Following what can only be described as a head-scratcher of an off-season, there was somewhat of an aura of mystery surrounding the 2011 Los Angeles Angels as the season began. After all, this team was very different from its previous incarnation.
Kendry Morales, still recovering from a broken leg suffered while celebrating a walk-off grand slam in 2010, was replaced at first base by Mark Trumbo. Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli were dealt to Toronto for the high-priced and aging Vernon Wells. Jeff Mathis, the Angels’ primary catcher in 2010, would share duties with Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson. And Peter Bourjos, who got the starting nod a few times at the end of 2010, took over at center field for Torii Hunter, who moved to right. In addition, the amoebic Angels have had to adjust their lineup often amid injuries and designations for assignment.
As the Angels prepare to play their 38th game of 2011, it is evident that much has indeed changed. Howie Kendrick, long touted by the Angels as a potential future batting champion, leads the team in hits and is fifth in the majors in that category. At this point in the season, he has hit six home runs, four away from matching the 10 total home runs he hit last season.
As Kendrick progresses, however, All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter has surprised many Angels fans with his remarkably slow start. He is currently tied with Albert Pujols with 11 GIDP, a figure which leads the majors.
Wells, whose acquisition was derided by pundits as one of the worst off-season moves in recent memory, only started warmed up a few days before being sent to the DL with a groin injury.
But among all the change and uncertainty, many aspects of the Angels remain unchanged.
Speed and aggressive baserunning continue to be the team’s offensive bread and butter, and the infusion of young speedsters like Bourjos is a perfect complement to that brand of play. That aggressive style carries with it a brash attitude and higher risk, however, as evidenced by Alberto Callaspo’s ill-advised play at third base on Monday.
On defense, the Angels continue to pride themselves on stellar pitching. For the most part, the Angels’ staff has been stellar, with most of their losses coming from a lack of run support. With Joel Pineiro returning and rookie Tyler Chatwood shutting down offenses.
Most importantly of all, with Mike Scioscia at the helm, the Angels continue to win. Scioscia, in his 11th season with the club, won his 1,000th career game on Sunday, becoming the 23rd manager to do so with a single club. He also has the Angels two games ahead of Oakland and Texas for first place in the American League West. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the club these days, it’s reassuring to know that, no matter the cost, Scioscia and the staff relentlessly continue their commitment to winning.