Quick, somebody throw them a rope. They’re sliding down the mountainside heading backwards on a climb that was supposed to have a late-October summit. They’re scarily slipping down to April’s base camp where the top of the mountain seems so distant it can’t even be seen through those stormy clouds.
This Angels team is shockingly on the same journey the 2011 team took. Only this time they’re doing it with big names like Pujols, Wilson, and Greinke. These guys aren’t Piniero, Wells, or Mathis. Well, one of them is still Wells, but can a guy who hasn’t played 75% of this season’s games really be blamed for this mess? Nope, this time the blame lies on an even more familiar face. You’ve seen the face plenty of times. Winning or losing, it’s always the same face. The one that looks as blank and expressionless as an 8.5” by 11” piece of paper.
It is a different team, with seemingly mirrored results. A promising first half ascent, and then a disastrous struggle to stay within an arm’s reach of the division leading Texas Rangers. Media types and even players themselves like to call it a pennant race. It looks more like a boat race to me. It’s the kind of race that leaves the winner on the other side of the lake while the second place finisher struggles to get their boat topside and safely back to dock while still just floating in the starting position. The Angels are once again that punished boat, teetering on the brink of sinking, but there is no way to ignore the fact that they still look so bright and shiny from the shore.
The team is stacked. There is no denying that they are loaded with talent. They have arguably the best starting pitcher in the game, Jered Weaver. Even if he isn’t the very best, he’s still easily among the top five in baseball and will challenge for, if not win, the AL Cy Young this season. They have the surefire Rookie of the Year winner in Mike Trout, who will compete for the Most Valuable Player of the Year award once this season wraps up. An all time great, first ballot hall of famer bats third and plays a wicked first base for them. The defense is lined with gold glove talents both in the outfield and the infield. So what the heck is wrong with this team?
He positions himself in the same spot near the steps in the dugout every day. His stoic look, once the expression of man in charge now has the air of a man not in control, but just “controlling.” He zips his sleeveless windbreaker up so high and tight you’d think he was trying to cut off the oxygen airway to his throat. Air seems to get to his lungs just fine though. Unfortunately for his team, they’re the ones who are now barely breathing. From this fan/writer’s perspective, this team is playing tighter than Mike Scioscia’s postgame comments themselves.
Errors mixed in with blown saves. Strikeouts in run-producing situations, many of which are of the “looking” variety. This is where this team is today. Why? Well maybe because they are just pressing and trying too dang hard. Maybe the game they have had fun playing since they were little kids just isn’t as fun anymore. It’s possible that the team is constricted by the man so many in the media have acclaimed as one of the best field managers in the entire game of baseball. The media is probably right about that fact, but the pressing issue is whether he is the right manager for this team. Could you blame guys like Alberto Callaspo, Peter Bourjos, Chris Iannetta, Maicer Izturis, or Howie Kendrick for pressing? Not a single one of those guys knows if they’re in the starting lineup until they arrive at the park that same day. That doesn’t seem like a constructive, confidence-building atmosphere for players that without question must contribute for this team to win down the stretch.
Make no mistake, lengthy cushy contract or not, if this team doesn’t turn it around and somehow manage a postseason berth, Mike Scioscia could find himself wearing a new windbreaker. “Regime change” didn’t sink its’ claws into Scioscia this past offseason. The talent on the field Scioscia had to play in the two previous seasons didn’t warrant the finger being pointed his way, but with the roster he has this season, it has to be win…or else. If Scioscia’s style of play isn’t a tailored fit for this club, it will be his clothes that change, not players like Weaver, Trout or Pujols.
At times, a breath of fresh air is all any collection or group of people need. Whether it is a company, an army, or a professional sports team, leadership change can spark those same stalemated group members to reach their full potential. Don’t rule that out with this group of heavenly Angels. If Scioscia can’t take them to the mountaintop, maybe a man with a looser approach can bring out their best. I remember a certain team in Boston performing quite well with a “player’s manager.” Ironically enough, that same two time World Series Championship manager is currently available for dugout services. Timing is indeed everything in life. Maybe now is the time. Just remind him to bring a rope.
Please follow Drew Mumford Jr. on twitter @jrjantreshunt