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September 17, 2010

On the Beat

The Baffling Angels

by John Perrotto

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The Angels, barring the miracle comeback of miracle comebacks, will be sitting at home for the postseason for the first time since 2006 and just the second time in seven seasons. That the Angels' streak of three straight American League West titles is almost over—their tragic number for elimination is six—does not anger or frustrate manager Mike Scioscia as much as it flummoxes him. He has watched his team play in fits and starts for 5 ½ months and still can't figure out what to do about it.

"There have been stretches this season where we have been more than capable of beating any team in the major leagues," Scioscia said. "Then there have been other times where we would literally have a hard time beating a Triple-A team. We've gone from one extreme to the other and we have never played with any consistency. It's just been baffling. I've never managed a team that has been so inconsistent."

That is saying something because Scioscia is one of the deans of major-league managers as he is concluding his 11th season with the Angels. One of the hallmarks of Scioscia's teams is that they always seem to overachieve and play better than their run differential would suggest. This marks the seventh straight season in which the Angels have outperformed its Pythagenport record.

"A lot of people have said we consistently overachieve but I've never bought that," Scioscia said. "I think sometimes people discount that we've had a lot of talented players come through here over the years. The one thing our other teams had in a common is they all played up to their potential. This team hasn't for whatever reason. As for why, we've been searching for that answer all year."

It has all added up to the Angels having a 71-75 record, putting them 11 1/2 games behind the division-leading Rangers and in danger of having their first losing season since 2003 and just their second in Scioscia's tenure. Befitting a team with a record around .500, the Angels have been consistently mediocre in all phases of the game. They are 14th in the major leagues in Defensive Efficiency (.692), 18th in runs scored per game (4.30), and 19th in runs allowed per game (4.49).

The most glaring weakness has been the offense as the Angels do not have a regular with a True Average higher than right fielder Torii Hunter's .297. The lineup took a big hit when first baseman Kendry Morales suffered a season-ending broken leg on May 29 and infielder Maicer Izturis has had three different stints on the disabled list. Morales had a .291 TAv this season after posting a .299 mark with 34 home runs in his breakout 2009 season. Izturis' TAv has dropped to .255 from .278 a year ago.

However, Scioscia believes the offensive woes are a one-year aberration instead of a downward trend.

"I think a lot of guys that have been out of the lineup—when you add them back into it, you're going to go a long way toward getting the depth that's important to our club next season," Scioscia said. "When you look at Kendry and you look at Maicer and we added (third baseman Alberto) Callaspo, we'll have him moving forward in whatever role that develops into. You'll have a little more experience for guys like (Erick) Aybar, (Howie) Kendrick, and Peter Bourjos, who has gotten a chance to play, hopefully developing. I think our nucleus is strong."

When it comes to fixing the pitching staff, the bullpen will get the bulk of the off-season attention. Scioscia is perfectly content to go into next season with a rotation of right-handers in Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Joel Pineiro and left-hander Scott Kazmir. Conversely, Fernando Rodney and Kevin Jepsen are the only relievers who have added as much as one win above replacement as calculated by WXRL.

"Our rotation is one of our strengths," Scioscia said. "I don't see any reason why that would change. If you're looking towards next season, if nothing changes, I think our rotation is one that will give us the look on a nightly basis that we need in order to win games. Our rotation still has some upside with some guys, and some guys have shown they are ready to be that lead dog. I think there's a lot of confidence in where our rotation will be next year. I think our rotation stacks up against anyone in our league. I don't think our rotation has been appreciated enough because of some of the things that have happened around it both offensively and defensively."

It is the type of pitching depth that would make a team dangerous in the postseason. And while there is almost no chance of there being post-season games in Anaheim this fall, Scioscia is optimistic that the Angels can climb back to their customary perch atop the AL West standings next season.

"It's not like we need a complete overhaul of the roster," Scioscia said. "We need to make some changes but more tweaking than anything."

---

Teams out of contention face a quandary at this point of the season. While the object is to still win, part of the agenda of non-contenders is to look toward the future. Thus, managers must balance the two as they make out the lineup card and ponder in-game strategy.

"It would be nice to finish as high as you can, but the most important thing is making sure we get some guys ready (for next year)," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "What my objective is, when the season is over, the organization will have a better idea of what we've got out there as far as our young guys are concerned. And they can plan accordingly."

Thus, Macha plans to give right-hander Mark Rogers his first major-league start sometime during the last week of the season. The Brewers have also has been using rookie right-handers Jeremy Jeffress and Brandon Kintzler regularly in relief.

However, one unwritten September rule is that non-contending teams are expected to play their regulars against contenders. Thus, most of the Brewers' September call-ups are unlikely to see much action in a three-game series against the National League West-leading Giants at San Francisco that begins tonight.

"They've got aspirations of winning the division," Macha said. "I'm going to put forward my best foot. If they're going to win it, they're going to win it against my best team."

---

The Cardinals have pulled quite the folding act down the stretch as they are now seven games behind the Reds in the NL Central. The Cardinals held a one-game lead on August 12 but have since gone 10-21 while losing eight games in the standings.

"It's kind of painful to watch," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Over the course of the season, we know what this club has gone through. To see them struggling is kind of painful. To see guys pushing it... nobody's taking an easy way out. You're hoping there's a reward there somewhere."

There will be no reward, barring a miracle finish. The Cardinals certainly don't look like they have any kind of finishing kick after being swept at home in a three-game series by the also-ran Cubs this week for the first time since 1988. Furthermore, the Cubs beat the Cardinals best three starters in Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter.

"We can't find a reason for what's going on," second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "It's frustrating. It's depressing to get swept by the Cubs, who are your rivals."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Marlins interim manager Edwin Rodriguez will get a chance to interview for the full-time job at the end of the season but two former major-league managers, Yankees bench coach Tony Pena and Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa, are also expected to be candidates along with Wally Backman, manager of the Mets' short-season Brooklyn farm club. … The Reds are sticking with Francisco Cordero as their closer despite his recent struggles and will not try rookie left-hander Aroldis Chapman in that role. … If left-hander Andy Pettitte returns to form after missing two months with a groin injury and A.J. Burnett gets back on the track, the Yankees are leaning toward again going with a three-man rotation in the postseason with those two and left-hander CC Sabathia. Phil Hughes would be a spot starter if necessary. … The Mets are trying to do everything possible to void the final year of closer Francisco Rodriguez's contract and, as a last resort, would even consider outright releasing him. … Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano is again talking about retiring when his contract expires after the 2012 season but most club observers are taking it was a grain of salt like they do with all things Big Z. … Infielder Tyler Greene is expected to play regularly in the final two weeks of the season so the Cardinals can evaluate where he fits in their long-term plans.

---

Scouts' views on various major leaguers:

Twins catcher Drew Butera: "He's an awful hitter but he's got a cannon of an arm, which gives him a chance to have a career as a backup. In his own way, he's been valuable because he's good enough behind the plate that he's given (manager) Ron Gardenhire the opportunity to use Joe Mauer more as the DH and give him more time off from having to catch."

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera: "If I were managing against him, he'd never get a pitch to hit. Never, ever, ever. He hits everything hard that he can get his bat on and the holes in his swing are so small that they're minuscule. The Tigers have to get him some help in the lineup this winter or he might not see a hittable pitch all next season."

Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco: "He looks a lot more confident than he did when he was up in the big leagues last September. He throws 93 mph but the big difference is that he's throwing his curveball and changeup for strikes now. If he can keep doing that, he's going to be a very effective starter for a long time."

Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz: "He kind of gets overlooked in that lineup with Josh Hamilton and Michael Young and Vladdy Guerrero and Ian Kinsler, but he's a very dangerous hitter who has learned how to handle off-speed stuff. He's not a flashy guy but you can tell he likes hitting in big situations. That's why he's my pick to the breakout star of the postseason."

White Sox first baseman/outfielder Mark Kotsay: "He's not the player he used to be but he still has some value as a bench bat. He can handle all types of pitching and will put a good swing on most balls."

Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly: "He's going to get another nice payday in free agency this winter. He's dependable, he gets ahead in the count, he throws strikes and he doesn't beat himself. He's 34 but he could be the next Jamie Moyer and pitch another 10 years if he wants to."

Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand: "I never would have dreamt I would have said this back in April but the Giants are really going to miss Andres Torres. Putting Rowand back in the lineup at the top of the order is like giving away an out to start the game. He doesn't have it any more. He played hard and well for a long time and his body has just broken down."

Angels set-up reliever Jordan Walden: "I love this kid. He comes out of the bullpen throwing 99 mph and he's fearless. He goes right after hitters, dares them to try to hit him and, at least so far, they can't. I know the Angels will screw around with Fernando Rodney as their closer next year but I'd give the job to this kid. He could handle it."

---

Three series to watch with probable pitching matchups and all times Eastern:

Padres (82-64) at Cardinals (75-70), Friday-Sunday September 16-19
Mat Latos vs. Kyle Lohse, 8:15 p.m.; Chris Young vs. Jaime Garcia, 4:10 p.m.; Jon Garland vs. Adam Wainwright, 2:15 p.m.

Blue Jays (73-73) at Red Sox (82-64), Friday-Sunday September 17-19
Brett Cecil vs. John Lackey, 7:10 p.m.; Ricky Romero vs. Josh Beckett, 7:10 p.m.; Shaun Marcum vs. Jon Lester, 1:35 p.m.

Athletics (72-73) at Twins (88-58), Friday-Sunday September 17-19
Brett Anderson vs. Nick Blackburn, 8:10 p.m.; Dallas Braden vs. Kevin Slowey, 1:10 p.m.; Bobby Cramer vs. Francisco Liriano, 2:10 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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