So with another lead that the bullpen couldn’t hold on to, the Angels drop their second straight series after falling 10-9 to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday. The team once again has dropped two straight after winning the opening game of a series with shaky pitching, which was supposed to be one of their core strengths this season. But Dan Haren had another short outing, going just five innings, but only giving up three runs and another home run and the Angels bullpen has been serving up batting practice to the Twins as they give up late leads for the second time in two games. Things won’t get any easier for the Halos, either, as they now head further east to take on the Yankees tomorrow in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. For this team to win there, the Angels are going to have to get better contribution from their big hitters.
Entering today, the Angels were a mind-boggling 18th in runs scored with just 21 through their first 5 games. When the lineup boasts Albert Pujols, a healthy Kendrys Morales, a blossoming Mark Trumbo, a red-hot Howie Kendrick, and a supposedly revamped Vernon Wells who actually turned out to be just as disappointing as feared, you’d think the team would be able to put up runs by the handfuls. That hasn’t really been the case, though, as the team failed to score more than five runs in their first five games. In this early stretch, the team has been hitting, ranking 8th in the league in batting average, but they haven’t been able to hit for any power, ranking 17th in slugging percentage, or draw walks, ranking 19th in on-base percentage. When you are built around the power of Pujols-Morales-sometimes Trumbo, you need those numbers to be better.
Speaking of those power guys in the middle of the lineup, they’ve been struggling early on. Pujols and Morales are not giving the lineup the kind of pop the Angels were expecting to start this season, but there isn’t panic yet that they won’t be able to find their groove soon. Pujols is just 5-for-23 to start the season for a .217 average, and a .612 OPS with three strike outs and three walks with only two RBI in the first six games. His only extra base hits are a pair of doubles, but he’s yet to connect for a home run and hasn’t been putting the fear into opposing pitchers that you’d expect. His slow start is reminiscent of his sluggish April in 2011, which turned out to be his worst statistical year of his career, but he still hit 37 home runs and had an OPS over .900, so don’t expect him to stay down forever.
Kendrys Morales came out of the gate this season and was hitting for a great average, going 5-of-7 in the first two games against the Royals, which really put him out in front for plate appearances at DH. However, Morales is just 1-for-14 since April 7, and has just one extra base hit, a double, on the year. He’s got no home runs, no RBI, and no walks. For the team to be successful, they will need Morales to be more than just a singles hitting, station-to-station running kind of player. He needs to find some of the power that made him so dangerous in 2009 and unleash it to give some bite to the heart of the Halos lineup.
Mark Trumbo hadn’t played before today since April 7 against the Royals, sitting as Alberto Callaspo got the starts at third base after Trumbo struggled defensively to open the season. The Angels found a spot for Trumbo in the lineup Thursday at DH as Morales took the day off to rest, and he became the first of the guys who are supposed to hit home runs for the Angels to hit home runs, with a solo shot in the second inning to open up the scoring for Los Angeles. He’s found his swing early, batting .455 with a 1.227 OPS and 2 RBI to go along with his home run today. However, Trumbo hasn’t been able to contribute much to the overall success of the team because he’s only been able to get into half of the games. He will need to improve his defense at least enough for the Angels to find him spot starts at different positions to allow him to be a bigger part of the offense going forward.
There have been some bright spots, however, despite the big names failing to come through. Torii Hunter leads the every-day starters in batting average at .320 (Trumbo hasn’t played enough to qualify), leading to optimism that he’ll avoid the slow start he suffered in 2011 due to injuries to his legs. On top of that, Peter Bourjos has been sensational over the last few days, hitting an inside-the-park home run on Wednesday, and getting another two hits, including a double, on Thursday to knock in five runs during the series. If he can continue to make good contact, and use that dangerous speed of his, then he’ll prove to be a valuable weapon all season long. Chris Iannetta is showing good pop away from Coors Field, hitting .357 with three doubles and three RBI. Probably most surprising, however, is that Bobby Abreu hasn’t been all that terrible. He’s 2-for-5 in a couple of games with a pair of doubles and four RBI, making a case to at least platoon in left field with Wells if he continues to struggle.
All in all, the offense has been a bit of a letdown in large part due to the expectations surrounding the Angels going into 2012. The arrival of Albert Pujols was supposed to make this lineup a mashing juggernaut, but so far, they’ve failed to deliver on the pop that was promised this offseason. Hopefully a trip the New York will jar some of the big hitters lose and they’ll knock a couple out over the short porch in right. That or something else has to happen to wake the power bats up because a prolonged absence of power from the heart of this lineup will kill the Halos down the stretch.