During the first few weeks of the 2011 season, the Los Angeles Angels looked to have one of the best starting rotations in the majors. Of course, a bit later into the season, it turns out to be yet another “year of the pitcher,” and the Angels’ staff is only one of many elite squads.
The Angels certainly do have a good starting pitching staff, though. The one-two punch of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren is one of the best an Angels fan could ever want. Although he has been plagued by inconsistency this season, Ervin Santana can really turn it on when he wants to. Joel Piñeiro has been great since his return, and rookie Tyler Chatwood is raising eyebrows with his steady improvement. The current Angels rotation now holds a combined 3.03 ERA after Chatwood allowed only one run against a dangerous Atlanta Braves lineup on Sunday.
But while the rotation has, for the most part, stifled opposing offenses, the Angels sit at a disappointing 24-24. Runs have suddenly become a rare commodity for the Angels, as two- or three-run leads have become insurmountable. As such, there is little margin of error for the starting staff.
Compiled with the recent offensive slump is the fact that the bullpen has been unable to hold a close lead of late. The most recent relief implosion came at the hands of the Atlanta Braves on Saturday. The Angels held a 4-0 lead before starter Piñeiro gave up a three-run home run to Joe Mather in the seventh, prompting manager Mike Scioscia to go to his pen. Fernando Rodney got the second out of the inning before Scioscia made another move. Hisanori Takahashi then surrendered a game-tying RBI double to Brian McCann before recording the third out.
Scioscia may be to blame for leaving Piñeiro in the game for too long, but it is ultimately the job of the bullpen to ensure that inherited runners don’t score. Takahashi failed to do his job, and the Angels went on to lose in extras.
This was only the latest in a series of frustratingly common relief pitching collapses in Anaheim. Quinn Roberts of MLB.com provided this alarming statistic in Saturday’s post-game wrap-up: The Angels’ bullpen has lost an American League-leading 11 games.
The biggest victim of the Angels’ ineptitude has been Weaver, who, despite boasting a 2.45 ERA, has lost four straight. He has had zero run support and little security from the bullpen in his quest for a seventh win.
With so little help on both sides of the ball, it seems that the only way the Angels’ rotation can secure a victory is by being nearly perfect. In fact, the last two Angels victories have come alongside a four-hit, complete-game shutout against Atlanta by Santana on Friday and a one-run, seven-inning performance by Chatwood against the Braves on Sunday. The bullpen did perform considerably better in the latter game, holding the Braves to one hit over the last two frames, but they entered the game with a cushy three-run lead.
Fans would love to see starters perform at their absolute best every time they take the mound, but for a team to legitimately expect that kind of production from its starters without any help is unrealistic and unfair. Even greats like Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay have their share of rocky starts every now and then. Until the Angels can finally create and maintain leads consistently, the talented rotation will continue to get shafted, and the team will continue to lose.