Talented Angels aren't done yet, but time runs short
Posted: Friday May 26, 2006 1:31PM; Updated: Friday May 26, 2006 2:34PM
Jeff Weaver (2-7, 6.99 ERA) has been part of the problem for the Angels. Is his brother, Jered, part of the solution?
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A game-winning suicide squeeze -- yeah, that sounds like the way the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim do things.
But when the Angels tried to squeeze home the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning on May 18 against the Toronto Blue Jays, it epitomized all that has gone wrong for them in 2006.
The squeezer and squeezee, Mike Napoli and Erick Aybar, weren't supposed to be on the Angels' roster. And the squeeze didn't lead to a run and a victory, but instead to a double play and a defeat, the second of what would become a six-game losing streak.
Now it's safe to say the squeeze is really on the Angels. Even having won their last two games against the Texas Rangers, the Angels have dropped 18 of their last 25, falling into last place in the American League West with a 19-28 record.
One saving grace is that with its leader's win-loss percentage hovering around .500, the AL West has caught what ailed the National League West last year. But the Angels, five games back of the first-place Rangers, are still facing an identity crisis, and then some.
The Angels pride themselves on small-ball execution, but with the rare scoring opportunities provided by the team's AL-worst on-base and slugging percentages, mistakes have been magnified. The Angels pride themselves on clubhouse chemistry, but a shouting match between players broke out in earshot of reporters after that frustrating May 18 loss. The Angels pride themselves as the ascending team in Los Angeles but got hammered 31-7 over three games last weekend by their I-5 rivals, the Dodgers.
Finally, the Angels pride themselves on a blossoming farm system, but their rookies have been a net negative this season.
If it all sounds bleak, it should. But if it all sounds bleak beyond repair, it shouldn't.
The Angels' recipe going into the 2006 season wasn't a bad one. Take the 2005 American League West champions, mix in a couple of highly regarded prospects and add ex-Dodger Jeff Weaver in the pressure-free role of back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. It didn't assure the Angels of another title, but it figured to have them in the thick of the stew.
However, 2005 AL Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon allowed 14 runs (11 earned) in 14 innings before heading to the disabled list. Even worse, a healthy Weaver has surrendered 43 runs in 55 1/3 innings (6.99 ERA).
On offense, longtime Angels Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Chone Figgins and Adam Kennedy have been just average or worse, both statistically and to the naked eye. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero has produced, and designated hitter Tim Salmon has provided more than sentimental value in his farewell season, but not enough to offset the struggles of the other veterans.
"You can stick a fork in Erstad," said Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts. "Make him Director of Inspirational Activities, but don't let him wear eye black and get his uniform dirty any longer. Anderson would be OK at best if he didn't cost so much. He has two more years left on his contract at about $12 million per, so he is a huge liability at this point."
Having won AL West titles in 2004 and '05 despite saying farewell to players of the caliber of Troy Glaus, Angels vice president and general manager Bill Stoneman isn't reluctant to place his faith in the farm system. This year he cleared spots in the starting lineup for two 23-year-olds, first baseman Casey Kotchman and catcher Jeff Mathis.
It's not as if Stoneman was counting on Kotchman and Mathis to be All-Stars. He just expected them to do something. Anything. Instead, Kotchman infected the team with a .130 EQA (according to Baseball Prospectus -- .260 is average) in 88 plate appearances, then revealed he was suffering from mononucleosis. Mathis went four for 39 with a home run and five walks (.113 EQA) before Stoneman, with a twinge of regret, sent him down to Triple A Salt Lake for some extra minor league schooling.
Though Stoneman said that Mathis looked nervous and uncomfortable taking over for last year's starter, Bengie Molina, 25-year-old infielder Dallas McPherson doesn't think the baby Angels are stressed.
"I don't think anyone here has placed pressure on us," McPherson said. "They put us in the lineup, and that's what we want."
The kids just seem to need a bit more time. While it might take only seconds for hitting coach Mickey Hatcher to tell a prospect that a pitcher throws a fastball, curve and change, it might take weeks or months for a prospect to get a handle on the sequences of so many different major league pitchers -- without the learning curve being a reflection of the prospect's overall potential.