May 19, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back (or is it the other way around?)

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; 2002 really changed everything. By winning a World Series, the Angels effectively raised the level of my expectations forever. Barring a change in ownership and/or the manager - my expectation (at the minimum) is for a Western Division title every year. In my mind, losing is no longer acceptable and certainly not expected.

In the years following 2002 (other than the hangover year of 2003) the Angels did things that grew my optimism to the point of supreme confidence. Five division championships in six years will do that. You could say that I have been drinking the Angels kool-aid for quite a while now and I know my bias is severe. In fact, I don’t even bother trying to hide it. Even in 2006 (when the Angels failed to make the play-offs) I believed with all my heart that the Angels would find a way to win the west. That’s simply my expectation every year now.

So, where am I going with all of this?

This season has been hard to watch. My confidence is fading and my optimism is being tested. I tried to dismiss the early season struggles and kept repeating the “it’s early” mantra over and over again. I saw a glimmer of hope when the Angels swept the hated A’s this past weekend.

I began to believe the Angels had turned the corner and I could get back to enjoying the winning ways of Angels baseball. Then the Texas Rangers happened and it hit me… I’m no longer confident when I watch this team. Instead, I’m just anxious.

I’m anxious when I watch Brandon Wood come to bat. I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach when balls are hit to the corner outfield positions. I find myself wanting to close my eyes quite a bit. When they get down early, I feel pessimistic and become frustrated in the thought that it’s going to be another long game.

I’m not used to this and it’s just not fun.

Let’s face it; this team is not playing “Angels baseball.” They’re not nearly as aggressive on the bases as we’re accustomed to seeing them be. They’re not stealing bases and they’re not doing the things that put pressure on defenses. To compound matters their defense has been suspect (24th in the major leagues with a .981 fielding percentage) and their pitching has been inconsistent (25th in the major leagues with a 4.72 ERA). They’re not manufacturing runs and seem to make mental errors on a regular basis.

I keep expecting things to change, but every time they take one step forward, they follow up by taking two steps back. I don’t know what it will take to turn things around. Is it a change in mindset or personnel? All know is this team has flaws and those imperfections are being exposed on a regular basis.

The corner outfield positions are slow and un-athletic. In fact the overall team speed is lacking. Kendry Morales, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera, Mike Napoli and even Bobby Abreu are slow and none of them are very athletic. Even though Erick Aybar is fast, he’s not getting on base enough and even when he does; he’s not being the catalyst the team needs at the top of their lineup. He’s only stolen five bases in nine attempts. This is what I expected.

Prior to the season and throughout the off season, I raised some concerns about Aybar’s base running and the signing of Hideki Matsui. I proclaimed early on that the team had gotten older and slower and had lost their ace (John Lackey). Despite all of that, I tried to remain hopeful and even projected that an ace would emerge in either Jered Weaver or Scott Kazmir. Weaver (while not perfect) has stepped up to fill that role in my opinion thus far and despite yesterday’s set back is as good as there is in the AL.

The bench is weak and made even weaker by Maicer Izturis’ stint on the DL. And what is it about Izturis that makes him find his way to the DL regularly? This team lacks depth. I mean, when you have to go to career minor leaguers like Michael Ryan and Kevin Frandsen, you know you’re in trouble.

Freddy Sandoval once appeared to be the heir apparent to Robb Quinlan, but he’s only hitting .210 in Salt Lake. Peter Bourjos could certainly do a better job defensively than either of our corner outfielders; however, his offense is not ready for prime time. He has .315 OBP and that simply isn’t good enough.

Why Terry Evans isn’t on the major league roster over Reggie Willits is beyond me; not that he could help this team right now any way.

And then there’s Brandon Wood. Needless to say, the fans are growing impatient with this experiment. One Angel blog – Monkey with a Halo is already calling for the Brandon Wood era to be over. And as much as I’d like to disagree with that sentiment, I can’t blame anyone for being done with Wood.

So what do we do? Can this team still win the west? Can it go beyond that?

For the most part, I believe the personnel are there. Granted the team has holes, but it also has the pieces that can make a real run at a fourth consecutive division title; however, how we get the Angels “into their game” as Mike Scioscia likes to put it is beyond me.

And it’s not like the Angels have the prospects to go out and make a deal either. Granted there are some guys at the lower levels like Mike Trout, but I don’t think the Angels can afford to trade their youth. Now I know as soon as I write that, there will be some faction of the fan base who will disagree. Let me just say that any good organization builds a core from within and trading away those kinds of pieces ultimately results in failure.

The Angels' success – and yes, they’ve been highly successful since 2002 is based on the principle that you build from within first. That not even remotely debatable in my mind.

This roster isn't likely to change much this year. Next year’s another story, but this one has to get it done with the players they have.

I know that games against Texas in May aren’t necessarily important games, but I need to see some signs of life or else I may just lose my mind. It’s not even just the back to back losses in Arlington either; it’s the manner in which this team has gone about their business all year long. It’s been ugly, frustrating to watch and painful to endure.

BallHype: hype it up!

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