With yesterday’s walk-off defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Angels have now lost 4 straight games and sit at a head scratching 6-13. The Angels were declared the unofficial winners of the free agent spending spree, narrowly defeating the Tigers by locking up two bona fide talents in Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. But the preseason predictions of greatness (Sports Illustrated picked them to win the World Series) have not played out in the early going. Is this just a rough spot, a small sample size of LAA at their worst, or is this a precursor of the team’s true talent level?
So far this season the Angels have dropped series to the Royals, the Twins, the A’s, the Yankees, and the Rays, while only besting Baltimore. Outside of Tampa and New York that schedule is not exactly a murderer’s row. So it isn’t quite like the troubles in Boston, who has played Detroit, Texas, New York, and Tampa already, which means they can explain some of their early problems away by pointing at the schedule. The level of competition that LA has played also raises eyebrows, because most of those teams were supposed to be demolished by the Angels en route to 90-100 wins. So far neither the offense nor pitching staff has performed at even an average level, with each ranking 20th in baseball. Some of the issues can be explained, others could be concerning.
The biggest issue is that for the most part, the carousel of players moving around between the outfield and 3rd base are struggling. Mark Trumbo has hit the ball well, tagging 3 homers in 38 at-bats and hitting .342, but he can’t play 3rd base and Pujols was just paid $240 million to play 1st. Alberto Callaspo can play 3rd with some grace, but he is hitting an abysmal .205 and doesn’t have an extra-base hit.
In the outfield, Torii Hunter has become a singles hitter, with only 4 extra-base hits out of his respectable total of 20, but is still batting clean up. Vernon Wells is an albatross with the worst contract in baseball LAA is still on the hook for 2 years after this at a tab of $21 million per. Ouch. Bobby Abreu is a dinosaur, who’s bad at the plate, hitting .208, and worse in the field. And the worst part is that he is taking at-bats and playing time away from the #1 rated prospect in baseball, Mike Trout, who is a burner who could provide the Angels with some much needed speed.
**UPDATE: The Angels released Abreu late Friday night and called Mike Trout up.
Another big offensive concern is that Albert Pujols still has not hit a homerun and is mired in the worst April of his career, hitting .224/.280/.316. The last 76 at-bats have been disjointed and the big slugger has looked very anxious at the plate. His ability to drive the ball to the opposite field has all but disappeared, and the Rays stole multiple base hits from him with a simple shift. (More on the Maddon’s shifts coming soon, I need a bigger sample size.) He also needs to stop running into outs on the base paths. Albert was caught once again yesterday at 2nd base, when he tried to stretch a single into a double. This is now the 4th time in 19 games he’s cost his team an out with his overaggressiveness, and it is beginning to become a rally-killing problem. If he can start playing better, both with the bat and on the bases, the Angels will start scoring more runs.
The pitching staff has also been underwhelming outside of Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, who has unbelievably gained velocity on his fastball from a year ago. The biggest disappointment has been Ervin Santana, who has regressed following his best season. Santana has been rocked for a 7.23 ERA, allowing 10.6 hits and 4 walks per 9. Santana has typically been a 2-pitch pitcher, throwing either his fastball or slider 90% of the time. The American League may have figured something out concerning the pitches. He is also having location problems, which has been an issue at points in his career.
Jerome Williams, the 5th starter has also been torched, giving up 9.4 hits per 9 while walking 4 batters. Williams’ performance was always a question mark on the team, so it’s little surprise that he has been underwhelming. Williams did pitch well yesterday against Tampa, going 7 innings while allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, so that could be an encouraging sign. The bullpen, which was league average a year ago has struggled this season. 4 of the 8 most used relievers have ERA’s above 7.5 and 2 of those pitchers; Jordan Walden and Hisanori Takahashi were counted on for big roles out of the bullpen. Walden is walking a batter per inning right, now, a terrible rate for a reliever, and his performance will not improve until he cuts down on the free passes.
It has only been 19 games for the Angels, so there is plenty of time to turn things around. Albert Pujols will start hitting like the middle of the order force that he is paid to be. CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver will continue to dominate American League hitters and those quality innings will start turning into wins. The only problem is that LA has already fallen 9 games behind the powerhouse Rangers, which means that unless they turn things around really quickly, LA will be playing for a wild card, and the one-game playoff that comes with it. If Pujols doesn’t start hitting and Mike Scioscia doesn’t get the outfield logjam sorted out, Los Angeles could be in big trouble, staring at an 80-85-win season, or worse.