Friday, April 20, 2007

Angels Return to Anaheim After 1-7 Road Trip
By Adam Dodge

After starting the season 5-1, the Angels looked absolutely clueless on the road, winning just once in eight games. It could have been worse. Without the rainout last Sunday in Boston they could have easily won just one of nine.

Other than Ervin Santana’s two miserable starts, that starting pitching was good. It was the lack of offense that did the Angels in, just as it has done the previous two seasons. The Angels have been a low octane offensive club since the start of 2005, but I can’t remember any stretch quite as bad as we saw during this past road trip. Aside from the six runs they put up in the loss to Cleveland to open the trip, the Angel hitters were pathetic, scoring about a run a game the remainder of the trip.

Returning home after a day off on Thursday, and sporting a 6-9 record, good enough for last place in the AL West, the Angels are set to battle Division rival Seattle for three games over the weekend, before playing a pair against both, Detroit and Tampa Bay.

Say what you will about Mike Scioscia. Maybe he’s too patient with struggling hitters. Perhaps he’s too loyal to aging veterans. And sometimes, he’s too stubborn with how he uses the bullpen. All are valid observations if not, reasonable complaints. However, we must also admit that Scioscia is a master at preparing his players mentally when adversity arises. The Angels have bounced back time and time again under his leadership. Their ability to move forward and forget the past has been a huge reason for the success of the team under the Howard’s TV pitch man.

And adversity has certainly hit the Angels. After Vlad Guerrero missed the final two games of the road trip with a bruised wrist, after being plunked by Boston’s Josh Beckett, Howie Kendrick was hit with a pitch in the final game vs. Oakland. But unlike Guerrero, who is expected to be in the line-up this weekend, Kendrick is expected to miss considerable time after breaking the middle finger on his left hand. With their second best hitter on the disabled list for 3-5 weeks, the Angels have yet to make a roster move, but are expected to today, and it appears that it could very well be the top Halo prospect, and one of the most highly thought of prospects in all of baseball, third-baseman, Brandon Wood, who after a slow start in Salt Lake City has been scorching the baseball in the last week.

Wood makes sense, as the Angels are thin in the infield after placing Kendrick on the DL. This would allow Scioscia to put Maicer Izturis at second base.

While it does not appear that Brandon Wood is ready to make a permanent jump to the Major Leagues, a three week audition with the big club could only make things easier for him when he is. Wood also makes sense in that he has the one thing the Angels line-up of punch-and-judy’s does not – King Kong power.

The dangerous scenario of course is that Wood struggles mightily. So what! Robb Quinlan and Erick Aybar are still on the roster. Chone Figgins could be back within two weeks. Just because Wood is brought up, doesn’t mean he has to be penciled in everyday.

And crazier things have happened. 19-year old Miguel Cabrera made an immediate impact for the Marlins during Florida’s run to the World Series in 2003.

The Angels should bring Wood up if nothing more than to give him experience, which will be beneficial to him down the line. And, who knows, the Angels may just catch lightening in a bottle.

Kendry Morales is also an option for the Angels, and could accompany Wood to Anaheim this weekend in a two player roster move. Morales has also been hot in Salt Lake, and was productive for stretches with the Angels in 2006.

There has been speculation that the Angels may call up Terry Evans, a hot hitting outfielder. Evans was pulled from Salt Lake’s game in the fourth inning on Wednesday, and was not in the line-up last night. Evans is not injured. While it’s certainly possible that Evans is the Angels’ man, it makes little sense that he would be pulled from the game just to make sure he’s healthy enough to ride the bench for the Angels, who already have plenty of outfield depth already. Rather, Evans being pulled may suggest a trade in the works. Trades are typically not made in April, however, if I’m Arte Moreno I’m very concerned with the lack of offense, and the overwhelming response of dissatisfaction from the fans on message boards like ours and through local media outlets, especially considering the “Big Splash” promise made this past off-season.

Something has to be done. While many of us quip that Stoneman will choose to trade for a “professional hitter,” the likes of Jeff Conine or Kevin Millar, Moreno ought not let this happen, as the outspoken fans will only become more infuriated and even more outspoken, combine that level of rage with the consumption of lower-priced alcohol at the stadium and violence is certain to occur should the Angels continue to throw goose eggs on the scoreboard. Rumor has it that Mickey Hatcher has begun to sport Kevlar under his home whites.

Seattle has its own injury problems as young fireballer and Ace, Felix Hernandez has gone down for at least two starts with a tight elbow. The Mariners stop in Anaheim this weekend also marks the return to Angel Stadium by Jose Guillen, who is certain to hear deafening boos each time his name announced.

The Angels will send Joe Saunders, Bartolo Colon and Ervin Santana to the mound this weekend. The Mariners counter with Miguel Batista, Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver. Like most all series, the Angels have a serious edge in the pitching department. Joe Saunders has been solid, but struggled last season in his only appearance vs. Seattle.

Saturday night will see the Angels pitch Bartolo Colon for the first time since last summer as the burly right hander has been out with a shoulder injury. Colon, 2005’s AL Cy Young winner, has looked awesome in his three rehab starts and could provide the Angels with a big morale boost, with a healthy and productive return.

Ervin Santana escapes his nemesis, which is any pitching mound outside of Anaheim, apparently. He does have to pitch during the day, but we can expect a much better Santana than the one we saw this past road trip. Jeff Weaver will oppose him on Sunday, marking his return to Anaheim after a terrible half season for the Angels a season ago, after signing a big money one year contract.

The Mariners, after a good start, seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Vlad goes crazy, and Matthews Jr. finds his power stroke. Angels break out of their slump.

Prediction – Angels take series 2-1

Visiting on Monday and Tuesday are the American League Champion, Detroit Tigers. Monday’s match-up is a good one. Jeremy Bonderman opposes the Angels’ Jered Weaver. Probable Tuesday are Justin Verlander for the Tigers, and John Lackey for the Angels, another outstanding match-up of power right handers.

The Angels have done very well against the Tigers over the past few seasons, and if history is an indicator they should at least split the series.

Prediction – Angels split series 1-1

Joe Madden brings his Tampa Bay Devil Rays to Angel Stadium for another mini two game series beginning on Wednesday. The Devil Rays are a team the Angels should sweep, despite the fact that the Rays are leading the AL in scoring. They’ve been horrible on the road for their entire existences and don’t have nearly enough pitching to legitimately compete with the Angels.

Prediction – Angels sweep series 2-0

So I’ve got the Angels going 5-2 on this home stand, which admittedly is optimistic considering their poor performance over the past 10 games. With last year’s 5-18 stretch during April and early May, I have to think that is on the Angels’ minds and a sense of urgency will resonate with the players and coaching staff and the Angels will find a way to grind out some wins as they search for an offensive identity.
Love to hear what you think!


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