Welcome respite for Angels
Maybe the three-day All-Star break will put a brake on the Halos' freefall
OAKLAND -- Maybe the three-day All-Star break will put a brake on the Los Angeles Angels' freefall. Maybe that team in late May and June was the real Angels and the team on the field for the past couple of weeks has been a feeble facsimile.
Maybe, but it's looking like Tuesday's All-Star Game might be the second-half highlight for baseball in Anaheim this summer.
The Angels are flat. Not flat as in uncarbonated, but flat like a tire.
After Sunday's drab 5-2 loss to the Oakland A's, the Angels had lost eight of their final 10 games heading into the break. They scored an average of 1.4 runs in those losses. This is a team that defied the odds for weeks by playing its best baseball after losing slugger Kendry Morales for the season. Lately, it has taken to mentioning his absence more and more frequently.
"We proved we could play without him. We've just got to stick to that," Jered Weaver said.
Torii Hunter, the only Angel who will play in the All-Star Game, repeated two of his recent themes following Sunday's game. He wondered whether some of his teammates had gone into the break a week early, then called on the Angels' front office to make a trade to replace Morales. As soon as he said it, he wondered if that's even a realistic goal.
"It's hard, because he's one of the best hitters in the league. There are not a lot of guys out there like him," Hunter said. "Hopefully, we get somebody, but if not we have to do what we have to do."
The Angels could easily have gone into their mini-vacations buried in the standings, but the first-place Texas Rangers went into a late skid of their own, getting swept in four games at home by the last-place (by a lot) Baltimore Orioles. The Angels actually gained a game over the weekend and sit 4.5 games out of first in the AL West. Still, limping into the break took away one route to the playoffs. The Angels are now 8.5 games out in the wild-card standings and would have to pass four teams.
It would be dangerous for Angels fans to expect a late rally. That hasn't been this team's recent m.o. Their charges in recent years have begun in June and carried through the All-Star break. In each of their past four playoff seasons, the Angels were in first place at the break. Their slimmest margin was last year, when they led by a 1½ games.
"Obviously, we're a team that strives off winning. That's the way it's been since I've been here," Weaver said. "We've always been winners and to have to fight back and regain what you've done the past couple of years is tough. But at the same time, we've got a great group of guys and it's only halfway through the season."
The Angels' record at the break (47-44) is the worst it's been since 2001, when they were 21 games behind the rampaging Seattle Mariners.
This offense is a combination of dazed, exhausted and bereft. The Angels batted .189 on this road trip. They managed seven hits in 46 at-bats (.152) with runners in scoring position. Some of the hitters in this lineup, particularly those in the bottom third, look overmatched.
Some guys, like Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli, are struggling veterans. Some are no-names thrust into action by the Angels' surprising lack of depth. Paul McAnulty, one of the fill-ins, has struck out 11 times in 18 at-bats. The Angels are so depleted, McAnulty is their big bat off the bench. He went down flailing against Michael Wuertz with two runners on base in the eighth inning. Reggie Willits, who has rarely gotten a ball to the warning track, was another late pinch hitter.
Napoli had a chance to get the Angels back in Sunday's game with the bases loaded and nobody out, but he chopped a ball to Adam Rosales for a double play and the Angels didn't score in the sixth. Napoli has been the Angels' poster child for futility in the clutch. He was batting .167 with RISP coming into Sunday.
Running on low
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The Angels stood out for years in the American League because of their aggressive baserunning, but they have slowed way down in the first few months of this season. The Angels rank ninth in baseball with 60 stolen bases, but they rank 27th in stolen-base percentage (65 percent). Torii Hunter has been caught in 10 of his 17 attempts.
"We have less team speed than we've had probably in the last seven or eight years, but we have the potential for more batter's box offense and being able to drive the ball," manager Mike Scioscia said.
Scioscia said the team has gone from a "run-and-hit" approach to a "hit-and-run" approach. The Angels expected to have less speed, but they also thought they'd have a little more pop. An injury to Morales and disappointing first halves from some veterans have hurt them in that regard.
The Angels rank 22nd in slugging percentage and 10th in home runs.
Weaver gushed about his appointment to the All-Star team even though he is prohibited by rule from pitching since he worked Sunday (and took his second loss in two starts).
Weaver had to cancel plans to be in Napa, but he gets a $50,000 bonus and becomes the first member of his family to make an All-Star roster. Older brother Jeff had some good years with the Detroit Tigers early in his career but was never an All-Star.
"It's something you think of when you're 9 years old, all the great guys who have come up through the league and been All-Stars," Weaver said. "It really hasn't hit home. It'll be a trip to be surrounded by all those guys you've looked up to for so many years."
Scene and heard
Somebody asked Scioscia if he had any interest in Sunday's World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. At the time, he was speaking to a group of two dozen Japanese reporters.
"The U.S. is out, Italy is out, Japan is out," Scioscia said. "What are you looking at?"
Quote of the day
"These last 10 games have not been good. There's no way to cut it. I'm not so sure if it's an energy issue. I'm not sure guys are tired, but the break will certainly aid guys who are a little fatigued. I don't see that as a major component of why we haven't played well. We have some guys who have just underperformed." -- Scioscia.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.