Thursday, April 25, 2013

By Joe Haakenson, Contributor - 

APRIL 25, 2002

ANAHEIM -- What's wrong with the Angels? Would you believe nothing?

Sure, the Angels have played poorly during many of their 21 games, of which they've won only seven. And they have a long way to go to make up for their poor start, which matches the 1976 team as the worst in franchise history.

But what made many in and around the organization optimistic about this year's team is still there. What hasn't been there are the consistency and continuity required to make a team successful over the long haul.

On the rare occasions the offense has been productive, the pitching has faltered. When the pitching has been good, the offense was non-existent. And the bullpen as a whole has been a disappointment.

The problems started at the onset of the season when the Angels had to scramble to find a starting first baseman. Scott Spiezio was suspended for five games for his role in the spring training fight with the Padres. Shawn Wooten, who was to share the first-base duties with Spiezio and led the team in hitting last season, dislocated his thumb in spring training and is out until sometime in June.

So the Angels went with utility player Benji Gil at first base, and he only lasted a few games before sustaining a severely sprained ankle, putting him on the shelf until next month.

Closer Troy Percival made it only two games into the season before having to go on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his right side. He returned only last week, and in the meantime the Angels' bullpen was in shambles as manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black tried to establish roles for their relievers.

Center fielder Darin Erstad, who in the past has scoffed at suggestions he consider the wall before running into it trying to make a catch, finally paid the price. After a face-first encounter with the wall in Anaheim and bouncing his chin off the turf in Oakland, Erstad ended up in the hospital with a concussion last week.

Erstad will remain out for at least two more days and possibly as many as nine more.

Then there are the mental cases, for lack of a better word. Tim Salmon and Brad Fullmer started slowly and let it get to them, trying to force things and falling further into a funk.

Fullmer, who averaged 25 homers and 94 RBIs the past two seasons, is hitting .183 with no homers and two RBIs. Salmon is hitting .174 with one homer and nine RBIs. The coaches have become part-time psychologists when dealing with these two, trying to turn things around using a methodic, step-by-step approach.

And it hasn't helped their cause that the Angels have played all but four of their games against the Mariners, A's and Indians. Certainly the Angels must do better against those teams if they are to be considered contenders at some point, but even while struggling they are 3-1 against sub-.500 teams this season.

Through it all, Scioscia has been the eternal optimist, always pointing to positive signs amid the disappointment of loss after loss. At times, he can sound like a broken record, seemingly refusing to show a lack of confidence in a team that finds new ways to lose almost nightly.

But those positive signs are becoming more and more noticeable. Salmon actually hit a home run Wednesday night and has hit better in recent days. Outfielder Garret Anderson is rounding into form, a typical seasonsal transgression. He's hitting .289 with three homers and a team-leading 15 RBIs.

David Eckstein has been as consistent as any player on the team, batting .282 and tied with Anderson with 24 hits, best on the club. Troy Glaus has started slowly, but is a constant threat and leads the team with four homers.

The starting pitching has been average as a whole, yet has managed to keep the team in most games, only to lose because a lack of support. The bullpen, with Percival back, should improve. Relievers Dennis Cook, Mark Lukasiewicz and Lou Pote have been good, while the others have been inconsistent.

What does it all mean? The Angels will bounce back and play well, maybe even finish with a winning record. In the meantime, hang on. It could be a wild ride.

Love to hear what you think!

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