Thursday, July 12, 2012
10 questions for the second half
By Mark Saxon
1. What's the deal with Haren and Santana? It took the almost unthinkable -- Dan Haren going on the disabled list -- to shed a little light on why one of the most consistent, durable starters in the game has been struggling. Ervin Santana can't point to such a tangible reason as far as we know. On the other hand, his decline doesn't appear to be as worrisome as the fall-off-a-cliff unraveling of someone like Scott Kazmir. Santana still has good raw stuff and, when that's the case, a pitcher always has a chance.
2. Can Mike Trout keep this up? First of all, he shouldn't have to. If Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick can produce at a higher level in the next few months, Trout won't have to feel the pressure of sparking this team on a nightly basis. He doesn't turn 21 until next month, so putting the onus on him seems unfair. On the other hand, his minor league resume and special array of skills suggest this hasn't been a fluke. He could have some second-half slippage and still win Rookie of the Year easily with serious consideration for MVP. Plus, he seems to be genuinely having fun, which is cool to see.
3. Is the bullpen fixed? Some problems are virtually impossible to overcome: the money crunch from playing in a small market; a cheap owner; bad contracts on the books or an incompetent general manager. The Angels don't have any many of those problems and, lucky for them, one of their biggest weaknesses was kind of easy to fix. Adding Ernesto Frieri revolutionized the functioning of the Angels bullpen. Even if Frieri slips somewhat (and if he doesn't, he should get some MVP votes), Jerry Dipoto has shown a knack for how to fix these things.
4. Is Albert Pujols' decline accelerating? Since early May, he's been awfully good, maybe even elite. But he hasn't been Albert Pujols-elite. He hasn't looked like one of the best right-handed hitters the game has ever seen. In fact, he hasn't looked like one of the top two right-handed hitters on his own team. If he goes on a second-half tear, it would take pressure off younger players and set the Angels up beautifully to play deep into October.
5. Mark Trumbo: fact vs. fiction. It's kind of ridiculous how little credit Trumbo is getting for the Angels' surge. People mention Trout. They notice Pujols' improvement. They look at Frieri and Jered Weaver. Then, they might take notice of the player who leads the team in OPS, home runs and RBIs. This power isn't a fluke. In fact, it wouldn't be shocking to see him actually hit more home runs in the second half. But the batting average seems a bit above the mean. In six minor-league seasons, Trumbo batted better than .300 just once.
6. Kendrys Morales: how much is left? The flip side of the Trumbo equation is the Angels' designated hitter, who probably doesn't take enough of the blame for the offensive misfirings at times. Of course, you have to cut a guy some slack after he misses nearly two seasons with a broken leg. Is he really a cleanup hitter at this stage of his career? The eight home runs suggest otherwise. If he doesn't drive the ball a little more regularly, other players will be more deserving of some of his at-bats.
7. Can Jered Weaver win the Cy Young? Not only can he, but he looks like the favorite right about now. That would perfectly fit the trend, in which Weaver has finished fifth and second in the Cy Young balloting the past two winters. He has the signature moment -- his no-hitter -- and voters might remember Justin Verlander's terrible outing in the All-Star Game.
8. What does Dipoto have up his sleeve? The Angels' GM continues to say he doesn't expect to make an impact move this month. It's hard to believe him since he has a history of being active around the deadline (the Angels can thank him for Haren) and because a few tangible needs have arisen. If he does make a big move, it likely will be for a youngish player with a few years remaining of club control. Dipoto and Angels owner Arte Moreno aren't fond of two-month rental players.
9. Can they run the gantlet? Between now and Aug. 6, the Angels' schedule is practically unbearable. They play all three division leaders, have seven games against the best team in the league (Texas) and open the second half with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. The quotes you read might be about this being a great test, but make no mistake. Teams would much rather play last-place teams. These are the kinds of stretches you hope to withstand so you can keep loading up on wins against hapless teams down the road. The cracks in the Angels' roster (especially the rotation) are about to show.
10. Do they sell out for the division? The Angels play six of their final 15 games against the Rangers. Say they've got a wild-card spot sewn up (not hard to imagine). Do they go for broke in those final two weeks hoping to catch the Rangers (or hold onto a lead)? Do they, for example, start Weaver on three days' rest, as they did a couple of times last year? The answer is, yeah, they probably do. Surviving a one-game playoff in the wild card round is a dicey proposition. Teams that win the division are far better situated for October, which is probably as it should be.