5 Keys to the Los Angeles Angels Overcoming Slow Start
If the Los Angeles Angels were compared to a storybook character based on the start thus far in 2013, they would the tortoise...not the hare.
Yes, they have started the season that slow.
Originally hoisted to elite status in the winter, backed by the Trio, the payroll, preseason predictions and power rankings, a 4-10 stumble has the Angels cornered as a below-500 squad, baffled by injury, plagued by a failure to launch.
Oh how the perception of the Angels has changed. The team is now left to fight and struggle for that elusive second chance at a first impression.
Are they completely out of it? No, was the tortoise?
However, the poor numbers of last April (8-15) that helped pave the way to a third-place finish and missed playoffs should put the Angels franchise and fan base on high alert.
It’s history, repeating.
Solutions? Well, they need to hit better, and they need to pitch better; and doing that, collectively, wouldn't hurt, either.
Obvious generalities aside, there is hope and plenty of time—the unknown of 148 games left on the season—for the team to prove this crawl-like beginning is nothing more than "a slow gain of momentum" on the way to better months ahead.
But if they are going to turn this thing around and win the race—as the story goes—then these five, key points should be followed.
NOTE: All stats provided were courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise specified.
The more statistical analysis, mixed with managerial decision-making, will come into play the more this Angels team slips in the rankings. Period.
And it’s not like the dissection is unwarranted, either. The Angels have not hit with runners in scoring position. The team's speedsters have only totaled three stolen bases. And the pitching has been...well, the pitching.
Fortunately, with each apparent flaw there is always a solution. Unfortunately, for each solution there is always an opinion (or six). And in a time when second-guessed coaching is as simple as a tweet, there should be little surprise over the tutelage flux, or who is producing it.
But it would be in the Angels' best interest (and this goes double for manager Mike Scioscia) not to hit the panic button before the Star Spangled Banner is even completed. And that was it.
After all, change, especially this quickly into the season, doesn't always equal a spark.
While it may seem like the right thing—a double-steal in the first inning, a bunt as soon as a runner gets on base or drastically switching the lineup—ignoring the endless flow of criticism that questions the team's ability, while sticking with the original plan is key.
No question, 4-10 leaves room for a lot of improvement; I get it.
But that room doesn't have to be filled overnight. Let the team continue to grow, sometimes painfully, with consistency. Leave the panic button as Plan B.
Get Josh Hamilton on Track by Putting Him on Hold
No question, aggressive hitters at the plate add excitement to the game. But there eventually has to be a limit, a boundary to the seemingly endless hitting zone.
Josh Hamilton, the second coming of a Vlad Guerrero with less plate coverage, needs to understand this boundary.
The power lefty of the Angels' lineup is averaging a strikeout about 30 percent of his plate appearances in 2013, according to Fangraphs, with his batting average resting right at .200.
Though he has always been an aggressive first-pitch jumping kind of hitter, Hamilton's complete struggle this season is affecting the rest of the lineup.
The dynamic has changed.
Now, with Hamilton jumping at the soft stuff away and missing by more than a small margin, consistently, the approach taken towards the other offensive pieces of the Angels lineup is not as cumbersome for opposing pitchers.
But there is a simple solution, and it begins with utilizing a little coaching privilege: The take sign.
Sure, call it high school, call it a slap on Hamilton’s aggressive, old school style; I call it slowing down his approach, while finding a solid and fluid rhythm.
Which is important if Hamilton is going to play the important, left-handed bat in the Angels' lineup, making the approach/scheme for opposing teams extremely difficult.
There isn't too much about the Angels staff that looks positive. Jered Weaver, the ace of the bunch, is out with a fracture to his non-throwing arm, and the rest of the staff hasn’t really picked up the slack.
There have been pitchers brought in with the hope of eating innings, like Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, that have yet to put up a quality start into the sixth inning. And, oddly enough, the entire rotation has excelled in reminding us that pitchers not named Ervin Santana can give up home runs just as easily for the Angels.
It has been an epic unknown. It has been a disappointment, maxed-out with a rotation ERA of over 6.00 (h/t OC Register's Jeff Fletcher via Twitter).
But there is an advantage to this current issue: The unknown has introduced us to Garret Richards.
No question, the five starters originally penciled in by Scioscia at the beginning of the season were put in an unreasonable position. Other than Weaver and C.J. Wilson, none of the hopefuls were exactly what any person would call a best-case scenario.
And, the scenario certainly has not been best case thus far.
Then there is Garrett Richards.
Surprisingly, he has the needed mold of a starter in the MLB (plus fastball, sharp off-speed that can get him through lineup three-plus times) and his size helps with stamina.
And right now, it’s that stamina leading into later innings—with a fastball over 90 mph—while taking pressure off of the bullpen arms is crucial, giving the rotation much-needed life.
Which also gives the team flexibility with the other pitchers.
Finish April Above .500
Assuming the final game in Minnesota is played, there are 13 games left in April for the Angels. And winning at least seven of those games is crucial.
Yes, that may seem like an obvious point, but there is more to it: If this team is going to shed any doubt about their potential, then it will happen in the final four series of this month.
Count on it.
Regardless of the 4-10 debacle to begin the year, beating, and more importantly, handling the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers will leave a very different opinion of the Angels as they head into May.
Redemption against the Rangers and Athletics aside, smacking around the defending AL champs (Detroit) and the new-look/new-feel Mariners would also rekindle a small amount of confidence for the club.
And the team certainly needs it, including the manager. Without a strong finish in April, the season (and perhaps Mike Scioscia?) would basically be lost for the Angels.
Hit the Reset Button
Regardless of how this team finishes in April, the only way to overcome such a drastic and publicly scrutinized slump is to move forward by completely forgetting the past.
Learn from the mistakes? Sure, but don't dwell on them like it's the definitive sample for how things will go the other five months.
The MLB season is such a long trial of the mental and the physical that it is hardly worth cashing in the proverbial chips every time adversity appears.
No question, a team as hyped in the off-season as this Angels squad was will find a little more analysis—mostly bad analysis—tossed in their direction. And the pressure to turn this thing around, mixed with the fame I still don't think they can handle, will be greater in Anaheim because of this slow start.
However, staying cohesive as a team, finding that chemistry and leaving the critics to...well, ask Bobby Knight about what to tell your critics, is the most important thing for their success.