Nowhere To Go But Up? I Disagree!

Scott Halleran

Time for some close reading of a MLB.com article...

Usually when an article or blog post is given the FJM treatment, it's because the article or post is complete horseshit. That's not the case this time. The MLB blog post given the treatment is actually a well written piece regarding the Angels season thus far. However, the reason I've picked this post is it addresses almost all the points in this season's failures. (The original MLB.com post can be found here: Angels Have Nowhere To Go But Up)

So, here we go....

Maybe this is the low point.

Let's hope so, but for some reason I truly doubt it.

The Angels surely have thought that a few other times this season, only to crash into another brick wall. At some point, it has to turn around, doesn't it?

Does it? If the same mistakes are going to be made shouldn't we expect the same results?

That's the logical assumption. There's just too much talent for this kind of stuff to continue.

But that's the rub...sure, the Angels have the talent, but so what. If the talent isn't being used in the correct way, who cares how MUCH talent a team has. If a team has the best leadoff hitter in baseball and bats him second, or a team needs a spot starter so they use a guy with no starting experience, or you leave one of the slowest runners at second base in a close and late situation, or you have one of the best defensive center fielders in the game rotting on the bench.

Another game slipped away on Tuesday night, a 7-6 road loss to the Astros in which the Angels committed three errors and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. At 11-21, they're 10 games under .500 for the first time in seven years and 8 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West and off to their worst 32-game start in franchise history. They'd have to pass nine teams to get one of the AL Wild Card berths.

Those nine teams are: Baltimore, New York, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Oakland, and Seattle. What are the chances that two of these nine play better than the Halos from here on out? Or to put it another way, the Angels must play BETTER than eight of these teams by at least 7 games for the rest of the season.

Is there still time?

No.

Sure, there is.

No, there's not.

The two A.L. wild card teams finished the season with 93-69 records; while the Angels finished at 89-73 (they also trailed the Rays who finished at 90-72). The team will have to win 82 more games to reach 93 wins. Eighty-two and forty-seven. A .636 winning percentage. By the way, a .636 winning percentage would be a 103 win season.

That's exactly the kind of question manager Mike Scioscia had hoped not to be answering for the second year in a row.

Over the last five seasons, the Angels have had winning record in the month of April just once...2011. In those five years, the Angels have compiled a 52-68 record in the first month of the season. Seems like the club has a tough time getting out of the starting gate.

The Angels were 14-18 and 7 1/2 games behind the Rangers at this point last season. They finished with a 76-55 sprint and were two games out of a Wild Card berth with nine to play.

Yeah? So what's your point? Close, but no cigar? They weren't THAT bad? They missed the playoffs, end of story.

Their hope this time is that Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols will find their mojo,

I'm not too worried about their "mojo"; I'm more concerned that Hamilton won't be able to stop swinging at all of the off-speed pitches he's seeing, while Pujols will be able to avoid the disabled list because of his foot. Those are my hopes.

that ace Jered Weaver and reliever Ryan Madson will be productive after they return from the disabled list

I ♥ Weaver. Yeah, yeah, I heard all about his drop in velocity before going on the DL. That cross-firing maniac will do fine. Madson? With all of his setbacks this spring, who knows if he'll be able to contribute, yet even if he does, can he do it on back-to-back days?

and that they finally will look like the team that was favored by many to win the AL West.

For the second year in a row, the Angels were the Offseason Champions!

The thing that has to be so frustrating to Scioscia and general manager Jerry DiPoto is that the Angels had a reasonable blueprint for winning the division. They were a very good team at the end of last season, and even before the signing of Hamilton, DiPoto had himself a nice offseason by adding three solid arms to the rotation and a quality reliever to the back of the bullpen.

I'm not so sure Scioscia is frustrated for the same reason Dipoto is. I think Scioscia is more frustrated with the type of team he's been given, while Dipoto is frustrated because he has assembled a good team, but has to watch as that team underachieves.

Were they better than the Rangers and A's? That's a good one to chew on. The Rangers and A's have taken a completely different approach to building a team. Neither has spent as much money as the Angels, but both have better pitching staffs. There's a message in there somewhere.

The message is; you gotta build your own pitching staff. The current Rangers' starting rotation is:
Yu Darvish
Derek Holland
Alexi Ogando
Nick Tepesch
Justin Grimm

With the exception of Darvish, each of the Ranger starters came up through their minor league system. Ogando was a Rule 5 draftee from the Oakland organization, while Matt Harrison (currently on the DL) was a minor leaguer acquired from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal.

In the case of the A's, except for Bartolo Colon, each of their starters were either drafted or acquired via trade. Brett Anderson was part of the Dan Haren trade, Jarrod parker was also traded from the Diamondbacks as part of the Trevor Cahill deal. Tommy Milone was acquired from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal. None of the players dealt or acquired were signed as free agents. In other words, all of these pitchers were either drafted or acquired through trades.

The Angels are next to last in the American League in quality starts (behind the Astros) and 12th in rotation ERA (4.84). Meanwhile, their bullpen has the second-lowest percentage of converting save opportunities in the league (44 percent).

Do you know which relief pitcher has appeared in the most games for the Angels?

Ernesto Frieri? Nope.

Not Scott Downs.

How about Sean Burnett? Uh, no.

Dane De La Rosa. He with the career 7.31 ERA. I know, you're going to say "But Jim, he's only used in low-leverage situations!" And I'm going to say, "Nope. He gets used in all sorts of leverage situations."

Again, though, the Angels still were favored by many to win the AL West and play deep into October. It's easy to rip the blueprint now, but it looked solid on Opening Day.

I agree.

Here's what happened:

The author goes through some analysis here, and as I wrote above, this isn't the typical close reading where I criticize or make fun of what is written in his post. The three points below are pretty much right on target...

• That dream lineup has yet to click. Pujols is hitting .231 and slowed by foot problems. Hamilton is hitting .202 and swinging at pitches way out of the strike zone. Until he shows he has the discipline to lay off bad pitches, there's no reason to mess with the strike zone. Mike Trout is hitting .274 and so far unable to recapture last season's magic when he looked like the best baseball player since Willie Mays. As a result, the Angels are ninth in the AL in runs.

• As for the rotation, there's hope. The Angels are 4-3 in C.J. Wilson's seven starts, and the three newcomers -- Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton -- have all pitched well the last two weeks. Weaver's absence creates a large hole, but four of the five are pitching at a high level.

• There's little margin for error with a bullpen that has three relievers on the disabled list. The Angels have lost six games in their opponents' final at-bat, but with Madson about to begin a rehab assignment, things should begin to stabilize by the end of the month.

Now about Scioscia.

Finally! Let's dig into this...

His job is to get his guys to play hard and put them in position to succeed.

Right!

For the last 14 years, he has had few peers.

Correct.

If the Angels were to fire him, he'd be out of work about 20 minutes.

Um, really? What team is looking for a new manager? And besides, just because another team would hire him, it doesn't mean he shouldn't be replaced.

Ultimately, he's only as good as his players, and unless the problems of Pujols and Hamilton and the injuries to Madson and Weaver can be traced to him, it seems silly to even discuss firing him.

Wait, what? That's it? Just because it's not his fault Pujols and Hamilton aren't hitting, and Weaver and Madson are hurt, he's given a pass? What about the lamebrain moves he's been making? Batting Trout 2nd? Dane De La Rosa? Dane FRICKIN' De La Rosa?? No, Pujols, Hamilton, Weaver, and Madson aren't his fault, but a change is needed.

The challenge will be getting past enough teams to get a playoff berth. At the moment, the Rangers, A's, Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox appear to be the AL's five best teams.

But there were legitimate reasons so many of us thought the Angels were good enough to win a championship. First, they have to get their players back in uniform. And then they'll find out if the blueprint was as good as it appeared to be in the first place.

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