Los Angeles Angels: 2 Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of a Division Title

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 Los Angeles Angels: 2 Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of a Division Title
Brandon Wade/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Angels fit one of my favorite, classic plot lines in the MLB. With 162 games, stretching over six months, even the greatest, talent-rich teams will hit a bump in the road now and again.

There are the foreseen and the unpredictable, the sore arms, backaches…and all the other ailments so eloquently listed by coach Lou Brown in "Major League".

And while the Angels certainly are not having any issues with owner Arte Moreno turning on the water heater for the jacuzzi or forcing the team to travel via a rundown prop plane on road trips—like Rachel Phelps did to those lovable, fake Charlie Sheen-led Cleveland Indians—they have seen their share of obstacles thus far.

This early?

Sure, foreshadowing possible roadblocks over 162 games with only a six-game sample size, to any certainty (and with a straight face), is like claiming you can reconstruct the Great Barrier Reef with a few sand dollars, some seashells and the leftover sand still stuck in the bottom of your swimsuit pockets.

I agree. But that doesn’t mean what happens today has little effect on tomorrow or, better yet, October.

In the MLB, every game counts, and the Los Angeles Angels are not a special case.

As the team prepares for its first home stretch, there are two obvious barriers standing in its way of divisional supremacy.

Whether the issues are addressed, solved or unsolved, chances are both circumstances will carry just as much weight today as they do around the time when the divisional title can be clinched.

Sand, please.

 

Health

Possibly the biggest issue of any team—and always an unknown—is the players' health, or lack thereof. The Angels fall into the latter of that equation.  

Albert Pujols is coming off of his knee injury, and is now dealing with plantar fasciitis. Jered Weaver, possibly still working through his issues toward the end of the 2012 season, fractured his non-throwing arm when he fell (tripped?) on the mound against the Texas Rangers (h/t LA Times' Mike DiGiovanna).

Brandon Wade/Getty Images

And Ryan Madson is proving that coming back from Tommy John surgery is not an exact science—he is still not close to 100 percent.

Problems? You bet.

In my mind, any concerns over the pitching staff were always an afterthought because of Jered Weaver. As Weaver goes, so goes the success or failure of the starting rotation.

That’s what an ace/20-game winner is supposed to provide—eating innings, defeating the opposing team’s No. 1 starter and shielding some of the pressure off of the arms behind him.

Now, even if Weaver is in the rotation, things may not go as smoothly. (Look to Weaver’s possible weak glove-side if and when he returns.)

Without a strong front-side (the chest-to-glove that builds up power for a pitcher) the next mph reading on Weaver’s fastball will be substantially lower than the 84-87 mph that has people freaked.

Regardless, the scenario leaves another cliché nagging at the rotation: The domino effect.

The pitchers, behind Weaver, will have the added pressure of picking up the slack, possibly substituting portions of the 20 wins most of the fans would have expected him to earn.

And the bullpen, most notably the long relief, will have added pressure of going deeper into games—keeping the run-fest to a minimum.

It’s a difficult task, made even more cumbersome by the absence of Madson.

Then there is Albert Pujols and his foot.

No question, his injury issues have not been a major problem. The American League allows a team to hide injuries via the DH very well; Pujols is proof of that.

But what about those games when they play on the road against the NL?

Is a slow-footed Pujols at first base worth his bat in the lineup?

After all, his range looked meager in Cincinnati, allowing Joey Votto’s hit to escape his reach in the ninth inning—a play I have seen him make before.

And, with a streaky Josh Hamilton, he can be pitched around with little worry of him doing damage on the bases.

But would a healthy Mark Trumbo be a better substitute, maybe a healthy Bill Hall?

It may not seem like a big deal, however, there are seven remaining games this season on the road against the NL.

How many bats will manager Mike Scioscia be willing to lose?  Remember: Every game counts.

More sand, please.

 

Fame

 I never thought it possible, but the heavy media coverage and love of “the Trio” may just be a curse in disguise for the Angels.

Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton have caused an interesting phenomena, unseen in the MLB/Los Angeles landscape before—at least in the nine-plus years I have lived out here.

The Los Angeles Angels are a “marked team,” nationally as well as locally.

And does that lead to “more money, more problems?”

I’m not 100 percent certain, but fame, and the pressure that comes with it, can do crazy things to people (see Lindsay Lohan). And a sports franchise is no different.

Not only is every little detail going to be dissected from every angle—like it already has—but other teams will be gunning for them, too.

Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Consistently.

It leads to a common scenario of expecting “easy wins” against a team like the Houston Astros, who the Angels play seven times the next two months, while the team may be focusing on more important series against the Oakland A’s, Texas Rangers or the Detroit Tigers,

That’s when the little guy beats the big guy, a straight upset.

And it doesn’t have to end with the Astros. The Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals could do just as much damage, stealing a win or two here and there.

That’s the downfall of being a new trend. The team's focus has to be sharp every game, every swing and every pitch. And I wouldn't put too much stock in this Angels team handling that task.

History is not on their side, post-media hype.  

Remember: It was six games into the season, one year ago, when the Los Angeles Angels, loaded with a new roster of media-attracting talent, stumbled to a record of 2-4 on the way to an 8-15 April.

This year, loaded with even more media-attracting talent, the Angels have stumbled to a record of 2-4 on their way to the unknown.

Could be greatness, could be a flop. Regardless, it seems like déjà vu.

I know...didn’t someone already say that?

 

(Note: All stats provided were courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise specified.) 

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