Today is the last day of April 2014. Last night the team won in a game that had buttercup written all over it. All game long the Angels put base runners on the bases with no outs and compiled Lobsters, with a run squirting across the plate here and there. Weaver delivered 5 quality innings and lost his edge with one out in the sixth, giving up a 2 run homer and then allowing the next two batters to get on base. As fans, we held our collective breath. The Red Angels began flying in an all too familiar, Buttercup Formation, and the sense that the team was both ahead, but always on the brink of the all too familiar April tradition of blowing leads and missing opportunities was haunting the entire game. As the game proceeded, the action tightened up, but the lead was never fully surrendered; the bullpen secured the win, the offense capitalized enough to score a healthy 6 runs, and Weaver got the win. Joe Smith secured the save, and the ghost of past failures began to make it's way towards the dugout exit, turned it's head once as if to say something and simply left the stadium.
Today is the last day of April 2014. After 26 games, the team's record is 13 and 13, an even split of wins and loses, but for die hard Angels fans, it is the difference between life and death. Last year at this time, the team was buried at 8 full games under .500 by the 26th game on April 30th, 2013 with a dismal record of 9-17. Last year at this time Weaver was on the DL, Blanton was already sitting on 4 loses and an ERA of over 7; Hamilton was flailing away with a batting average of .204 for the month, and collectively, the team was already spiraling into oblivion.
What a difference a year makes. Compared to last season, .500 feels like winning, it feels like being alive, and competing every single day and night.
Last year the Angels were the fools of April, this year, they are just happy to be back in the mix.
Having played and lost one game in March, the Angels have a winning record for April at this moment of 13-12 after starting the year 0-3. With a win tonight, they sweep the Cleveland Indians and secure a winning record for the first time since April 2nd 2013.
Today is the first day, of the rest of the year. That might be true everyday, of every year, but something is happening here in Anaheim for this team. Instead of cringing when the starters take the mound, fans are cheering as Richards and Skaggs are throwing strikes and getting outs. The bottom of the rotation has pitched like the top of the rotation, the team ERA is a full point lower than it was this time a year ago at 3.85 instead of 4.87. The bullpen, which has struggled at times, has been improving of late, and despite 4 blown saves; the pen is a work in progress with an upside when injured players like Dane De La Rosa and minor league prospects with great potential begin to break into the league in the months ahead. The Angels are among the AL leaders in ERA, WHIP, Fewest Hits Allowed, Strikeouts, and Avg. Against. The save ratio of 50% is obviously a major weakness, but on the bright side, Joe Smith just sealed back to back victories with back to back saves, and the classic "Roles" are beginning to shift towards a more functional and productive combination.
Today is the last day of April, and no team has hit more homers in April 2014 than the Angels. Not Colorado in more games played, not anyone. The Angels have belted a league high 37 dingers. Pujols has found his groove at last, with 9 homers already. Trout has crushed 6. Top to bottom, every player who has at least 15 at bats has hit a homer, with only defensive backup John McDonald and recently demoted Boesch not joining the club yet in this regard. The 2014 Los Angeles Angels offense, with three current starters batting under .200 in Freese, Ibanez, and Shuck, and despite injuries to sluggers Hamilton and Calhoun, this same Angels' offense has been among the most productive in all of baseball. Leading the league in Triples with 9, second in the AL in .OPS, and first in Slugging percentage, the Angels have shown more raw power than any other club in the game, and the scary good thing is, there is so much room for improvement with the return of key players and the improvement expected from those who have struggled to find their groove out of the gate. While the Lobsters are many, the team creates a great deal of scoring opportunities, and has been able to slug it's way into scoring 5.46 runs per game thus far.
After the agony of April 2012 and April 2013, a .500 record heading into the last game of April 2014 feels like a winning record. It feels like a viable season, with a cluster of players who the fans can get behind every night. Not the log jam of 2012 with bitter veterans and a floundering Vernon Wells stinking up the dugout. Not the train wreck of 2013, with Weaver on the DL, Blanton rotting on the mound, Hamilton struggling under the weight of a huge contract and high expectations, while Dipoto's "magic beans" pitching additions dropped one by one into a meaningless black hole of suck, hell no. This is a .500 record, that feels like being 5 games over .500 in contrast to all this fan base and team has been through.
This is an April of progress, and promise, in a season that is just getting started, instead of already being over.
It's fun to watch the Angels compete every day again, it's a joy to be a baseball fan this Spring, and while nobody knows what will transpire in the month's ahead; at this juncture, this team has as good a chance as any team, to come out on top every single night.
Team Offense at the 26 game mark.
2013 BA: .262 Slug: .402 OPS: .723 Runs: 111 Homers: 24 RBI: 105 Steals: 10
2014 BA: .256 Slug: .446 OPS: .766 Runs: 142 Homers: 37 RBI: 136 Steals: 18
Team Pitching at the 26 game mark.
2013 ERA: 4.87 WHIP: 1.5 Saves: 3 Strikeouts: 187 Hits: 258 BB: 108
2014 ERA: 3.85 WHIP 1.26 Saves: 4 Strikeouts: 224 Hits: 199 BB: 105