Yesterday, I wrote about the disappointing starts of the Angels (12-22, 9 games back in the AL West) and Dodgers (13-20, 6 games back in the NL West), and why ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden’s ideas on how to fix them probably weren’t realistic due to the lack of impact prospects and overall depth in each team’s farm system.
The best bet at this point is for each team to hang on long enough until they’re back to full health and then make a late-season run. In case you haven’t been paying attention, both teams have lost key players to injuries and haven’t been able to replace them adequately because of the aforementioned lack of depth.
By the end of this month, though, the Angels should have ace Jered Weaver, out since the sixth game of the season with a fractured elbow, back in the rotation. Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke, also out since his second start (fractured collarbone), could return as soon as next week.
Will either pitcher's return be enough to ignite a fire the way that Mike Trout did when he joined a lackluster Angels squad in late April 2012?
Jered Weaver’s Impact on the Angels
The Angels’ left side of the infield, Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, have already been on the disabled list with injuries.
Albert Pujols has avoided the disabled list but has been playing with plantar fasciitis, a painful foot injury, and has recently been dealing with soreness in his surgically-repaired knee. The 33-year-old has a .722 OPS overall and is five for his last 32 since getting a four-hit game (nine plate appearances) in a 19-inning loss on April 29. At some point, he could miss some time.
Free-agent signee Josh Hamilton isn’t hurt, but he might as well have been. Through Tuesday, the 31-year-old was hitting .202 with a .535 OPS. He’s homered in back-to-back games, though, and also doubled, singled and walked so there’s a chance the offense could be in the midst of a much-needed boost.
It won’t be enough, however, if the pitching staff doesn’t get it together soon. The rotation is 26th in the majors in ERA (4.90). The bullpen, without projected closer Ryan Madson as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and top setup man Sean Burnett (forearm inflammation), is 23rd in the majors with a 4.24 ERA.
There are problems throughout the roster, but can Weaver's return make a significant impact?
If he pitches like he did in 2012, then the answer is "yes." The 30-year-old, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension in August 2011, pitched into the seventh inning and beyond in 19 of his 30 starts and allowed more than three earned runs just five times. That's how you indirectly help your offense and your bullpen—by taking pressure off of them to do too much. It's not a surprise that the Angels won 23 of Weaver's starts.
Zack Greinke’s Impact on the Dodgers
The Dodgers are the 2013 poster child for the “you can never have enough pitching” cliché. With eight big league starters on their roster to start the year, they had the sort of problem that most teams would love to have.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
Since none of the eight could be stashed in the minors, one began the season in the bullpen before being traded shortly after for a backup catcher, Ramon Hernandez, who had been designated for assignment.
Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly began the year on the disabled list. Both returned since and then went back on with Billingsley undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery and Lilly straining his rib cage. Chris Capuano has also spent time on the disabled list.
But the biggest loss has been Zack Greinke, their prized free agent, who formed half of what could be, arguably, the best one-two punch in the majors along with Clayton Kershaw. Since Greinke fractured his collarbone during a bench-clearing brawl, the Dodgers have gone 7-17 and dropped into the NL West cellar.
A lineup that is 28th in the majors in runs scored certainly hasn’t helped much. Neither has the bullpen, which is 27th in ERA (4.71 ERA). But a rotation led by Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu (3.71 ERA, 43.2 IP, 41 H, 12 BB, 48 K) has the ability to make up for the other deficiencies on the roster, at least until they can improve.
In 2012, Greinke pitched into the seventh inning and beyond in 20 of his 34 starts and allowed three earned runs or less in 24 of those. His teams (Brewers/Angels) went 21-13 when he started. If you don't think having the 29-year-old Greinke on the mound every fifth day will make a huge difference, you're mistaken.
For one, they can send the rookie Matt Magill back to the minors.