Los Angeles Angels: C.J. Wilson

Matt Shoemaker coming up big for Angels

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1

AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRookie Matt Shoemaker has defied the odds to claim a spot in the Angels' rotation.
The Los Angeles Angels were dealt a potentially big blow Thursday night when southpaw Tyler Skaggs had to leave his no-hit bid in the fifth inning with an apparent injury to his pitching arm. If Skaggs lands on the disabled list, the timing should work out as C.J. Wilson is set to come off the DL Saturday.

Meanwhile, Friday starter Matt Shoemaker will remain in the Angels' rotation for the foreseeable future.

The rookie right-hander has been solid since transitioning from long relief to the rotation. His one major hiccup came when he gave up 11 hits and eight earned runs in his last start of June in Kansas City.

Diamond in the rough
Unlike his rotation mates, Shoemaker wasn’t drafted at all, let alone in the first five rounds like Wilson, Skaggs, Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver. The Angels signed him as a free agent in 2008.

By 2011, the Eastern Michigan grad was the star of the double-A affiliate in Arkansas, throwing five complete games en route to being named Texas League player of the year.

Shoemaker struggled in two-plus seasons at Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League, but has actually pitched better from an ERA standpoint at the big league level.

He’s also an extreme bargain at $500,500 this season. Albert Pujols makes that in three-and-a-half games. The Angels are paying Joe Blanton $7 million more than that NOT to pitch.

With all the big contracts on the team, Shoemaker’s contributions this season have been a god-send.

Killer change
The righty has always flashed solid strikeout rates throughout the minor leagues (7.4 K/9 IP), but he has strangely been able to boost that at the big league level (9.1 K/9 IP).

This season, 12 percent of Shoemaker’s pitches have resulted in a swing-and-miss. That ranks 11th among all MLB starters, just ahead of the likes of Zack Greinke, David Price and Yu Darvish.

The main pitch behind Shoemaker’s success is his changeup. Opponents are hitting just .135 against it, swinging and missing a ridiculous 27 percent of the time. That’s the second-best rate in baseball.

Of his 77 strikeouts on the season, 48 have come on changeups (62 percent).

Angels' rotation may be their weak link

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22

The Angels are the second-best team in baseball. Win or lose going into Monday night’s game against the AL East-leading Orioles, they were going to be the second-best team in baseball after the fact. They lost, missing the chance to move within a game of the A’s in the AL West race. But it’s July and there’s still plenty of time, so there’s no reason to sweat, right?

Certainly not, at least not if you look at the big picture and the projection models at FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus, which say the Angels have a 98 or 99 percent shot at the playoffs. Slam-dunk sure thing? Sounds like it.

But there’s a problem with that: It doesn’t mean all that much in the era of the one-game play-in wild-card “round.” The Angels' shot at winning the AL West is calculated as much less of a sure thing, from the 20 percent range according to analyst Clay Davenport, to the 30s for FanGraphs, or the 40s for Baseball Prospectus. These are roughly the same as the chances of the Blue Jays coming back to win the AL East and then also not having to sweat a one-or-done scenario despite probably being 10 games worse than the Angels at season’s end. Saying the Angels’ shot at playing their way into the one-game coin-toss of the wild card is around 60 or 70 percent is like saying their chance of their season ending a day or two after the regular season is still astonishingly likely.

[+] EnlargeMatt Shoemaker
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMatt Shoemaker's loss was the latest tough start for the Angels' non-Richards rotation regulars.
Unless they beat the A’s and win the West. Unless they make their math problem now into Oakland’s math problem tomorrow. That’s their challenge, and losing games like Monday’s will only make it harder.

To pull this off in the long weeks to come, they’re going to have to find a happier answer in their rotation than the ones they’ve found so far. While the trades for Jason Grilli and Huston Street may have shored up their bullpen, there’s the larger problem of how good their rotation really is outside of newly minted ace and All-Star Garrett Richards. Assuming that Jered Weaver’s back is sound all the way down the stretch, he hasn’t overpowered strong teams’ lineups, seeing his OPS jump 50 points and his WHIP increase by 0.3 facing teams that are .500 or better; unsurprisingly, his FIP is 4.12, which suggests sturdy mediocrity, not the ace he once was. C.J. Wilson won’t be back from his DL stint for a sprained ankle until after the trade deadline; even if he’s sound, his 4.29 FIP doesn’t suggest he’s a solid No. 2, either. And the back-end trio of Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker have put together just 15 quality starts in their 38 turns.

To catch the A’s, the Angels are going to need not just one guy but several guys to step up down the stretch. Not just because you can’t count on a league-best offense to crank out five or more runs every night, but because the Angels need to have somebody else besides Richards to use in those potentially scary end-of-year situations. What if Richards has to pitch in the last weekend series against the Mariners but the Angels don’t catch the A’s then? What if they have to play a tiebreaker? Who pitches the wild-card game? Where does that leave them in the ALDS? They’ll need some of the non-Richards starters to step up, not just to keep up with the A’s and their shored-up rotation, but to be able to win October games when they don’t put five or six runs on the scoreboard.

That was why Shoemaker’s start against Baltimore was a little more important than just another late-July turn. Barring a trade, somebody is going to be bumped once Wilson comes back from the DL. Even on a night when he struck out a career-high 10 batters, seeing Shoemaker get beaten deep twice by Adam Jones was the sort of thing that won’t keep the rookie ahead of Skaggs or Santiago, not that either of them is owning his slot.

To be sure, the Angels should be grateful things are this close. Thanks in large part to early-season bullpen problems of their own, the A’s are four games worse than you’d project from their runs scored and allowed, which is a big part of the reason they are within striking range for the Angels, even after Oakland went 20-10 in its past 30 games. All it took was the Angels going 22-8 in their past 30 before Monday, no easy thing to do with a rotation that may struggle to match the A’s made-over, Jeff Samardzija-enhanced rotation in the last 60 games.

If Wilson or Weaver, Shoemaker or Skaggs steps up, things will be that much more interesting all the way down to the wire. If not, the Angels may be one of those great teams that, like the 1993 Giants, wind up getting to brag about how great they were without getting much of an opportunity to prove it come October. Those Giants were caught from behind by the Braves, San Francisco winning 103 games for the second-best record in baseball … and no October invite. The Halos have to hope they’ll earn something more than one game better than that -- but more than hoping for it, they’ll have to do it.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

C.J. Wilson looks to continue NY success

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesC.J. Wilson will look to continue his recent success at Yankee Stadium in the series opener Friday.
There will be a ton of talent on the field Friday as the Los Angeles Angels start a series in the Bronx with the New York Yankees in a matchup of two of the five highest-payroll teams in baseball.

This season the Angels will hope to pitch better at Yankee Stadium than they did last year when they dropped three of four games and were outscored 31-19.

For the Angels, the series starts with C.J. Wilson on the mound, who owns a 2.41 career ERA in five previous starts at Yankee Stadium, giving up two runs or fewer in the last four of those.

Cause for concern?
Through four starts, Wilson's ERA is up nearly a run over last year, but it isn't anything to get too concerned about yet. Most of the blame for the inflated ERA can be placed on a home run per at-bat rate that is more than twice Wilson's norm. He has given up one homer per start this season after giving up 15 all of last year.

Pitch selection
Last season Wilson used his slider 19 percent of the time, but so far in 2014 he has thrown the pitch only eight percent of the time. Instead, he has been leaning on more changeups, throwing it 13 percent of the time, compared to six percent last year.

The decreased slider usage isn't an indication Wilson isn't happy with the pitch. It is still one of his most effective pitches (.222 Opp BA in 2014), but he has been saving it for two-strike counts and higher-leverage situations.

The increased changeup rate on the other hand seems to be a strategy to keep right-handed hitters off of his fastball as 57 of the 58 changeups he has thrown this season have been to righties.

Wilson vs. Yankees
Among players on the Yankees that Wilson has faced at least 20 times, his numbers are very favorable against Ichiro Suzuki (.196 BA, 12 strikeouts) and Mark Teixeira (.118 BA).

The Angels lefty will need to pitch Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano carefully as they own .381 and .556 averages against him, respectively. After a slow start to his season, Soriano has been hitting nearly .400 over the last week and a half.

Angels 2014: Could this be the year?

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31

The other day, a reporter asked Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto to assign blame for the acquisition of pitcher Joe Blanton, the occasion being the Angels’ unconditional release of the, ahem, struggling right-hander. Dipoto’s answer was refreshing.

“It’s a mistake on my part. There’s no one else to blame,” Dipoto said.

That little bit of accountability had to be music to Angels fans ears. For four long years, a team with three of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, a strong manager and one of the best starting pitchers in the game has been shut out of the playoffs, and the atmosphere in Anaheim has been a bit more drab with each passing season.

It should be noted, by the way, that owner Arte Moreno didn’t do Dipoto any favors in recent seasons by jumping in on the big-splash signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, leaving Dipoto scant resources to build a pitching staff.

Jered Weaver
AP Photo/Jim CowsertJered Weaver still has the deception, movement and savvy to serve as a legitimate No. 1 starter.
Perhaps Angels fans didn't realize how spoiled they had become by the team’s run of excellence under Mike Scioscia from 2002 to 2009, a stretch that included a World Series title, three trips to the ALCS and six trips to the postseason.

Did the release of Blanton and Dipoto’s frankness signal a new era for Orange County’s baseball team?

The Angels' offseason makeover wasn't all that different from what the Boston Red Sox underwent going into the 2013 season. It was a bit of a reboot, with an emphasis on quality, low-impact moves rather than the big winter meetings splash that winds up weighing the team down.

Dipoto has certainly been making every effort to improve the team’s pitching, which -- even more than underperformance and injuries from Pujols and Hamilton -- has been this team’s demise. Presuming even a marginal uptick in those two sluggers’ production, the Angels look like a team with vast potential to improve. Who wouldn’t take a lineup that includes Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton?

This pitching staff has potential. When Jered Weaver first arrived in the major leagues, he could touch 95 mph and, combined with his off-speed pitches and funky delivery, made for one of the more uncomfortable at-bats in baseball. He’s different now, with the years of heavy workloads reducing his fastball velocity to the sub-90 range most games. But he’s still got the deception, the movement and the savvy to serve as a legitimate No. 1 starter.

(Read full post)

Halo Effect: Wilson finding his confidence

July, 11, 2013

AP Photo/Jae C. HongC.J. Wilson got off to a rough start to his season, but adjustments have keyed his recent success
Wednesday marked one of the best all-around games for the Los Angeles Angels this season as they outscored the Chicago Cubs by 11 runs -- their second-highest differential of the season behind only a 12-0 shutout of the Seattle Mariners in May.

The offense came up with a season-high five home runs including the first two-homer game for Josh Hamilton as an Angel. But not to be lost in the fireworks was another outstanding start by C.J. Wilson.

Warming up with summer
After having an ERA just south of 4.00 in the first two months of the season, Wilson has a 2.60 ERA since the start of June. In four of his last five starts, the left-hander has given up one earned run or fewer. So has Wilson made some adjustments? Or has it merely been a result of better luck on balls in play.

Fast and furious
Pitch selection-wise, Wilson has regained confidence in his fastball in the last six weeks. In the first two months of the season, opponents were hitting .281 against it, causing Wilson to shy away from throwing it (47 percent of pitches). Since the start of June though, he has thrown fastballs 55 percent of the time as opponents have hit .194 against the pitch.

One of Wilson's most effective starts came against the Mariners on June 19 he threw a season-high 74 fastballs, inducing 13 outs and giving up no hits on the pitch.

Back in control
Another adjustment for Wilson has been in how he has pitched to right-handed hitters. Early in the season, 30 percent of Wilson's pitches in the strike zone to righties were to the inner-third of the plate. He was punished for these mistakes to the tune of a .542 slugging percentage.

Since the beginning of June, 24 percent of Wilson's pitches to righties have been in this location.

Friday's matchup
Williams (LAA) vs Saunders (SEA)
Joe Saunders
Jerome Williams
Friday's opposing starter is former Angel Joe Saunders, who has had a very inconsistent season. In 10 of Saunders' 18 starts this season he has give up one run or fewer, but in five other starts he has given up six or more runs.

The Angels faced the "good" version of Saunders in their only previous time facing him this season. Saunders gave up one run and six hits in eight innings but took the loss in a 1-0 Angels win.

Josh Hamilton continues to struggle

April, 10, 2013

The first rule of April: It's too early to panic.

The second rule April: It's never too early to panic.

So the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returned to the sun and the strip malls and the land where orange groves once filled the horizon for their home opener … and by the top of the second inning were getting booed.

C.J. Wilson had thrown 43 pitches in the first inning while allowing three runs. The Angels then loaded the bases with no outs against Jarrod Parker but failed to score. When Coco Crisp slammed a home run in the second inning to make it 4-0, the boos came. They were mild, Southern California laid-back boos, but there they were. Considering the news earlier in the day that Jered Weaver will miss at least four weeks with a broken bone in his non-pitching elbow, it was understandable that Angels fans were starting to wonder if they were heading for a repeat of last year's disastrous 8-15 start after the team's 2-4 road trip to begin this season.

It ended up being a crazy game. The Angels got the leadoff man on in each of the first five innings but scored only two runs in the third -- an inning that could have been bigger in not for an Albert Pujols baserunning gaffe. With no outs, Yoenis Cespedes ran down Josh Hamilton's fly in deep left-center, but Pujols misread the play and had rounded second base; hobbled by plantar fasciitis, Pujols was doubled off first base.

The A's later attempted to give the game away when Chris Young dropped a fly ball and Jed Lowrie booted a grounder, helping the Angels take a 5-4 lead, but John Jaso hit a three-run homer pinch-hit homer off Kevin Jepsen in the seventh and Brandon Moss followed with a two-run shot as the A's won 9-5 for their sixth consecutive victory, dropping the Angels to 2-5.

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsThe A's used Josh Hamilton's aggressive approach against him with a diet of off-speed pitches.
But the major takeaway from this game has to be Hamilton: What's going on with the Angels' $125 million free-agent signing? The Rangers intentionally walked Pujols three times Saturday to get to Hamilton. Perhaps Texas manager Ron Washington was having flashbacks to the 2011 World Series, or maybe the Rangers were playing mind games, or maybe Washington really believes in the intentional walk, or maybe they just thought Hamilton was an easier out.

Guys making $25 million aren't supposed to be easy outs, but right now Josh Hamilton is a pretty easy out. (Caveat to analysis below: It's just seven games; if this happened in the middle of June we wouldn't necessarily even notice.)

Entering Tuesday's game, here were three facts about Hamilton:

1. He had the fourth-highest percentage of swings on pitches outside the strike zone, at 48 percent (behind Alexei Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Alfonso Soriano). Nothing new there: Hamilton had the highest such percentage last season of any qualified hitter.

2. His contact percentage when he did swing was tied for 11th-worst. Hard to make contact when you're swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. Again, nothing new here: He was the worst in this category among regulars in 2012.

3. He was tied for 26th in percentage of pitches seen within the strike zone (41.7 percent). That will probably change. Last year, Hamilton saw the fewest percentage of pitches in the strike zone, at 34 percent.

Now, he managed to hit 43 home runs last year anyway, certainly a testament to his talent. But we also know he tailed off in the second half -- .259 with 16 home runs in 69 games after hitting .308 with 27 home runs in 77 games in the first half -- as pitchers realized they didn't have to feed him as many strikes.

On Tuesday, here were Hamilton's five plate appearances:

First inning -- Struck out on three Parker changeups with the bases loaded.

Third inning -- Batting with two on, Hamilton did take two balls in the dirt to work the count full against Parker before lining a 93-mph fastball to deep left-center that Cespedes hauled in.

Fourth inning -- Batting again with the bases loaded, this time against Chris Resop, Hamilton got the count full but tapped weakly back to Resop, who got the force at home. Resop threw seven pitches -- five changeups, a curve and one fastball.

Sixth inning -- Against lefty Jerry Blevins with runners at the corners, he lofted an 0-2 slider to center for a sac fly. All three pitches from Blevins were sliders; the first two were fouled off.

Eighth inning -- Facing lefty Sean Doolittle, fouled off five fastballs before finally grounding out to first on a 2-2 curve.

There were some positive signs on the day: After striking out 10 times in his first 29 plate appearances entering the game, Hamilton whiffed just once. He fouled off pitches. But you can see the game plan. Other than against Doolittle, the A's fed him a steady diet of off-speed stuff, hoping to use Hamilton's aggressive approach against him. That's what pitchers did last year and what most teams will do moving forward, at least until Hamilton shows he won't stop swinging at those pitches when they're out of the strike zone. It's only a week, but I don't see any signs yet that Hamilton is any different than the hitter we saw the second half last year.

Now, he can still be a good hitter. Can he be a great hitter? I don't think so. Hamilton just gets himself out too often.

Look, it's too early to panic about Hamilton's production. But it's not too early to wonder what the long-term ramifications about his approach will mean.

Video: C.J. Wilson offers his thoughts

February, 13, 2013
C.J. Wilson talks about last year's struggles, Josh Hamilton's past conflicts, and what to expect from the Angels in 2013.

Dodgers vs. Angels: Who has the edge?

January, 24, 2013
Who knows, maybe this is the season it finally happens. The Dodgers, having spared no expense, will field a balanced, dangerous team and feel like they are positioned for a World Series run. The Angels, who jacked up their already formidable power with the surprise acquisition of Josh Hamilton, have similar aims.

If there really is to be a Freeway Series in 2013, a lot of things have to go right for both teams. But the team that made -- and makes -- the best personnel decisions likely will go further into October.

Let's break down the key areas of both rosters to try to decipher which team is better constructed to play longer into 2013.

Starting rotation

This is the part of the discussion in which Dodgers fans get to gloat and Angels fans have to just sit there and marinate. You could argue -- in fact, you don't really even have to -- that the Dodgers have better pitchers in all five spots.

We know this because one of the Angels starters, Joe Blanton, couldn't have cracked the Dodgers' seven deep. We also know this because one of the Dodgers' starters, Zack Greinke, almost helped the Angels make the playoffs.

Jered Weaver is perfectly ace-like. About 25 teams would put him at the top of their rotation. He has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three years running and even got a couple of MVP votes last year -- always a cool accomplishment for a pitcher. He won 20 games, had a sub-3.00 ERA for the second season in a row and usually gives you more than 200 innings. And we won't even hold the .250 and .241 BABIPs from the past two seasons against him. Weaver is a fly ball pitcher and he relies on mishits to pitch deep into games. He gets strikeouts when he needs them, which is quite often, actually.

The only reason he doesn't get the edge is that Clayton Kershaw might be the best pitcher in baseball. We don't need SABR to tell us that. It's not that scientific. For the past two seasons he led baseball in ERA and was in the top three in WAR for pitchers. If he's not the most dominant pitcher in baseball, he's in the team photo and it's a small team (probably Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander).

So, the Dodgers get an edge in the No. 1 department, though it's a fairly slight edge because of Weaver's competitiveness and consistency. "Slight" isn't the right word for the rest of the Dodgers' edge in starting pitching.

Greinke has never come close to touching his 2009 Cy Young season, but neither has just about any other active pitcher. Greinke flirted with a sub-2.00 ERA, led the league in ERA+ and WHIP. Nobody could square him up. He gave up 0.4 home runs per nine innings. He was mediocre the following season, probably in part because of a personal crisis, but has gone 31-11 with a 3.63 ERA the past two years. Is he worth $147 million? Is any pitcher? He's as good a No. 2 starter as there is out there.

(Read full post)

Halo Effect: Looking back, looking ahead

October, 19, 2012

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Angels face plenty of tough decisions this offseason. Among them, whether or not to try and re-sign Zack Greinke.

A look at the Angels’ roller-coaster season …

What went well?

Mike Trout more than advertised

As hyped a prospect as Mike Trout was (No. 1 in Keith Law’s preseason prospect rankings), his season was better than the Angels could ever have imagined. He led MLB with a 10.7 WAR despite missing the first three weeks of the season. The last American League outfielder with a WAR that high was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

We’ll have to wait and see if the baseball writers will give him MVP honors, but Baseball America has already named Trout their Major League Player of the Year and their Rookie of the Year.

Jered Weaver dominant again

Jered Weaver entered 2012 facing the tough task of trying to replicate his 2011 season in which he had a 2.41 ERA and finished second in the AL Cy Young voting behind Justin Verlander. He missed a bit of time because of injury in 2012, but had another dominant season in which he led the big leagues with a .265 opponent OBP.

This year Weaver relied less on his fastball, throwing it just 56.3 percent of the time compared to 61.7 percent last year. Not showing the heater as much helped Weaver as the opposition hit just .196 off of the pitch.

Angels Bullpen This Season

Frieri & Downs All others
ERA 2.70 4.33
Opp BA .191 .260
K-BB 112-43 273-125
Saves-Opp 32-38 6-22

Ernesto Frieri trade

Although he faded down the stretch, Ernesto Frieri was a huge for an Angels bullpen that needed someone to pitch in the late innings. After being acquired for Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista, Frieri struck out 80 batters in 54 1/3 innings.

What went wrong?

Bullpen bust

The Angels’ bullpen had 22 blown saves and a 3.97 ERA this season -- third-worst in the American League, ahead of only the Indians and Blue Jays.

Second-half slumps

The second half of the season wasn’t kind to several Angels, but two key cogs really stumbled down the stretch:

Mark Trumbo: .306 BA, 22 HR in first half; .227 BA, 10 HR in second half.

C.J. Wilson: 9-5, 2.43 ERA in first half; 4-5, 5.54 ERA in second half.

What’s next?

Three fifths of the Angels’ starting rotation could potentially change as Zack Greinke is a free agent and Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options.

Greinke’s immediate transition back to the American League wasn’t pretty as he had a 7.20 ERA in his first four starts with the Angels, but he finished the year by allowing two-or-fewer runs in seven of his last eight starts. Getting him back could be quite expensive.

Haren’s club option is for $15.5 million with a $3.5 million buy-out. That’s pretty pricy for a guy who had his worst ERA (4.33) since becoming a full-time starter in 2005.

General Manager Jerry Dipoto should have an even easier decision when it comes to Ervin Santana and his 5.16 ERA. His option for 2013 is $13 million with a $1 million buy-out.

Greinke is the main free-agent starter with long-term potential. The rest of the top starters available are up there in age: Ryan Dempster, Hiroki Kuroda and Jake Peavy (if the White Sox decline his option).

Torii Hunter’s contract also comes off the books this year, but the Angels should look to replace him. If not they’d potentially be bookending Trout in the outfield with a pair of guys who hit .220 and .230 this past season respectively in Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells.

This free-agent class is stacked with outfielders as Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Nick Swisher are all expected to be available.

Angels just can't put it all together

September, 27, 2012
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They do fireworks at Angel Stadium all the time. Warm weekend summer nights. Holidays. And of course, after the last regular-season home game to show appreciation for their fans, another 3 million of which turned up this season.

Most of the time they wait awhile after the game. Let the players get off the field and into the clubhouse. Let the fans file down on to the field or the lower bowl of the stadium. But for some reason they didn't wait this time. Albert Pujols struck out to close the book on the Los Angeles Angels' disheartening 9-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners and fireworks incongruously started popping out in center field.

It has been that kind of year in Anaheim.

A season that started with so much promise after the offseason acquisitions of Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson is six games from its end now with no obvious explanation of why this talented team could be left home come playoff time.

In the beginning it was the offense that let the Angels down. Then it was the pitching. In between the bullpen cost them games. Then it was the starting pitching again. Thursday it was again the bullpen, which gave up six runs over 3 2/3 innings of relief of starter Dan Haren.

"When they've done the job, we've done well as a team," Scoscia said of his team's oft-maligned bullpen. "When they've struggled, it's had an impact on us. It didn't work out this afternoon."

The Angels have the most blown saves (22) in the American League this year. They also have the fewest wins in relief, indicating that the relievers haven't done very well at giving the offense an opportunity to win the game once they take the ball from the starter.

But it's not just the bullpen that has landed the Angels where they are now, two games back of the Oakland Athletics for the final wild-card spot with six games to play.

That's just one hole they've had to plug in a year that has felt as if the team were leaking water from the start.

When you get to the end of things -- a season, a game, a career -- it's easy to only look for meaning in the things that came at the end.

But the story of this Angels season, the how and the why they've ended up looking up at the A's and Baltimore Orioles in the final week of the season without full control of their destiny, is a long one. And the beginning of it might be more important than the end.

The truth is the Angels have been bailing water out of the boat from the start of the season, when they stumbled out of the gate 18-25. Since then they've played like a playoff team, going 68-44 (.607) in 112 games.

"We've shown a lot of fight," Haren said. "If it weren't for really two stretches during this season, we'd probably end up with 95 wins or something. Unfortunately we dug ourselves a couple of holes and we're not sure we'll be able to get out."

(Read full post)

3 up, 3 down: Angels 4, Mariners 3

September, 26, 2012

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It might feel as if the Los Angeles Angels are running in place in the standings but at least they're still in the running with seven games left to play in the season.

On Wednesday night, the Angels beat the Seattle Mariners, 4-3, as Torii Hunter hit a walk-off single to score Maicer Izturis and give the Angels a much-needed comeback win, keeping their postseason hopes alive. The Angels are now two games out of the final American League wild-card spot with one more home game left against Seattle and six more on the road.

The Good:

Hunter steps up: Hunter is making the @KeepTorii contingent at Angel Stadium look like geniuses lately. His .341 batting average since the All-Star break is the third best in the AL over that span and he has come through for the team time after time with clutch hits, including Wednesday night's heroics. It was Hunter's second walk-off hit this season. Hunter also hit a single to shallow right center to score Peter Bourjos in the seventh inning to tie the score at 3-3.

Aybar's shot: Erick Aybar is another player who has been on a tear as of late for the Angels. His .357 clip since the start of August ranks third in the majors and first in the AL and he is batting .332 since the All-Star break, which is good for eighth in the AL. On Wednesday he hit a two-run double to left to score Kendrys Morales and Alberto Callaspo and give the Angels an early 2-0 lead.

Bullpen shines: After C.J. Wilson was pulled, the Angels' bullpen kept the team in the game, not allowing a run through the final four innings. The combination of Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri pitched 3 2/3 innings, giving up no hits and no runs.

The Bad:

Wilson, again: By Wilson's standards it wasn't the worst start, but it wasn't good either. Wilson pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs, all earned, and five hits, including a home run. This is the first season Wilson has recorded double-digit losses. Wilson has thrown quality starts in just three of his last 10 starts and 20 of 31 overall. On the bright side, Wilson did record his 800th career strikeout in the game.

Pujols strikes out: Despite finally getting on base late in the game, it wasn't the best night for Albert Pujols, who struck out his first three times at bat before finally recording a hit. Pujols has actually been batting .316 over his last 15 games and had six RBIs in his previous four games before Wednesday night, when Felix Hernandez rendered him completely ineffective.

Oakland and Baltimore win: The only way the Angels are going to play their way into the postseason is by having teams like the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles (and even the Tampa Bay Rays) lose. On Wednesday night, all of those teams won, meaning the Angels were unable to gain any ground.

Rotation changes as Angels make final push

September, 25, 2012
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Taking advantage of Monday’s day off, Zack Greinke is on regular rest for the Los Angeles Angels as he takes the mound against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.

Ervin Santana, whose turn in the rotation was supposed to be Tuesday, will now pitch Saturday at Texas on seven days’ rest. C.J. Wilson will start Wednesday against Seattle and Dan Haren, originally in line to start at Texas, now will work the series finale against Seattle on Thursday.

Manager Mike Scioscia said he weighed numerous factors in setting the rotation the way he did as the Angels continue to fight for one of the wild-card berths in the American League playoffs.

“I think there’s a lot of things that we looked at,” Scioscia said. “Dan has been throwing the ball well, especially against Seattle, he has. Giving Erv a little bit of a longer break right now also helps if we need him for the last series in some bullpen role. He could be available.”

Haren is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA against Seattle this season and pitched a shutout with 14 strikeouts against the Mariners the last time he faced them on May 24. Santana, on the other hand, is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA against the Mariners, so Scioscia is clearly playing the matchups as the Angels try to close the two-game gap between the Angels and the Oakland A’s in the wild-card race.

“There are a lot of things we’ve sliced up here the last 10 days to try and look at the rotation,” Scioscia said. “Those guys are pitching well and we’re going to need them.”

With the rotation set the way it is now, Jered Weaver and Greinke, the Angels' top two pitchers of late, will pitch the weekend series at Texas. It also puts Weaver in line to start the season finale at Seattle -- a game that could hold playoff ramifications -- then Greinke could pitch a one-game playoff on three days’ rest if necessary or the Oct. 5 wild-card game on regular rest.

“I don’t know if you’re going to rule out anything when you get to the situation that we’re in,” Scioscia said. “You have to balance your enthusiasm with trying to get your best arms out there with a little discretion on how many innings guys have under them and how they are feeling.”

Tonight’s lineups:

Seattle Mariners:
Dustin Ackley, 2B
Franklin Gutierrez, CF
Kyle Seager, 3B
John Jaso, DH
Justin Smoak, 1B
Michael Saunders, RF
Miguel Olivo, C
Trayvon Robinson, LF
Brendan Ryan, SS
Erasmo Ramirez, P

Los Angeles Angels:
Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Maicer Izturis, 2B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Zack Greinke, P

Angels find it difficult to explain their troubles

September, 21, 2012
Adrian BeltreAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillAdrian Beltre smacks a ninth-inning home run that sent the Angels tumbling to a tough loss.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Like most pitchers coming off a tough loss like the Los Angeles Angels' 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Thursday night, Zack Greinke only wanted to do this once. One group interview session by his locker. Say it once, explain it once, frame it once.

So Greinke waited patiently while the two other men who had a larger role in deciding this game had their say.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia explained why for the second time in a week the Angels were on the losing end of a game where Greinke gave them eight strong innings of one-run ball. Or really, why he keeps taking Greinke out for the ninth inning?

"It's not worth anyone extending themselves or getting them to a point where they're setting themselves back with injury," Scioscia said. "I don't know if it's 110 pitches, but I think it's a certain point of the game. If we're going to stretch him to 115, 120, we're going to start to push him for not only what he's going to do bouncing back but for his career."

Closer Ernesto Frieri was left to answer for why, for the second time in a week, he'd blown a game in the ninth inning that Greinke had pitched well enough to win. This time because he threw a hanging slider to a notorious breaking-ball hitter, Adrian Beltre, who promptly deposited said breaking ball into the left-field stands.

"Maybe I didn't execute the pitch the way I wanted, but I wanted to throw that pitch," Frieri said. "I am the same guy [as when he was more successful]. I was being aggressive throwing the fastball. I made only one bad pitch and that's what happened. When I was doing good I was throwing bad pitches, too. I was missing fastballs right down the middle and they would pop it up. This is the game. You need to be professional and just deal with it."

Both good, honest answers, even if they couldn't change the result of the game.

But when the microphone finally came around to the one guy who should have nothing to answer for, Greinke was stumped.

How can the Angels be playing good baseball, winning 15 of their last 22 games even including Thursday's loss and the heartbreaking 3-2 loss Frieri blew in relief of Greinke in Kansas City five days ago, and still be falling back in the wild-card chase?

"It's tough," Greinke said, shaking his head and searching for an answer. "We've been playing good. It's just, the other teams have been playing good, too.

"We can do better, but we can't do much better. I guess you have to give Baltimore and Oakland credit. You keep waiting for one of them to stumble, but they're not. It's making it tough."

(Read full post)

Scioscia won't drop Wilson from rotation

September, 20, 2012
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia may have given left-hander C.J. Wilson a quick hook in Wednesday's 6-2 loss to the Texas Rangers, but he's not considering dropping him from the rotation.

He did however, have another extended closed-door conversation with Wilson before Thursday's game to "try to get his best stuff back out there on the field."

"You can't overstate how much we need our starters to do what they're capable of," Scioscia said after Wilson lasted just 2 2/3 innings Wednesday, giving up three runs and four hits and forcing Scioscia to turn to long-reliever/spot-starter Jerome Williams.

Wilson (12-10, 3.82 ERA), who left the Rangers to sign a $77.5 million deal with the Angels last December, went winless in five starts against his former team this season.

"We have a lot of confidence in what he can do," Scioscia said. "We just maybe want to refine some simple things."

Zack Greinke takes the mound for the Angels tonight in the series finale. Yu Darvish goes for the Rangers. Adrian Beltre had been expected to sit out with intestinal issues but felt better after batting practice and will DH and bat fourth tonight.

Here's a look at tonight's lineups

Ian Kinsler 2B
Elvis Andrus SS
Michael Young 3B
Adrian Beltre DH
Nelson Cruz RF
David Murphy LF
Geovany Soto C
Mitch Moreland 1B
Craig Gentry CF
Yu Darvish (15-9, 4.02 ERA)

Mike Trout CF
Torii Hunter RF
Albert Pujols 1B
Kendrys Morales DH
Alberto Callaspo 3B
Howie Kendrick 2B
Erick Aybar SS
Mark Trumbo LF
Chris Iannetta C
Zack Greinke (5-2, 3.78 ERA)

3 up, 3 down: Rangers 6, Angels 2

September, 19, 2012

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At some point, the Los Angeles Angels are going to start running out of these crucial must-win games. Maybe that will be a good thing for frustrated fans who have been forced to sit through one heartbreaking loss after another as the Angels fall further behind in the playoff race.

On Wednesday night, the Angels lost to a Texas Rangers team playing without Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre 6-2, as C.J. Wilson was unable to make it out of the third inning. The Angels are now 7½ games behind Texas in the American League West and 3½ games behind Baltimore for the final wild-card spot.

The Good:

Callaspo’s big hit: On a night when the runs were, once again, few and far between for the Angels, Alberto Callaspo hit a two-run home run to left field that scored Howie Kendrick, who led off the fifth inning with a double. The homer was Callaspo’s 10th of the season and brought the Angels to within 3-2, which was as close as they would get in the game.

Williams in relief: Jerome Williams got the call sooner than he expected, but he did his part to keep the Angels in the game when he came in to relieve Wilson in the third inning. He pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up only one hit and no runs and striking out four. Unfortunately for the Angels, the rest of the bullpen was not as effective.

Pujols is back: After missing Tuesday night’s 11-3 win over the Rangers to be with his wife, Deidre, in Kansas City, where she gave birth to the couple’s fifth child, Esther Grace, on Sunday morning, Albert Pujols returned to Anaheim on Wednesday. When Angels manager Mike Scioscia was teased that the team didn’t seem to miss Pujols, he shook his head. “No, you always miss a player like Albert.” Pujols finished the game 2-for-4 but didn’t do a particularly great job when he did get on base (see below).

The Bad:

Wilson’s bad start: Wilson’s start against his former team couldn’t have gone much worse. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings, giving up three runs, all earned, and four hits. It looked as if Wilson might have been called even earlier, as Williams, who relieved Wilson, started warming up after the first inning. Wilson’s nightmarish third inning did him in, as he gave up all three runs and three extra-base hits in that inning before being pulled. Wilson had won three straight coming into the game after compiling an 11-game winless streak earlier this season.

Pujols’ base running: Perhaps he was still catching up on sleep after the birth of his daughter, but Pujols inexplicably tried to stretch a routine single into a double in the sixth inning when he had no business doing so. As he jogged to second base after rounding first, you figured at some point in time he’d realize what he was doing and run back, but he never did. He was thrown out by about 15 feet. Making matters worse, Torii Hunter followed Pujols with a ground-rule double. Had Pujols stayed at first instead of trying to stretch his single, he would have been at third base and Hunter would have been at second with one out. Instead, the inning ended with Kendrick striking out with the next at-bat.

Just for good measure: As Scioscia has stated many times, his bullpen is simply not built be tested early. He needs his starters to go at least six to seven innings to give his relievers a chance to be successful. Obviously, that was not the case Wednesday night, as Wilson was pulled in the third inning and the Angels rolled through three relievers who gave up a combined three runs, all earned, on six hits.



Jered Weaver
18 3.59 169 213
BAH. Kendrick .293
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169