93 down, 69 left — & lots of ground to make up …
The good news for the Angels is that they expect to get a handful of key players back shortly after the All-Star break, including Peter Bourjos, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas; perhaps even Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.
But, as Mike Scioscia intimated, that’s not really anything they can hang their hat on right now.
“I don’t think our struggles correlate to guys being out,” he said during Thursday’s voluntary workout. “It’s not like saying, ‘Well, we’ve been banged up and now we’re going to be healthy.’ … We need guys to get in their game more than getting back from the DL.”
There’s no sugarcoating where the Angels find themselves right now. They’re 44-49, 11 games back of first place in the AL West and nine games back of the second Wild Card spot. It’s the most games under .500 that the Angels have been at the All-Star break since 1994 and the largest divisional deficit since 2001. They didn’t make the playoffs either of those years, and only one team — the 2003 Twins — has done so after entering the All-Star break five or more games under .500.
To win 93 games — the minimum amount required to make the playoffs in the AL last year — they’ll have to go 49-20. That’s .710 baseball. The best winning percentage in the Majors right now is .613 (by the Cardinals).
But nearly 43 percent of season remains, so hope does, too.
And with the All-Star break finished, here are the main storylines from here ’til the offseason (click here for my first-half story, with video of the Top 5 moments) …
The July 31 crossroads.
As of now, the best bet here is that the Angels don’t do anything major before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They’re too dangerously close to the threshold at which teams get taxed 17.5 percent by Major League Baseball — something the Angels’ brass doesn’t seem willing to take on — and it’s hard to really be sellers, per se, when Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are on your payroll. But these next couple of weeks could have a big impact on this topic, which brings me to the next storyline …
The next 20 games.
Thirteen of them are against the A’s and Rangers, two teams that are a combined 30 games over .500 and two teams ahead of the Angels in the AL West. This is a stretch that can have them looking towards 2014 or maybe — just maybe — eyeing a playoff spot this fall. In total, 26 of the Angels’ 69 remaining games will come against Oakland and Texas. That’s a lot. Almost 40 percent.
Pujols and The Foot.
At what point does Pujols finally relent and have surgery on the plantar fasciitis that’s been ailing his left foot — and his entire game — all season? He’s determined to play through it all year, and if the Angels stay somewhat relevant, I have every reason to believe he will. If they fall out of it, though, perhaps he shuts it down. Still, 500 homers is only 10 away. And Pujols is adamant about not missing time.
Hamilton and The Numbers.
He hasn’t hit any better than .237 in any month this season, and he has a .224/.283/.413 line for the season. His OPS (.696) is tied for 122nd in the Majors, with Brian Dozier, and his FanGraphs-calculated WAR (0.8) is fourth among Angels position players. To finish with 30 homers, he needs to average a home run every 4.3 games (assuming he doesn’t miss any time). He was able to do that in 2012 (3.4) and 2010 (4.2). To reach triple-digit RBIs, he needs to drive in a run every 1.13 games. The closest he got to that rate was last year, at 1.16. If Hamilton averages four at-bats per game the rest of the way — it’ll likely be lower than that, given walks and inevitable time off — that totals 276. If he gets 110 hits in that span, that’s a .399 batting average. And that would put his average on the season at .302. Amazing to think he even has a remote chance to get to 300-30-100.
Trout’s MVP chances.
Chris Davis (.315/.392/.717) and Miguel Cabrera (.365/.458/.674) are having absurd seasons, making Mike Trout only a fringe candidate for the AL MVP. But don’t sleep on him. He’s at .322/.399/.565 through 92 games. Through 92 games last year (a year he should’ve been the MVP), he was at .340/.402/.592. Not too far off. And if Davis and Cabrera slip, Trout may find himself in the conversation once again. (Sidenote: Trout’s strikeout and walk rates have actually improved from last year, a sign he’s only improving as a hitter. He struck out 21.8 percent of the time and walked 10.5 percent of the time last year. This year, he’s striking out 16.4 percent of the time and walking 11 percent of the time.)
Jered Weaver’s stock.
Somewhat lost amid the struggles of Pujols and Hamilton is that Weaver hasn’t really been, well, Weaver. He missed more than seven weeks with a broken left elbow, struggled upon coming back, went on a very good three-start stretch — two runs in 20 2/3 innings — and then gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Mariners to close out the ceremonial first half. He’s now 3-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 starts this season, with a fastball velocity that continues to decline (90.1 in 2010, 89.2 in 2011, 88.0 in 2012, 86.8 in 2013). Weaver will make $54 million from 2014-16, and the Angels don’t figure to get a better starting pitcher during that time. A strong second half would ease a lot of concerns.
If the Angels do fall out of it, it’ll be interesting to see how they look ahead to 2014 and beyond. This is not a roster you can really rebuild with. This is a roster you can only continue to add pieces to in hopes of winning a championship. And if the Angels don’t make the playoffs, I expect them to try to contend again in 2014. But come August and September, if they’re far back, how do they start planning for next year? Does Garrett Richards go back to the rotation (perhaps bumping Joe Blanton or Tommy Hanson)? Does Hank Conger become the everyday catcher? (Since June 12, he’s had the exact amount of games — 17 — and at-bats — 47 — as Chris Iannetta.)
And what’s the fallout from owner Arte Moreno for missing the playoffs a fourth consecutive year, and after back-to-back December blockbusters?
We may have to wait until the offseason for that one.