Who's on first? Who cares?
The timeless Abbott and Costello comedy bit about baseball has become a real-life drama for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Since Kendry Morales' break heard 'round the world on May 29, fans and baseball pundits alike have wondered aloud in a unified voice: Now what are they going to do?
But the answer may not come as quickly as some have anticipated. And it may not be the one most would like.
Morales, the Angels' rising superstar first baseman, was leading his team in batting average, home runs, and RBI before he broke his left leg celebrating a walk-off grand slam against the Seattle Mariners. He underwent season-ending surgery on Thursday.
Without their biggest offensive threat, the Angels looked dead in the water, a pitiful end to a struggle-filled season.
Except that it wasn't.
In the wake of that devastating injury, new players have done a miraculous job filling the void and, incredibly, the team is playing its best baseball of the season without its best player.
Without Morales, the Angels are 8-3 with 81 runs scored in that time. Names like Mike Napoli, Robb Quinlan, and Michael Ryan have become synonymous with clutch-hitting and timely quality at-bats.
And don't look for that to change any time soon, especially with Jeff Mathis' imminent return to the lineup in the next week or so.
When that happens, he will likely resume his starting catcher duties, leaving Napoli and his big bat to take over at first base, with Bobby Wilson backing up both men.
That may not be the most threatening lineup in the league but it will suffice for the time being, and that's really all the Angels need.
The question for this team isn't "who's on first," but rather "who's going to help us the most?"
The next three to four months will be tough without a significant threat like Morales to anchor the offense. However, as manager Mike Scioscia pointed out to the press this week, this team is not interested in a short-term rent-a-player.
The Angels already suffered through one of those when they acquired Mark Teixeira at the trade deadline in 2008, and the breakup after was messier than either side had hoped.
This time around, they'll be looking for a player that can help in the future, and that means potentially addressing the other huge hole in their infield: third base.
Morales' injury was a disaster, but Brandon Wood has been a catastrophe.
His sub-.200 average, non-existent power, and astonishingly high strikeout rate forced the Angels to place him on the 15-day DL in hopes that he just needed a little time to get his head right.
So far, nothing has changed.
Wood's rehab stint in Triple-A is going about as well as his major league tryout this season. He's not hitting, he's not walking, he's not even making contact with the ball.
At this rate, by Spring Training he'll be milling around local beer leagues.
In the meantime, the Angels are stuck using subs to fill in at the hot corner. Kevin Frandsen and Maicer Izturis have both done well so far, but neither appears to be the third baseman of the future. Or even for the rest of this season.
Frandsen's defense leaves much to be desired and Izturis, while smooth as silk in the field and clutch at the plate, is far more valuable as an everyday utility player, bouncing from position to position as the team sees fit.
To fill their needs, the Angels may try to kill two birds with one trade.
Despite the dynamic offense that Paul Konerko or Lance Berkman could bring to a roster, they are fairly limited on defense, solidly anchored to first base. That might be okay this season, but remember, the Angels are looking to the future.
Morales' defense has improved by leaps and bounds and, barring any contractual power plays from agent Scott Boras, he will remain the Angels' starting first baseman. It is unlikely the team will look to acquire anyone for him to compete with.
A guy like Mike Lowell probably fits better with what the Angels are trying to do.
His numbers aren't too spectacular this season, most due to his limited and inconsistent at-bats, but he is still a highly coveted threat in the middle of any lineup and his glove is stellar at both first and third.
Of course, the Angels are not going to want to give away too much talent to a team they regularly face in the playoffs, a point that will certainly affect any future trade talks.
Still, something has to be done. And with the July 31 trade deadline slowly approaching, GM Tony Reagins will have to make his move soon.
The only question is which corner of the infield he'll move toward.
The Angels have been able to beat up on the weaker sisters of the league (Royals, Mariners, A's) without their brightest star, but a replacement will have to be found before tougher competition risks turning the lights out on this season.
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