At this point in 2010, the Los Angeles Angels were 66 games into the season and in good standing. They were 36-30 (0.5 games back) and carrying the proverbial brooms on the way to a sweep of their NL foes, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Things were good.
Then it all fell apart, losing luster like a Christmas tree in May. The Angels went 44-52 down the stretch, finishing under .500 (80-82) for the first time since 2003. It was not what the team expected—to say the least.
Fast-forward three years and the Angels find themselves in familiar territory, though in the reversal of (mis)fortune.
In the first 66 games of the 2013 season, the Angels stand at 28-38 (11 games back) while seemingly getting swept by every team they play—including a terrible Houston team.
Things…well, they are not great.
It will take a miraculous turnaround in the next 96 games to change any opinion of what has been a less-than-stellar year. To put the difficulty in perspective, know this: the Angels will need to go 61-35 just to reach last season’s mark of 89-73—when they missed the playoffs.
But that isn’t to say all hope is lost. There are worse things. That is to say, however, things will need to change.
A tweak here, a tweak there—if success in baseball depends on the ability to make adjustments, then the Angels will be a prime example, should they do the unthinkable and get back on track.
There's always urgency, since Day 1. You always want to win games and win series. Obviously, it hasn't been like that, the way we want it to, but hopefully we can change that.
Yep, change is good, Albert. And that doesn’t sound like too lofty of a goal; nothing is a complete impossibility.
And if Pujols wants to make a change, then I applaud it.
Possibly, start here.
Add more of a dynamic to the batting order
Tinkering with a batting order is usually first in line when a team is consistently stuck with small run production numbers, while actually carrying a decent average. The Angels are currently sixth in batting average, but ninth in runs scored in the AL.
Lineup-wise, there have been a variety of chess-like maneuvers by manager Mike Scioscia. Mainly, he’s been trying to figure out where to hit (hide?) Josh Hamilton.
Whether it’s second, fifth or fourth, his positioning ultimately has shifted the others in an attempt to get the most RBI output without throwing off too much comfortable rhythm.
The problem is, there has not been a comfortable rhythm.
The latest—and most confusing—lineup had the trio (Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Pujols) hitting consecutively. Good idea, sort of. But that doesn’t necessarily allow other players, who work well toward the OPS, a chance to do their thing.
Sticking with a more balanced attack is the right idea; it’s one that got the Halos a six-run seventh inning yesterday. Mark Trumbo hitting third, with Hamilton behind Pujols, takes care of RBI production in the front of the order. Howie Kendrick resets the attack at the bottom, with a nice bit of speed at the ninth spot with Erick Aybar.
That gives Trout RBI opportunity at the leadoff spot, making the reasoning for hitting him first more tolerable.
Sure, with the strikeout possibility by Peter Bourjos, it may be difficult to hit him second—J.B. Shuck showed great plate discipline in that role—or leadoff. So this may be short-lived.
However, it’s a good start.
Re-think the rotation, not the bullpen
I’m not going to waste a barrage of adjectives and adverbs describing Joe Blanton. He’s bad.
But he doesn’t deserve the blame entirely. Prior to the Red Sox outing, he did have three quality starts.
In reality, every starting pitcher for the Angels has been a mess at one point or another this year. And getting rid of Blanton’s follies, though it will help, is only one-fifth of the battle.
Someone needs to take the reins.
Keeping Jerome Williams in the rotation is the smart move, at least for now. It would be a simple flip-flop. Blanton can take Williams' spot as long-relief in the ‘pen—where he can work on his command, possibly gaining the head game needed to pitch successfully.
It’s not the greatest solution…but neither is sending a guy to the mound with 10 losses already under his belt.
The bullpen, on the other hand, hasn’t been terrible; it just seems that way because of health issues. They have converted 73 percent of the save opportunities (Al average is 70). They also have 36 holds. Not bad stuff for a group that is held together by a Band-Aid.
While this dilemma continues—without Ryan Madson or Sean Burnett—the best advice would be to remain calm. And though all is not well, it’s best to stick with a simple depth chart.
Sure, there is the possibility of picking up an arm at the trade deadline, but that may be too late. Again, time is not on the Angels’ side.
If this season is going to get on the winning side, then it will be this collective headache of hurlers dong so.
That doesn't necessarily make for bad news...at least, from the bullpen perspective.
When your pitching is bad, giving opposing teams extra outs is a surefire way to lose a game.
The Angels have been giving a ton of extra outs this year. It’s disheartening; their defense was something I thought would keep them in the AL West race this year.
They have 49 errors this year, one behind Houston. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar have combined for 14 errors, Alberto Callaspo has seven, and the solid outfield has been shadowed by Hamilton’s four errors.
Some of the lackadaisical efforts may be from the serious disease in baseball known as losing. That’s true. Regardless of the diagnosis, however, taking a little time before games with the fungo bat might not hurt.
The mental preparation—that seems to be disappearing—needs to start with the coaching staff. I know that I give little credit to coaches in the MLB. But that doesn't mean I don't expect them to live up to the definition of their job title.
So grab a bat, coach.
Will any of this work? Near perfection, lasting 90-plus games? If it did, I think the Rally Monkey’s hair would fall out. But Pujols—still the veteran leader in the clubhouse in my opinion—thinks it can.
In the same interview to reporters yesterday he also had this to say:
You can't think about the first 60-plus games that we already played. You need to think ahead of us, what we have, and how many games we can win in a month by taking it one game at a time. That's pretty much it.
One game at a time was not how the 2010 Angels did it. So maybe there is something to learn from the past in this case.
However, that also leaves this slice of history: Not too far from the confines of Anaheim in 2010, in the Hollywood realm, director Gary Marshall and the studio suits were putting together a top-tier cast for a film called Valentines Day.
It was one of the biggest flops that year, landing on this Rotten Tomatoes list to start the new decade.
So maybe the lesson, then, is overspending for a star cast (roster) doesn’t necessarily equate to the best show (record).
Note: All stats were provided courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
For more from Rick Suter follow him on Twitter @rick_suter.
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