The Los Angeles Angels marched into this season as the presumptive champions of baseball. Coming off a respectable 86-76 finish the year before, they made a bunch of big moves in the offseason designed to carry them to greatness. They traded for Chris Ianetta to replace weak-hitting Jeff Mathis behind the plate, they got slugger Kendrys Morales off the DL and, oh yeah, they signed All-Star free agents C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols. With the AL champs' best pitcher and the NL champs' best slugger on the team, this was a squad zeroed in on greatness.
But look at the Angels now. They have the third-worst record in the AL and the third-worst run production, too. Sitting at a 6-12 record, they’re already eight-and-a-half games back of the division lead—and the season’s still in its first month.
Though there’s still certainly time for a comeback, we have to ask: What's going wrong in Orange County?
Well, look, no one player is supposed to carry a team. But Albert Pujols’ signing meant a lot to Southern California, and people expected him to come in and produce right away. (Remember all that flap about nicknaming him “el Hombre”?)
He’s had slow springs before, and he’s always bounced back. That said, his failure to crush the ball at the plate as expected—his season count is now at 72 ABs without a single dinger—really brings down the offensive capabilities of this club.
Once he comes around, the Angels will be fine. But until then, this team will have offensive worries in the one place you don’t want to have them: the middle of the lineup.
Everyone loves the Trumbo.
Mark Trumbo was the Angels’ top offensive producer last year. He put in a real run for Rookie of the Year honors, and when the Angels picked up Pujols, Trumbo said all the right things: "I’ll play DH; I’ll even learn a new position and move to third base."
So why is Trumbo stuck platooning now?
Trumbo’s tops on the team with a .324 BA, but he’s only had 34 at-bats. Other guys are floundering, and Trumbo’s stuck riding the pine. I don’t get it—the guy’s got a hot bat. Stick him in somewhere. First, third, DH—hell, throw him in wherever. But come on, Mike Scioscia. Players gotta play. And until the skipper finds some time for this guy, the Angels will keep having trouble.
So many choices...
Look, platooning doesn’t help pro players perform. Barring injury, playing every day helps guys see the ball better in the field and at the plate; it improves confidence, too, to have a manager’s regular support.
But right now, the Angels have five quality infielders splitting time at three infield spots. Trumbo can and should play third; what’s left is Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis fighting for reps in just two positions in the middle infield.
Yes, these four guys have all been on the team for a long time—there’s 25 years of Angels service between them—but there’s just not space in the lineup for them all. And that’s causing some tension that’s translating to decreased performance at the plate. Manager Mike Scioscia needs to figure this out if he wants his Angels squad to get into their groove.
Bobby Abreu is 38 years old. In baseball, unless you’re Jamie Moyer or Omar Vizquel, that means it’s pretty much time to be put out to pasture.
Look, Abreu was good a few years ago. But he’s not getting it done anymore. And worse, he’s whining about it and causing problems.
After three years of steady decline in offensive production, Abreu decided he wasn't getting used enough and started moaning about his playing time—in spring training. (This, despite hitting just .127 in 55 at-bats.) Now he’s sitting barely above the Mendoza line and still whining about it.
Remember when Rickey Henderson stuck around with the New York Mets even after he’d lost his pop? He just whispered in the ear of Jose Reyes all day, ruining Reyes’ eye at the plate and his confidence on the basepaths. That may be what’s happening now with Abreu and the Angels’ outfielders—Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos have started the year hitting a combined .218.
Long story short: The front office needs to get rid of this guy. Now.
For the past few seasons, the Angels have been riding to success on the backs of the top two workhorses in their pitching rotation: Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. (Let's ignore for now the fact that Haren looks an awful lot like Bubb's best friend Johnny Weeks from the HBO series The Wire.)
But so far this season, Haren’s been having trouble. His 4.07 ERA, while not abysmal, is far higher than it’s ever been to date with the Angels, and it’s among the highest marks of his career. It’s not that he’s having trouble finding the plate—he’s got just three walks in 24 innings—it’s that batters are touching him up. Haren's WHIP of 1.4 is his highest since his rookie year. And when one of your top pitchers is having trouble, well, your whole team starts having trouble, too.
It’s not that Haren has lost his stuff—in those 24 innings he's pitched, he's notched 23 strikeouts. That’s Nolan Ryan territory. Nonetheless, something is definitely going wrong. Maybe the introduction of C.J. Wilson has messed with Haren's head; maybe he’s having trouble adjusting to the increased size of his pitching wolfpack. ("My wolfpack, it grew by one! So there were two of us in the wolfpack...")
Which brings us to our next matter...
Look, it takes time for teams to gel. And members of this Angels squad are still feeling one another out. Starting catcher Chris Ianetta? New. Pujols? New. Starting DH Kendrys Morales? No stranger to the Angels organization, but since he wasn’t around last year, he’s pretty new, too.
That’s a third of the starting lineup. Add to that new stud pitcher C.J. Wilson and new setup man Jason Isringhausen (he’s still in the pros? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus...), and you’ve got to figure it will take some time for this team to find its identity.
And while that happens, there will be some bumps in the road. It’s only natural.
And the final reason?
Yes, folks, it’s just math. Teams go on winning streaks and losing ones; players have hot streaks and slumps. As it happens, a number of Angels are having early-season jitters all at once, but that will fade.
Will Pujols lose his potent swing forever? Of course not. Will the outfield fail to produce all season long? No way. Will No. 4 and 5 pitchers Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams continue to combine for a 7.36 ERA? Well...let’s hope not.
These Angels may be starting slow, but they will bounce back to compete. Guaranteed. After all, who’s going to stop them—the Mariners?