- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was Aug. 18, 2009, in the sixth inning of a game at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Vladimir Guerrero was batting when Mickey Hatcher glanced up at the scoreboard.
It showed all nine hitters in the Los Angeles Angels lineup batting .300 or better, something that hadn't happened that late in a season in the major leagues in nearly 80 years.
Hatcher yelled out to one of the clubhouse kids to grab a camera and take a picture of the scoreboard. The next day, the Angels' hitting instructor walked around the clubhouse and asked each of the players to sign the photo.
That keepsake must seem like a yellowing artifact nowadays, though it is less than a year old.
Not only don't the Angels have any hitters batting as well as .300 this year, but most of them are far adrift from their career norms. That dramatic drop-off in production, from No. 1 through 9 in the order -- more than any other explanation -- is why this team has fallen so short of expectations. It's why Sunday's 4-1 win over Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers only pulled the Angels to within eight games of the division lead.
When the Angels assembled this team in Tempe, Ariz., nearly six months ago, the last thing they figured to be talking about was a lineup full of struggling hitters. A similar group, after all, had set a franchise record for batting average, runs scored and RBIs last year. When an entire group of hitters suddenly nosedives, it can torpedo a team's best-laid plans.
"There's no doubt our evaluations were off," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Do you expect Juan Rivera to be sitting on 30-something RBIs in August? Do you expect some of the other things we've seen from some of the other guys? You're talking about routine years. We're not even talking about exceptional seasons."
Start at the top and work your way down: Erick Aybar entered Sunday seven points off his career batting average of .285; Maicer Izturis was 54 points off his; Bobby Abreu was 45 points off; Torii Hunter was seven points south of his.
Add it all together and you have an offensive that has virtually curled up and gone to sleep for stretches of this season. The Angels entered Sunday with a team OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .719. Before they beat the Minnesota Twins 11-6 on Aug. 1, 2009, to pull 22 games over .500, their OPS was .797.
"It's something Mickey's looked at very closely," Scioscia said. "It's something we've all turned inside and out."
There could come a day -- and it may not be far off -- when the Angels give up on some of the struggling veterans. The fact that Rivera is still on this team probably means other teams weren't interested in him before Saturday's trade deadline. If Matsui's numbers don't pick up, he could be traded or released in the coming weeks.
The Angels still have time to dump dead weight. They're not allowed to talk about it, but the Angels can begin requesting trade waivers on Monday. A player remains on waivers for 48 hours. If he clears, the Angels would be able to work out a deal for him any time this month. Because players like Matsui ($2 million) and Rivera ($1.42 million) have hefty chunks of salary left, they'd likely go unclaimed. Teams that make waiver claims have to pay the player's remaining salary.
Before Sunday's game, Scioscia hinted that the team has been contemplating a youth movement.
Outfielder Peter Bourjos, the fastest player in the Angels' organization, has been scorching the ball this month. He's now hitting .312 with a .362 on-base percentage at Triple-A Salt Lake. He has hit 12 home runs and stolen 27 bases. First baseman Mark Trumbo has cut down on his once-enormous strikeout totals and has mashed 25 home runs and driven in 87 runs.
Eventually, the Angels have to find out if prospects can turn into contributors. They might have waited too long to find out about Brandon Wood. Is this the time? Depends on what you think about the Angels' chances of pulling back into contention.
"If a player's going to come up here, I can tell you it's to make us a better team now, not to make us a better team next year," Scioscia said. "That has to be the consideration."
Jered Weaver (10-7) became the first Angels pitcher to begin his career with five seasons of 10 wins or more. Though Weaver was an All-Star, he probably hasn't gotten the notoriety he deserves for this season. Blown saves, poor defense and low run support have cost him wins.
"You can see his career going up another notch," Scioscia said.
On his 115th pitch, Weaver got Michael Young to hit a lazy fly ball to right field, ending an eight-pitch battle and stranding two Texas runners in scoring position.
For one of the rare times this year, the Angels' bullpen and outfield defense didn't let Weaver down. His solid seven innings earned him his first win since July 16 and his second in a month. He added seven strikeouts to his major league leading total of 162. Not that Weaver was responsible for the dry spell. He has had just two starts that weren't quality starts since June 8.
"It's been a long season so far, but I just keep going out there and battling," Weaver said.
Quote of the day
"It's stupid. You don't see that too often." --Jered Weaver on Lee picking up his seventh complete game.
The Angels are off Monday before starting one of their easiest stretches of schedule this season. They travel to Baltimore and Detroit, where the Tigers are decimated by injuries, before hosting Kansas City and Toronto.
In other words, this might be the Angels' last chance to make it a race.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com
The Angels, looking for an offensive boost, are leaning toward youth.