquisition Zack Greinke was supposed to be the piece that got the team to eventually take over the Texas Rangers’ hold on the Al West lead but it hasn’t worked out to this point, with his numbers taking a severe dive across the board with several atrocious starts. Even worse has been CJ Wilson, with a number of cringe inducing starts that have taken the air out of a lot of fans lofty hopes for the season. All seems to be lost but as of press time, the Angels have taken two straight games into the win column at Boston, giving up only 3 runs in each game for a total of six runs in two games. That may not seem fantastic but take into account that it’s been a regular occurrence for the bullpen to give up at least that many in each game, of the last month.
The single point where the team’s pitching became a huge problem would have to be the August 1st game against the Texas Rangers where they lost 11-10 in 10 innings. The game was seemingly “in the bag” multiple times during the game and in extra innings but they couldn’t hold onto what they had, losing in heartbreaking fashion. From that point on, the focus for the season has changed from an all-out attack at the division crown to slim hopes of a spot in the American League Wild Card Play-In game. Another game that’ll sting in the hearts of Angels fans for a long time (unless the team does come back to make the postseason) is the August 18th home game versus the Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels had lost the first two games of the series in blowout fashion but on that night, the Halos got out to an eight run lead, with the score being 8-0. Unfortunately, the team gave up ten unanswered runs and lost 10-8, behind a horrible start by CJ Wilson. To make matters worse, the stadium was holding a special celebration of the 2002 World Series Champion Anaheim Angels team and most of that team was in attendance. Saying that loss was a heartbreaker would be a major disservice as it might just be the most heartbreaking game in years for the Angels.
Still, with all of the leads blown and games thrown away, there has been a single bright spot in Ernesto Frieri. Coming to the team in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres, he’s been a revelation for the team, a single player that’s single handedly and literally saved quite a few of the team’s games. Frieri currently has a 1.88 ERA, a mind-blowing 14.32 K/9 ratio and 15 saves to date. The flame throwing closer has been the glue that has kept the team in favorable stature when it looked like no matter what lead the team got, it would most definitely be given up. From this point on, I believe that Frieri is going to be a huge factor in if this team will make the playoffs.
To the loyal fans of the team, I say this; do not lose all your hope in the Angels. May we all forget, the Angels have one of the most explosive batting orders in all of baseball and the team seems to have forgotten their losing ways in the last few games. May it be an extremely small sample size, it’s a start and with Jordan Walden/Scott Downs scheduled to be big parts of the team in the stretch run, this team might still be a scary playoff contender, even if Walden and Downs aren’t perfect. By the two relief pitchers taking appearances away from other relief pitchers that have performed terribly, it should gain the team at least a few more wins by default. If they’re fantastic, it may not be such a big stretch to see the Angels win the Wild Card and go into the postseason with quite the loaded team on paper. With two crossed fingers for health, a few lucky bounces of the baseball and some extra scoreless innings, I believe the team will be back to their winning ways in no time. All that is left to see is if the Angels have enough time to make the season-long comeback. Here’s to hoping they can.