Sifting through the Los Angeles Angels’ rough start

Albert Pujols' struggles at the plate highlight an underachieving Los Angeles Angels team. (Chris Carlson/AP)

(lbert Pujols’s struggles at the plate highlight an underachieving Angels team.)
I was going to post the typical negative knee-jerk reaction when the Kansas City Royals rattled off three straight to take the season’s first series after the Angels beat them on opening day. But I did the prudent thing. I waited; after all, it was early. It was still early when the Halos took only one game from each of the ensuing series, looking like a triple-A team in every loss. I reserved judgment even through their first (and so far, only) series win of the season against Baltimore.

But now, having seen the Halos utterly destroyed by David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, I’m through reserving judgment. As it stands now, the Angels absolutely deserve their spot at the bottom of the American League West.

I wish there were one single aspect of their game we could pinpoint as the source of the Angels’ woes, but the painful truth is they’re struggling in all aspects of the game.

We’ll begin with the most disappointing offense in baseball, which ranks 10th in the American League with 67 runs. Their measly 11 home runs are tied for sixth-worst in the majors and good for dead last in the AL.

The Halos are also struggling in the plate-discipline department. Los Angeles is 13th in the AL with 41 walks. Right fielder Torii Hunter and second baseman Howie Kendrick lead the team with 18 and 16 strikeouts, respectively. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this team stare at a fastball down the middle on a 3-2 count. It’s frustrating.

Even the best hitter of his generation can’t seem to find his swing with the Halos. Albert Pujols, the vaunted slugger, is currently mired in a 0-for-14 dry spell with his bat and hasn’t hit one out of the park all season. Angels television announcers have blamed the marine layer for his limp bat while opponents have gone yard at the Big A all season. Pujols’s batting average on the year is .246 – simply unacceptable for a player making $25 million a year. His homerless streak is the worst to start a season in his career. The only good news is he’s the Angels leader in doubles with seven. There’s plenty of time left in this young season to turn things around, but Pujols looks lost out there right now.

Meanwhile, a pitching staff whose 3.57 ERA ranked best in the AL a year ago is struggling to keep opponents at bay. Aside from Ervin Santana, whose struggles are in stark contrast to his fantastic 2011, the starters have performed admirably. Dan Haren went through a mini-dead arm period at first, but he has since settled down. More than anything, the starters have been done in by their bullpen and a listless offense, especially Haren.

Santana, though, appears to have regressed to his normal “good year, bad year” inconsistency. Mr. No-No’s worst game arguably came on Tuesday, in which he gave up five earned runs – four of which came on solo homers. So far, Santana is an abysmal 0-4. I’ve got to believe the same Santana who bolstered an American League-best rotation a year ago will show himself eventually.

It probably doesn’t help that Santana and company pitch ahead of a shaky-at-best relief staff. The latest bullpen implosion came in a 3-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. Dan Haren lasted as long as he could, leaving the game with a 1-0 lead. The bullpen immediately surrendered the go-ahead runs on a long single. Howie Kendrick tied the game at the bottom of the same inning, but the Halos lost the game in extras.

Now, look, I’m not going to say the Angels are going to play like garbage all season. This is only the beginning of the season, and we can’t really make any concrete statements as things stand now. But at this very moment, the Angels are playing like they don’t even remotely belong in the AL pennant discussion. That’s certainly not what we expected when the season began, and it’s infuriating to see the team struggle the way it has. The talent is there, but it’s simply not performing to its full potential. I certainly hope things even out. But for crying out loud, nobody expected 6-11.

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