Ravaged by a rash of injuries that most teams over the course of baseball history could not overcome, the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies are two of the most surprisingly bad clubs in Major League Baseball this season. Neither appear headed to the post-season, or even the .500 mark for that matter, partly because core players have missed so many games. The Los Angeles Angels don’t have that excuse.
Considering they are just 62-58, including 3-7 over the last 10 games, and they sit 7.5 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, the Angels are arguably the most disappointing team in baseball this season. Hope is not lost for the playoffs.
After all, the Angels are just two games out of the second wild card spot. Yet it is shocking that a team with a Cy Young Award contender like Jered Weaver; a dual AL Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate in center fielder Mike Trout; a rotation that also features Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren; and a lineup also boasting Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo; is fighting to stay over .500 and battling for the wild card.
During the off-season, many Angels fans and baseball pundits were thinking about World Series tickets and contemplating their spot to watch the victory parade when the team signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million deal. A lineup that had names like Pujols, Trumbo, Hunter, the returning Kendry Morales and unspectacular yet steady players like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo would be difficult to contain, it was though. And this was before Trout exploded onto the scene, outperforming even Pujols.
As it is frequently discovered in baseball – for example, every year the Yankees don’t win a World Series title, last year when the Red Sox were deemed by one newspaper as the greatest team assembled but didn’t even reach the playoffs and this season with the Phillies, a club that expected their own victory parade – money doesn’t always buy the ultimate happiness of winning it all. The Angels saw their 2012 payroll escalate to $151,381,000, yet they find themselves two games behind the penny-pinching Oakland A’s in their own division.
It was an astonishingly slow start for the Angels, which were 6-14 in their first 20 games and 9-15 on May 1. A hot streak in late May lifted them to 27-26 on June 1. By the All-Star break, Mike Scioscia’s club was 48-38 and four games behind the Rangers in the AL West.
Pujols owned a .268 average with 14 home runs, 51 RBI and a .795 OPS at the All-Star break. He has hit .300 with 12 home runs, 34 RBI and a 1.018 OPS since, but a .277 average, 26 home runs, 82 RBI and a .858 OPS was less than what the Angels anticipated, especially in the wake of an April that saw him bat .217 with no home runs.
Third base has also been a concern. Callaspo, who had a .288 average last year, is down to .248 in 2012, and he has little power. Utility man Maicer Izturis has seen time at the hot corner, but he also has little pop and is batting just .248, too.
Bolstered by Trout (.339, 22, 66), Trumbo (.286, 29, 74), Morales (.279, 15, 52), Hunter (.296, 12, 56) and Pujols, the Angels have scored plenty of runs. They are ninth in the majors with 557 runs and fourth overall statistically in hitting. Yet they have had trouble, at times, getting timely hits.
Even before the Angels acquired Greinke from Milwaukee at the non-waiver trade deadline, they where thought to have a World Series-caliber starting rotation. Weaver has been the AL Cy Young frontrunner for much of the season, and C.J. Wilson (who was inked to a five-year, $77 million contract in the off-season, stolen away from the rival Rangers) has pitched well, though he has not seen ample run support as his 9-9 record to go along with his 3.32 ERA and .230 batting average against suggest.
The Angels did not expect the struggles of Dan Haren (8-10, 4.90 ERA) and Ervin Santana (6-10, 5.59 ERA). And they figured to get better outings from Greinke, who is 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA in four starts with Los Angeles after a 9-3 record and 3.44 ERA in Milwaukee.
The Angels’ 3-7 record in their last 10 games can be attributed to inconsistent starting pitching and an occasional lack of timely hitting. On Thursday, they fell to Tampa Bay, 7-0. Another AL Cy Young Award contender, Rays left-hander David Price, overpowered the Angels lineup and Haren allowed five runs and seven hits in 3.2 innings. A night later, one of the worst lineup in the majors reached Weaver for nine runs and eight hits in three innings and clubbed Angels pitching for 12 runs and 17 hits in a 12-3 Rays victory. James Shields, who has been inconsistent most of the year himself, limited the Los Angeles lineup to three runs and seven hits over six innings.
There are no clear-cut favorites in the American League wild card race. Tampa Bay holds the top spot at 65-54, but with its lackluster lineup that has trouble scoring runs (except Thursday and Friday against the Angels), they are not immune to a losing skid. Neither is Baltimore, which is tied for Detroit for the second wild card position at 64-55. The Tigers have a potent lineup, but their pitching is up and down behind Justin Verlander. Though the 63-55 A’s are an exciting story, they have problems scoring enough runs to win, so they are a team that could fade in September.
With the Angels’ big-name rotation and lineup, it would be fair to project they will stage a prolonged winning streak and perhaps ascend to one of the two wild card spots. This is Major League Baseball, though, and what seemingly will happen often doesn’t materialize.