Sunday, April 24, 2011
The offense grinds to a halt
By Mark Saxon
Vernon Wells has been one of the most efficient hitters in baseball this season. You could see that on Sunday against John Lackey, when Wells only needed to see three pitches in his first two at-bats to make outs.
That’s the kind of series it was for Wells and the Angels this weekend, when they dropped four straight to the Boston Red Sox and then got together for a short team meeting to hear manager Mike Scioscia talk about all the at-bats they gave away.
“The one thing that’s for sure is that we need tougher at-bats,” Scioscia said afterward.
Here’s how ugly it had gotten by Sunday, with virtually every Angels hitter not only struggling, but barely making Lackey work to get outs: “The frustrating part was getting guys to compete in the box,” Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said.
In a way, Angels management has no one to blame but itself. A few years ago, the organization began emphasizing patience for the first time under Scioscia and Hatcher, but that effort seems to have been abandoned. Exhibit A was the acquisition of Wells, one of the freest swingers in baseball.
Entering Sunday, among the 152 American League hitters with 30 or more plate appearances, Wells ranked 150th in pitches seen per plate appearance (thank you, John Fisher of ESPN Stats and Info). Only 19 of those batters swung at the first pitch more frequently than Wells and he was hitting .176 when he puts that pitch in play.
It’s not like the Angels didn’t know all this when they acquired Wells for Mike Napoli (a supremely patient hitter) and Juan Rivera in late January.
“It’s always been like that, good or bad,” Wells said.
Entering this season, Wells had a career on-base percentage of .329, barely average and shockingly low for a player with his power. Entering Sunday, only three AL hitters had lower OBPs: Carl Crawford, Brett Gardner and Chone Figgins. In the struggling-rich-guys-with-new-teams race, Crawford (.171 batting average) surpassed Wells (.169) on Sunday, by the way.
It’s not as if impatience is the only thing plaguing the Angels’ lineup at the moment. A lack of hits – particularly in the clutch – has also been a rather pressing issue. The Angels only had 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position in this series and they had two hits.
The Red Sox’s pitching staff looked like it could handle the Angels’ lineup while juggling with the other hand. Then again, Boston hasn’t had much to worry about from the Angels in a while. They’re 13-1 against them since they were swept out of the 2009 playoffs.
The Red Sox had one road win before they got to Anaheim. Now they have five.
“You know they’re not going to struggle like that for long. They have too much talent on that team, but for them to come in here and do what they did to us, obviously that’s not a good thing,” Wells said. “We’ll learn from it and we’ll get another chance at them here pretty soon.”