With 100 games down, 62 to go, the Los Angeles Angels sometimes look like a franchise improving and on the rise.
Then again, with 100 games down, 62 to go, the Los Angeles Angels sometimes look like a franchise regressing and on the decline.
Then again...well, you get the point.
There is no exact way to label the Angels. No exact scientific formula. No method of prediction.
But I doubt anyone would disagree with that regardless of how you see it—the negative or the positive—time is not on the Angels’ side.
The inconsistency has been their plague all season, without question, recently taking three out of four against the Oakland Athletics—which they desperately needed—while also managing to sneak out only one win against the Minnesota Twins.
Against the Houston Astros, possibly the worst team in the league, the Angels are 6-7.
It’s that kind of give-and-take existence that will ultimately cost this team—playoffs, jobs, etc.
It’s certainly not the high-priced hype that came rolling into Anaheim in the offseason. However, things could be worse. If you currently look at the Angels, there are glimpses of brilliance—coming from the same pieces of the puzzle that were causing glimpses of mediocrity the first months of the season.
For the original staff to work, there had to be a perfect storm of events: health, surprising individual seasons and luck.
That goes the same for the bullpen, with extra emphasis on the health aspect.
We knew that relying on the likes of Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson was going to be catastrophic without the front two of the staff—Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Just as relying on the signings of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett to fix the bullpen problems were also risky moves.
If health issues were to arise, it was going to be difficult to continuously hide behind the runs produced by the Angels’ lineup.
Then Weaver got hurt, followed by the absence/injury of Hanson, followed by the injury to Vargas. And it’s been such a long delay for either Burnett or Madson that I sometimes forget they are still on the team.
So the perfect storm shifted, floating out to sea—Oakland, actually.
It has been that inconsistent health, individual achievement and luck, with Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards failing to really fill in as a solid options (relief and starter), that left this staff in such turmoil.
Now things are a little different.
Weaver is back to what seems like full strength, with a rise in velocity and, more importantly, a greater command of his pitches.
Hanson also seems to be healthy, operating at a different level and also with better command. Though it’s only been one start since the DL, he has looked like the pre-injury-prone years in Atlanta, where he was consistently hitting mid-90s with the fastball.
Is that just adrenaline from his first start back? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly not a negative.
Wilson has been the much-needed, consistent starter all year—maybe excluding the Cincinnati trip—with 11 wins in the books and a surprisingly aggressive style, starting with his four-seam fastball—a different approach he has taken this year (more on that in an interview I did with him).
Should those three pitchers keep the consistency moving forward, it would be the one-two-three punch the team has been hoping for all season—perfect timing, coming into a make-or-break month like August.
And the bullpen-by-committee, bolstered by a solid Ernesto Frieri, Michael Kohn and Scott Downs, has kept it together for the most part. The addition of J.C. Gutierrez should help, giving the team another option for mid-relief.
There is also the negative, however.
The problem of the last two spots in the rotation leaves the matter of the Blanton-Williams-Richards show. There is no getting around that scenario, though it seems to have been solved (for now).
I am certain most of the Halo followers—maybe even Angels players—are excited to see Blanton get the hook, and for good reason. He has more losses (13) than any other pitcher in the MLB. And his starts seem to make the team flat, though I don’t know why—the league-leading number of hits he has surrendered should keep the defense alert.
But is Richards really a viable answer?
He has not been that much better than Blanton. According to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, the right-hander has been given 16 starts in his career with the Angels, posting a 4.92 ERA. (This season he has a 4.66 ERA.)
That’s a pretty rough track record, especially when considering the pressure that awaits him in August and September.
Williams, in the same predicament, is also a red-flagged hurler. In fact, had it not been for Blanton’s struggles, the spotlight of shame would belong to Williams.
The 14 home runs he has surrendered in only 92 innings of work is astounding enough. When you consider the fact Williams is a sinker-baller, his long-ball numbers teeter on the mind-boggling.
Like it or not—and that should mostly be not—the success of these three hurlers will weigh just as heavily on the rest of the season as the first three.
Would you believe that the Angels are ninth in runs scored in the entire MLB? They are.
Would you believe the Angels are tied with Oakland on that list? They are.
Incredibly, it seems like they are worse than that.
Because so much of the season has been covered negatively—I’m guilty—the decent success of the Angels’ lineup has been often overlooked.
That’s a shame. But it’s also another reality. While it’s a good thing to be in the top 10 in runs, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when compared with Oakland—an inferior hitting club (on paper)—people look at it negatively.
However, the lineup should give fans an air of confidence...and hope for the rest of the season.
Albert Pujols is not getting too old to produce, proving that in the past few weeks, hitting .317 since July 12.
Mark Trumbo is no longer a secret. He hits everything hard—outs, hits and the long ball.
Mike Trout is no longer just the face of the Angels; he is becoming the face of the MLB.
Erick Aybar is perfect at the bottom of the lineup, while J.B. Shuck has been perfect at the top—Rookie of the Year?
Is anyone noticing, outside of Anaheim, that Howie Kendrick is one of the most consistent hitters in the game (.301 average)? They should.
Hank Conger solves a lot of issues at catcher, and his defense is only a fine-tuning away from complementing the offense he provides.
If Josh Hamilton hits (literally) an uncharacteristic spurt during August and September, then look out. More runs would certainly put less pressure on the aforementioned arms.
That's a good thing.
It's a sign of collective greatness. And collectively, with the exception of the pink elephant in the room (consistency), the Angels have shown they can do it up to the 100-game mark.
If that all sounds like a bunch of up and down, back and forth, it’s because it is. Again, that is the mystery of this team.
That’s why the state of the franchise looks more like a political ramble, avoiding any rash judgment towards anything—past, present or future.
From game to game, sometimes inning to inning, there is a reality for this franchise: Last season they were 55-45 at this point, four games back and one shaky August (13-15) away from ending in disappointment.
This year, the team is 48-52, 10 games back, and even a solid August might not be enough to cover such a large amount of ground.
And there is more...it is still being written.
Think of it like a baseball version of the Gettysburg Address:
Fourscore and 20 games ago, the Los Angeles Angels' front office brass brought forth to its faithful fanbase a team of historical proportion, with the steadfast understanding that the AL West, the entire MLB perhaps, would not be looked at as created equally.
And, yes, there was a confidence the Angels’ pitching would endure…?
We shall see, 62 games from now.
Note: All stats provided were courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
For more from Rick Suter, follow him on Twitter @rick_suter.