You may remember from my Week 1 preview before the season started that I compared the start of the baseball season, as well as the new big ticket Angels additions, to being a kid on Christmas morning anticipating a bounty of Christmas treasures.
A mere three weeks later, the 2012 Angels season has been anything but a magical Christmas morning. Instead it’s more like that one Christmas where you got deodorant and a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The season has been a disaster so far for the 7-15 Angels; the San Diego Padres are the only team that has lost more games (16). Even the great starting pitching, just about the only thing the Angels are doing well, isn’t enough to overcome an atrocious bullpen* and embarrassing lineup anchored by Albert Pujols, who looks lost at the plate. With LA’s swoon and Texas’ surge, the AL West race has essentially been boiled down to a 5-month long victory lap for the Rangers, who currently hold a 9 game lead over the last place Angels.
* As such, Jordan Walden was moved from the closer role and will be utilized in the 7th or 8th innings. Scott Downs will close, at least for the time being. I don’t love the move because this likely means Walden will be used in more high-leverage situations. Whereas the closer often comes in with nobody on base and a 2 or 3 run lead to protect, Walden now will see time coming in with guys on base, trying to protect a 1 run lead or a tie.
The front office finally made the move the masses have been calling for: releasing Bobby Abreu and calling up uber-prospect Mike Trout. Although Trout will likely be an improvement over incumbent players, we shouldn’t be fooled into believing Trout will cure all that ails the Angels. Trout won’t fix the bullpen, or Ervin Santana (who did pitch very well in Cleveland), or everyone in the lineup not named Hunter or Trumbo. Frankly, the Angels are playing like a last place team and unless we see marked improvement within the next couple weeks, it’s going to be a long summer in Anaheim.
This week the Angels have a 7-game home stand, with a three game set against another AL doormat, the Twins, to open the week. These teams played earlier in the season, with the Twins taking 2 of the 3 games, mostly thanks to the Angels’ pen. The Twins (6-15) have struggled as expected, but it is encouraging to see Joe Mauer playing well again. After a poor/injury-plagued 2011, Mauer is playing well thanks in large part to a .419 OBP. The real world-beater for the Twins so far, though, has been left fielder Josh Willingham. Willingham is batting .353 with a 219 OPS+ in the early going. This is largely aided by a .353 ISO (career .217) and .396 BABIP. Even if it’s likely not sustainable**, credit to him for hitting well and picking up some of Justin Morneau’s slack (.236/.321/.472).
** There’s a certain Angels first basemen who I would love to have inflated numbers right now.
The Angels then close out the week with a 4-game set against Toronto. The Blue Jays, perennial AL East bridesmaids, could be a playoff contender this year, especially with the addition of the extra wild card. The Jays are off to a 12-10 start and that’s without superstar right fielder Jose Bautista doing much of anything so far. In 99 plate appearances, Joey Bats has only 3 home runs while hitting .190 with a .329 slugging. As a whole, the Jays offense has gotten off to a slow start. They currently have a .710 OPS, only 9th best in the American League, which is even stranger when you consider they have slugging catcher Jeff Mathis on board.
As a result, the Jays have been backed by their young rotation thus far. Jays starters have a 3.42 ERA, led by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, a pair of 27-year old starters. Encouraging for the Jays is that Kyle Drabek, the key piece acquired from Philadelphia in the Roy Halladay trade, has a 2.25 ERA in 4 starts. Less encouraging is that he is walking almost 5 batters per 9 innings and has a 5.24 FIP. But Drabek is still very young and his successes this year are a very early display of why Toronto was willing to part with Halladay.
The Jays have a ton of young talent on their team. The left side of their infield is anchored by SS Yunel Escobar and 22-year old Brett Lawrie (developing into one of my baseball man crushes). They acquired toolsy, young center fielder Colby Rasmus from St. Louis last summer. Other than Romero and Morrow, the other 3 starters are under 25. In March, Baseball America ranked Toronto 5th in their organizational rankings. Toronto is done with being the team that finishes 4th or 5th in the division every year. If Toronto doesn’t make the playoffs this year, they will sooner rather than later.
My goal for last week was 4-2. The Angels did slightly worse, going 1-5. My goal for this week is simply a winning record, 4-3. Their first week long winning record would be a welcome sight.
Probable Pitchers, according to Angels’ official team site
Monday: CJ Wilson (2.42 ERA) vs Nick Blackburn (7.53)
Tuesday: Jerome Williams (5.51) vs Francisco Liriano (11.02!)
Wednesday: Jered Weaver (2.02) vs Liam Hendriks (6.89)
Thursday: Dan Haren (3.34) vs Brandon Morrow (3.03)
Friday: Ervin Santana (6.16) vs Henderson Alvarez (3.62)
Saturday: Wilson vs Kyle Drabek (2.40)
Sunday: Williams vs Drew Hutchison (6.61)
3 Bold Reverse Psychology Predictions of the Week
1) Pujols won’t hit a home run.
2) Kevin Jepsen will walk guys in crucial situations.
3) Santana won’t be able to replicate his performance in Cleveland.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher