Who’s to blame for the Angels’ recent struggles?
Every Angels loss leading up to Tuesday’s game featured glaring flaws in the team: a blown save here, a boneheaded baserunning play there … you get the picture.
But on Tuesday, about everything that could have gone wrong for Los Angeles absolutely, and alarmingly, did. Among the lowlights:
Tyler Chatwood’s luck finally ran out as he allowed seven backbreaking runs through three innings.
The bats went almost completely silent, allowing Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez to take a perfect game into the fourth inning and a no-hitter into the fifth. The most exciting play of the night was Howie Kendrick’s single to end the no-no, which was immediately followed by an Alberto Callaspo line-out to first base for a double play.
When the bullpen took over for Chatwood, they gave up a combined eight runs.
I’d delve into it a little more, but the final score of 14-0 sums it up nicely: The Angels stink to high heaven right now. What the heck is going on?
The 2011 season started much the same way for the Angels as 2010 did, with a heartening Opening Day victory followed by three straight losses. But this year, it looked like the Halos were a little more prepared for adversity, quickly righting the ship and rocketing into first place in the American League West.
All of that seems like a distant memory now. The Angels are struggling at nearly every facet of the game and sitting glumly in third place. Not by much, of course, but they’ve dropped five of their last six games and haven’t won a series since taking two out of three from Cleveland at home almost two weeks ago. Tuesday night’s loss certainly didn’t do much to improve the outlook in Anaheim.
The lone bright spots on the team lately have been sucked into a black hole of mediocrity, from which no remotely inspiring baseball can escape. The performances of such studs as Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Kendrick have gone largely unnoticed due to spectacular lapses in play from the rest of the team. A few stars can’t carry the entire team to victory if they’re playing this badly.
Angels fans are desperately clamoring for someone or something on which to place the blame. Some observe the news of Kendrys Morales missing the entire season has deflated the team. Others point a finger at Mike Scioscia’s apparent love affair with offensively challenged catcher Jeff Mathis. Still others claim there is no truly intimidating power hitter in the lineup. And some apparently insane individuals argue that Vernon Wells’ absence at the plate has caused the offense to fall flat.
The truth is we can probably go ahead and mark “all of the above” for this mess. Everyone, from top to bottom, shares some of the blame here. It’s sort of a chain reaction. Without a reliable bullpen, the starting pitchers will try too hard to be perfect and will make more mistakes. As the pitching staff surrenders runs, the hitters will feel more pressure to make a play on offense and wind up forcing the issue, leading to plenty of strikeouts and baserunning errors.
But while everyone shares the blame, some people deserve to shoulder a little more than the rest. Of course, the majority of the blame for the team’s mediocre performance goes to those who have fielded it: the coaches and front office.
Scioscia usually gets a free pass precisely because he has so often fielded consistent contenders, but the goodwill is starting to run out as it becomes more apparent that his bullish approach to the game clearly needs some adjusting.
Mike has always relied heavily on his players playing roles, particularly when it comes to the bullpen. The Angels have lost many a game due to Scioscia’s decision to consistently rely on the reliever-closer tandem of Fernando Rodney and Jordan Walden to pitch the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. It’s a combination that clearly doesn’t benefit the Angels. Rodney has clear control problems, and Walden appears to be a one-trick pony with his wild 100 mph fastball. Consider this little snippet of information: The Angels have only converted nine of 18 save opportunities on the season. Something clearly needs to change.
In the meantime, Scioscia’s inexplicable commitment to Mathis above the superior Hank Conger has been a killer. Mathis, batting .200 with nary a clutch hit to his name, continues to get the starting nod because, as Scioscia claims, his defense makes up for it. But besides calling a good game for his pitchers, he’s not useful for much else. He has yet to catch anybody stealing and is prone to chucking the ball into the outfield. His WAR of -0.2 is second-worse only to Wells’s -0.3.
But Scioscia still does not shoulder the majority of the blame for the Angels’ struggles. That honor goes to Scioscia’s boss, general manager Tony Reagins. This is a man who claimed that the Angels’ biggest off-season acquisition would be Kendrys Morales, a player who a) was already an Angel, and b) wound up missing the entire season anyway. Meanwhile, he failed to actually accomplish anything in the off-season, missing out on star free agents Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. A chorus of groans emanated from the Southern California sports media when he traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto for Wells and his fat contract. Wells’ anemic production, lackluster defense and current stint on the DL speak loudly: Reagins is not very good at his job.
I’m not saying it’s going to get worse. This looks to be about as bad as it can get in Anaheim. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t look like things will get much better. Wells’ return doesn’t inspire much confidence in the lineup, and neither does the potential return of another Reagins bust, Scott Kazmir. If things do continue to go the way they are without any major shakeups or moves, the Angels appear to be a couple of years away from being contenders again.