Monday, September 5, 2011
The world's quietest pennant race
By Mark Saxon
It's as if the Angels don't quite know what to make of this race, so they ignore it.
With 21 games left, they trail the Texas Rangers by just 2 1/2 games after Monday's 7-3 win over the Seattle Mariners. It's right there in front of them, dangling inches from their noses, so why does it feel so hard to reach? Maybe because Texas has been teasing them with it all season long.
"Just when you think we're too far back, we win a few and they lose a few," pitcher Dan Haren said. "We're going to have to put on a little bit of a run. We've only got 20-or-so games left."
For more than four months, the Angels pitched brilliantly and could barely hit well enough to eke out as many wins as losses. Now that Haren and Jered Weaver have finally confirmed the fact that they're human, neither finding his best stuff consistently, the offense is erupting. The Angels mashed two more home runs Monday and have hit 44 since Aug. 1, more than all but three teams in the AL.
This team has been difficult to peg all season, so everybody seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach before declaring this race hot and heavy. There was no music playing in the Angels' clubhouse following Monday's win.
"It's just kind of business as usual, which I think is probably better than mentally grinding, agonizing over each and every thing," said rookie Mark Trumbo, who hit his 26th home run.
It's hard to trust this offensive surge, because the Angels have been through some serious troughs. But manager Mike Scioscia has been saying lately that his offense is as deep as it's been since the end of the 2009 season. It seems the addition of Mike Trout has injected the spark they were looking for. That works in two ways: Trout has generally been hot and, even when he doesn't get any hits, the guys competing against him for playing time seem to have awakened. Vernon Wells is batting .383 with eight extra-base hits in his past 12 games.
Now, if Weaver and Haren become Weaver and Haren again, this team could have something. Haren was about as bad as you can be and still walk off with a quality start Monday. He barely cracked 90 mph all evening and his off-speed stuff wasn't as sharp as it has been. These are the dog days, of course, but imagine how exhausting things would be if this team was out of contention.
"We're swinging the bats well right now," Haren said. "The pitching's been there all year and kind of taken a little step back, but if we put those two things together for the last three weeks, hopefully we're going to win a lot of games."
If that happens, maybe this will finally start to feel like the nip-and-tuck race the standings suggest.