Commentary

Schedule has a soft spot for Angels

After a greuling start, L.A. can tend to its wounds against a weaker division

Updated: May 13, 2010, 5:41 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Somebody offered to read Torii Hunter a list of some of the Los Angeles Angels' batting stats in May -- a rather painful litany -- but he stopped the question to offer a mea culpa.

Ervin Santana
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesThe Angels' pitching has been a sore spot: They have the second-worst ERA (5.26) in the league this month.

"You ain't got to give me any numbers. I already said it: I apologize to the fans and everyone else for how we played in those seven games we lost on the road," Hunter said. "It was terrible. Offensively, defensively, pitching-wise, everything. It was bad for those seven games. I just want to apologize to everyone for that performance."

The Angels did play some pretty terrible baseball in that seven-game losing streak from April 30 to May 6, and the results haven't gotten a whole lot better since. At 15-21, this team is off to its worst 36-game start since 1990.

The Angels are 3-9 so far in May, a month in which they have batted .223 with a .280 on-base percentage and a .331 slugging percentage, and have averaged 3.5 runs per game. Their hitting, believe it or not, has been the bright spot. The Angels have the second-worst ERA (5.26) in the league this month.

There is, however, hope on the horizon and an easy explanation for the grinding start. Much as manager Mike Scioscia might want to ignore it, nothing can ease a team's worries like a softening schedule. Thus far, the Angels have been tested by one of the league's most grueling schedules. In an ideal world, they would have emerged in position to run away with the division. As it is, they're hardly buried, just five games back although they're six games under .500.

The Angels have played 30 of their 36 games against teams with a .500 or better record. No other team in the American League West has played as many as 20 against good teams. The Seattle Mariners are second with 19.

In the majors, only the Baltimore Orioles have played a tougher schedule than the Angels'. You would expect Baltimore, which plays in the game's toughest division, to have a hard time surviving. But you wouldn't expect that list to include the Angels, who play in a division that usually defines mediocrity. Angels opponents have had a .564 winning percentage this year.

It's been a strange schedule thus far for the Angels, who seem to crisscross the country every other week, and have played largely AL East and Central powerhouses. It has seemed at times as if they have taken a tour of Cy Young contenders and strong lineups.

If they have a run in them, this would be an opportune time to start it. The Angels finally get back in their division, with their next two series coming against the top two teams in the AL West, the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's. Not long after that, the Angels walk into their own personal romper room, interleague play. The past three seasons, the Angels have embarrassed their National League opponents, going 38-16.

The pattern in recent seasons has been to struggle or tread water over the first six weeks, pound on the NL and never look back on the way to the playoffs.

Not that the Angels are looking that far ahead. Their first task is tough enough, to beat the Oakland A's Dallas Braden. The last time he pitched, nobody got on base. He threw the 19th perfect game in history.

"If anything, there will probably be a fight at the bat rack to get to my fastball," Braden said. "They're going to be ready to play, but I don't think anybody's any more amped up or geared up because of what I just did."

Baseball becomes an impossible game to play when the focus is too wide, so the Angels have narrowed it to one simple goal: to win the series. That's why Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays was particularly painful. A victory would have given the Angels two series victories in a row. It would have been just the second time this year they'd done that. When they beat the Cleveland Indians 4-3 on April 28, they completed their second straight series victory and they finally seemed to be gaining a bit of momentum. Then they embarked on what turned into the road trip from hell, losing their first seven games to go 2-8.

Scioscia The progress of our team is going to be measured over the course of a season in small increments. We have to start getting momentum going and moving ahead.

-- Mike Scioscia

"The progress of our team is going to be measured over the course of a season in small increments," Scioscia said. "We have to start getting momentum going and moving ahead. You're not going to win every game, but the idea is to bring your level of play on the field and win as often as you can."

The Angels had better hope that the familiar pattern works, because they don't have many options when it comes to radically altering their roster. They already have embarked on some minor changes, swapping struggling relievers for Triple-A guys, and sitting Brandon Wood more and more frequently.

But if anyone is expecting a cavalry charge to rescue this team, it will be a long, lonely wait. A year ago at this time, the Angels were struggling because of injuries -- primarily to pitchers John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar. That's not really a viable excuse in 2010, although the loss of catcher Jeff Mathis has clearly been an issue in the Angels' pitching problems.

The Angels already have tapped Triple-A Salt Lake for about all they can expect. Michael Ryan, Kevin Frandsen, Trevor Bell, Ryan Budde and Bobby Cassevah all have made the jump over the past 10 days. The Angels' high-end talent at Salt Lake, catcher Hank Conger (.258) and pitcher Trevor Reckling (4.93 ERA), probably are a little young to be rushed onto the roster of a major league team in need.

That leaves the Angels with two hopes for salvation: their own improvement and the upcoming schedule. They'll take it either way.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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