APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH
With the departure of Joe Maddon as an Angels coach, it is doubtful that anyone in the organization would be able to recite the poetry of Thomas Stearns Eliot, but point out that opening line comes from a poem called The Wasteland and no Angel in Los Angeles, Anaheim or parts in between would disagree that it describes the club’s first month of the 2009 season.
While one can dig in the stat files and find worse 1-month records than 9-12, that record was only a small part of the most tragic month in Angels franchise history. The book was closed on this awful April of 2009 Thursday night in New York with the 7th loss incurred by an Angels reliever this season. 7 Losses in 21 games by the bullpen.
Of course anything on the field was overshadowed by the April 9th death of pitcher Nick Adenhart and two of his companions. But even before that tragedy, the team saw the death of a fan, Brian Powers, in an apparent scuffle moments after the first game of the season had finished. The gloom of these losses easily obscures the on-field performances and health issues that plagued the club in April.
But as incomparable as the loss of human life is to team performance and health, the sum total of what happened to the team even in spite of such terrible losses off the field is staggering on an almost historical level.
- Last season, Angel relievers were responsible for 22 losses. So in one month, the club is 1/3 of the way to their old mark.
- The Angels used 8 starters in April. They used 7 all of last season. This is while waiting for John Lackey and Ervin Santana to return. 2 pitchers who started games in April end the month on the disabled list (Moseley and Oliver).
- Kelvim Escobar, who started one of the final Spring games in San Diego and dominated had setbacks in his return from a major shoulder injury and was eventually sent to the 60 Day disabled list – unable to play until at least June 4 and that would be optimistic.
- A bench-clearing brawl on the first Sunday game of the season turned into a national scandal when the league overruled on-field umpiring decisions and suspended Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett. Do you feel confident about the next time Joe West umpires an Angels game?
- In that same series, bad umpiring (and not the bullpen for once) cost the Angels a game when all replays on earth showed a difference-making Torii Hunter out to Left Field was actually a double off the wall. But crew chief Joe West was not overruled on that call.
- Amidst all of the pitching woes, the Angels lost superstar slugger Vladimir Guerrero with a torn pectoral muscle. The Angels have a name for a team without Vlad, Lackey and Santana: The Salt Lake Bees.
- In all, five members of the opening day 25-Man roster are not on it after 21 games and three (Escobar, Lackey and Santana) who were anticipated to at least have a slim chance of returning in April ... didn't.
- Manager Mike Scioscia has inscrutably chosen to ignore the obvious potency of Brandon Wood’s bat in favor of lean singles-hitting scrappy infielder Erick Ayabr, Maicer Izturis and Chone Figgins.
- Against cakewalk division opponents Seattle and Oakland, the Angels went 3-6.
Yet despite all of the grief, the injuries, the bullpen implosion and the deference to undeserving veterans, the Angels begin May a mere 3.5 games behind the Mariners. With Lackey and Santana up to 45-pitches each in recovery, there is a light at the end of the pitching staff tunnel. The offense is actually hitting better than the past few season's Angel lineups were ever able to muster. While the bullpen is the most glaring area in need of a fix, recent seasons have shown that Mike Scioscia gives his players enough rope early in the season to either hang themselves or swing like Tarzan through the American League jungle in order to land on the back of a panther toward the promised land.
How May, June and the rest of the season bode for the Angels remains to be seen, but to a man, were they to be reminded Friday morning that a new month has begun, each would appreciate a line much later in Eliot’s Wasteland:
Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.