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July 27, 2011

On the Beat

The Angels Keep the Faith

by John Perrotto

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Most managers of second-place clubs would be looking to their general managers with hopes of pulling off a major deal between now and Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline for making trades without securing waivers on players. The Angels' Mike Scioscia isn't in that camp, though. He is not badgering GM Tony Reagins to upgrade the roster. Even though the Angels are three games behind the Rangers in the American League West, Scioscia likes his roster the way it is.

"In my own opinion, we have so much upside that we have yet to tap into," Scioscia said. "(Owner) Arte Moreno has already spent enough money. He's given us a great team. I don't know if there's anything out there that would do anything more than give us a different look."

Scioscia has reason to feel confident in his club. The Angels have been playing their best baseball of the season over the past seven weeks, going 25-12 to raise their record to 56-48 from 31-36.

"We haven't been doing anything fancy, just battling every day," second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "It's been a lot of good pitching and just enough timely hitting to get us through."

The Angels are in contention despite getting subpar production from their two highest-paid players, as left fielder Vernon Wells' True Average is just .262 and right fielder Torii Hunter has a .253 mark. While designated hitter Bobby Abreu (.292), first baseman Mark Trumbo (.289), Kendrick (.289) and shortstop Erick Aybar (.284) are all over .280, no Angels hitter is having an outstanding season.

Not surprisingly, the Angels are 12th in the AL and 25th in the major leagues in runs scored with an average of just 3.83 a game. Thus, the Angels have wasted a lot of good pitching, as they lead the AL with 3.64 runs allowed a game, which also ranks them fourth in the majors.

Jered Weaver (2.40 FIP) and Dan Haren (2.61) have pitched like aces, and Ervin Santana (3.82) has been solid as the No. 3 starter. Closer Jordan Walden (2.51) has established himself as a Rookie of the Year candidate and has been ably set up by left-hander Matt Downs (2.72).

"The pitching has been great, you really couldn't ask for anything more," Scioscia said. "What has been weighing us down is our offensive consistency. We have more speed than any team in the major leagues, but guys like Hunter, Abreu and Wells haven't hit the way they are capable of hitting, though I fully expect them to have big finishes."

The Angels have gotten a lot of production from young players while waiting for the veterans to heat up. Walden replaced Fernando Rodney as the closer during the first full week of the season and wound up pitching in the All-Star Game. Right-hander Tyler Chatwood, another rookie, has been solid with a 4.34 FIP in 19 starts despite making just two starts at the Triple-A level before being called up.

"Jordan Walden is some kind of dynamic talent," Scioscia said. "You can see the talent blossoming. You can see the evolution and development of someone you think can grow into a real difference maker on this team."

As poorly as the Angels' offense has performed, it would be even worse if not for the emergence of Trumbo as another Rookie of the Year candidate. He leads the power-starved Angels with 18 home runs while filling in ably for first baseman Kendry Morales, who will miss the entire season after undergoing a second operation on the leg he broke on May 29, 2010 while jumping on home plate to celebrate a walk-off grand slam.

"I've been fortunate to get the opportunity, and I feel like I've been fairly consistent, though consistency is something I'd like to improve upon," Trumbo said. "It's been a good season so far, and I'm glad I've been able to fill a void."

However, the Angels rookie who has generated the most buzz is one who has played in just 12 games, has 42 plate appearances, and is likely to be sent back to the minor leagues by the end of the week. That is 19-year-old center fielder Mike Trout, who was recalled from Double-A Arkansas on July 8 when Peter Bourjos went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Bourjos is back on the active roster, and Trout is expected to be shipped to Triple-A Salt Lake once the Angels are confident that Bourjos is healthy enough to play every day.

"This guy is as exciting of a prospect that I've seen in all my time in baseball," said Scioscia, who was the Dodgers' first-round draft pick in 1976. "Right now, at age 19, he's probably one of the top five athletes in baseball. On a ground ball, I've never seen a hitter from the right side of the batter's box faster than this guy getting down the line. And he's 6-2, 215, you won't see anybody faster at his size than him unless you go to the NFL Scouting Combine. He's turning into a legitimate center fielder, and he will be a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder before all is said and done."

Trout has just a .235 TAv, but Scioscia believes it is only a matter of time before he becomes an offensive force in the major leagues.

"The thing about Mike is that if he has a bad at-bat and strikes out, he shakes it off, plays good defense, then comes back and has a better at-bat the next time," Scioscia said. "He has a great aptitude for the game."

Rare is the contender that counts so heavily on three rookies, but that formula has the Angels squarely in the division race against the defending AL champion Rangers. The two teams meet 10 more times, including the last three games of the season at Anaheim from September 26-28.

"I think it's great that us younger guys are going to have a chance to be a part of a pennant race," Trumbo said. "It really reflects on the farm system and the coaches and managers who have helped us along the way and got us ready to contribute to a team that has its sights set on the postseason."

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Rumors and Rumblings:

The Indians are looking for a hitter, especially with center fielder Grady Sizemore and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo on the disabled list, but GM Chris Antonetti says he "is open to anything, an outfielder, an infielder, a bat off the bench, a pitcher, whatever we can do to make us a better club." The Indians are believed to have strong interest in Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, as do the Phillies, Giants, and Nationals… The Phillies are making a strong play for Padres closer Heath Bell as they try to build a bullpen to rival their starting rotation with a back end that already includes Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, and Brad Lidge… How busy the Mariners will be at the deadline could hinge on how left-hander Erik Bedard fares Friday night against the Rays in his first start since injuring his knee a month ago and going on the disabled list… Pirates GM Neal Huntington says he feels "incredible motivation" to add reinforcements to his surprising club. The Pirates continue to be linked to Orioles set-up man Koji Uehara, who is also drawing interest from the Tigers, Twins, and Rangers… The Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Giants all have some degree of interest in Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal… The Athletics are willing to trade their entire starting outfield of left fielder Josh Willingham, center fielder Coco Crisp, and right fielder David DeJesus, along with designated hitter Hideki Matsui.

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Scouts' views:

Blue Jays left-hander Brett Cecil: “He looks like a completely different pitcher since he got called back up. He's changed his delivery, bringing his hands up over his head, and it's made him more compact and able to command his pitches consistently. If he can stick to it, he's got a chance to be a good big-league pitcher for a long time."

Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder: "An interesting study would be to see how guys who get picked for the All-Star Game do in their first 10-14 days after the break. The players are extremely busy during those two days at the All-Star Game, and I think it wears them out. Prince wound up being the star of this year's game, he was the MVP, and he was also a captain in the Home Run Derby. He just looks worn out, like he could use a break."

Nationals left-hander Tom Gorzelanny: "It seems like a lot of left-handers blossom later than right-handers, and I think that's the case here. I know his stats don't show it, but he's been throwing the ball well this year. His slider is a wipeout pitch now. Left-handed hitters have no chance against it, and right-handers don't do much with it, either."

Diamondbacks right-hander Daniel Hudson: "If he played on a team with greater visibility, everyone would be talking about him being one of the best pitchers in the game. He throws hard, he throws strikes, he keeps the ball in the ballpark, and he has a great changeup. And he can swing the bat, too. He's the total package, and he's just 24."

Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz: "I don't think it's the end of the world if the Giants don't trade for a right fielder at the deadline. This guy has done a really good job. He can get tied up by a good fastball on the inner half of the plate, but he murders mistakes and gives you a tough at-bat, especially with two strikes."

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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