The name of the game in Anaheim is unpredictability.
This team has become increasingly difficult to write about with confidence. Many an opinion I’ve held about the Angels has been dashed to bits almost instantaneously. When I’ve whined about the offense’s inability to hit for power, Torii Hunter and Alberto Callaspo go yard in back-to-back at-bats to metaphorically thumb their noses at people like me. And when I’ve pointed out that the bullpen is too unreliable, the relievers started shutting down offenses. The same goes for praise — soon after I adorned Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis with crowns of laurel for carrying the team, their bats cooled off.
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The Angels will obviously not perform in the same fashion from one day to the next, but the fact that they are hovering at .500 is a clear indicator that there has to be at least one theme to this season. Here are a few things that have actually remained true throughout this rocky season:
Mark Trumbo has been a pleasant surprise. For a rookie, he’s having a great season despite enduring slumps here and there. He’s batting at a reasonable .238 average and leads all rookies with eight home runs. And boy, when he hits it out of the park, there’s little doubt about it as soon as it comes off the bat. He won’t hit it out every time, but when he does, it’s a real treat to watch the ball get out of the park in a hurry.
Jordan Walden is about what you would expect from a rookie closer. He’ll have some issues with control every now and then, but on a good day he is nearly impossible to hit. That 100 mph fastball can be a killer when combined with the precision he has shown here and there. Walden is definitely an improvement over the struggling Fernando Rodney, and he should get better as his career wears on.
The Angels’ Achilles heel is facing young pitching, especially those for whom there is no scouting report. Mickey Hatcher needs to help his hitters learn to adjust on the fly. To be honest, though, a lot of these pitchers who have shut out or nearly no-hit the Angels have gone on to have impressive starts against other teams. The Angels may only be suffering from lousy luck when it comes to opposing pitchers. It is, after all, quite a fruitful year for pitchers. However, the number of times the Angels have gone into the fifth or sixth inning without a hit in a game is alarming.
The fact that Jered Weaver has not yet earned his seventh win after six tries is absolutely ridiculous. At this point, it feels like the offense is actually trying to answer Weaver’s stellar play on the mound with increasingly dead bats. Look no further than Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.
Weaver performed about as well as an ace can perform, giving up two hits over nine shutout innings. The offense, though, was determined to keep Weaver without a win in May, amassing all of one hit over 10 shutout innings to a last-minute replacement pitcher. The Angels batters have made it obvious that Weaver won’t win this game of one-upsmanship any time soon. It looks like it’ll take a perfect game to get Weaver back into the win column.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that Tony Reagins is quickly running out of the magic that secured Hunter and Mark Teixeira in 2008. Both Vernon Wells and recent pickup Russell Branyan have failed to make waves at the Big A so far. Wells is currently injured, and Branyan has gone 1-for-8 in his first nine at-bats in an Angels uniform.
In the outfield, Hunter has made it very clear that he still wants to be the man in charge, and it’s causing problems. After being bumped from center field to right in favor of rookie speedster Peter Bourjos, Hunter’s defense has suffered due to his refusal to let Bourjos call him off on a few key plays. After nearly committing a ghastly error in Friday’s game against Minnesota, the two appear to have made a promise to communicate better. There has yet to be any further incident between the two since then. Hunter does need to realize, though, that he doesn’t have the range he used to have.
My hope is that as the season wears on, things will eventually even out and the Angels will find their winning groove. They certainly do have the heart to stick it out, as evidenced by their eighth-inning comeback against the Twins on Friday. But more often than not, they’ve followed inspiring performances like Friday’s with displays of gutlessness like Saturday’s one-hit debacle. Perhaps the best question is not whether or not someone else can figure out the Angels. Perhaps the question should be, “Can the Angels figure themselves out?”