Results tagged ‘ Blue Jays ’

Moran to have Tommy John, out for year …

Reliever Brian Moran is slated to undergo Tommy John surgery, a surgical procedure that typically carries a 12-month recovery, the Angels announced on Tuesday.

The Angels acquired Moran in the Rule 5 Draft this past December, with reasonable hope that he could be an important situational lefty in their bullpen and thus be the first Rule 5 pick to stick on their roster since Derrick Turnbow in 2000.

But Moran, 25, made only four appearances in Spring Training before feeling discomfort in his left elbow around mid-March. He began playing catch shortly thereafter, but was never able to take the next step and throw off a mound again.

In 2009, the Mariners – hosting the Angels for a two-game set starting Tuesday – drafted Moran in the seventh round. And in five years in their organization, the southpaw posted a 3.06 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and a 4.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while holding opposing lefties to a .594 OPS last season.

The Angels got him during the most recent Winter Meetings, in a pre-arranged deal with the Blue Jays.

Rule 5 picks must be offered back to their original teams if not on the active roster, unless they’re on the disabled list. The Angels can open up a spot on the 40-man roster by transferring Moran to the 60-day DL. But he’ll be with the organization all year, while merely rehabbing.

Alden

Division-by-division: AL East …

Red Sox Parade BaseballLeading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Next up, the AL East.

Yankees
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Masahiro Tanaka, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, INF Kelly Johnson, INF Brian Roberts, RP Matt Thornton
Key subtractions: CL Mariano Rivera, 2B Robinson Cano, OF Curtis Granderson, 3B Alex Rodriguez, SP Andy Pettitte, SP Phil Hughes, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Boone Logan
Biggest strength: Outfield. They’re deep enough there that they can eventually use Brett Gardner as a chip to help shore up another department. For now, Gardner is expected to start alongside Ellsbury and Beltran, with Alfonso Soriano (129 OPS plus with the Yankees last year) serving as the primary designated hitter and Ichiro Suzuki (eventual Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki) off the bench.
Biggest question: Age. Four of their projected starting nine are 35 and older (Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts, Beltran), CC Sabathia is seemingly on the decline and Hiroki Kuroda is 38.
Most important player: Tanaka. He was signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday, and if he becomes the ace suggested on his price tag, or even just a very formidable No. 2, the Yankees’ rotation can compete in baseball’s toughest division.
In 25 words or less: The Yankees re-established themselves as a financial juggernaut, but can they be dominant again? That’s up to Father Time.

Red Sox
Last year’s record: 97-65, 1st place (beat the Cardinals in WS)
Key additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Jonathan Herrera, RP Edward Mujica, RP Burke Badenhop
Key subtractions: OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RP Matt Thornton
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. The Red Sox return all six starting pitchers from their World Series-winning team — Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Biggest question: Their young players, specifically Jackie Bradley Jr., who will replace Ellsbury in center fielder, and Xander Bogaerts, who’s expected to replace Drew at shortstop after a stellar postseason.
Most important player: Clay Buchholz. The 29-year-old right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout a full season. Last year, he had a 1.74 ERA but made only 16 starts because of shoulder fatigue that diminished his fastball velocity in October.
In 25 words or less: Once again, the Red Sox have a nice blend of accomplished veterans and talented young players, and look like a force.

Rays
Last year’s record: 92-71, 2nd place (lost to Red Sox in ALDS)
Key additions: CL Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, RP Heath Bell, INF Jayson Nix, RP Pedro Figueroa
Key subtractions: CL Fernando Rodney, OF Luke Scott, INF Kelly Johnson, RP Randy Choate
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, like it is every year. The Rays never seem to run out of it, no matter how little money they have to play with. The quintet of David Price/Alex Cobb/Matt Moore/Jeremy Hellickson/Chris Archer is as good as anyone.
Biggest question: Protecting Evan Longoria. It’s an annual question with this money-strapped bunch, but could cease being a problem if Wil Myers builds on his Rookie of the Year season.
Most important player: Balfour. The Rays signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal on Thursday, a month after his two-year, $15 million agreement with the O’s was taken off the table over issues with his physical. If he can be the guy the A’s have had the last two years (2.56 ERA, 62 saves), he’ll be a bargain and stabilize an otherwise uncertain bullpen.
In 25 words or less: If they keep Price, they’ll find a way to contend. If they trade Price, they’ll find a way to content. They don’t stop.

Blue Jays
Last year’s record: 74-88, 5th place
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Chris Getz, 3B Brent Morel, RP Tomo Ohka
Key subtractions: SP Josh Johnson, RP Darren Oliver, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
Biggest strength: Offense. With Jose Reyes at the top, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle, and Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie sprinkled throughout, Toronto has the makings of a potent lineup — if everyone performs to their career norms.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Blue Jays ranked 29th in starting-pitcher ERA last year, ahead of only the Twins, with R.A. Dickey having a rough first half and the likes of Johnson, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and several others all struggling.
Most important player: The free-agent starter to be named later. The Blue Jays could target someone like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. And if they get one of them, it’ll take a lot of the load off Dickey, Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
In 25 words or less: The same core that looked primed to win the division and grossly underachieved is back almost entirely. That’s both good and bad.

Orioles
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: 2B Jemile Weeks, OF David Lough, OF Delmon Young, RP Ryan Webb, RP Brad Brach, OF Tyler Colvin, OF Quintin Berry, OF Julio Borbon
Key subtractions: CL Jim Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jason Hammel, SP Tsuyoshi Wada, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Biggest strength: Star power. In third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis, the O’s have three of the best players at their respective positions.
Biggest question: Their assortment of young starting pitchers. Few have actually clicked, and if the O’s are to compete again, someone will have to emerge from a group that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland.
Most important player: Bundy, the 21-year-old who was ranked by MLB.com as the eighth-best right-handed-pitching prospect. Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in June and could give Baltimore a much-needed boost in the rotation if he returns to form around mid-season.
In 25 words or less: A talented core exists, but this team needs more additions to compete in this division.

Predicted order of finish …

  • Rays
  • Red Sox
  • Yankees
  • Blue Jays
  • Orioles

Previous entries: NL East

Alden 

The nine stats that plagued the ’13 Angels …

Mike Scioscia, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton

There are pretty numbers, like .323, .432 and .557 — that’s Mike Trout‘s 2013 batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, respectively.

And then there are ugly ones, like the ones below — the nine stats that plagued the Angels in 2013 and, ultimately, may cost Trout another AL MVP Award …

(In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the Angels’ 2013 season and a look at what’s ahead.)

150: That’s the amount of double plays the Angels grounded into. It’s a franchise record, two more than the 1996 team, and third in the Majors. Albert Pujols (in only 99 games) and Mark Trumbo tied for the team lead with 18, while Howie Kendrick (a notorious GIDP’er) and Josh Hamilton each had 16. Speedster (and non-walker) Erick Aybar followed with 14.

26: That’s the number of pitchers the Angels used this season, three shy of the club record set in 1999. In April alone — a month when the bullpen compiled 95 innings, fifth-most in the Majors — they used 18 (!). It’s a sign of the lack of quality pitching depth the Angels had beyond the Opening Day roster, but also of the injuries they faced, like …

18: That’s the amount of starts Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas missed due to fluky injuries. Weaver fell at the Rangers Ballpark mound on April 7, suffered a fractured left elbow and didn’t return until May 29. Vargas was diagnosed with a blood clot in his left arm pit area shortly after his June 17 start, had invasive surgery and didn’t return until Aug. 13. Down the stretch, the Angels started to see what kind of continuity they can get from Weaver and Vargas being productive and in the rotation at the same time. But it was too little, too late.

13: That’s the combined appearances made by the two new relievers, Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson. Burnett made all of them — 11 in April, a couple in late May — before getting shut down with a torn flexor tendon. Madson missed a second straight year after Tommy John surgery and was released on Aug. 5. Together, Burnett and Madson were supposed to make the Angels’ bullpen a strength. Together, they came up with 13.

32: That’s the combined amount of April losses for two star-studded teams in back-to-back years. In 2012, the Angels started 6-14, roared back into relevance shortly after Trout’s callup and faded down the stretch. In 2013, they dropped 17 of 26 in the season’s first month and never even got back to .500. The Angels had a great Spring Training in 2012, a not-so-great one in 2013. Why the bad early starts — in addition to perhaps a flawed club — is hard to put your finger on.

-63: That’s the amount of runs the Angels didn’t save on defense. In other words, it was their DRS score — 27th in the Majors. And it’s pretty inexplicable considering their DRS was plus-58, tied for second in the Majors, just last season. Yeah, Pujols played only 99 games and Alberto Callaspo  was traded in late July, but the personnel was basically the same. And definitely not enough for a 121-run difference (!). Everyday players Trout (-9), Hamilton (-8), Chris Iannetta (-7) Aybar (-7), Kendrick (-3), J.B. Shuck (-1) and Trumbo (-1) had negative scores. The Angels were 19th in UZR, tied for 27th in fielding percentage and 28th in caught-stealing percentage. So, yeah, it’s not just that one sabermetric stat. The Angels were not a very good defensive team this season.

2.6: That’s the combined Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs.com, for Pujols and Hamilton. That’s actually higher than I expected, but obviously nowhere near what the Angels hoped for. In other words, two guys making a combined $33.4 million (or nearly 25 percent of the entire payroll) contributed three wins, if you round up. Pujols didn’t play past July 26, was severely hobbled when he did, and finished with a .258/.330/.437 slash line. Hamilton slumped up until the final five weeks of the season and finished at .250/.307/.432. You can talk about the pitching problems all you want — and I agree, it was the No. 1 issue in 2013 and is the No. 1 concern right now — but perhaps the Angels make a playoff run if they get normal years from Pujols and Hamilton.

66: That’s the amount of outs the Angels made on the bases, more than anyone in baseball — for a second straight year. Last season, they led with 72 outs on the bases. Kendrick (10), Aybar (7), Shuck (7) and Hank Conger (6) had the most.

22: I saved this one for last because I thought it was the most telling. It’s the amount of losses the Angels suffered in games during which they scored at least five runs. That’s the second-most in the Majors in 2013. The only team that lost more of those games was the Astros — the 111-loss Astros. Team Nos. 3-10: Twins, White Sox, Brewers, Orioles, Blue Jays, D-backs, Padres, Rockies. None of them made the playoffs, and the vast majority of them were never close. Nothing says pitching problems like losing a game in which you get five or more runs from your offense — 22 times.

Alden

100 runs, no matter what …

Mike TroutLast year, Mike Trout scored 100 runs despite spending the entire first month in the Minor Leagues.

This year, triple-digits in that category may be even more impressive.

In Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the Blue Jays, Trout scored two runs to give him 101 on the season, making him only the seventh player in Major League history to notch 100-plus runs in his age-20 and age-21 season.

In 2012, a year in which he led the Majors with 129 runs scored, Trout reached No. 100 in his 481st plate appearance. That gave him an astounding 44 percent run-scoring percentage, tied with Desmond Jennings for first among American League players with at least 500 plate appearances.

In 2013, a year in which he trails only the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter (114) in runs, he did it in his 641st plate appearance. Entering Wednesday, Trout’s run-scoring percentage was way down to 30 percent. The reason is two-fold: (1) He’s stealing less bases (49 to 32) because pitchers are watching him a lot more closely; (2) he hasn’t had much consistency behind him, with Albert Pujols hurt and Josh Hamilton struggling.

That’s OK, Trout has made up for that with an on-base percentage that’s 38 points higher than last year’s (.399 to .437).

And somehow, he still managed to score 100 runs.

“Last year was incredible because he did it minus 100 at-bats that he didn’t have in the month of April,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “And that’s off the charts what he did last year. I think this year his numbers are going to be terrific. He’s having an incredible year. And I don’t think it’s under the circumstances where teams know what he can do. I mean he’s running into a lot of 1.15, 1.2 times to the plate, which he didn’t see as much of last year. It’s impacting his ability to steal, but it’s also giving guys at the plate a better look where pitchers are a little more uncomfortable staying in a slide step. So he still brings a presence there.”

Here’s a list of the six others who notched back-to-back 100-run campaigns in their age-20 and age-21 seasons …

John McGraw (1893-94)
Mel Ott (1929-30)
Buddy Lewis (1937-38)
Ted Williams (1939-40)
Vada Pinson (1959-60)
Alex Rodriguez (1996-97)

Alden

Josh Hamilton is even hitting lefties …

Josh HamiltonOne of the biggest indicators that Josh Hamilton is finally right at the plate is his recent success against left-handed pitchers.

Southpaws have given the Angels’ left-handed slugger fits all year. Over his first 60 games, he had a .165/.192/.281 slash line against southpaws. But since Aug. 9, a stretch that has seen him bat .339 with 14 walks to get his batting average up to a season-high .243, he’s been a lot better.

Hamilton has 15 hits in 44 at-bats vs. lefties in that span. Over the last six games, he’s gone 3-for-3 with a homer against Mark Buehrle, 1-for-2 with a walk against Derek Holland and 2-for-3 against David Price.

“Staying square has been the biggest thing,” Hamilton said. “I’ve talked about it all year. And the last few, I would say, couple of weeks, I’ve been better off lefties. If I can stay square on them, then I know I can on righties also.”

Hamilton — at .243/.302/.429, with 20 homers and 67 RBIs on the year — says it’s “the [lefties] that are erratic” that give him the most trouble.

“Guys that are more established and know how to pitch the game, know how to play the game, like Price or Buehrle or [Andy] Pettitte, guys like that [are the ones he's more comfortable against],” Hamilton said. “But once you start seeing them, getting comfortable, that carries over to guys who are erratic.”

Some additional notes from Tuesday’s 12-6 win over the Blue Jays

  • Hamilton is now one of seven players with at least 20 homers and 25 doubles in each of the last four seasons, joining Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Alfonso Soriano, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano.
  • Five hits and four extra-base hits in one game are each career-highs for Mark Trumbo. His three doubles tied a single-game franchise record, and he became the first Angels player ever to notch five hits and five runs scored in one game. Four extra-base hits in one game ties a franchise record, done nine other times and last by Erick Aybar in 2011.
  • Mike Trout, who has hit safely in 12 straight games, is now the third Angels player to have 180 hits in back-to-back seasons.
  • Kole Calhoun, who hit an RBI double in the fifth, has an RBI in 13 of his last 14 starts and leads all rookies with 22 RBIs since joining the Angels on July 28.

Alden

Game 144: Angels-Blue Jays …

Pretty fitting that the Angels and Blue Jays — two clubs with bloated payrolls, high expectations and underachieving 2013 seasons — enter a three-game series at Rogers Centre with the exact same record. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, asked of any similarities between the two teams, said …

“I can only speak from our angle. I don’t want to dissect their team. But I can tell you that no matter what a perceived strength is of a club — and you can talk about payrolls all you want — you’re only going to be as good as your pitching staff is going to allow you. And I think it’s proved its point in the last three weeks, as you guys have seen our team on a daily basis. When we get those starters giving us a chance to win, we’ve set up games the way we’ve needed and we’ve held leads. And that was an issue for long stretches of the season and we paid a price for it. I think it still comes down to the depth and the strength of your pitching staff moving forward. And ours just hasn’t held up the way that we needed to.”

Indeed, the Angels entered Tuesday 28th in the Majors in pitching ERA (4.29). The Blue Jays are 26th (4.26).

Lineups …

Angels (67-76)

ANACollin Cowgill, CF
Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, DH
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Kole Calhoun, RF
Grant Green, 2B
Andrew Romine, 3B

Pitching: RH Jerome Williams (6-10, 4.60 ERA)

Blue Jays (67-76)

TORJose Reyes, SS
Ryan Goins, 2B
Brett Lawrie, 3B
Adam Lind, 1B
Rajai Davis, LF
J.P. Arencibia, C
Moises Sierra, RF
Anthony Gose, CF
Kevin Pillar, DH

Pitching: LH Mark Buehrle (11-7, 3.88 ERA)

  • Howie Kendrick was activated for today’s game, but isn’t expected to start at second base until Friday’s series opener in Houston. The Angels want to avoid bringing him back on the turf. Kendrick did some more running in the early afternoon today and feels the left knee is finally 100 percent.
  • Jered Weaver felt some tightness in his right forearm during his start in steamy Minnesota on Monday, but he’s expected to take his next turn through the rotation.
  • Luis Jimenez is still not available. More of an issue right now are his shoulders, which got banged up in a home-plate collision with A.J. Pierzynski on Saturday.
  • Peter Bourjos had successful surgery on his right wrist today. Recovery time is eight weeks.
  • In case you missed it, here’s a story on the Angels’ 2014 schedule.

Alden

Catching up with Angels of yesteryear …

Torii HunterThe Angels, in case you missed it, had quite the turnover this offseason. I knew that. But it didn’t really hit me until today, when I decided to compile a list of all the guys who are on a new team this spring. Below are nine of them — with Jason Isringhausen still in limbo — to catch you up on how 2012 Angels look heading into 2013 …

RF Torii Hunter (DET)

Numbers: .207 BA (6-for-29), 1 HR, 2 RBI

Notes: No surprises for Hunter this spring. He’ll play right field and bat second (Jim Leyland likes him there). His son, Darius McClinton-Hunter, was not indicted in the sexual-assault case.

SP Zack Greinke (LAD)

Numbers: 3.60 ERA (2 ER, 5 IP), 3 K, 1 BB

Notes: Greinke missed Sunday’s bullpen session with minor forearm tightness and missed Wednesday’s start because of the flu, but he had an impressive bullpen session on Friday. Earlier in the spring, Greinke went into his social-anxiety disorder and his decision to sign with the Dodgers.

SP Dan Haren (WAS)

Numbers: 0-1, 3.60 ERA (2 ER, 5 IP), 5 K, 1 BB

Notes: Haren felt “a lot of good stuff” came out of his last outing. Last year, he said, “I didn’t trust myself.” Haren was involved in a prank-call this spring. Somebody made Peter Bourjos‘ cell phone ring in a pre-workout meeting — he suspected Mark Trumbo or Jered Weaver, or both — and the person on the other end was Haren, who was put on speaker phone so he could briefly talk with all of his ex-teammates.

SP Ervin Santana (KCR)

Numbers: 1.80 ERA (1 ER, 5 IP), 6 K, 1 BB

Notes: At $13 million, Santana is the highest-paid player on the Royals this year. They’re counting on a bounceback year.

DH Kendrys Morales (SEA)

Numbers: .320 BA (8-for-25), 2 HR, 4 RBI

Notes: Now that he has a full season under his belt after that devastating ankle injury, Morales can finally just have a normal spring. That’s big, given that this is his walk year.

INF Maicer Izturis (TOR)

Numbers: .160 BA (4-for-25), 1 RBI

Notes: Not a good start for Izturis, since he’s going to be fighting for playing time.

RP Jordan Walden (ATL)

Numbers: 1 IP, 4 R (1 ER), 3 H, 0 SO, 0 BB

Notes: Walden hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 23 due to a bulging disk in his back. He received an epidural injection in Atlanta on Wednesday, and if he continues to progress, he could throw off a mound again this weekend.

RP LaTroy Hawkins (NYM)

Numbers: 1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 1 SO, 0 BB

Notes: Hawkins is 40 years old and now, after signing a Minor League deal with the Mets this offseason, has a good chance to make an Opening Day roster with his 10th different team.

C Bobby Wilson (NYY)

Numbers: .167 BA (2-for-12)

Notes: Some of you may be surprised to see he’s even on the Yankees. Wilson was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays early in the offseason, but was released in late November and signed with the Yankees on a Minor League deal a couple weeks later. He’ll be in Triple-A, but with not much talent in front of him — Austin Romine, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart — perhaps he can win playing time.

Alden

How Angels’ ‘Big 3′ stacks up in 2013 …

Josh Hamilton

I wrote recently about the Angels’ own prestigious “Big Three” of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton — how they could potentially hold up historically and in this era.

But how do they hold up in 2013? There’s little debate that the Angels now have the most talented and celebrated lineup trio in baseball, giving them arguably the game’s most potent offense. But I was a little stunned that their 2012 stats didn’t show it.

In fact, when combining each of their OPS from 2012, the Angels’ trio ranked third, behind those of the Tigers and Reds. Below is the top 15, based on combined OPS of the top three current players in each lineup (minimum is 400 plate appearances) …

  • Tigers (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson): 2.795
  • Reds (Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce): 2.759
  • Angels (Trout, Pujols, Hamilton): 2.752
  • Brewers (Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart): 2.729
  • Red Sox (David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli*): 2.635
  • Blue Jays (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera): 2.627
  • Cardinals (Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina): 2.627
  • Rangers (Adrian Beltre, David Murphy, A.J. Pierzynski): 2.607
  • Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Tyler Colvin): 2.602
  • Pirates (Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez): 2.569
  • D-backs (Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Kubel): 2.565
  • Yankees (Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira): 2.547
  • Twins (Josh Willingham, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit): 2.532
  • Giants (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt): 2.527
  • Dodgers (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez): 2.524

* Napoli’s deal still hasn’t been finalized. 

** A special thanks to all of you for making this blog the 10th-most popular among MLB.com beat writers in 2012. You’re the whipped cream on my sundae. 

Alden 

How many wins does it take? …

The kid went to Mr. Owl to find out how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. (Big mistake.) We’ll go with Mr. History with our own inquiry.

Us: Mr. History, how many wins will it take to get the second Wild Card in the American League? 

History: Let’s see … one, a-two-hoo, a-three … 88. 

88. Or, more precisely, 88.24. From 1995 (the first year divisional play was actually put into practice) and 2011 (the last year before the new playoff format), that’s the average number of wins by the American League team that would’ve claimed the second Wild Card spot under this new system.

For the Angels, now a season-best 14 games over .500 while at 77-63, that means a mere 11-11 record the rest of the way. Totally do-able. But, of course, it’s not so simple. Every year, it’s different. And this year, the Orioles, Athletics and Rays — with combined payrolls of just under $200 million — have all surprised and don’t show signs of slowing down. But the Rays (tied with the Angels for third place in the AL Wild Card race) are on pace for 88 wins, the Orioles (one-game lead on the Angels for the second AL Wild Card spot) are on pace for 89 and the Athletics (2 1/2 games ahead of the Angels for the first AL Wild Card spot) are on pace for 90.

So perhaps that figure isn’t very far off.

The most wins by the team that would’ve claimed the second AL Wild Card spot over the previous 17 years is 93. For the Angels, that would mean a much more difficult 16-6 finish over their last 22 games (4 vs. OAK, 3 at KCR, 3 vs. TEX, 3 vs. CWS, 3 vs. SEA, 3 at TEX, 3 at SEA).

Here’s a year-by-year look at the above-mentioned …

2011: 90 (Red Sox)
2010: 89 (Red Sox)
2009: 87 (Rangers)
2008: 89 (Yankees)
2007: 88 (Mariners/Tigers)
2006: 90 (White Sox)
2005: 93 (Indians)
2004: 91 (Athletics)
2003: 93 (Mariners)
2002: 93 (Red Sox/Mariners)
2001: 85 (Twins)
2000: 90 (Indians)
1999: 87 (Athletics)
1998: 88 (Blue Jays)
1997: 84 (Angels)
1996: 85 (Mariners/White Sox/Red Sox)
1995: 78 (Angels)

With their 3-2 win over the Tigers on Sunday, the Angels — thanks in large part to a rotation that’s finally living up to its billing — have won six in a row, 11 of their last 12 and 15 of their last 18, after starting the second half at 14-22. Next up, they’ll face an A’s team they recently swept but is coming off its own sweep of the Mariners.

Alden 

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?

Alden 

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