The Los Angeles Angels came out of Spring Training as one of the hottest names in baseball. Everyone loved their hitting, their pitching, their defense (in some spots), and they were the pick for baseball pundits to go deep in the playoffs. However, things haven’t quite worked out as people thought they would. The offense hasn’t been there, the bullpen has been worse than people feared, and some of the core starters had a rough start to 2012. Let’s break down some of the major happenings for the Halos over the last month.
The Amazing Albert and his vanishing bat
Nobody has been as disappointing for the Angels as Albert Pujols. After signing a 10-year, $240 million contract this offseason, he was supposed to step in and be an immediate force in the middle of the lineup. He was suppposed to strike fear in opposing pitchers and make the teeth of the Angels lineup one of the most formidable in baseball. Instead, we saw one of the worst slumps in Albert’s career. He matched his career-long hitless streak at five games, drove in just four runs, and is on pace to break his longest streak for homerless at-bats (105) by Thursday.
Pujols finished the month of April without a home run for the first time in his career, but it’s the overall lack of production that is most troubling. With a slash line of .217/.265/.304 and just four RBI (and zero since April 19), Pujols is making fans pine for the offense of Jeff Mathis, so you know it’s bad. He’s lacked any patience at the plate, walking just six times and striking out 14 (the only time he’s finished a season with more strikeouts than walks was his rookie year in 2001), and has even fallen victim to the shift. THE SHIFT!! Pujols is telling all his teammates that this too shall pass, he’ll get it turned around, and his battery mates are buying into it. Albert better hope things turn around, or he’s going to have a lot of apology cards to write to Angels fans for being a huge disappointment…about 240 million of them, in fact.
Ervin Santana is super sorry you guys, now please hit for him
The struggles of Ervin Santana can not be overstated. He’s 0-5, and hasn’t even come close to a win in any of his starts during the month of April. A big part of it is Santana being terrible. In his first four starts, Santana gave up no less than four runs and at least two home runs, including a four-homer drubbing at the hands of Tampa Bay. Ten home runs in four starts is no way to win a ball game. Santana has not been able to fool too many people this year, giving up 45 hits and walks combined in just 30.2 innings of work for a WHIP of 1.47. He’s had trouble with his command and repeating pitches, and has been unable to get them to do what he wants them to do. However, his last start showed some promise. Santana went 7.0 innings against the Indians and didn’t give up a single home run! Even better, he scattered seven hits and gave up no earned runs, but still took the loss when two runs scored off a Torii Hunter error.
But what’s hurting Santana even more is the lack of run support he’s getting from his Angels’ teammates. In five starts for Santana, the Angels have scored a total of three runs, and all of those come in Santana’s first start April 8 against Kansas City. Since then, the Angels bats have gone silent for Santana, and the Halos have been shut out in four straight starts. Sure, Santana hasn’t pitched well enough to win in four of his five outings, but he needs a little more than “nothing” in terms of support. But the run support issue for Santana is just indicative of a larger issue at work for this team.
Nobody is hitting right now
The hitting woes extend beyond Pujols. Everyone has started 2012 in a collective funk. As a team, the Angels rank 24th in runs scored, 24th in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, and 24th in slugging percentage. Torii Hunter is putting in his bid early for team MVP, as he’s pacing the Angels, hitting .294/.348/.425, with 12 RBI and three home runs. Beyond that, though, things get bleak. The team has only one player hitting over .300 and that’s Mark Trumbo, who’s been a pleasant surprise of discipline at the plate going .304/.373/.543, with three home runs and eight RBI, but he only played in 15 games last month as he tried out just about every position in the field. Things are so bleak, Vernon Wells leads the team with four home runs. Vernon Wells…I’ll give that a second to sink in. As a team, the Angels struck out 162 times in April, with Hunter and Howie Kendrick both eclipsing 20 K’s, while walking just 57 times, with nobody making double digits. Everybody is trying to break this team out of a slump with a single swing, and the one guy who is actually hot (Trumbo) can’t even make it onto the field. Speaking of which…
Round and round the lineup wheel goes, where it stops, nobody knows
Mike Scioscia has fallen down the rabbit hole of decision making. Through 22 games, Scioscia had trotted out 20 different lineups. After a month, you’d think he would have some kind of feel for this team and be able to get a lineup card that he actually liked. Part of the problem is the amount of options available to him. When the team broke for spring, they had four outfielders (or three outfielders and Bobby Abreu) that they needed to find playing time for, Mark Trumbo to bounce around all over the place, and Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis to change out for one another on a whim. Scioscia’s options haven’t gotten any easier now that the team has cut Abreu to make room for super-prospect Mike Trout, who will need to have a spot in the lineup as often as possible. Trumbo seems to be falling out of favor as a third baseman, as he now has fewer starts there than Izturis, so he may fall into a timeshare for the DH as well as a fifth outfield option, and the revolving door of Angels starters can continue to roll along.
Except that it needs to end. Part of baseball is developing a comfort level with where you are and where the people around you are. Not knowing from one day to the next if you’re going to be in the lineup, and if you are, where you will be playing or slotted does not do the mental process of major leaguers any favors. Scioscia needs to settle into a lineup he likes and hurt some feelings by relegating some players to off-the-bench role players. Let this team start to gel and form a bit of a rhythm, so maybe they can turn things around offensively. They need to start scoring some serious runs, lest we forget…
This bullpen has been terrible
One of the major weaknesses of the 2011 Angels, the bullpen was supposed to be a bit more stable this season. Jordan Walden was another year older, the additions of Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins would add veteran stability to the setup role, and the stellar starting rotation was supposed to minimize the pressure put on the bullpen. Well, none of that really happened. Walden was shaky from the start, and has already lost his closer role to Scott Downs, who’s been excellent and has yet to surrender a run. Izzy and Hawk (which would totally be the name of their buddy-cop movie, tagline “They’re both too old for this junk”) have been okay, but are struggling with control, issuing 10 walks in 15.1 combined innings. With the starters struggling early, the bullpen has actually seen much more pressure early on than it expected, and has struggled to handle it. The bullpen as a whole has a 5.08 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP, which ranks them near the bottom of the league. That’s not the kind of “stopping power” you would like from the pen.
All in all, things couldn’t have started out much worse for the Angels. It’s one thing to have your worst start since 1976, but to have your worst start in 36 years after building up the expectations during the offseason? It’s been brutal to say the least. The Halos finish April 8-15, an unthinkable seven games under .500, and are staring up from a nine game hole at Texas, who has been exactly who we thought they would be so far this season. First things first for this club, though, is to catch the A’s and Mariners, who sit 2.5 games ahead of them, in order to get out of the cellar of the AL West. They say “April showers bring May flowers,” so let’s hope a gloomy April for the Angels leads to some brighter days ahead.