Commentary

Offense thrives in Morales' absence

Updated: May 31, 2010, 8:40 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

After Mike Scioscia had had about 20 hours to absorb the loss of slugging first baseman Kendry Morales, he was asked if the injury put more pressure on his pitching staff.

"A pitching staff can't manufacture runs, so there's no more or less pressure on them," Scioscia said.

This Los Angeles Angels staff doesn't look like it will shut down good lineups day after day, so instead the burden figures to be spread out over the rest of the batting order. Scioscia made a point of singling out "four or five" struggling hitters and, through two games, a few of those guys have made some strides.

Since bottoming out at .249 late in Sunday's game, Howie Kendrick has gone 4-for-6 with two home runs and five RBIs. Juan Rivera snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a home run in Monday's 7-1 win at Kansas City and Erick Aybar has been on base six times in the past two games.

But it doesn't have to be the struggling hitters who pick up for Morales' production. There's nothing wrong with staying hot. Mike Napoli is swinging a cannon for a bat these days. He hit his eighth home run in May on Monday, tying the Angels' record for long balls by a catcher in one calendar month.

Napoli has the kind of prodigious power that figures to someday obliterate Lance Parrish's season mark for an Angels catcher of 22 home runs. Napoli blasted 20 in each of the past two seasons while splitting time behind the plate with Jeff Mathis. Presuming Napoli doesn't go from sizzling to frigid overnight, Scioscia's going to have to find a way to keep his bat in the lineup every day even after Mathis returns, probably within the next week or so.

Plugging a hole the size of Morales' production isn't going to be an easy task, though. Simply finding a capable fielder to play Morales' position already has proven difficult, though both Napoli and Michael Ryan did capable enough jobs without getting tested much. Napoli made his major league debut at first on Sunday and Ryan, an outfielder by trade, gave it a shot Monday, his first major league start at first base.

It's not as if there is no good news on the pitching front during this three-game winning streak. It's just that it comes in sporadic bursts.

Ervin Santana (5-3) is challenging Jered Weaver's status as the ace of the Angels' staff. He struck out six batters and allowed just seven baserunners over seven innings Monday to lower his ERA to 3.43, second in the rotation to Weaver's 3.01. Santana has been nearly as hot as Napoli, who was back behind the plate Monday. Santana has won each of his past five starts, and he just might be the Angels' lone hometown All-Star on July 13. It's far from his fault, but Weaver (4-2) hasn't picked up a win since May 7.

Looking ahead

It's a long road trip, but it's also a chance for the Angels to make up ground in their division. The first two stops, Kansas City and Seattle, are against two of the bottom-feeders in the American League, and the third stop, Oakland, has not been a difficult place for the Angels to play in recent seasons.

The Angels try to keep the road trip going merrily along Tuesday when they send their No. 4 starter, Joel Pineiro, to the mound. Pineiro (3-5, 4.95 ERA) normally is a control master, but he had difficulty controlling his sinker Wednesday at Angel Stadium. He walked three batters in one inning.

The Angels face Brian Bannister (4-3, 4.70), who is 0-1 with a 6.08 ERA in two starts against them.

Mark Saxon reported from Los Angeles. He 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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