The image of the Southern California sports fan as laid-back was undone last week, as the crowds at Angel Stadium booed lustily during a four-game home losing streak that dropped Los Angeles to 2--8. Expectations are high for the Halos, who signed free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract in hopes of getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
There are reasons beyond the record to be concerned. The Angels' starting pitching was a worry even before ace Jered Weaver suffered a broken left (nonthrowing) elbow on April 7, which will keep him out four to six weeks. The bullpen is strong at the back end, with Ernesto Frieri and Sean Burnett, but it doesn't have the depth to cover for a rotation of six-inning pitchers. The 31-year-old Hamilton, for all his physical gifts, has become an impatient hitter whose hacktastic ways are being exploited by hurlers who know they don't have to come close to the strike zone to get him out. (After whiffing in 17.3% of his plate appearances in 2011, he was up to 27.8% this season through Sunday.) Manager Mike Scioscia even shuffled his lineup, shifting leadoff man Mike Trout to second in a move that felt a bit panicky for the second week of the season.
But recent history shows that L.A.'s tepid start doesn't portend a bitter end. It's not unusual for playoff teams to have to overcome runs of poor play; in fact, it's fairly common. Half of last season's postseason entries had at least one stretch in which they lost eight of 10 games. The Cardinals, who came within a game of the World Series, had two of them. The Braves and the A's both had 1--9 spells. That's not an anomaly. In 2011 five of eight postseason teams battled through a 2--8 stretch or worse to get there. In 2010 seven of eight did.
The panic over the Angels' start is an example of how the NFL mind-set has crept into baseball fandom. When your team plays 16 games, every win is a triumph and every loss a reason for rending replica jerseys. When it plays 162, you needn't get so high or so low after a victory or a defeat. Judging baseball clubs after two weeks is like judging first dates by the way they answer the door when you pick them up.