Results tagged ‘ Orioles ’
The Angels have a deep offense; one of the deepest in the game. They have Albert Pujols, a Hall of Famer if he retired today. They have Josh Hamilton, one of the most dynamic players in the game (at least that’s what he was in Texas). They have Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun, David Freese, etc. — all solid hitters in their own right. They’re more than just Mike Trout.
But even they struggle to produce when the game’s best all-around player isn’t right.
The Angels — losers of back-to-back games after a 4-3 defeat on Wednesday — have averaged 3.25 runs per game since the start of the second half, all while Trout has found himself in the midst of a rare (and perhaps short) slump.
“We have to be more than Mike,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “and we know we are.”
But here’s a breakdown of how the team has fared along with Trout so far this season (Trout’s slash line is in parenthesis, followed by the Angels’ runs per game and their record during that stretch) …
March 31 to April 28 (.327/.391/.606): 5.44 RPG; 12-13
April 29 to May 19 (.164/.314/.358): 4.21 RPG; 12-7
May 20 to July 13 (.356/.440/.701): 5.24 RPG; 33-17
July 18 to July 30 (.220/.304/.420): 3.25 RPG; 6-6
The league average for runs per game this season is 4.11, so the Angels still manage to do pretty well when Trout struggles from the No. 2 spot. Clearly, though, they’re at a completely different level when he’s on point. And luckily for them, his hot streaks tend to last a lot longer than his cold ones.
Asked how he feels at the plate these days, Trout said: “Timing’s a little late right now. Just picking the ball up late. Ones that I should be hitting I’m seeing late and I’m rushing my swing. That’s a little fix; nothing to worry about.”
The Angels lost in walk-off fashion, and dropped a game in the standings, but Josh Hamilton‘s power re-emerged at Oriole Park, and that’s always a good sign.
“That was great to see, and we need him,” Mike Scioscia said. “That was very encouraging, to see him square the ball up like he did.”
Hamilton homered in the fifth, for the first time since July 2 and just the fourth time since recovering from a surgically repaired left thumb on June 3. He also laced a double into the right-center field gap in the 12th, and lined out hard to left in the third. Entering the game, Hamilton’s isolated power score was .134, which would’ve been tied for 91st in the Majors (with Gordon Beckham, Matt Dominguez and Billy Hamilton) if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
“I’ve always felt really good at this stadium,” Hamilton said of the place that once saw him hit four home runs in one game.
“I talked with ‘Groove’ [hitting coach Don Baylor] before the game today and just talked about hitting strikes, and waiting until you get a strike, and when you do, just swing. Don’t try to do anymore with it than you need to, and try not to do too much with it. I’ve been fighting that a little bit, because obviously the power hadn’t been there. Since the All-Star break, I’ve felt like I’ve been trying to do a little bit too much.”
Hit strikes — seems simple enough.
Sometimes you just need a reminder.
“We fight that our whole career, as far as trying to do a little extra, a little much,” said Hamilton, who moved from left field to designated hitter a few hours before the game. “You try to muscle up or getting a little big. We’re always fighting against that. We need a reminder sometimes.”
A lot of season remains and a lot can still happen, but if the schedule ended today, the Angels would easily have the second-best record in the Majors – they were five games better than the third-place Tigers when play began Tuesday – and still their season would come down to one game.
It’s the misfortune that comes with playing in the same division as baseball’s best team – the A’s, who the Angels trail by 1 1/2 games – and it’s the bad timing of playing in an era with two Wild Card teams in each league.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has long been a proponent of divisional play, believing teams that win their division should have clear advantages over those that make the playoffs as a Wild Card. And the fact that his club is on the other side of that isn’t making him change his stance.
“I think the weight that is on winning a division is warranted,” Scioscia said prior to the series opener from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “I think that if you’re going to have divisional baseball, you have to really make winning a division the first objective of any team that’s contending. And if you don’t quite reach that goal, and you play well enough, then you have the opportunity to work your way into the playoffs.”
One alternative to a team running into the scenario the Angels are currently in is to extend the Wild Card into a three-game series, but Scioscia said that would penalize the division winners because “you will lose your edge, no doubt about it, with that much time off.”
Another would be to eliminate divisional play, which the Angels’ long-time skipper doesn’t like. And a more unconventional one would be to have four divisions, something Scioscia floated out as a possibility if more expansion takes place.
The ladder isn’t necessarily feasible right now, which makes the current goal pretty simple.
“Win your division,” Scioscia said. “Let’s just put it that way.”
Some notes from today …
- C.J. Wilson gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings in a rehab start for Double-A Arkansas on Monday, scattering four hits, waling two and striking out seven. His ankle feels good, and he should be lined up to start this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., but Scioscia wants to wait until Wilson gets through his bullpen to make any determinations. Wilson also discovered some tightness in his left hip that was limiting a flexibility, a problem he fixed and an issue he believes will get him back on track.
- Josh Hamilton moved from left field to designated hitter, but it wasn’t injury related. Hamilton didn’t get much sleep while flying to North Carolina to deal with a family emergency in his native North Carolina.
- Grant Green (lower back) and Collin Cowgill (thumb, nose) stayed in Arizona rehabbing.
- Mike Trout is currently in Baltimore, which is about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Millville, N.J., but he doesn’t expect a huge crowd. Trout said he left like 15 tickets.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Efren Navarro, DH
David Freese, 3B
Hank Conger, C
SP: RH Jered Weaver (11-6, 3.36 ERA)
Erick Aybar was out of the starting lineup for a third straight day on Monday, a precaution for the sore right groin the Angels’ shortstop suffered while reaching first base on a ninth-inning single against the Mariners on Friday night.
Prior to batting practice, though, Aybar did some light agility drills on the field with strength-and-conditioning coordinator T.J. Harrington, then took some BP and felt good. The 30-year-old — an All-Star for the first time while sporting a .283/.320/.409 slash line — expects to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday and should be available off the bench for Monday’s series opener against the Orioles.
The groin initially bothered the switch-hitter while batting from the right side of the plate.
“But I’m good now, from both sides,” Aybar said in Spanish. “I’ll be ready to go tomorrow. They told me one more day, and then tomorrow I’ll [return to the starting lineup]. But I’m ready for whatever they need today, too.”
Some other notes as the Angels look to build on a Major League-best .824 winning percentage in July …
- As I type this, C.J. Wilson is throwing his first bullpen session since landing on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle on July 10. Wilson said he has “no idea” how much longer he’ll have to be on the shelf. “It’s going to be how does it feel today throwing, and then after throwing tomorrow.” Wilson will eventually have to go out onto a rehab assignment. “I’m going to have to adjust to how it feels, because it’s not just going to heal itself in a week,” he added. “Some of the adjustment is going to have to be pain tolerance and things like that. And just learning how to use a somewhat-destabilized ankle.”
- From Matthew DeFranks: Collin Cowgill rejoined the Angels on Monday and said he should return from the disabled list in a couple of weeks, barring an unforeseen setback. Cowgill broke his nose and thumb after he was hit by a Matt West pitch trying to bunt on July 13. Cowgill, who flew in from his home Kentucky on Sunday night, had stitches removed from his nose on Monday and said it would probably be another few days before he can take any swings.
- The Angels signed veteran catcher John Buck to a Minor League deal and assigned him to Triple-A Salt Lake, where they currently have three active catchers. Buck, 34, was released from the Mariners on Tuesday after batting .226/.293/.286. For the Angels, he can be a third catcher when rosters expand in September — unless he finds an immediate Major League opportunity before then.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, DH
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Efren Navarro, LF
Hank Conger, C
John McDonald, SS
SP: RH Matt Shoemaker (7-2, 4.38 ERA)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
Previous entries: NL East
MLB.com reached out to the 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America regarding their ballots for the AL MVP Award, which saw Mike Trout finish a distant second to Miguel Cabrera for a second straight year. Below were their explanations for why they sided where they did in the seemingly-never-ending Trout vs. Miggy debate (their full ballots can be seen here; * denotes those who voted on the AL MVP a second straight time) …
Evan Grant* (Dallas Morning News): 1 Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Josh Donaldson
My feeling was that Cabrera and Trout stood above the field. Cabrera changed the way opponents approached entire games. Trout was a great offensive player, the better defender and the better fielder. In the end, after looking more at advanced stats than at traditional ones, I was left with two guys who I thought were pretty dead-even as I believed Cabrera’s offensive game-changing ability made up for what he lacked on defense and on the bases. And, so, I could consider WAR and take the formula’s word for it that Trout theoretically meant more to the Angels than Cabrera did to the Tigers or I could look at the standings and see actual wins and losses. So, yes, in that regard, I guess some folks could say I penalized Trout for playing for a bad team. I prefer to look at this way: In a close race, I rewarded Cabrera for helping his team realize its goals.
Ken Rosenthal (FOX Sports): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson
I’m just wondering, what is it going to take for Trout to win an MVP? Another writer said it well — he is this generation’s Mantle. I generally prefer my MVP to come from a contender, but why should Trout be held responsible for the failings of his owner, general manager, manager and teammates? I love Cabrera, but Trout is far superior as an all-around player and, when you put it all together, more valuable.
Tim Brown (Yahoo! Sports): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson
In its simplest terms, my first-place vote went to the most complete player in the game. While Mike Trout did not necessarily hit with Miguel Cabrera, he was so far superior outside the batter’s box that I believed it more than covered that ground. The issue of “value” continues to be kicked around. My view is this: The best player carries the most value.
Bob Dutton* (Kansas City Star): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson
Tough choice — just like last year when I voted for Cabrera. I cover the Royals and few people punish them on a regular basis like Cabrera, but I saw him a lot down the stretch, and he just wasn’t the same. I know he finished with great numbers, maybe better overall than last year, but Trout does so many other things. It came down to this: If we were picking teams based solely on this season, and I had the first pick, who would I pick? For me, the answer was Trout.
Jeff Wilson* (Fort Worth Star-Telegram): 1. Cabrera, 2. Chris Davis, 3. Trout
Mike Trout can do things on a baseball field that Miguel Cabrera can’t. I’m not that blind. But for a second straight year, Cabrera posted fabulous offensive numbers, ones that please the traditional baseball crowd and ones that even Sabermatricians agree are pretty impressive. And he did so for a contender. I recognize that Trout wasn’t the least bit responsible for the Angels’ lousy season. Injuries, questionable signings and an owner who doesn’t get it doomed them. But he also didn’t play in meaningful games for all but a week or two in May. Cabrera’s Tigers won the AL Central, and he hit more homers and drove in more runs against their main rival, Cleveland, than any other team. I also believe, as do many baseball people, that Cabrera isn’t the defensive lump at third base that he’s perceived to be. Add it all up, and Cabrera was my MVP. The man who kept him from a second straight Triple Crown, Chris Davis, also played meaningful games all season and was my second pick. I had Trout third, though not without considerable thought of placing him higher.
Susan Slusser* (San Francisco Chronicle): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Donaldson
Cabrera was again the best hitter in the league and helped get his team to the postseason while playing through a significant injury. Despite the injury (later revealed to be a sports hernia that required surgery), Cabrera won the batting title again and topped the league in OPS. Trout is the best all-around player in the league, I agree — but I weigh offensive output higher than defensive metrics for MVP candidates, and Cabrera remains the better hitter. I do always consider how teams finish as a factor, too. It’s not always the deciding factor, but it’s a big consideration.
Phil Rogers (MLB.com): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Donaldson
You wouldn’t think somebody could be better than they were during a Triple Crown season but Miguel Cabrera found a way to raise his game, maybe because he had a little more help in the Detroit lineup. He was an easy choice over Mike Trout for me, in large because I think that the MVP should come from a playoff team, especially now that we’re in an era in which one of every three teams goes to the playoffs. Winning matters but records being equal I still probably would have taken Cabrera over Trout. You can’t replace a guy who hits day in and day out like this guy, even if he does have some rough edges.
Joe Posnanski (NBC Sports): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson
I voted for Mike Trout first, Miguel Cabrera second. I should say that, in my opinion, the MVP should be player who had the best season so other factors — such as how well the team played, which team was in contention, who played in more important games in September — do not factor into my decision. Cabrera had a fantastic offensive season and led the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the first time. I think he’s the best hitter in the game. But you know, Trout is an amazing hitter himself. And when you take into account the rest — defense, baserunning, the various contextual differences of their ballparks — it seemed pretty clear to me that Trout had the better season.
Jeff Fletcher (Orange County Register): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis
I was a supporter of Trout over Cabrera last year, but this year I felt like the offensive gap was even wider, too big for Trout to overcome with his advantages defensively and on the bases. Also, I was impressed by Cabrera’s 1.311 OPS with runners in scoring position. (Trout’s was .993.) Regardless of the different number of opportunities each had, that’s a big gap in production at the times when games are won. While I don’t believe “clutch performance” is a skill or predictive, the MVP is about what you did, not what you can do again.
Jon Morosi (FOX Sports): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis
I’m very sympathetic toward the argument that Trout shouldn’t be penalized for the fact that his team had a losing record. But I don’t see this vote as penalizing Trout, so to speak. This is more rewarding Cabrera for what he did. He put together one of the best offensive seasons we’ve seen in generations, he did it while playing hurt for the past two months, and he was the difference in his team winning the division. To me, that’s what “most valuable” means.
John Hickey (Oakland Tribune): 1. Donaldson, 2. Cabrera, 3. Davis (Trout 4th)
To me, the key part of the award is “Valuable.” It’s not Most Outstanding Player, it’s not Player of the Year, in which case(s) Trout and Cabrera would dead heat. Both were terrific. As good as Trout was, the Angels finished 18 games out. There’s not much value in finishing third. Cabrera’s value was that the Tigers won their division. My first place vote went to the A’s Josh Donaldson, even over Cabrera, because Cabrera was surrounded by a much superior lineup than was Donaldson. Such was Donaldson’s value, in my mind, that without him Oakland would have been a middle-of-the-road finisher. Donaldson wasn’t the best player. He was the most valuable.
Wallace Matthews (ESPNNewYork.com): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Max Scherzer
As long as the word “valuable” remains in the name of the award, I’m always going to factor in how well a player’s team performed and how integral the player was to that performance. Both Cabrera and Trout had outstanding seasons, but you could make the argument that the Angels could just as easily have finished 18 games out without Trout in the lineup. Cabrera, on the other hand, played for a divison winner that relies heavily on his offensive contributions. And even if you want to go strictly by the numbers, with the value factor removed, Cabrera had better numbers in just about every category with the exception of runs and walks. So really, it wasn’t that tough a call for me.
Chad Jennings (Journal News): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis
Oddly enough, I think I would have voted for Trout last year. This year, I was simply overwhelmed by Cabrera’s offensive production. In my mind, the most important thing a position player does is hit, and Cabrera is the game’s best hitter coming off a remarkably productive year. Whether his hitting outweighs his lack of speed and his defensive struggles is hard to say. I believe it does. I also put less emphasis on his defense because he’s clearly playing out of position, and doing so strictly because it makes the Tigers better. The fact he played hurt and helped keep the Tigers in the division lead played some part in my decision, but a relatively small part. Ultimately, I’m glad my vote isn’t the only one that counts. I can’t pretend I have this figured out. I simply have an opinion. I’m skeptical of defensive metrics, and although I give the WAR stat significant consideration, I think it’s flawed and can’t be the end of the discussion. I guess the decision of Cabrera vs. Trout depends on what you value and how you view the award. I don’t think there’s a slam-dunk choice one way or the other.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz (Houston Chronicle): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Donaldson
I weighed the stats and seriously considered Trout at the top of my ballot. I used analytics for the first time since I’ve voted, but I also added extra points for playing on a playoff team. In that process, Cabrera barely edged out Trout on my ballot.
Tom Verducci (SI.com): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis
Mike Trout had such an amazing season it took another historic one to be considered a bit better. Miguel Cabrera’s overall and clutch hitting numbers were too good to deny. He became the first right-handed hitter to win the MLB slash triple crown (batting, on base, slugging) since World War II.
Bill Ballou (Worcester Telegram & Gazette): 1. Davis, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson (Trout 7th)
I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams.
Lynn Henning (Detroit News): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis
My choice was weighted by the division title, and 93 victories, and by Cabrera’s unswerving importance to a team’s playoff presence. He is the best hitter in baseball. He plays a critical position. But the transcendent value of his bat makes him, for me, the MVP. Trout is the best player in the league. Cabrera was, in 2013, in my view, the most valuable player.
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 …
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.
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.
Why is Joe Blanton STILL in the rotation? — @pattimelt95
I’ll spin this question back at you: Who would you like in the rotation instead of Blanton? … Still waiting. … In short, the Angels don’t have many options at this point. Not with Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson on the DL. Not with Jerome Williams struggling of late (and he’s already in the rotation). And not with their farm system barren, particularly in the way of pitching. Blanton is who he is. He’s going to get hit around. Problem is, he’s been hit around a lot more than the Angels would’ve expected. He went into his Tuesday outing with six quality starts in his previous eight turns, but then he gave up four home runs in five-plus innings, and his numbers are still unseemly: 2-11, 5.40 ERA and a Major League-leading 143 hits allowed (in 108 1/3 innings).
This prompts the obvious question: Could the Angels have signed someone better for what they gave Blanton (two years and $15 million?
Everything’s a lot easier in hindsight, obviously, but here’s a look at the notable free-agent pitchers who signed for a similar or lower AAV …
Brandon McCarthy (2 years, $15.5M): 2-4, 5.00 ERA, 11 GS, on the DL for D-backs
Shaun Marcum (1 year, $4M): 1-10, 5.29 ERA, 14 G (12 GS), having season-ending surgery with Mets
Jeff Francis (1 year, $1.5M): 2-5, 6.58 ERA, 11 GS, currently in AAA for Rockies*
Jeremy Guthrie (3 years, $25M): 8-6, 4.12 ERA, 18 GS for Royals*
Bartolo Colon (1 year, $3M): 12-3, 2.69 ERA, 18 GS — and an All-Star! — for the A’s*
Scott Feldman (1 year, $6M): 7-7, 3.87 ERA, 17 GS for the Cubs and O’s
Hisashi Iwakuma (2 years, $14M): 7-4, 2.60 ERA, 18 GS and an All-Star for the Mariners*
Scott Baker (1 year, $5.5M): Has yet to pitch for the Cubs
Joe Saunders (1 year, $7M): 7-8, 4.51 ERA, 18 GS for the Mariners
Francisco Liriano (2 years, $13M): 8-3, 2.20 ERA, 11 GS for the Pirates
* = resigned with 2012 club
Intermittent showers continue here in Baltimore. There’s been a flew let-ups, including at the time of this publishing (5:41 p.m. ET), but the tarp was still on the field and dark clouds are hovering over the stadium. If they bag it, look for a split doubleheader tomorrow. Thing is, weather doesn’t look great then, either. …
SP: RH Jered Weaver (1-1, 3.13 ERA)
SP: RH Freddy Garcia (2-3, 4.70 ERA)
- Sean Burnett is not with the team today. He’s in Birmingham, Ala., seeing Dr. James Andrews because his left elbow has yet to heal. When Burnett originally went on the disabled list on May 28, he was expected back in two weeks. Tomorrow, it’ll be two weeks. And he’s made no real progress. Angels manager Mike Scioscia wouldn’t speculate on the chances that Burnett will go under the knife again. He’ll wait for the results.
- Trout estimates to having about 200 friends and family members today in Baltimore, which is about a two-hour drive from his roots in Millville, N.J. This, of course, is the scene of his memorable catch on a would-be J.J. Hardy homer. A picture of it hangs in the basement of his parents’ house.
- Oh, in case you missed it, Trout, as expected, is back in left field now that Bourjos is back. Scioscia was asked specifically what makes Bourjos a better defensive center fielder than Trout (he is, ever-so-slightly). His response: “I think it’s the whole picture. I think you have to look at the whole outfield. Peter gives you a unique dimension in center field and allows you to be stronger on the wings, where they can do more things. We can do things as far as what our spray charts show. Mike does give you that same element in center, but in the big picture, I think it works out better with Peter in center right now and Mike and Josh at his wings. I don’t know if it’s just looking at what Peter does in center, but just the whole defensive outfield.”
- The Angels designated little-used infielder Chris Nelson for assignment in order to make room on the roster for Bourjos.