Commentary

Angels show they're an average team

At 60-60 after a loss in Boston with the season slipping away, L.A. must accept its fate

Updated: August 18, 2010, 12:51 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

BOSTON -- To be fair, the Los Angeles Angels aren't a terrible team. They aren't even a bad team.

What they are is a mediocre team, one that -- after Tuesday's predictable 6-0 beating at Fenway Park -- has gone to sleep 14 nights this year with a .500 record. The Angels have hovered above it for weeks at a time and bounced below it plenty, but they've mostly found their level. In 2010, that level is the ground floor.

They're an average team, a little worse than the Toronto Blue Jays, a little better than the Florida Marlins. By Aug. 17, you are what you are. You can sense a bit of resignation at this point. It's only natural.

Once Jered Weaver gave up a solo home run to No. 9 hitter Darnell McDonald on Tuesday, he just never looked comfortable. He rushed his delivery. He walked hitters on pitches that weren't close, something he doesn't really do. He hung a changeup that the No. 8 hitter smashed for a grand slam.

And afterward, for the first time this year, Weaver admitted the lack of run support has gotten to him at times. The stress seems to be cumulative. The Angels have three hits in their past 28 at-bats with runners in scoring position, their offense virtually shriveling up at a time when it could create at least the illusion of a pennant race.

As usual, Weaver was pitching against one of the best in the business. On Tuesday, it was league ERA leader Clay Buchholz dominating the Angels' lineup. It's always somebody.

"I'm not going to say that it's not in the back of your mind, but you don't want to go out there and pitch like that," Weaver said. "You want to go out there and be the aggressor and that kind of thing, but obviously with the struggles, you feel like you have to go out there and pitch, try to limit as much as you can."

The Angels have had one hot streak, which happened to coincide with the Kansas City-Seattle-interleague portion of their schedule. They went 19-8 ending July 1. Before that and ever since then, it has been a fairly relentless drumbeat of bad or indifferent baseball.

The question isn't how they got here. The question is, how did they get here so fast?

A year ago after 120 games, the Angels were 73-47 on their way to a 97-win season. After Tuesday, they're 60-60 and headed for their worst season since 2003. What's the difference? Maybe it's about attrition -- John Lackey goes for his third win against the Angels on Wednesday night. Maybe it's about underperformance.

On Aug. 18 last year, the Angels fielded an all-.300-hitting lineup in a game at Cleveland. It was the first time in nearly 75 years a team had pulled that off so late in a season. By the time this Tuesday was over, they had only two guys (Alberto Callaspo and Torii Hunter) hitting above .270.

They certainly can't blame injuries, crushing as the loss of Kendry Morales was and painful as the loss of Joel Pineiro is proving. You think the Red Sox would have any sympathy? They've used the disabled list 22 times this year, including on an MVP, Dustin Pedroia, who returned Tuesday, and a perennial MVP candidate, Kevin Youkilis, who is out for the year.

Boston has a knack for exposing the Angels' frailties this year. In 2009, the Angels went 5-4 against Boston, 8-4 if you count the playoffs. This season, the Red Sox have won all eight games the teams have played, outscoring the Angels 42-16 along their merry way.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia tries a different lineup virtually every day, defends it in his comments before the game and then dissects why it didn't work afterward. On Tuesday, he tried Erick Aybar in the No. 6 hole, and Aybar killed every rally. He hit into a double play in his first at-bat and left the bases loaded in two others. Scioscia says he thinks a home run in Detroit lengthened his swing, but he can't seem to cut it down to size.

Opportunities just seem to find the wrong guys in 2010.

"Some guys are trying to be a little too tentative, some guys are trying to go the other way too much, and some guys are just yanking and cranking in that situation," Scioscia said. "The bottom line is we need to get better at that. Guys need to just take what the pitcher's giving you and try to work with that. It's been a very frustrating process, and we're better than this."

Who cares the Angels are only eight games out? This team hasn't shown any signs of life since before the All-Star break.

Weaver usually has been the guy pulling against the rest of the dead weight on this roster, but he has had better games than Tuesday's. He tried to jam McDonald in the third inning, and McDonald hit a towering home run over the Green Monster. The ball cleared everything and smashed the back windshield of a dark blue Toyota Camry parked on a roof across the street.

Weaver gave grudging kudos to rookie Ryan Kalish, who lunged at a changeup and hit it to center field for the knockout grand slam in the fourth.

"Congratulations to him, and obviously, you don't want to be the first to give up his first career grand slam," Weaver said. "You tip your hat, good for him, and I just can't wait to get back here and pitch against him again."

Clutch play

[+] EnlargeTorii Hunter
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaFor the first time as a right fielder, Torii Hunter robbed someone of a home run. In this case Tuesday, it was Adrian Beltre of the Red Sox.

That would have been the third home run Weaver gave up, except Torii Hunter robbed Adrian Beltre. Hunter leaped about 5 feet above the short wall in right field, nearly stumbling into the bullpen in the process. It was the 36th time Hunter has taken away a home run, according to an unofficial tally kept by the Angels' PR staff, but the first as a right fielder.

It was Hunter's first stolen homer this year. He once was the king of it, snatching five from 2007 to 2009.

Hunter moved to right two weeks ago to give rookie Peter Bourjos a chance to inject the Angels' outfield with fresh legs. Hunter admitted he enjoyed making a highlight play in his new position, one he moved to grudgingly. He was a nine-time Gold Glove winner in center field.

"You do it for the team, but I'm human," Hunter said. "We still have that testosterone as men and pride as a human being, and I felt like I was one of the best center fielders, but then I had to move over. It hurts, but at the same time you've got to do what you've got to do. All I care about is winning."

Scene and heard

Hideki Matsui spent a good chunk of Tuesday afternoon at his locker chatting with a tall Japanese man, who turned out to be a former teammate with the Tokyo Giants. Masumi Kuwata was the ace of the Giants before pitching part of the 2007 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he had a 9.43 ERA in 19 games.

He's in town to do a feature for Japanese TV on Matsui and the Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Quote of the day

"We have been as poor with runners in scoring position as any team we've had here." -- Scioscia.

Looking ahead

The Angels will try to avoid the indignity of losing to Lackey (10-7, 4.54 ERA) for the third time this year. Lackey already has beaten them in Boston and Anaheim going into Wednesday night's start.

Meanwhile, Scott Kazmir (8-10, 6.36) will try to keep the momentum going by putting up a third good start in a row since returning from the disabled list, where he had a fatigued left shoulder.

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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