By Jason Sinner - Angelswin.com Columnist
It’s that time of year. The 2008 season is flying by and we have reached the midpoint, so it’s about time to hand out some marks. The Halos find themselves with a 48-33 record and a 3.5 game lead over the 2nd place Oakland Athletics. The team sports the best road record in the majors at 26-15 and the second best record overall--putting them on a 96 win pace. They are 15-11 in one run games and have been excellent against southpaws with a 16-4 mark.
A lot has gone right, yet not everything has been clicking on all cylinders. In fact, it’s essentially been a tale of two teams thus far this season.
The Halos came off a solid campaign in 2007 where they scored 822 runs and ended up 4th in the league overall in this category. They started the season right where they left off with very solid numbers in April, scoring a league high 138 runs. There was joy all around as Kotch found his power stroke and the catching tandem of Mathis and Napoli were making quite an offensive impression. There were plenty of others contributing and making up for relatively slow starts by Vlad and GA.
Then came May and June. Thank God for the lowly Mariners as the Halos scored only 199 runs in those two months combined, and were only second to last in the league for offense.
The offensive ineptitude started with injuries to key players (Kendrick, Figgins) and an unlikely source—a struggling Vladimir Guerrero. Kotchman ran out of Wheaties, our catchers starting using bats left by Shea Hillebrand, and injury replacements (Wood, Rodriguez, Brown) played like deer caught in major league floodlights.
Even as the wounded returned, and Vlad caught fire, others struggles prevented the generation of any kind of offensive momentum whatsoever. The game prior to the mid point of the season (Saturday June 28th) was perhaps a perfect microcosm of the offense as the team lost 1-0 while throwing an 8-inning no-hitter against their cross town rivals, the Dodgers.
The good news is that every player on the offensive side of the ball has yet to reach his potential—so things are likely to improve. Although we are not likely to see any drastic personnel moves, we likely don’t need any. If players perform to their ability, there are few easy outs in this lineup. We may see some increased roles from guys on the bench (Willits, Rivera), yet it remains to be seen whether they deserve any more playing time than the struggling starters.
The key, once again, is the presence of Chone Figgins in the lineup—which was painfully evident as the team failed to score in the first two games of the Dodgers series in his absence. The Halos average almost a full run per game more when he is on the field. Perhaps we could all chip in for a clear plastic bubble sporting the Angelswin logo to keep him injury free.
Bench – F
With a collective batting average of .190 (66-348), 3hr, and 19rbi we relied upon this group heavily to fill in for a slew of early season injuries and they unfortunately fell flat on their face or were clearly overmatched compared to their minor league performances. The good news is that most of these guys are no longer with the big club or are starting as our injured players have returned.
Starters – C-
It hasn’t been all bad, as several players have been decent individually (Figgins, Aybar, Kotchman, Vlad, Hunter), and as a team they have been hit fairly solidly with RISP overall (.275avg, .759 OPS).
Overall – D
The offense needs improvement. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. The team is back to being in good health and they will likely pick things up to find a happy medium somewhere between what they did in April versus that of May and June.
As with the past, our pitching was going to be good this year, and so far, they are. Kicking off a season with a team’s top two starters on the DL is a tough way to go about winning any division for any team. When those two starters both happen to be in the top 10 for the Cy Young award in 2007, and the division in question is the American League West, then a team can certainly expect to have its hands full.
Fortunately, our pitching did exactly the opposite of our offense in the first half. The replacements for our injured starters (Escobar and Lackey) stepped up for their injured mates. Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana were co-team MVP’s for the month of April going a combined 10-0 with a sub 2.50 ERA.
As for the rest of the staff, Jon Garland started off slowly but picked things up. The entire staff got a major boost with the return of Big John Lackey and the emergence of Jose Arredondo. The team ERA has dropped almost a half-run per month (4.25 in April, 3.81 in May, and 3.44 so far in June). The starters appear to be feeding off one another as they attempt to outdo each other’s previous performance from one night to the next. Even with Saunders and Santana cooling off a bit, the rest of the rotation has picked up the slack in keeping the team in the hunt.
The pen is rounding into form nicely as well. Scott Shields is back to getting very little publicity—which means he has been lights out in the 8th. Frankie is on pace to break the all time major league record for saves in a single season and has 32 so far. We may also see Kelvim Escobar back sooner than later with his likely destination being the front end of the bullpen—a spot in which he excelled and played a key role for the club’s post season run in 2005.
Bullpen – A-
The return of Escobar likely pushes Darren O’day back to Triple-A Salt Lake City and drops Justin Speier down to the mop up role. If Speier can even remotely return to form, this is by far the best pen in the majors and even in spite of his struggles may be the best pen anyway.
Starters – A-
Although big John may not sport a sub 2.00 era the whole season, he is the anchor of a group that can dominate on any given day. As good as these guys have been, there is no reason to believe that they can’t continue at this level as they are all feeding off of each other’s performances and all have the makeup and stuff to continue to dominate.
Overall – A-
The pitching could have earned straight A’s across the board in the 1st half if not for a couple rotten apples. Although the team ERA currently sits at 3.84 several players who are no longer on the big club are responsible for a good chunk of the teams earned runs allowed. Minus those contributions, the team’s ERA of the players currently on the club is an incredible 3.33! There’s no doubt that the strength of the club, and the reason for our success has once again been the pitching.