The Los Angeles baseball team that resides in Orange County got off a miserable start of the season. After appearing so confident in Tempe, AZ in March during spring training, manager Mike Scioscia’s club became tighter than Joan Rivers face in losing 14 of their first 20 games. With the veteran Scioscia feeling the laser-focused stares of owner Artie Moreno on the back of his neck, having opened his wallet like never before, the skipper lucked into a non-productive Vernon Wells injury, which opened the door for the Angels top prospect Mike Trout to play the outfield every day. This in turn led to finding a way to keep the power-laden bat of Mark Trumbo in the lineup.
Despite just two starting pitchers throwing to their capabilities, Albert Pujols NOT being the best hitter in a Halos uniform and a bullpen that only recently seems to be finding itself, the Angels trail Texas by just four games in the standings and have the top wild card spot in the American League today.
With the new playoff format that starts this year, NOBODY wants to play in a one-game elimination after 162 contests in the books. How do the Angels avoid this, by winning their division. Here are five ways the team from Anaheim surpass Texas and win the AL West.
1) Starting pitchers throwing to their capabilities
Between Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Angels are receiving what they expected. This duo has 26 quality starts among the 33 they have made, solid ERA’s and WHIP’s, combined with a 25-8 team record when they have pitched. The same cannot be said for the other starters. Ervin Santana (5-12, 5.75 ERA) and Dan Haren (6-8, 4.86) have been wickedly bad. Santana’s ERA is 1.42 higher than his career average, tossing too many meatballs, being taken 20 times over the fence already this season. Haren is presently on the disabled-list, working on fixing a balky back, which has taken away the effectiveness of his breaking pitches and changeups having downward movement, leading to his ERA climbing to new heights and his WHIP to jump from 1.18 for his career to 1.41. Los Angeles needs four solid starters like they expected at the beginning of the season.
2) Albert being Albert
Albert Pujols signed a 10-year deal with the Angels and at 32-years old, nobody expects him to be at his previous levels for the next decade. Conventional wisdom would have the first three years highly productive, three years at an above average level and the final four seasons being a DH who provides power and walks, with a much lower batting average. After 86 games in 2012, Pujols is at level two, not leading his team in any significant offensive category other than doubles with 21. Maybe Pujols cannot be the same player he was even two years ago, nevertheless, he has to come thru in the clutch more frequently and provide meaningful hits at the right time for his new team to pass the two-time AL champions.
3) Added player production beyond Trout and Trumbo
Apart from the Angels Big Three sluggers, others have to start elevating their games. Kendary Morales cannot have just 10 more runs batted in than Erick Aybar (33 vs. 23) batting in the heart of the lineup card. Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick do not have to carry L.A., yet, they have to be more patient at the dish and have their hot streaks last longer and shorten their slumps. Aybar has made an adjustment in his swing in being more selective with pitches he swings at, raising his batting average 20 points and is now third on the club in doubles with 18. One of the worst recent moves the Angels have made was letting catcher Mile Napoli get away, mostly because Scioscia did not like his catching skills or how he called a game. This season, the catching spot is a black hole in the batting order for a team that is only 8th in the AL in runs scored at 4.4 per game.
4) The bullpen has to bring the heat
The Angels relievers rank only 11th in the AL in K’s per nine innings at 7.71. Closer Ernesto Frieri and Jordan Walden have for the most part done their part (Frieri has since being acquired in a trade on May 6th from San Diego at 15.39 K/9). Walden in particular has to continue to improve and be the pitcher this team expected, since the rest of the pen is mostly veteran hurlers who pitch to contact. In the late innings, teams need punch-outs to prevent base-runners from moving up. The Yankees being first in this category is not an accident.
5) Work the schedule
Looking at the rest of the regular season slate, the Angels play six fewer games against teams with a record over .500 than does Texas (38 vs. 44). In this scenario, Los Angeles could make up ground by taking advantage of playing six inferior opponents to gain ground on the Rangers. Even with this, the Halos hold destiny in their own hands playing Texas 13 more times, with nine of the battles at the Big A in Anaheim. Go 9-4 against the Rangers the rest of the way and match wins in the other games, the red-clad Angels are back atop the AL West.