Is it too late to upgrade the bullpen? …

Here’s all you need to know about the pitching staff lately: During a just-completed 10-game road trip, the Angels’ offense averaged seven runs per game, notched double-digit hits seven times and totaled 23 homers … and still lost six of those games. That’s because, of course, the pitching was that bad. Angels pitchers combined to post a 6.78 ERA, giving up 72 runs (66 earned) and 21 homers in 87 2/3 innings during that trip.

The rotation posted a 5.07 mark, getting only four quality starts (two by Jered Weaver, one each by Dan Haren and Ervin Santana) and watching as C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke combined to give up 24 runs (21 earned) in 22 1/3 innings. The bullpen was even worse, combining to post a 10.54 mark (or, 32 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings), losing five games and blowing five save chances.

Now, through the second half, the Angels rank ninth in the American League in ERA from their starters (4.78) and dead last — by a wide margin — in ERA from their relievers (6.65).

Houston, we have a problem.

Now, how do you fix it?

We’ll get the easy one out of the way first. You don’t do anything to fix the rotation. You simply expect proven commodities like Wilson and Greinke to figure it out, continue to lean on Weaver (15-1, 2.13 ERA, Cy Young favorite), get encouragement out of the recent outings of Haren (2.00 ERA last three starts) and Santana (five earned runs last 11 innings), and rest easy with Garrett Richards as a fall-back option.

There’s no reason why this rotation shouldn’t turn it around. (If it doesn’t, then I would hate to be pitching coach Mike Butcher.)

The bullpen situation is a lot more dire. It looked set, as it rolled through May and June with a collective  3.02 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. But that was with Ernesto Frieri going on a ridiculous (unrealistic?) run and, most importantly, with Scott Downs healthy. You really notice just how thin this relief corps is when Downs isn’t there. Suddenly, you’re relying on two 39-year-olds (LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen), one guy who was in Triple-A a little over a month ago (Kevin Jepsen), two guys who would be in Triple-A if not for injuries (David Carpenter and Hisanori Takahashi) and one guy very few had heard of before May (Frieri) to hold leads.

The optimists’ view: Downs and Jordan Walden are slated to start rehab assignments soon and should be back shortly thereafter, and this latest rough stretch is only an anomaly for a bullpen that put together eight really solid weeks.

The cynics’ view: Downs is rehabbing a shoulder strain, was hit around right before landing on the DL and there’s no telling how effective he’ll be upon returning; Walden hasn’t looked right all year; and general manager Jerry Dipoto has to do something to address this ‘pen.

The Angels’ first-year GM didn’t find the reliever market very appealing in July, however. Granted, this was before the road-trip meltdown, but nontheless, here’s what Dipoto told me just after the non-waiver Trade Deadline when asked whether Downs’ injury made addressing the bullpen an even greater priority in August: “Not at all. You’re always open to any way that you can get better. Scotty’s been terrific for us all year, we don’t anticipate this being a long, drawn-out process, but like I said, you never know. And as a result, like I said all along, you remain as flexible as you can be. We’ll keep turning over the stones.”

Will gold show up under any of them?

Keep in mind: Now that the non-waiver Deadline has passed, deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players already have cleared waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings — with his own league first — and if he is claimed by someone, he cannot be traded. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team, which would then have the rights to the player.

I was personally shocked that ex-Royals lefty Jose Mijares slipped through 13 AL teams and landed with the Giants on Aug. 6, given his success and salary. Other names to keep in mind this month (and this is just a rough assumption): Darren Oliver (Blue Jays), Matt Reynolds (Rockies), Joe Thatcher (Padres, but out until mid-to-late August with knee tendinitis) and Wesley Wright (Astros) for lefties; Matt Belisle (Rockies), Rafael Betancourt (Rockies), Shawn Camp (Cubs) and Casey Janssen (Blue Jays) for righties.

Thing is, the Angels don’t have much flexibility on the payroll (especially not after taking on the pro-rated portion of Greinke’s expiring deal) or on the roster. Takahashi and Carpenter can be optioned, but that would be for when Walden and Downs are activated; adding someone extra before rosters expand would probably mean one of their out-of-options guys (Hawkins? Isringhausen? Jerome Williams?) are placed on waivers, since there’s no chance they option Frieri or Jepsen.

Perhaps that’s why the Angels’ front office is hesitant to add someone unless he’s a clear upgrade.

Question is: Is it too late to find that clear upgrade?


1 Comment

The optimists’ view: Downs and Jordan Walden are slated to start rehab assignments soon and should be back shortly thereafter, and this latest rough stretch is only an anomaly for a bullpen that put together eight really solid weeks.

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