April 2012

Game 23: Twins-Angels …

The first of a battle between two struggling teams. One (the Angels) can’t hit, the other (the Twins) can’t pitch …

Twins (6-15)

Denard Span, CF
Jamey Carroll, SS
Josh Willingham, LF
Justin Morneau, DH
Danny Valencia, 3B
Ryan Doumit, C
Trevor Plouffe, RF
Chris Parmelee, 1B
Alexi Casilla, 2B

Pitching: RH Nick Blackburn (0-2, 7.53 ERA)

Angels (7-15)

Mike Trout, CF
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Torii Hunter, RF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Vernon Wells, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: LH C.J. Wilson (2-2, 2.42 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Jorge Cantu opted out of his Minor League deal and became a free agent.
  • This is the first game Kendrick has started out of the leadoff spot. He’s 4-for-24 in his last seven games.
  • The Angels held a hitters’ meeting pregame, after a six-game road trip that saw them go 1-5 and muster only nine runs. Mike Scioscia said he was mostly trying to relax his players. “I think the important thing for us is to keep this environment positive, keep the guys working towards a goal of not trying to do too much. Less is more, for sure, and we need these guys to just play their game, not try to be superhuman.”
  • Scioscia on Pujols: “The solution is for him to get comfortable in the batter’s box, and once he does, a lot of that other stuff will evaporate, in terms of learning the league and different ballparks and things like that. He’s too good a hitter not to figure this out.”
  • And Scioscia on Trout: “We expect Mike to come in and bring his talent on the Major Leauge field and do what he can do to his capabilities. If he does that, he’ll eventually be that dynamic player, but it doesn’t necessarily have to happen this week or next week or right now. His at-bats in Cleveland were good, he’s a very confident kid. He’s not a finished product, but he’s ready for the challenge. His makeup is off the charts, so I don’t think you’re going to see any blows to his confidence that are going to set him back.”

Some links from Sunday …

Some AL West links …

And the Heat took a 2-0 series lead over the Knicks. Lookin’ good.

Alden

7-15, & the numbers that come with it …

Hint: They’re not pretty.

The Angels (and their $155 million payroll) head into the opener of a seven-game homestand, the first of a three-game series against the Twins and the finale of an ugly April with the fourth-worst record in the Major Leagues and a nine-game deficit of the Rangers in the American League West, where they also trail the Mariners and Athletics each by 5 1/2 games — two teams whose combined payrolls are $137 million.

They went 1-5 in their recent road trip through St. Petersburg, Fla., and Cleveland, have dropped six of their last seven overall, have tied the worst record in franchise history to start a season (also in 1976) and will finish April having won back-to-back games only once. They haven’t done that in any single month since July 1998, and only three other times in their history, according to Stats LLC. They dropped six of their first seven series, with four of those losses coming against teams that finished no better than 15 games out of first place last season (the Royals, Twins, Athletics and Indians).

The rotation, at least, has begun to improve the way we would’ve all expected, posting a 2.62 ERA in the club’s last 13 games while going at least six innings in 12 of those. But the bullpen can’t hold any leads and the offense can’t score any numbers. Yeah, it’s still only April (barely), but the Angels have the look of a team that isn’t taking these early struggles lightly. They’ve released Bobby Abreu, called up Mike Trout, designated Rich Thompson for assignment, called up David Carpenter and replaced (at least temporarily) Jordan Walden with Scott Downs in the ninth inning.

The numbers (warning: some of this material may not be suitable for younger readers) …

  • 0: That, of course, is the amount of home runs Albert Pujols has hit through his first 88 at-bats of the season, by far his longest stretch to start any campaign. He averaged 14.2 at-bats per home runs through his 11 seasons in St. Louis, and his career-high at-bat streak in one season is 105, done April 24 to May 22 of last year.
  • 0: That’s the amount of multi-hit games Pujols has had since his three-double game of April 19. That’s a stretch of nine games, which saw him post a career-high streak of five consecutive starts without a hit and see his slash line drop from .296/.333/.426 to, now, .216/.266/.295.
  • 10: The combined number of walks and RBIs for Pujols through his first 22 games (four RBIs, six walks), which is three less than the amount of strikeouts (13).
  • 40.3: The percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that Pujols has swung at so far, which would easily represent a career high, according to FanGraphs.com. Prior to last year (31.8 percent), Pujols had never swung at more than 30 percent of pitches out of the zone in any given season. He’s batting .204 with two strikes and, perhaps more worrisome, 21 of his 94 plate appearances (or, 22.3 percent) have begun with an 0-2 count — perhaps a sign that he’s still feeling out all the new pitchers he’s facing, which brings us to …
  • 14: The amount of starting pitchers Pujols faced for the first time this season (out of 22). Not an excuse, but probably part of the reason for his struggles — and those of the offense in general.
  • 9: That’s the amount of runs the Angels scored in their just-completed road trip, which saw them average just over five hits per game and go a combined 4-for-30 with runners in scoring position.
  • 4: The amount of times the Angels have been shutout.
  • 1-12: The Angels’ record when scoring three runs or less.
  • 23: The exact number of teams that are ahead of the Angels in terms of: runs per game (3.45), OPS (.642), slugging percentage (.352) and stolen bases (10).
  • .230: The Angels’ batting average with runners in scoring position, good for 12th in the AL — ahead of only the division-rival A’s and Mariners.
  • 6: The amount of losses the relievers have compiled, which is tied with the last-place Royals for first in the Majors. (What? You thought the bullpen was safe from this?)
  • 1: The amount of save chances Walden had (within five appearances) before serving up the two-run, walk-off homer that stripped him of his job on Thursday — game No. 19.
  • 1.49: The bullpen’s WHIP, which ranks 23rd in the Majors.
  • 1.52: The bullpen’s strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is tied for second-to-last in the Majors (with a Marlins team of similar preseason hype).

Fun, right? …

Alden

Be back shortly …

I’ll be back Monday, y’all. Keep the seat warm while I’m gone.

Alden

Question of the Day, 4/26 …

“Someone on this team must step up. Who will it be, if an?” — @Halosfanatic

I hate to sound like a broken record, but it just has to be Albert Pujols. As Torii Hunter said postgame, he’s their “big dog,” and when he starts being the man he has always been, that’s when this lineup can really get going. I know it isn’t just Pujols who’s struggling — and Mike Scioscia doesn’t seem to be pushing all the right buttons — but it can really just be that simple. He’s just been fighting himself for so long, and it seems like the longer this slump stretches, the harder it is on him mentally (though that’s something he’ll never admit to).

Here’s what C.J. Wilson said about him postgame: “I don’t know what it’s like to be him. I don’t know what’s different in terms of what he feels. I just know that I respect him a lot and I still think he’s the best hitter, regardless of however many home runs. I know nobody’s taking him lightly. They’re giving him their ‘A’ game. If a guy’s throwing like 92 to everybody else, they’re throwing like 94 to him. You see that. I think it’s just sort of beginner’s luck for the league against him, where this is the first time a lot of these guys are seeing him, and they’re taking advantage of a defensive shift or something like that. At some point, he’ll understand the pitchers better, and maybe some of those balls will get through.”

Alden

Game 18: Angels-Rays …

Angels (6-11)

Bobby Abreu, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Torii Hunter, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: LH C.J. Wilson (2-1, 2.37 ERA)

Rays (10-7)

Desmond Jennings, LF
Ben Zobrist, RF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Jeff Keppinger, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Luke Scott, DH
Sean Rodriguez, SS
Chris Gimenez, C

Pitching: RH Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 3.26 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia called talk of Mike Trout coming up “premature,” but added: “Obviously when you’re playing that well, you tend to push a door open for yourself.” Here’s more from the skipper (with more on the site later): “Obviously if stuff continues to be stagnant, you’re going to put more on weight on some of those decisions. But right now, I think we’re trying to find an identity to this team, and we’re just not quite there yet.”
  • Catching prospect Hank Conger is on the 10-day Minor League disabled list with what the club believes is a non-serious elbow injury. An MRI revealed no structural damage, so for now he’ll just rest it. John Hayes, who the Angels just signed to a Minor League deal, will split the Triple-A Salt Lake catching duties with Robinzon Diaz until Conger returns.
  • Izturis’ stolen base on Tuesday was the Angels’ first since April 15, and the Angels have just nine on the year (tied for 22nd in the Majors). “Sometimes the matchups aren’t there,” Scioscia said. “It’s nothing you can really force. But if the matchups are there, you’re going to try to take advantage of them. I think we have team speed, which we can try to create in some situations. … I think we’re going to steal our share of bases.”
  • Can Pujols’ struggles just be a matter of not being used to the guys he’s facing? Here’s a look.

Some links from Tuesday …

Some AL West links …

And the Heat lost to the Celtics, but everyone’s just resting for the playoffs right now.

Alden

Can unfamiliarity be (at least part of) the problem? …

Many have tried to scrutinize, analyze and make some sense for why Albert Pujols is batting only .232, is homerless in his first 69 bats of a $240 million contract and is now hitless in four consecutive starts. Some have talked about the thick marine layer of Angel Stadium (guilty as charged), others have pointed to Pujols expanding his zone as part of his ever-diminishing walk rate (David Schoenfield did a nice job of that on ESPN.com), some have talked about frustrations and trying to do too much on a new team (hitting coach Mickey Hatcher indicated that to me yesterday) and many others (a lot of them residing in the Angels’ clubhouse) have simply pointed to the randomness of small sample sizes.

Most of that is fair — but none of it offers up a full explanation. Nothing can, really, because nobody — Pujols included — can really put their finger on exactly what is going on right now. All we can do is try to provide as much reasoning as possible.

In tune with that, here’s something else to consider: The inexperience Pujols has had against those he has faced.

Below is a list of the starters Pujols has gone up against through his first 17 games and the amount of plate appearances he had against each of them heading into the year (listed in no particular order) …

  • Brandon McCarthy: 0
  • David Price: 0
  • Jake Arrieta: 0
  • Nick Blackburn: 0
  • Wei-Yin Chen: 0
  • Bartolo Colon: 2
  • Luke Hochevar: 3
  • Hiroki Kuroda: 15
  • Francisco Liriano: 3
  • Brian Matusz: 0
  • Tommy Milone: 0
  • Ivan Nova: 0
  • Carl Pavano: 10
  • Tyson Ross: 0
  • Jonathan Sanchez: 11
  • Bruce Chen: 11
  • Phil Hughes: 0

So, 10 of the 17 starters he has faced so far have been first-time encounters, and only four — all former National Leaguers — were guys he came in with double-digit plate appearances against.

“I’m a guy that I don’t like to look for an excuse,” Pujols said of facing all the new blood on Tuesday night. “I don’t want to blame the league, that I’m new on the league, or that that I’m struggling. I don’t play like that, and I don’t put excuses. It’s the same game. You come here and do the same homework. Does it help if you’ve faced the guy before? Yeah, of course, but you still have to get the same preparation.

“Yes, it is a new league, but I don’t like to get caught up into that. I don’t like to look at that for an excuse the way I’m swinging or the way I feel at the plate, because to tell you the truth, I feel descent. I mean, I feel good. I’m just not that far away from breaking this thing off.”

OK, so Pujols doesn’t want to make excuses, and he shouldn’t. He’s getting paid a lot of money to produce, and he simply isn’t. That’s the bottom line. But iPad videos and scouting reports can only tell you so much about an opposing pitcher. It’s hard to duplicate the experience of actually seeing what a guy has.

And so far, Pujols hasn’t really had that in his back pocket.

“There’s a slight advantage a pitcher has when there’s no match-ups, just because a hitter hasn’t seen his release point, hasn’t seen maybe the action from a batter’s box,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “But a guy of Albert’s talent usually makes a quick study of these things, and we know he will. We know he will.”

Alden

Question of the Day: 4/24 …

“Why doesn’t Mike Scioscia at least let Kendrys Morales have a few at bats against lefties?” — @lamas626

He has. Morales has received 11 of them, with zero walks and one hit to show for it. Morales has basically shrugged it off every time I’ve asked him, but I think there’s a huge difference between his timing against lefties and his timing against righties (he’s batting .350 against them in 40 at-bats). A lot of that has to do with simply not facing as many lefties. And I know you only get that timing by, well, facing them, but Scioscia seems to like using the pretty rare time an opposing lefty starts to either get Mark Trumbo in at DH or get other guys off their feet. I know Morales’ presence is a big and important one for this struggling offense, but I just don’t see him being productive from the right side of the plate. Not yet, anyway.

Alden

Game 17: Angels-Rays …

If the Angels are looking for their power, this may not be the place to find it. The Angels came in tied for last in the American League in homers (11 — and zero by their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters today). David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore — the three starters they’ll face in this series — have combined to give up seven in nine starts.

On to the lineups (No. 15 in 17 games), with Kendrys Morales getting the day off against a southpaw starter (one of two in this series), Torii Hunter getting in his first game at DH (he got 81 plate appearances there last year), Maicer Izturis getting his third start at the hot corner and Mark Trumbo getting the nod in right field (the second of his career) …

Angels (6-10)

Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Hunter, DH
Trumbo, RF
Vernon Wells, LF
Izturis, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Peter Bourjos, CF
Pitching: RH Ervin Santana (0-3, 6.75 ERA)

Rays (9-7)

Desmond Jennings, LF
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Luke Scott, DH
Matt Joyce, RF
B.J. Upton, CF
Jose Molina, C
Sean Rodriguez, SS
Pitching: LH Price (2-1, 4.20 ERA)

Some notes from pregame …

  • Mike Scioscia, on Hunter’s DH days this year compared to last year: “He’s going to definitely DH today because of the turf, and we’ll see how the rest of this series goes. I don’t know if it’s going to be greater, but we’re going to pick our spots. At times, he’s going to get a chance to just rest, and he’ll get days off, too.”
  • If you’re scoring at home (and I know a lot of you are), Trumbo has now made starts at five different positions — first base, third base, left field, right field and DH — and has made just one at the hot corner since April 13. “It’s a work in progress,” Scioscia said of where Trumbo stands at third. “I think in spring he showed the skill set to do what we feel a third baseman needs to do. It’s just that he had a couple of bumps in the road early, but we’re still working on it. He played third the other night, and we’re going to still mix it in there.”
  • You want some good news? OK, here goes: The Rangers have lost two of their last three, and the Angels have won their first game in four of their first five series. They’ve also won five of their last six games in St. Pete. (Sorry, best I can do on short notice.)
  • Wait, here’s something better: The rotation has looked more like what we would’ve expected these last seven games, posting a 2.92 ERA with six quality starts, a 0.91 WHIP and a 41/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (credit: Stats LLC).

Some links from the last couple days …

Some AL West links …

And Mike Miller‘s minutes with the Heat are rising.

Alden

Question of the Day: 4/20 …

“When will Mike Trout be called up?!” — @SeWwEwW

I’m of the belief that in order for him to be up before August, things would have to get drastic. He’s obviously tearing it up in Triple-A (he came into today with a .383/.426/.550 slash line through his first 15 games), but too much needs to happen on this roster in order for him to be in an everyday role right now (and that’s the only reason he should be up so early).

Think about it. It’s not just Bobby Abreu who would need to be traded/released for the roster spot to come open. If he has an everyday job in the outfield, that would mean Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells or Peter Bourjos are relegated to the bench — and thus it’s even harder for Mark Trumbo to get at-bats. I’m not saying that may not eventually be the best option for the Angels; I’m just saying the Angels need to be sure that it’s what they need and that Trout will be a clear upgrade in the big leagues the rest of the way (Are we sure about that already?) if they’re going to make a drastic move like that in the first few months.

FWIW, here‘s what Jerry Dipoto said about Trout yesterday.

Alden

Game 14: Orioles-Angels …

Orioles (8-5)

Nolan Reimold, LF
J.J. Hardy, SS
Nick Markakis, RF
Adam Jones, CF
Matt Wieters, C
Wilson Betemit, 3B
Mark Reynolds, DH
Chris Davis, 1B
Robert Andino, 2B

Pitching: LH Brian Matusz (0-2, 8.38 ERA)

Angels (4-9)

Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Torii Hunter, RF
Mark Trumbo, LF
Vernon Wells, CF
Kendrys Morales, DH
Chris Iannetta, C
Alberto Callaspo, 3B

Pitching: RH Jerome Williams (0-1, 16.87 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • This you see above you is lineup No. 12 for the Angels and manager Mike Scioscia. It’s Trumbo’s first start of the season in the outfield, Peter Bourjos‘ (.206 BA) second day off in the last three days and the lowest Kendrys Morales (0-for-8 vs. LHs) has hit in the lineup since 2009.
  • Scioscia, on the club’s disappointing start: “Would we rather have a better record? Absolutely at this point. You try to go out there and win every game, but I think there’s a mild frustration with some guys because they know we wanted to get off to a good start and we’re not there right now. The talent in this team is just real. And it’ll come to the forefront. And when that starts to happen, I think you’ll see a lot of guys relax and get into their game.”
  • Trumbo, in case you hadn’t noticed, hasn’t started a game at third base since April 13. Trumbo and Scioscia both admitted he’s more comfortable in the corner outfield right now, but Scioscia re-emphasized: “He’s going to play third base. But we want him in there more than maybe what you would project the day starting at third base would be for the season, so he’s going to have to play osme corner outfield, some third bae and also DH.”
  • Still no save chance for Jordan Walden, as the Angels are the only Major League team without a save.
  • All-Star Game balloting has begun.

Some links from Thursday …

Some AL West links …

  • The Rangers and Tigers were rained out Friday, so Matt Harrison will have to wait again
  • The A’s (remember them?) win three straight vs. Angels
  • Ichiro Suzuki is producing from the 3 spot

And the Miami Heat won a chippy game over the Chicago Bulls.

Alden

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