Commentary

Hunter, Kendrick lead by example

With the rest of the team struggling at the plate, two Angels keep pounding away

Updated: July 8, 2010, 10:50 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

CHICAGO -- Wednesday night's second inning must have left Torii Hunter with a familiar, stranded feeling.

He lashed a leadoff single to left, a ball hit so hard it nearly carried to Juan Pierre, who was standing a few strides from the warning track. Hunter moved up a couple of bases, but found himself stuck on the bases once again. Mike Napoli hit into a double play and Juan Rivera struck out. Hunter yanked off his batting helmet and handed it to third-base coach Dino Ebel.

Another Los Angeles Angels inning, full of a little sound, no fury, signifying nothing.

What's baffling is that Hunter has stayed on a roll even as he stands out like a dry July night in Chicago. It's a measure of his growth as a hitter that he hasn't been chasing the bad pitches that used to get him so often when he was younger. He had nine hits in his last 13 at-bats culminating in a sixth-inning single. Why would anybody throw him anything to hit right now when he's surrounded by a lineup filled with rotting holes?

"They haven't been pitching around me, but they're trying to get me to chase and, if I don't get a hit, then it doesn't matter. Put him on base," Hunter said before accounting for two of the Angels' five hits in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Hunter and Howie Kendrick are hitting .600 in this series. The rest of the Angels are batting .111.

Pitchers are starting to get hip to the lack of depth in this Angels offense. Hideki Matsui looks older by the day, his season reduced to one decent month and a bunch of late hacks and off-kilter lunges. Bobby Abreu isn't the same guy. Third base is a black hole in the order. The bottom third of the Angels' lineup most nights looks like a page from the minor league encyclopedia.

The Angels have used 68 lineups in 87 games. Most National League teams don't have that many looks even with a different pitcher batting every night. Manager Mike Scioscia is reduced to padding his lineup these days with a hodge-podge of lifetime minor leaguers approaching or past their 30th birthday. Wednesday's choice was first baseman Paul McAnulty, who has mostly contributed strikeouts since he arrived from Triple-A Salt Lake. Sounds a lot like the last stocky minor league journeyman, Michael Ryan, the Angels auditioned for offensive help.

Few Angels fans had heard of McAnulty, Kevin Frandsen or Cory Aldridge before this season, but those guys are this team's present and, possibly, its future this season. Not one of them was on the team's 40-man roster when the season began. The worrisome thing is that the Angels aren't only thin at the major league level. There aren't answers at Triple-A or Double-A either. There may not be viable answers on the trade market.

Don't blame the call-ups. Abreu has built a brilliant career largely because of his unbelievable store of patience, but this year it sometimes looks like he's a cardboard cutout. He has taken more called third strikes than any hitter in the majors. Matsui batted .318 with 19 of his 46 RBIs in June. Outside of that month, he's hitting .226. He's always been able to hang in against lefties as well as anybody, but this year he's hitting a feeble .178 against them.

If that doesn't work for you, blame Angels management for failing to address this team's depth issues all off-season. They knew they were one outfield injury away from trotting out slap hitter Reggie Willits every day. They knew they were one Maicer Izturis injury away from serious infield worries, and they couldn't have missed Izturis' lengthy injury history. It's printed in their media guide.

Hunter all but made a plea before the game for general manager Tony Reagins to add a hitter by the July 31 trade deadline, but Reagins must be asking himself whether this team is one bat away from getting back in contention. It's looking more and more like the smart move might be to save the dollars and prospects it would take to land that hitter. This team's issues might require an offseason to fix, not a swift, decisive trade.

It must be a strange feeling for Angels pitchers to jog out to the mound these days. They're surrounded by teammates who make their lives difficult. Just like Jered Weaver had done the night before, Joe Saunders must have known he had virtually no room for error Wednesday night. He had to sit around for two hours and 20 minutes of a rain delay. It seemed like even longer before he got his first run of support. Both guys pitched well until the muggy weather and the relentless lack of run support seemed to break their spirit.

"Some of our guys are probably squeezing the bat a little bit hard. There's no lack of effort, guys are playing hard, we're just not getting that one hit to fall, especially early in the game," Scioscia said.

BY THE NUMBERS

Since the Angels called up McAnulty on Sunday, he has been the walking definition of an all-or-nothing hitter. With the emphasis on nothing. McAnulty, an ex-San Diego Padre, has struck out in nine of his first 11 at-bats with one walk. His lone hit was a home run.

"He's definitely overswinging," Scioscia said. "This guy can swing the bat. Right now, he's just way too anxious, pulling off balls, trying to hit the ball out of sight every time. He's just got to get into a little bit of a rhythm."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I think Joe did try to get a little too fine, realizing we aren't scoring runs. And it starts going in a negative direction." -- Scioscia on Saunders.

LOOKING AHEAD

Ervin Santana (8-6, 3.95 ERA) will have to be careful Thursday afternoon, which is kind of the mantra for Angels pitchers lately. Only five AL pitchers have given up more home runs than the 15 Santana has surrendered and the White Sox have a hot lineup in a very hitter-friendly ballpark.

The Angels face John Danks (7-7. 3.58), who has been in a bit of a slump. Danks has lost his last two starts after subpar outings.

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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