The Major League baseball season is a marathon, and usually the teams that end up playing in October are the ones who deal best with the adversity that’s encountered throughout the course of a long season.
Fortunately for the Angels, Manager Mike Scioscia is one of the best in the game at finding ways to win, regardless of the hand he's dealt.
In 2009, Scioscia has had to deal with injuries to star players, positional battles extending into the season from Spring Training, and the tragic death of the team's top prospect Nick Adenhart.
In spite of it all, Scioscia's team is six games over .500 and in a three-team battle atop the AL West.
Below is a recap of the Angels’ first-half and why my money's on Scioscia and company to pull away in the second half and win the AL West.
Seven pitchers on the Disabled List—The number of Angels' pitchers who have spent time on the DL this season stands at seven, with four of them (Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Scot Shields, and Dustin Moseley) subsequently finding themselves on the 60-day.
Starters 3-5…14 wins in 41 starts, .341 win percent—Pitchers John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar were supposed to fill three of five spots in the Angels’ starting rotation in 2009, alongside Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver. Because of injuries to each however, they have combined to win only three games in 15 starts.
Replacement starters Shane Loux, Darren Oliver, Dustin Moseley, Anthony Ortega, Sean O’Sullivan, and the late Nick Adenhart have accounted for just five more wins in their 21 starts.
If not for the surprising performance of 30 year-old journeyman Matt Palmer and his six wins in 10 starts, the Angels could very well be dwelling in the basement of the division.
20 saves in 23 chances—Closer Brian Fuentes has converted 20 of 23 save opportunities and is on pace for the best season of his career. The real question is, with Shields on the DL and Arredondo sent down to Triple-A, can veterans Darren Oliver and Justin Speier continue to thrive in middle-relief roles? If they can, Fuentes should finish the season with 40-to-45 saves.
Analysis—Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver are a combined 15-and-7, and Lackey continues to improve posting solid outings in three of his last four starts.
However, if the Angels are going to put any space between themselves and the rest of the division, they’ll need more productivity from the bottom two spots in the rotation.
The team is counting on a healthy Santana to return to the rotation after another week of rest for his sore triceps. If he can come back healthy and pitch anywhere close to what he did in 2008, this Angels team will be tough to beat.
.278 team average, 1st in the Majors—In spite of the team’s problems with the pitching staff, the Angels are at the top of the division because they are the best hitting ballclub in baseball.
Chone Figgins, after a sub-par 2008 season, is doing a great job of setting the table for the other Angels’ hitters, batting .330 and swiping 23 bases. Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu are producing as expected—each hitting for a high average, driving in runs, and stealing bases.
The key to the team’s success however, has been the surprising production of Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales, and Mike Napoli. Together, they have combined to hit .286 with 32 home runs and 102 runs driven in.
Two home runs and .231 average—It’s a good thing for the Angels that the rest of the offense is producing because Vlad Guerrero and Howie Kendrick have not been.
Guerrero has hit only two home runs in 35 games, with only one coming in the 27 games since coming off the DL a month ago. He may be turning the corner however, after making a change to his swing and breaking out of an 0-for-14 drought.
Kendrick on the other hand, after hitting just .231 and striking out 37 times in 186 at-bats, earned himself a trip to Triple-A Salt Lake to work on his plate discipline. After 12 games for the Bees, the move appears to be working as he has cut down on his strikeouts and is hitting .304.
Scioscia will be patient in letting Kendrick workout his issues at the plate because it affords him an opportunity to get a good look at the improving Sean Rodriguez at second base.
Analysis—Barring injuries to Hunter or Figgins, this team should continue to hit well. Even if Kendrick doesn’t get his act together offensively, the Angels will still get enough production out of Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Rodriquez to allow them to win games.
Mid-Season Prediction—The Angels will continue to improve, which is as much a product of Scioscia’s managing as the return of key contributors like Santana and Kendrick in the second half.
Look for the Angels to win 92 games and win the AL West by five games over the over-achieving Rangers.