Let me begin with a couple disclaimers. One, the Angels are not going to play .200 ball all season. They are a better team than the one which has shown up in the first two weeks and they will be heard from by season's end. Two, I know there is a fair amount of Angels-dislike round these here parts, but this post is not intended to be belittling or unkind. Just honest. And honestly, to all the pundits around the country who picked the Angels to win the West, some to win the World Series? Here's a memo: The Angels are failing in exactly the ways you should have seen coming a mile away.
What I saw in the A's-Angels series, and what Angels fans have endured throughout April so far, should come as no surprise:
- C.J. Wilson is talented but erratic, and the middle of the rotation (Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson) is eminently hittable. Should we be stunned that the Angels' starting pitching has been more of a liability than a strength, and that the middle relief has been oft tested?
- Even Jered Weaver should have been a concern, as his velocity dropped 2-3 MPH and many of his fly balls started turning into HRs. Angels fans, take heart, not despair, in Weaver's broken left elbow as for all we know it may have saved his career. If Weaver was pitching with a tired right shoulder, perhaps even an injured one, his broken left elbow is forcing him to stop pitching for 6-8 weeks rather than possibly continue pitching through -- and not very well, I might add -- right shoulder issues. Ask Dallas Braden and Johan Santana how serious shoulder injuries can be. But back to the main point of this post, Weaver's difficulties at the outset of 2013 should come as no shock, nor should be the fact that he is followed by guys who range from "erratic" to "innings eater" to "just not very good".
- Albert Pujols can still hit, but what he can no longer do is move. At all. He is not only Frank Thomas on the bases, he is "Chris Carter in molasses" at 1B. Forget the fact that he is, at most, 2 years away from being "a really expensive aging DH with a zillion years still left on his contract." Even right now, he has no range at 1B and needs a ghost runner if he is to circle the bases any faster than the A's concessionaires can serve a hot dog and a beer and give change for a $20. And believe me, that's not fast.
- Josh Hamilton is good. But he is not great. He will have stretches of greatness, and in those stretches he will be about the best hitter in the game. Those stretches, however, are fleeting and far between and the rest of the time he is someone who can be pitched to: Don't throw him a lot of strikes, stay soft away and let him get himself out. In the field, and on the bases, he is prone to bizarre lapses of concentration that offset his natural ability.
Here's something you don't hear much from pundits: "Pujols and Hamilton are good. Almost as good as Moss and Reddick." But it's true. Pujols and Hamilton are good. And Moss and Reddick are actually better. Look it up and you'll see that Moss has been a better hitter than Pujols since he came up in June, 2012, and when it comes to defense it's not even close. Reddick's gold glove defense more than makes up for Hamilton's better bat -- which is only better because Reddick's OBP isn't much either. Both are dangerous but flawed hitters, and only Reddick is a big asset in RF.
- The bullpen. If the Angels' starting pitchers could consistently give you "7 solid innings" then the bullpen would be ok. Ernesto Frieri is a solid closer, Scott Downs and Sean Burnett are serviceable lefties. But as you get deeper into the Angels' bullpen, it quickly becomes more and more of a gascan -- something that is being exposed early and often by the rickety starting pitching.
- Finally, it should have been abundantly clear going into the season that the Angels had no depth. Every team loses key players throughout the season -- the A's have already seen Sizemore, Reddick, Crisp and Cespedes go down, and the Rangers are currently without Matt Harrison, so for the Angels to lose Weaver is not "bad luck" so much as it's "what happens throughout the course of a season". And the Angels are not equipped to lose a key player. Their bench is AAAA and their AAA options are no better. Oakland's "plan B" for starting pitching is Dan Straily; LAA's is Jerome Williams. The A's bench sports Chris Young and John Jaso/Derek Norris, while the Angels have plugged in Brendan Harris -- though I suppose if an ear of corn should surface, the Angels can Shuck with the best of 'em.
Uninspiring starting pitching, a thin bullpen, two aging former stars, a terrible bench, and no depth. Folks, this is not a .200 team but it is also not a good team. Most importantly, this was apparent -- to anyone who recognizes than Trout-Pujols-Hamilton are only 12% of the roster, and that of those 3 only Trout is worthy of the hype -- long before the Angels lost any games, lost Weaver or Aybar, or managed to dig themselves a hole of 6.5 games in the standings in less than 2 weeks.
So to the pundits who had the Angels winning the AL West or winning the AL pennant or winning the World Series, I'd just appreciate if you could drop by and explain one thing: What the heck were you thinking?