Checking In: 28 Games Later

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Photo Courtesy of Box18Prod

ANAHEIM – Last time we spoke, the Angels had found themselves in last place in the AL West with a 2-4 record through the first 6 games of the season. They trailed all four of their division opponents by at least half a game in a division which saw only two teams (Seattle & Houston) make it through their first two series with a record of .500 (3-3).

Fans were already giving up on the Halos: writing them off as a failure, a team with no shot of making the postseason.

Yes, tempers were high and morale was low for a fan base – and a team – which looked to build on the success they had achieved in 2014.

Since then, the Angels have gone 11-11 to remain two games under .500 on the season at 13-15. While this certainly wasn’t the outcome that anyone in Anaheim wanted or expected, the team has benefitted from subpar play from the rest of the AL West teams not named the Houston Astros.

After entering the season with World Series aspirations, the Seattle Mariners, 11-17, sit dead last in the division with the second worst record in the American League (Cleveland 10-16). Oakland, 12-18, has been unable to find their footing after their epic collapse last season as they lead Seattle by just .007 points in the standings. And Texas…well, to borrow a line from Dennis Green, they are who we thought they were. The former division powerhouse sits 6.5 games out of first place with a record of 11-16.

Houston, leading the division at 18-10, currently holds a five game lead over the Angels. The Astros had gone on a tear as of late, winning 14 of 15 games including 10 in a row, before being swept at home by their Lone Star State rivals.

With a four-game series against Houston opening up tonight in Anaheim, the Angels might be catching the division leaders at just the right time. While somewhat unlikely to happen – the Astros will start Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41) tonight and Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.80) on Saturday – a sweep against Houston would leave the Halos just one game back in the standings by the time Colorado (11-15) rolls into town next Tuesday.

So, what else has been going on?

The Good

Second baseman, Johnny Giavotella, continues to show that he is a worthy replacement for fan favorite Howie Kendrick. In 27 games this season, Giavotella is hitting .286/.344/.369 with 5 game winning hits, including the dramatic walk-off double against the Mariners last night. It was the second walk-off in as many nights for the Halos and the first of Giavotella’s young career. The 27-year-old, nicknamed “Donatello” by Erick Aybar, has also shown that he has the skill to handle the demands of the keystone. Giavotella, who has turned 15 double plays this season, has an UZR of 1.6 with an overall WAR of 0.7. (Compare that to Kendrick whose UZR stands -0.7 with a WAR at the same 0.7.)

Another bright spot in an otherwise cloudy season came on Monday when the Angels designated Drew Butera for assignment and called up rookie catching prospect Carlos Perez. Perez, who was hitting .361/.418/.556 with 2 HR and 12 RBI through 17 games with the Salt Lake Bees, made an immediate impact in his first game with the Halos on Tuesday night. The 24-year-old Venezuelan went 2-for-4 with a walk-off homerun in his first major league game.  While this in no way means Mike Scioscia has moved on from Chris Iannetta (we’ll talk more about him later), it is nice to see an injection of dynamic youth into a lineup that has been – to put it lightly – struggling. That being said…

The Bad

This offense needs to wake up. There’s no other way to put it. After 28 games, the Angels sit at 23rd in the majors in runs scored (106), 27th in batting average (.226), 26th in on base percentage (.291), and 27th in slugging (.350). The Halos have only three batters hitting over .250 in tonight’s projected lineup: Calhoun (.301), Trout (.300), and Giavotella (.286). The remaining six players are hitting a combined .193. Albert Pujols has started off slowly, hitting just .240 but adding 5 HR and 12 RBI. Matt Joyce, the supposed replacement for Josh Hamilton, is batting a miserable .148 with 1 HR and an OBP of .195. And Chris Iannetta is hitting a whopping .094 on the season. I’m going to repeat that for you: .094! Iannetta has gone 6-for-64 with 23 strikeouts and 8 walks in 2015. What’s worse, his OBP is down to .192. Compare that to his career OBP of .353 and you’ll really start to see what kind of trouble he’s having at the plate. This drastic decline undoubtedly scares nobody more than GM Jerry Dipoto who acquired Iannetta from Colorado for RHP Tyler Chatwood due to his abilities to call games and get on base. The veteran catcher hasn’t been doing much of either lately, as his offensive woes have clearly had an effect on his psyche and led to several defensive miscues behind the dish. This team is barely treading water. Something needs to change. While I don’t expect Houston to continue to play .643 ball all season, the Halos have little hope of ever catching the division leaders if their bats don’t start to come alive. And come alive fast!

The Ugly

I thought it was all just a lot of talk, that fans were acting tough and wouldn’t really desert the team so early in the season. However, the home attendance over the past few contests has clearly proven me wrong. Last night’s game saw merely 25,160 fans show up to cheer on their hometown team. The numbers for Monday night were even lower, with only 25,024 in attendance. The abysmal turnout for these two games was separated by a Tuesday night contest which saw 33,394 fans arrive to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the Halos. (Though one could argue that this boost in attendance was merely due to the Angels sombrero giveaway and Guinness World Record attempt.) This isn’t the first time numbers have dropped so low in 2015. Two Thursdays ago, the Angels saw only 24,304 fans come through the turnstiles to see them take on the rival Oakland Athletics. This marked the smallest crowd at Angel Stadium in 12 years. While this might have had something to do with the strange 4 p.m. start time, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the average attendance is down to 34,239 in 2015 from 38,221 in 2014. Where have all the fans gone? Have they really jumped ship already? This reminds all too well of those who booed Josh Hamilton and others during the ALDS last season. The team deserves better. They deserve a fan base willing to show up night in and night out and support their team. A fan base that will cheer and scream and even taunt the players on opposing teams if need be. What they don’t need is a group of bandwagon, fair-weather followers who only support them when they’re in first place or making a push for the playoffs. C’mon, Anaheim! You’re better than that! That goes for the rest of Orange County, too. Don’t be the fans other fans think you are. Don’t prove other fan bases right. Stay loyal. Support your team. And, for god sake, go to a freakin’ game already!