Posted: Monday May 12, 2003 9:02 PM
Updated: Monday May 12, 2003 10:44 PM
Like the Angels' starting rotation, the Rally Monkey is off to a slow start this season. AP
By Dan George, SI.com
If major league owners, as expected, approve the sale of the Anaheim Angels this week, Phoenix businessman Arturo Moreno will be acquiring the defending World Series champions.
For a while there, however, it looked like he might be getting a last-place team for his $185 million.
Barely half a year after winning the first world championship in their history, manager Mike Sciosia's Angels are muddling along at 17-19, entering the week 5 ½ games behind the first-place Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners. At one point, Anaheim also trailed the Texas Rangers by a half-game, which put them dead last in the AL West.
To be sure, a hamstring injury that could sideline gritty team leader Darin Erstad for over a month and the resultant sputtering offense have hurt the Angels, who check in this week at No. 17 in SI.com's Baseball Power Rankings.
But most of Anaheim's woes can be traced directly to the pitcher's mound. Not the relief corps -- led by closer Troy Percival. The Angels' bullpen is 4-3 with six saves in eight chances and leads the AL with a 2.55 ERA.
Sadly, the damage usually has been done by the time the relievers come into play. The Anaheim starters are 13-16 with a 5.33 ERA that ranks ahead of only Toronto, Texas and Tampa Bay. The two biggest offenders: Ramon Ortiz (4-4, 5.87) and John Lackey (1-3, 7.38).
But Jarrod Washburn has been solid if not spectacular (3-4, 3.79). And help may be on the way in the form of Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele, who both came off the DL last week, immediately pitching the Angels to back-to-back victories over the Indians and Blue Jays.
The other thing offering hope to Angels fans? Through it all, the Halos, incredibly, are just three games off last year's pace.
SI.com's Power Rankings
New York Yankees Believe it or not, all is not perfect in the Bronx. The bullpen has allowed 123 runners in 76 1/3 innings for a 4.83 ERA. Antonio Osuna (strained groin) is out for a couple more weeks, and Steve Karsay (shoulder bursitis) may not return till July.
San Francisco Giants They unveiled a statue of Willie McCovey near Pac Bell Park last week. "Somebody asked me why my statue was taller than Willie Mays," said McCovey. "I asked him, 'Haven't you ever seen us standing side by side?'" McCovey is 6-4, Mays 5-11.
Atlanta Braves This may be the year Andruw Jones puts it all together. The stylish center fielder is hitting .298 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs. Yes, this is his eighth season in the majors. But, amazingly, he just turned 26.
Boston Red Sox Has there been a more schizophrenic pitcher in either league this season than Derek Lowe? He's 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three home games, 1-3 and 11.57 in five games on the road.
Oakland Athletics Billy Beane is a genius? Even the rankest fantasy geek knows you don't boast about skinning your competitors, as Beane did in Michael M. Lewis' Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. We suspect he's made his last deal with Ken Williams and Steve Phillips.
Seattle Mariners Elbow surgery may be common, but don't tell Bob Melvin it's minor. The Mariners' manager has twice put off operations to remove particles from his right elbow, most recently last Wednesday when he got as far as the hospital before changing his mind.
Kansas City Royals They may or may not be for real, but it's probably worth noting that the last time the Royals were alone in first place this long was 1980 -- when they won the AL West by 14 games.
Montreal Expos Reliever Joey Eischen was so upset that he grabbed a bat in the dugout and snapped it over his knee. Only problem? It belonged to Vladimir Guerrero. Notified of his error, Eischen hurriedly apologized to the Expos' slugger in Spanish -- and ordered a new bat.
Philadelphia Phillies Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan doesn't let Phillies pitchers use the slide step. He contends it results in too many bad pitches. Maybe, but opponents have capitalized by stealing 38 bases in 42 tries.
Chicago Cubs That smile is coming harder for Sammy Sosa these days. He's slumped since the Pirates' Salomon Torres beaned him last month, he claims umpires have widened the strike zone this season, and now he's on the DL with a sore toe.
Minnesota Twins They're 10-2 since April 27, trimming 5 ½ games off the Royals' AL Central lead and scoring at least five runs in every game except one during that span.
St. Louis Cardinals So when does Jason Isringhausen get back? Tony LaRussa's relievers are 5-9 with a 4.71 ERA, they've blown nine of 15 save chances, and the team is 2-10 in one-run games.
Los Angeles Dodgers Call 'em the anti-Cards. Setup man Paul Shuey is 2-1 with a 0.68 ERA -- and that's second to closer Eric Gagne's 0.48. Picking up where he left off in 2002 (52 saves in 56 chances), Gagne is 12-for-12 this season, holding opposing hitters to a .113 average.
Houston Astros When first baseman Jeff Bagwell jokingly announced last week that he was declaring for the NBA Draft, teammate Brad Ausmus speculated Bagwell would go in the third round. Reminded that the NBA draft lasts two rounds, Ausmus said: "I know."
Baltimore Orioles Sophomore jinx? What sophomore jinx? After blowing his first two save chances, second-year closer Jorge Julio has converted nine in a row, giving up just four runs since his only loss on April 8.
Cincinnati Reds Since a 5-9 start, Bob Boone's resurgent team has won 14 of 20. Ten of those 19 victories have come in the Reds' final at-bat, including six "walk-off" wins.
Anaheim Angels At least there's nothing wrong with the crowds at Edison International. The defending World Series champs have sold 2.25 million tickets so far, tops in the majors. The Dodgers rank third.
Chicago White Sox Uh-oh. Jerry Manuel got the dreaded "vote of confidence" last week from Ken Williams. The White Sox GM did the same thing for hitting coach Von Joshua in 2001 and pitching coach Nardi Contreras in 2002 -- then quickly fired them. If Manuel goes, Class AA Birmingham skipper Wally Backman could be his replacement.
Colorado Rockies One more stolen base and British Columbia native Larry Walker will have more than any other Canadian player. He entered Monday night's games tied with Terry Puhl with 217.
Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi wouldn't mind getting out from under Carlos Delgado's $18.7 million contract, but the 30-year-old first baseman's strong start (.323, 12 HR, 37 RBIs) is making the wait a little less painful.
Arizona Diamondbacks Just what they need, another injury. Craig Counsell, out for two months with a thumb injury, is the fifth player to be put on the DL by the struggling D'backs during the past two weeks.
Texas Rangers Steady Rafael Palmeiro has slipped under the radar because he never led the league in homers or won an MVP. But don't be surprised if he ends up with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs -– joining only Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
Florida Marlins Taking over for the fired Jeff Torborg, new manager Jack McKeon won his debut with Florida on Sunday, immediately becoming the answer to a trivia question (temporarily, anyway): Who's the only winning manager in Marlins history?
New York Mets The only people more disappointed by Mike Piazza's pending move to first base? National League baserunners. They had 152 stolen base attempts against him last season, most in the majors. He threw out 17.8 percent, last in the majors.
Pittsburgh Pirates The bullpen gave up six runs in the eighth inning of a 10-9 loss to the Astros last week. "All you can hope is that that was rock bottom," said manager Lloyd McClendon. Uh, no. The next night, Pittsburgh relievers gave up nine runs in a 13-4 loss.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Now it can be told. Former No. 1 draft pick and oft-injured Josh Hamilton vanished earlier this spring because he was suffering from depression, in part because he'd been passed by fellow phenoms Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli. Or maybe it was those 26 tattoos.
Milwaukee Brewers Remember that kid asking Babe Ruth to hit a homer for him? Times have changed a bit. Catcher Eddie Perez dedicated a recent five-RBI game to his ailing grandmother, Lila. "She asked me to hit two home runs with the bases loaded," said Perez, rolling his eyes.
San Diego Padres They're 13 games under .500 and 13 1/2 games out of first place, but the prospect of a new downtown ballpark has them talking about pursuing a top free agent. Yeah, that worked so well for the Reds (Ken Griffey Jr.) and Tigers (Juan Gonzalez).
Cleveland Indians Omar Vizquel needs one stolen base to tie Terry Turner for second place on the Tribe's career list at 254. That's just 197 shy of Kenny Lofton's team record. Now the Pirates' center fielder, Lofton leads all active major leaguers with 514.
Detroit Tigers Despite a couple of home runs in a game last week, catcher Brandon Inge is just 4-for-52 against right-handers this season. Manager Alan Trammell says Inge has been working on a flaw in his swing. Judging by his .188 career batting average, it may be a chronic thing.