Angels Beginning to Rise from Ashes

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Angels Beginning to Rise from Ashes
(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Angels have spent the first two and half months of the season living life in a washing machine, carelessly tossed and turned, flipped and churned, before wading through the suds to find what’s left.

How the Angels avoided what seemed to be an inevitable drowning is beyond me, but they’ve done it and here they are as we welcome the afternoon of June.

If there has been a team in the big leagues that has dealt with more than the Angels in such a short period of time, please, show me.

More than 60 games into the season, and the shocking tragedy of Nick Adenhart’s passing is still fresh in many minds, his jersey hanging in the dugout during each game, his patch still front and center on the uniform, and his photo still gracing the outfield wall at Angel Stadium.

That nightmare will never take a redeye to oblivion, but at least there seems to be some closure within the Angels clubhouse.

There is no nuclear bomb that could have hit the ball club with greater force than that grave news, but it seems as if time has naturally down-sized the baggage from a crowded U-Haul to a simple carry-on. That’s the view from the outside, anyway.

And now it’s back to baseball, where the bob and weave of any given season has produced a plethora of difficulties for manager Mike Scioscia, from the starting rotation to the bullpen to the lineup.

Jim Leyland is doing quite a job in Detroit considering his circumstances, but nobody has done the job that Scioscia has. Scioscia should be a lock for A.L. Manager of the Year.

The Angels were a favorite to run away with the American League West prior to the opening of the season, assuming they were at full health.

But extended absences from John Lackey and Ervin Santana, the non-existence of Kelvim Escobar, and a bullpen that has quickly fallen from among the best to the worst in baseball, has opened up the division to the free-swinging Texas Rangers and surprising Seattle Mariners.

If we have learned anything from the Angels’ recent string of playoff runs, it is that they can always rely on their depth of starting pitching and dynamic bullpen.

But that was the old Angels; this year’s team is reinventing itself every week.

The bullpen was still supposed to be a major strength with Scot Shields, Jose Arredondo, and newly signed closer Brian Fuentes.

As we talk today, Scot Shields is done for the season, taking his 6.62 ERA to the disabled list and undergoing knee surgery to correct an injury that was initially reported as patella tendinitis.

Jose Arredondo, the heir apparent to Fuentes for the closer’s job, appeared in 25 games, posted a 5.55 ERA, and is back in the minor leagues learning the importance of fastball command.

And, of course, Fuentes was supposed to be solid. And he has been. But solid isn’t good enough when you are taking over for cult hero Frankie Rodriguez, who set the single-season saves record and then took his high-wire act to Citi Field after signing a three-year deal with the New York Mets last winter.

Fuentes has 17 saves – and a 4.64 ERA – but he lacks the presence that great closers always have. K-Rod was billed as an uncertainty during his time with the Angels, but at least a heavy dose of confidence came with the unknown.

Fuentes isn’t any more of a sure thing than Rodriguez was, and he stands on the mound like he is in the middle of an arboretum. “Sweet … a bunch of plants. So, what’s for lunch?”

I don’t think the Angels accounted for the swagger and attitude that Frankie not only brought to the ninth inning, but also brought to the entire bullpen.

As a middle reliever, I imagine you feel a little more sense of urgency to do your job when you know you have a closer, the leader of the bullpen, who carries extremely high standards and brings a certain level of respect and intimidation to the mound.

The attacking attitude is infectious, and it begins to rub off on even your lefty specialist. You can picture K-Rod lighting up the clubhouse if the bullpen wasn’t getting it done. He wouldn’t stand for that.

Fuentes? He’s a good pitcher, an All-Star caliber reliever, but I don’t know. The Angels bullpen used to be a dominant one, an intimidating foe in the later innings. Currently, it’s just an apathetic bunch.

Pair that with a lineup that ranks eighth in the American League in runs scored, and has seen Howie Kendrick – a guy that some scouts were predicting would contend for the batting title in the spring – hit .231 before being demoted to the minor leagues to work it out, and I still haven’t figure out how or why the Angels are here.

But, I guess we don’t need to know, we just need to recognize their presence in the race, and the fact that there indeed are some glimmers of hope beaming through what has been a profuse thunderstorm thus far.

Lackey has a 6.10 ERA, but he pitched seven strong innings Monday night in San Francisco, striking out 10, and will only continue to pitch better as he settles into the season after missing the first month with arm issues. Don’t forget, Lackey is in a walk year – he will be a free agent this winter – and that usually bodes well for performance.

Jered Weaver (7-2, 2.08 ERA) and Joe Saunders (7-4, 3.66 ERA) have been outstanding at the front of the rotation, one that has been overhauled with unknown names and faces, until now.

Ervin Santana is back from an elbow strain, although he missed his last start on Tuesday evening, and should be a contributor in the coming months as long as he is healthy, which we presume he is or else the Angels wouldn’t be taking any chances with him.

Escobar made one start, realized that his arm couldn’t take the workload of 100+ pitches, and now is headed to the bullpen. He hasn’t made an appearance, but he has big stuff and moxie that will be gladly welcomed at the back end of the pen.

And we must not forget Torii Hunter, who has held the entire lineup together in the absence of Kendrick and Guerrero, hitting .319 with 16 home runs and is begging for another run producer to join him. Juan Rivera is heating up, so maybe he will be that guy.

But that’s the thing about this club; they are totally different than any model we could have expected.

I mean Sean O’Sullivan, Matt Palmer, and Shane Loux are three coveted arms in the mix. Who are they? My point exactly.

Regardless, this collective group has done a job to be proud of and they are lurking right at the top of the division, ready to claim once again what has been habitually theirs for the better part of this decade.

If nothing else, it just proves that good things do happen to good people who persevere.

Mike Scioscia and his club, bearing the splintered cross of tragedy, are a testament to that.

You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at tm4000@yahoo.com.

 

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