To call the Angels 6-10 start “slow” would be one of the bigger understatements in history. It would be like describing the Civil War as a “little scuffle,” or Jamarcus Russell as “a bit of a bust.” For a team that made a huge splash in the offseason via free agency with the additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, spending any time at or below .500 seemed unlikely. However, the team has spent all but Opening Day at or below .500 and didn’t win a series until their most recent homestand against Baltimore when they were able to take two of three.
So what’s been going wrong? Well, pretty much everything. The bullpen, which was the weak point of the team in 2011, is still weak. The offense, which was supposed to put up monstrous numbers, has been suffering a severe power outage to start the season, ranking 14th in MLB in runs scored, 17th in on-base percentage, and 17th in slugging (major free agent acquisition Pujols has 0 home runs to go with a .250 average). Probably most troubling, however, has been the starting rotation. Heralded as one of the best in baseball this spring, the rotation has been Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson…and not much else.
Weaver and Wilson have been fantastic so far this season. They have seven combined starts (six quality) for a 5-1 record and a combined 2.40 ERA. They are sporting an impressive 43:11 K:BB ratio, including Weaver’s team leading 28, and a 7.95 K/9 average. They have been exactly what Angels fans were expecting them to be: cool, confident, and dominant. These two aces are showing what the rotation, one through four, was supposed to look like.
The rest of the rotation, however, hasn’t been nearly as effective. Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, anchors of the Angels rotation last year when they finished 2nd in baseball in ERA, have been largely missing in action so far this season and Jerome Williams got shelled in his first outing after missing all of spring training with a hamstring injury. Combined, these three pitchers have made nine starts, but only three quality starts. They have a combined 1-5 record, the lone win being Williams’ strong bounce-back performance against Baltimore on Friday, and have a 5.68 ERA and a 42:14 K:BB ratio. How has the Angels greatest perceived strength started the season as such a weakness?
Haren has shown flahses of being the pitcher everyone expected him to be, posting back-to-back quality starts, including a strong performance on Sunday against Baltimore where he went into the eighth inning (his longest outing of the year) giving up two runs on six hits, striking out nine and walking just one. Haren was hurt by a lack of run support in this game as he got his third straight no-decision. In two of those three no-decisions (@Minnesota, Oakland), the bullpen has come on in relief and given up a lead with disastrous innings. Haren’s control of his pitches and of opposing lineups has been getting better and better as the season goes on, but a series of unfortunate events has left the right-hander without a win. There’s little doubt that Haren will get it figured out, and he’ll start putting forth a few more outings like his last strong showing against Baltimore. Now he just needs to get some help from his teammates.
Santana, on the other hand, has just been not good. A solid number three a year ago, Santana has yet to have a quality start, giving up four or more runs in all three outings. He’s also been hurt by the long ball consistently, giving up six home runs so far this year, two in each start. He hasn’t gotten a ton of run support, however, as the Angels have scored just three runs in his three starts, including two shutouts. In fact, Santana has yet to play with a lead this season, but much of that can be pinned on Santana. In each start, Santana has spotted the Angels opponents three runs in the first inning, setting the stage for some pretty consistent disappointment. The Halos number three starter needs to find some of that consistency that has made him a mainstay for this team for several years if he wants to stay in the rotation for more than a couple more months. Keeping balls in the ballpark and not spotting teams three runs in the first would be a great way to start.
Jerome Williams was able to hold onto his starting job despite not playing in a single spring game with the big league team due to a hamstring injury. Instead, he made a couple of minor league rehab starts, and then got dropped into Yankee Stadium on national television to get shelled by a hot New York lineup. He didn’t even make it out of the third inning in that start, giving up five runs on five hits, walking three and striking out just one. His next start was a little less stressful, as he got to come home to Anaheim against Baltimore. In that outing, Williams looked like a completely different pitcher, going into the seventh inning, giving up just three runs on seven hits, walking only one and striking out six. He’s the only starter other than Weaver or Wilson to notch a win so far this year, and looks like he’ll be a solid bookend for the rotation…if he gives more performances like he did against Baltimore and less like the one in the Bronx, that is.
While it is still early (sick of hearing that yet?), the Angels have an exceptionally small margin for error because of the hot start of the Texas Rangers. After 16 games, the Angels are already seven games back of Texas, and the teams haven’t even played each other yet. The starters need to figure out what they’re doing and start pitching deep into games to take some of the stress of the bullpen, which has looked overmatched. Getting some run support would be nice too, but let’s try and put out just one fire at a time.