Angels Ascending.

Featured in July 8th Sportsblurb.com Newsletter:

At the Break…

by Paul Sporer

At 41-45, to say the Los Angeles Angels have been a disappointment is as obvious as it is an understatement. Not to be outdone by the Minnesota Twins, the Angels have decided to spot the entire American League West the first half. Unlike the Twins, they aren’t stuck battling two of baseball’s best and as such, they are just four games back of the division leading Oakland A’s. The team is finally starting to show that they are in fact interested in winning this season starting with the selection of the right Weaver (Jered) for their rotation. His brother, Jeff, was moved this week to the St. Louis Cardinals for a Mark McGwire commemorative button. But even still, they are still a few moves from putting their best foot forward in this division race.

First off, they need to get Howie Kendrick back on this team immediately. He is once again crushing the competition in Triple-A ball and does the team no good down there. He is currently sporting a .369/.409/.627 batting line with 13 home runs, five triples and 25 doubles. He is also 11-for-14 in stolen bases. They currently have Adam Kennedy filling the second baseman’s role, and while he is solid in his right, there is no reason to let him block Kendrick. Kennedy is hitting .260/.317/.355 which does nothing to help a team that painfully struggles to score enough runs for their rotation.

Something needs to be done about Garret Anderson, too. If they are truly serious about competing at a high level, then his at-bats need to be cut. He has been utter garbage since his hot April. He has just three home runs in 194 at-bats after hitting four in 94 April at-bats. He has not come anywhere near his .309/.356/.511 April line, either. If they aren’t going to take him out of the lineup more (and they probably won’t) they at least need to drop him in the lineup in favor of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

One move that has worked out beautifully for the team was the promotion of Napoli. His 11 home runs, in just 135 at-bats, give him the second-most on the team (Vladimir Guerrero, 18). Speaking of Guerrero, he is having a “down” year by his standards meaning improvement is expected on his .304/.346/.514 line. Add Kendrick, shuffle Anderson, getting continued production out of Orlando Cabrera, Napoli, Robb Quinlan, Rivera, and Tim Salmon with some improved second half numbers from Guerrero and this team can make a move, because the pitching is there.

With Weaver, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana, the Angels throw five guys that can all pitch a shutout on any given night. Meanwhile, rubber-armed Scot Shields and his supporting cast of Hector Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, and Kevin Gregg all leading to ace closer Francisco Rodriguez anchor the bullpen. The Angels, not the Texas Rangers, should be the biggest worry of the Oakland A’s for the second half.

That piece was written during their second of three straight wins against the Athletics. Coupled with their post-All Star sweep of the Devil Rays, they have won six straight and nine of 10 to pull within 1.5 games of Oakland. Oakland handled their own taking three of four from the Boston Red Sox including two routs over the weekend to prevent the Angels from gaining too much ground.

The Angels got one of their keys to success down by recalling Kendrick, unfortunately it only came about because Escobar hit the disabled list. In his first major league game since a stint in early May, Kendrick when 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. The catalyst, as expected, has been Guerrero. In just 11 July games, he topped his June home run total of three. He is hitting .422 in July with four home runs and 12 runs batted in. Though I called him out last week, Anderson has answered the bell in nine July games, hitting .333 and getting on-base at a .450 clip.

It remains to be seen how long they’ll stay hot, but in terms of pure talent, this team was too good to be playing so poorly. The rest of the rotation should be able to pick up the slack while Escobar is out, but Lackey may decide to pick it all up on his own. He has thrown 24.7 straight scoreless innings and won his last four decisions with a 0.82 ERA, 0.58 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 32.7 innings. His 2.69 trails just Francisco Liriano (2.12) in the American League and Brandon Webb (2.58) in the National League for the Earned Run Average Crown.

Next up for the Angels are the struggling Indians, who were dumped for three of four against the Minnesota Twins coming out of the All-Star Break. The series presents a perfect opportunity for the team to remain hot before entering back-to-back to road series’ against Kansas City and Tampa Bay before getting Boston and Oakland to close out July.

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