On July 11th, the Angels placed Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter on the disabled list retroactive to Wednesday July 8th. At the time of this transaction, the Angels were in second place, one game behind the Texas Rangers. This would be Guerrero's second trip to the DL, but at the time of Hunter's injury, he was easily the Angels' MVP up to that point of the season as he was hitting .305 and leading the team with 17 home runs.
Most teams, after losing the #4 and #5 hitters in their batting order for almost a month would typically call it a season. How could a team be able to withstand losing so much production from the middle of their order? Yet, in spite of losing both Hunter and Guerrero on the same day, the Angels went on a hitting spree resulting in the team winning 17 of the next 21 games and taking over first place in the West division, moving 4 games ahead of the Rangers.
How did the Angels withstand, in fact even flourish after losing two of their most important players? Possible explanations:
Playing against weaker teams
During this stretch, the Angels played the Rangers, Yankees, A's, Royals, Twins, and Indians. These teams went a combined 482-491 during the 2009 season, or a .495 winning percentage. Playing teams who were a combined 9 games under .500 may have had a small factor in the Angels success during those 21 games, however they did play 13 of the 21 games against the 3 teams with winning records (Rangers, Yankees, and Twins). No, they weren't beating up on weaker teams.
The Angels Pitching Was Fantastic
At the time when Hunter and Guerrero went onto the disabled list, the Angel pitching staff had a team ERA of 4.72 (380ER in 725IP). During the 21 games while Hunter and Guerrero were gone the staff ERA was 4.88 (104ER in 192IP). The pitching didn't get better, but actually was slightly worse.
The Angel Hitters Went Nuts
Prior to losing Hunter and Guerrero, the Angels were scoring 5.3 runs a game and hitting .281/.353/.435 as a team. After the Angels lost two of their more productive hitters, the rest of the line up went crazy, scoring 7.6 runs per game and hitting .324/.389/.511. The Angels 3, 4, 5, and 6 spots in their batting order:
Bobby Abreu remained in the #3 spot throughout the entire 21 games, while Rivera played all 11 of his games in the clean-up spot. Morales and Napoli moved around in the batting order with Morales typically batting 5th and Napoli splitting his time hitting 4th, 5th or 6th. Here's what Napoli did in various spots of the batting order:
Kendry Morales thrived hitting in front of Napoli:
While no one hit well in front of Matthews.
Batters' stats who preceeded:
I generally focused on the players who replaced Hunter and Guerrero in the #4 and #5 spots in the batting order, but the primary players who took over for Hunter and Guerrero in the lineup were Matthews, Izturis and Kendrick. Matthews received the bulk of playing time by replacing Hunter in centerfield, however he was easily the worst of the regular players:
While Matthews wasn't doing much with his increased playing time, Howie Kendrick took advantage by getting on base almost half of the time and improving his batting average from .228 to .273 over the 21 games.
Was it a fluke that 8 of the nine regulars in the Angels lineup got hot at the same time, or was there another dynamic within their batting order that caused the hitters to improve once Hunter and Guerrero were gone?
I'm thinking it was a combination of both factors.