Faith, Blame and Hope: What to Make of the Angels' 2012 Season
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Man, do I want to believe.
I want to believe that the sheer amount of offensive talent on this team, which is almost obscene when you stop and look at it, will be enough to power them down the stretch and into the playoffs.
I want to believe that a rotation that includes four pitchers who won a combined 66 games barely a year ago will save its collective best for September and go into full-on shutdown mode.
I want to believe that a team built to win in October will at least get the chance to play in it.
So much was expected of the Angels when the season opened, and for long periods of time the team played up to those expectations. Wednesday night was a textbook example.
They got a solid effort from starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, who went six innings and gave up three runs, and their offense pounded a clearly overmatched opposing pitcher, jumping out to a 9-1 lead before winning 10-3.
Everybody except Mark Trumbo had at least one hit and six different players drove in runs. They were patient at the plate, aggressive on the basepaths and exceptional in the field. They played like the best team in baseball and it was a joy to watch.
And yet here we are about to enter the final month of the season and the Angels are in third place in a division they were projected by many to win and three-and-a-half games behind (and trailing four teams!) for the final wild-card spot.
How do you explain that? And for that matter, who’s to blame?
Let’s start with April.
It’s true the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, but I’ve never heard of anyone winning a marathon after jogging the first four-and-a-half miles, which is essentially what the Angels did with their 8-15 start.
They dug themselves such a huge hole that it took a superhuman effort in May and June (a league-best 35-18) just to get back into the playoff picture—which they did, leading the wild card race by two-and-a-half games coming out of the All-Star break.
Alas, they are only 20-24 since then, including an ugly 4-14 August record against teams not named “Boston.”
Unfortunately, they don’t play Boston anymore after Thursday. Instead, they will have 31 games left, 19 of which will be against teams fighting for their own playoff lives. Even if they manage to finish strong, it still might not be enough to overcome that disastrous April. If that happens, then they would only have themselves to blame.
Another reason to explain the Angels’ current predicament is the less-than-stellar supporting cast.
Since May, the offensive stars on the team (Pujols, Trumbo, Trout) have been as good as advertised, and Kendrys Morales has been as potent a slugger as anyone over the past 25 games. It’s the other guys who are still coming up short.
Alberto Callaspo, for all his defensive wizardry at third base, is hitting .40 points less than his average of a year ago, when he led the team with a .288 BA.
Howie Kendrick’s power numbers are down (he has seven home runs in 2012) after an impressive 2011 that saw him hit 18 home runs and 30 doubles.
Age has finally appeared to catch up with Torii Hunter, at least from a power standpoint, as he currently has 12 home runs after averaging 24 over the past 11 years.
And, once again, the Angels got very little to speak of, offensively, from the catcher position.
Even if they manage to end up with the AL MVP and three guys in their lineup put hit 30 home runs and drive in 90 RBI, it still might not be enough to overcome the supporting cast’s inability to match their 2011 numbers.
But the third group of people I would blame if the Angels don’t make the playoffs is Bud Selig and everybody at the commissioner’s office who is responsible for the extra wild card.
It gave hope to teams like Oakland and Baltimore, who have grabbed onto that extra spot like a pair of wild dogs going after a bone, and neither team is showing any signs of slowing down.
On paper they have no business having a better record than the Angels. Seriously, have you compared their rosters? Statistically the Angels are loads better than both the A’s and the Orioles, yet here they are, looking up at both in the standings.
Indeed, hope is a dangerous thing, and thanks to Bud Selig and company’s second wild card, scrappy teams that might not have hung around this long in the past are fighting until the end along with other legitimately talented teams like the Rays and Tigers.
And that means the road to the playoffs just got tougher for everybody, including a team as loaded as the Angels.
Man, I hope we are not playing the blame game when the regular season ends.
I hope we are gearing up for a win-or-go-home wild-card showdown with Jered Weaver on the mound and Mike Trout at the plate.
I hope Albert Pujols gets a chance to once again do something magical in October with the world watching.
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