Monday, July 13, 2009



By Zach Stoloff -- Angelswin.com columnist

This article started out as something else entirely. Originally I intended to write a normal, boring first-half wrapup, and to begin that piece I was going to briefly mention of all the injuries and unforeseen circumstances which have befallen the Angels this year.

After spending just a few moments listing all of these trials, it immediately became apparent that any explication of them would become an entity in and of itself: it’s hard to imagine things having gone much worse in Anaheim.

Nonetheless, it is July 13, the All Star break is upon us, and the Angels are in first place in the AL West with a record of 49-37, a game and a half better than the Texas Rangers. When one considers all the roadblocks that have already cropped up this season, this feat is borderline miraculous.

To appreciate just how improbable it is that the Halos currently find themselves atop the West, let’s look at everything that has gone wrong thus far, in no particular order:

-John Lackey: on March 15 the Angels get the news that their number one starter will miss at least the first month of the season. When Lackey finally does return on May 16, he lasts all of two pitches before being tossed from the game. Since, the impending free agent is inconsistent, giving up five or more runs in four of eleven starts for an ERA of 4.93

-Ervin Santana: early on in spring training the young All Star is diagnosed with a sprained elbow ligament. He returns a couple days before Lackey but makes only six starts before going back on the DL. Faring no better after coming off, Santana is largely ineffective even when healthy enough to compete, sporting a 7.81 ERA.

-Kelvim Escobar
: diagnosed with a torn labrum in his shoulder during spring training '08, surgery causes him to miss the entire campaign. Despite the seriousness of the injury, his rehab progresses well and Escobar looks to join the team’s rotation in early 2009 before suffering a setback in April. After working his way back to the team and making a start on June 6, Escobar reports soreness in the shoulder and subdequently feels the same pain trying to play catch on flat ground weeks later. He remains on the DL.

-Nick Adenhart: a replacement for the aforementioned disabled pitchers, Adenhart dies April 9 in a tragic accident hours after throwing six shutout innings against the Oakland A’s in just the third game of the season. At the time of his death Adenhart is the youngest pitcher on an MLB roster.

-Vladimir Guerrero (part I): the lineup’s focal point goes down with a pectoral injury on April 16, eight games into the year. He subsequently misses 35 games but, like Santana, is a shell of his former self even when in the lineup. Despite showing signs of life before going down again (more on that later), Guerrero carries a .415 slugging percentage through the season’s first half.

-Jose Arredondo/Justin Speier/Jason Bulger/Kevin Jepsen: little needs to be said about this foursome. While all but Arredondo, who now finds himself in Salt Lake, show occasional effectiveness, the ERAs of the group are 4.38, 4.64, 5.55, and 9.00, respectively. Though Jepsen and Bulger in particular pitch better later on, Bulger’s giving up two home runs against the Yankees Saturday does nothing to bolster confidence in him, nor does Speier’s inability to get a single out Sunday. Simply put, the Angels never find a reliable bridge to Brian Fuentes.

-Scot Shields: probably never healthy at any point this season, Shields adds to the aforementioned bullpen woes by limping to a 6.62 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched before going down for good in ’09 due to the surgery needed to fix his recurring patellar tendinitis.

-Darren Oliver: the only Angels reliever all year, aside from Fuentes, to provide any actual relief, Oliver succumbs to a strained triceps after making a four-inning emergency start April 18. Luckily for the team, his stay on the DL is only just longer than the minimum 15 days.

-Howie Kendrick: the young second baseman, expected to contend for a batting title and be a key part of the Angels’ offense, hits so poorly that he is sent down to Salt Lake on June 13 after posting a .231 BAA to that point. In addition to his batter’s box flailings, Kendrick has numerous inexplicable defensive and baserunning lapses, compounding frustration with him.

-Bobby Abreu: while Abreu is generally one of the Angels’ best and most consistent performers in the first half, the slugger who came into the year with 11 consecutive seasons of at least 15 home runs (not to mention the epic 2005 Home Run Derby) takes 148 at bats -- 41 games -- to hit his first of 2009.

-Torii Hunter/Vladimir Guerrero (part II)/Juan Rivera: Guerrero and Hunter, the Angels’ 3 and 4 hitters, are added to the DL July 10, the Friday the team enters a 3 game set against the red hot New York Yankees. Rumors circulate that the pair could each miss a month. During the first game of this series, Rivera injures his quad and hamstring running the bases and is pulled a couple innings later, forcing the team to play the remainder of the weekend without the entire middle of their lineup.

--

Take all this in.



While such turmoil would destroy any other team, the Angels have thrived and find themselves in position to capture their third consecutive Division Championship. Every time one player goes down, another steps up his game to ensure the team doesn’t miss a beat.

This may not be the Angels’ finest season but, thus far, it is undoubtedly their most impressive in recent years. Every challenge has been met with unparalleled grit and heart, and Mike Scioscia’s one day at a time approach:

True Angels Baseball.

--Zach Stoloff
zachariahmrs@gmail.com
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