Los Angeles Angels: Toronto Blue Jays

3 Up, 3 Down: Angels 10, Blue Jays 6

July, 1, 2012

The Angels managed to split a four-game series in Toronto with Sunday's 10-6 win at the Rogers Centre.

It has been a resurgent offense leading the way lately -- a far cry from the majority of this season -- with the Angels launching three home runs Sunday to overcome some more shaky pitching.

The Good:

Baby All-Star. Mike Trout is headed to the All-Star Game before his 21st birthday largely because of the versatility of his game. At this early stage in his career, it's hard to know whether he projects as a leadoff hitter or a No. 3 hitter. Typically, power comes with experience and physical growth. Trout may not need much more of either to dominate. He went 2-for-4 and hit his ninth home run (a tie-breaker in the eighth inning) to raise his league-leading batting average to .339.

Toddler All-Star. Mark Trumbo has fewer aspects to his game than Trout, but it's not quite fair to call him one-dimensional. Power, of course, is his forte, and he launched his 20th home run two batters after Trout, but his overall hitting is improving fast. He is headed to Kansas City in part because he has made strides in cutting down his strikeouts and learning to get on base. He's batting .312, too, which doesn't hurt.

Good C.J. C.J. Wilson probably was the Angels' first-half pitching MVP -- and that's no dig at Jered Weaver, who missed three weeks with lower-back tightness. Wilson (9-4, 2.33 ERA) is headed to his second straight All-Star team. He was picked by his former manager, Texas' Ron Washington, who watched Wilson win a lot of games for him.

The Bad:

Bad C.J. What separates Wilson and Weaver (and Dan Haren when he's going good) is longevity. While the latter two predictably pitch deep into games, Wilson's shakier command make him more of a seven-inning pitcher. Once again, he had issues with his command (five walks) and could only go five innings. Only three times this season has Wilson gone more than seven innings.

Control. This was a series in which three-run home runs absolutely killed the Angels. The ninth inning would have been a lot quieter if Jordan Walden had had a better grasp of the strike zone earlier. He walked two batters and then gave up a three-run shot to Colby Rasmus. Toronto, a very powerful team, hit eight home runs in the four games of the series, producing 17 runs just on long balls.

Snub central. Because Ernesto Frieri hasn't been a closer long and because the Angels got four players on the team, few are going to make much of a fuss about his not being included on the squad. But, seriously, what does a guy have to do? Frieri has now made 24 appearances for the Angels without giving up a run. That seems like a fairly convincing argument.

3 up, 3 down: Blue Jays 11, Angels 2

June, 30, 2012

Some ragged starting pitching near the back of the Angels' rotation has slowed down their roll.

For the third straight game, the Angels got a shaky start -- this time from rookie Garrett Richards -- and lost 11-2 to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Good:

Maicer's might. Remember all those big hits Maicer Izturis used to get? This season, he hasn't just slumped, batting .230, but his power literally has disappeared. He hasn't homered yet and Saturday he hit just his sixth double. He had 35 of those last year. Granted, he hasn't been playing as much as last year, but a measure of improvement from Izturis -- if he can become the solid bench player he once was -- wouldn't hurt the Angels' cause.

Ever heard of... Andrew Romine is a 26-year-old minor league infielder who has been getting tastes of the major leagues since 2010. He is an excellent defender, can play better than adequate shortstop and switch hits. If the Angels didn't have two guys who make him redundant -- Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo -- he'd probably be on the team all year. Still, it was nice to see him have a little success, going 3-for-4.

Action. The Angels didn't score much, but they had action in four of the nine innings and had a respectable 10 hits. While they're not quite as hot as they were when this trip started, it doesn't feel as if they've slipped back into the offensive morass that settled into this team for long stretches of 2010, 2011 and this April. Now, if they can just get better production from starters not named Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, they should be OK.

The Bad:

Blow to the cause. If Richards is going to stay in the Angels' rotation, he'll need to bounce back in his next start -- and there probably will be at least one. The Angels are about to have six healthy starters when Jerome Williams returns, probably before the All-Star break. Richards (2-1, 2.81 ERA) has excellent overall numbers, but Saturday he got hit around (nine hits, 10 runs, five earned). When you're as young as Richards, you don't get too many second chances.

Streak ends. Mike Trout tapered off at the end of a brilliant June, getting one hit in his last nine at-bats. It probably falls under the no-biggie category, but Saturday's 0-for-4 snapped his 11-game hitting streak. He left a couple of guys on base. Trout has set such a high bar for himself so quickly, you wonder if the pressure will begin to build.

Canadian hospitality. Toronto has proven a difficult matchup for the Angels, even when injuries have depleted its roster (like now). The Angels had a miserable 12-inning loss in the fourth game of their last trip to Toronto at the end of 2011 and, now, they have to win Sunday just to salvage a four-game split. Last September's trip north imperiled the Angels' chances. This one could imperil their momentum.

3 Up, 3 Down: Angels 4, Blue Jays 3

May, 6, 2012

ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols finally hit a home run and the Angels' bullpen finally held a slim lead in a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday.

The Angels finished the homestand 5-2. Until this week, they had lost every road trip and homestand of the season.

The Good:

It's over, at last. One of the more-scrutinized homerless streaks in baseball history came to an end. Albert Pujols golfed a low pitch from Drew Hutchison over the left-field wall, about 390 feet from home plate, for his first home run as an Angel. That snapped a streak of 110 at-bats without going deep, the longest of Pujols' career. With that behind them, maybe the Angels can get a little momentum going as they travel to Minnesota to play the worst team in the American League. Players initially vacated the dugout, giving Pujols the silent treatment, but then they returned to swarm him.

Jerome's day. If the Angels had played better defense behind him, maybe Jerome Williams could have repeated his shutout from the previous start. He wasn't quite as sharp, but he pitched the Angels into the seventh inning on just 88 pitches despite two crucial misplays. Williams is giving the Angels stability in the back of their rotation. Since that bad season debut at Yankee Stadium, he has given them four straight quality starts.

Mighty pen. Four relievers combined to get the final seven outs in a one-run game, a radical departure from the rest of this season. After Scott Downs left the game with an injury, LaTroy Hawkins only needed two pitches to get two outs. Omar Vizquel lined the ball to Hawkins, who underhanded it to first for a double play.

The Bad:

Downs down. The Angels have already had enough headaches with their bullpen. Now this. Closer Scott Downs was ducking J.P. Arencibia's line drive in the ninth when he appeared to injure his right knee. Downs has been the only reliable reliever all year, having pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings before the injury.

Short on production. Pujols' slump took some scrutiny off Erick Aybar's struggles and that takes some doing. The shortstop went 3-for-24 (.125) on the homestand and stranded a runner at third with less than two outs in the sixth inning by chopping a ball to the third baseman on the second pitch. Aybar's OPS is the second-lowest among qualifying players in the AL ahead of Alexei Ramirez.

Defense. Aybar also lost a third-inning pop-up in the sun, leading to a run, and should have caught Pujols' high throw in the sixth, an error on Pujols that led to a Toronto run. He did, however, make a nice deke on Rajai Davis that led to a rare 1-4 double play in the eighth inning.

3 Up, 3 Down: Blue Jays 5, Angels 0

May, 3, 2012
ANAHEIM -- So much for momentum.

The Angels, fresh off their first three-game winning streak of the year, played one of their worst games of the season in a 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday night. Brandon Morrow only needed 102 pitches to polish off the shutout, making it three straight games one of those has been pitched at Angel Stadium.

The Good:

Catalyzing. Mike Trout had two of the Angels' three hits off Morrow. The 21-and-over crowd practically whiffed. Trout, 20, hit a couple of line-drive singles and has looked much more comfortable in his last two games. If he can settle into the leadoff spot, it could help jump-start the Angels offense, but it won't mean much if the middle of the lineup stays soft.

Innings 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Dan Haren only gave up five hits in seven innings and this actually qualified as a quality start, even if it wasn't up to Haren's usual standards. The problem is that Haren gave up four of those hits in a row and one of them was J.P. Arencibia's line-drive three-run home run. Before that, Angels pitchers had thrown more than 17 straight scoreless innings.

Defensive specialist. When the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract, did they realize they were actually signing Doug Mientkeiwicz? OK, so a great defender at first base probably isn't worth that kind of money, but at least give Pujols credit for keeping his head in the game on defense while he continues to be lost at the plate. He started and finished a brilliant 3-6-3 double play on a hard one-hopper to help Haren get out of the seventh.

The Bad:

Deep, deep funk. It's astonishing how many groundballs Pujols is hitting to the left side of the infield. Teams are pitching him hard inside and you wonder whether he no longer has the bat speed to exploit balls on the inner half. The scouting report isn't going to change until he does. The latest tally of carnage: 104 at-bats without a home run, one short of his career-long power drought. A .202 batting average. Angst all over Orange County, especially in Arte Moreno's suite.

Deeper, deep funk. Vernon Wells was in Pujols' shoes a year ago. Come to think of it, he still is. Wells, who batted .218 a year ago, is stuck in a 6-for-31 slump and has hit into double plays in back-to-back games. There was some talk in spring training that he looked like a different guy. So far, he looks like exactly the same guy.

Just a bit wide. Mike Scioscia spoke in glowing terms about his newfound confidence in Mark Trumbo at third base. Given a little time, Trumbo probably could become a good fielder at that spot. But it's been awfully tough for him to get comfortable there in his second season in the major leagues. Trumbo had been making strides, but made a brutal two-run throwing error, sailing it about 10 feet from Pujols and past the runner into the Toronto dugout. It was Trumbo's fourth error, but first since the third game of the season.

Position previews: Left field

February, 8, 2012
Now, we've reached the hot-potato portion of our series.

Nothing gets Angels fans more riled up than thinking about left field; specifically, the brutal 2011 season of left fielder Vernon Wells. What makes it particularly galling to many fans is the perception that uber-prospect Mike Trout, who crashed into the major leagues as a teenager last year, is being blocked by the well-paid, underperforming veteran.

[+] EnlargeVernon Wells
Brad White/Getty ImagesVernon Wells is the Angels left fielder, and the team's GM is confident Wells can rebound from an awful 2010 season.
Which figures to make the following comment by general manager Jerry Dipoto like nails on a chalkboard to some fans: "Vernon's our left fielder."

Dipoto made that statement Wednesday, when I asked him whether there will be a measure of competition for the spot this spring.

Of course, it's not strictly about talent. The Angels are on the hook to pay Wells $63 million over the next three seasons -- this for a player with the worst on-base percentage (.248) and the sixth-worst batting average (.218) in the major leagues last year among qualifying players. Few teams would be willing to leave that kind of money on their bench.

To say it's a potential conundrum is an understatement. It's widely viewed as the move that cost the last GM, Tony Reagins, his job.

Having inherited the issue, Dipoto is stuck hoping for the best.

Dipoto said he is "very confident" Wells will have a bounce-back season, citing 2008 and 2010 as examples of Wells recovering from sub-par seasons the year before.

"Being 33 years old is not archaic or over the hill by any means in baseball," Dipoto said. "He's still a very athletic guy, he plays above-average defense and he hit 25 home runs. He struggled, but he still found ways of contributing. The guy has 13 years of major league experience. In some way, shape or form, he'll get out of this."

Dipoto, a reliever, was traded twice as a player and called it "jarring both times." Perhaps the Angels' best hope for a rebound season from Wells is that he'll be more comfortable in his second season in Anaheim after playing his entire career in Toronto.

Dipoto said the Angels "will make sure [Trout] is playing every day, regardless of where he is," which seems to rule out a spot for the 20-year-old speedster on the major-league roster on Opening Day. That assumes that all three starting outfielders are healthy.

Trout batted .220 with five home runs in 123 at-bats with the Angels last year and retains his rookie status entering 2012. His next game at Triple-A will be his first, as the Angels summoned him to Anaheim directly from the team's Double-A Arkansas affiliate twice last year.

"Guys who make their debuts as teenagers are in a selective class. He's got a huge upside and we'll make sure he gets his reps. With our current setup, there's no reason to rush him," Dipoto said.

Position previews: Catcher

January, 31, 2012

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
A few days before general manager Jerry Dipoto made a couple of loud noises in the free-agent market, he made two lower-decibel moves that nonetheless resonated with Angels fans.

Dipoto traded young pitcher Tyler Chatwood to the Colorado Rockies for catcher Chris Iannetta and followed that up three days later by sending catcher Jeff Mathis to Toronto for pitcher Brad Mills.

Many Angels fans, tired of watching Mathis' feeble at-bats, seemed joyous over the news. But how much better -- if at all -- will it make the team? Are the Angels simply giving up defense to gain offense? Or, was Mathis' defense -- the subject of periodic rhapsodies from manager Mike Scioscia -- overrated? Is Iannetta even a much better hitter?

The first few questions are difficult, maybe impossible, to answer. Baseball analytics have come a long way in the last 10 years, but they come up short when it comes to breaking down a catcher's contributions to stopping the other team from scoring.

I got assistance from ESPN statistical analyst Mark Simon, who said what I suspected. There really is no good overarching measure of a catcher’s defense. Here’s what we have to go by:

Angels pitchers had a 3.25 ERA when Mathis was catching. Only Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz had a better CERA among guys who caught at least 80 games. They had a 3.86 ERA with any other Angels catcher.

Rockies pitchers had a 4.22 ERA when Iannetta was catching. They had a 4.84 ERA with any other Rockies catcher.

Summary: Both guys were slightly better than the on-hand alternatives at helping pitchers succeed, but we can’t even say that with certainty. What if they were better because they were paired with better pitchers? It’s not uncommon for a manager to give his best catcher a day off when the fifth starter is pitching, figuring that game is a crap shoot anyway.

But we can safely assume, probably, that both Mathis and Iannetta are good at catching and that Mathis is a little better than Iannetta.

(Read full post)

Blue Jays 4, Angels 3: Three Up, Three Down

September, 22, 2011
Edwin EncarnacionLuc Leclerc/US PresswireEdwin Encarnacion's 12th-inning homer handed the Angels a crucial loss in their playoff chase.

The Los Angeles Angels' offense -- hit or miss all season -- went into miss mode at a bad time.

The result was a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in 12 innings Thursday -- Edwin Encarnacion ending things with a 12th-inning home run -- that could cost the Angels dearly in their playoff push. They lost crucial ground in the American League wild-card race. They now trail the Boston Red Sox by three games with six to go and they fell a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Angels didn't score after the sixth inning.

The Good:

Tightrope walking. Ervin Santana had to throw a lot of pitches early and he lasted only six innings, meaning the Angels had a lot of ground to cover with their bullpen. Once manager Mike Scioscia ran out of arms he had trusted all season, he had no choice but to hand the ball to guys who had been in the minors most of the year. They actually did pretty well. Horacio Ramirez and Garrett Richards got three outs before Richards hung a slider and Encarnacion hit a line drive over the left-field wall.

Key relievers. Scott Downs and Jordan Walden both were asked to go more than an inning -- hey, these are desperate times -- and both guys handled it well. They combined for three scoreless innings doing something they had rarely done all year.

Ervin. If he hadn't thrown more than 30 pitches in the first inning, perhaps things would have gone differently. He had good stuff and he used it to get through six innings, allowing just two runs and six hits. It was more solid work from the big three, but with the offense sputtering, it just wasn't quite enough length.

The Bad:

Inoffensive. All the extra-base hits the Angels had cranked out in the previous two games were nowhere to be found. Granted, that often happens in baseball, where momentum typically stops with the next day's starting pitcher, but the lack of continuity has plagued this team all season. Nine baserunners in 12 innings rarely will win you a game, and the Angels' offense just shriveled up as the game went along.

Impatient. The one trait that has plagued this offense consistently is an unwillingness to take pitches. A bunch of unimpressive Toronto pitchers managed to average fewer than 14 pitches per inning and the Angels only walked once all night. Do the Angels not take note that virtually every effective offense in baseball relies on guys with high on-base percentages?

Ineffective. It seems as though every third-option reliever the Angels test cracks under pressure. Bobby Cassevah has pitched well for this team, but in his highest-pressure situation yet, he got a little shaky. Cassevah walked a batter and gave up a double, allowing the tying run to score in the seventh. When the obituary is written on the Angels' season, sputtering offense and unreliable relief with be the key causes of death.

What needs to happen

September, 22, 2011
The Angels are in a tricky spot in this all-of-a-sudden wild-card race. You could argue that they're in the perfect position, waiting for a swooning team to fall back to them. So far, the Boston Red Sox have done just that, going 5-16 this month.

It's been about Boston's collapse more than the Angels' surge. Going 5-4 on a road trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto isn't exactly applying the heavy-duty heat.

The Angels likely need to go 5-2 -- at least -- in this final week to have a shot at returning to the postseason, where they've landed in six of Mike Scioscia's first 11 seasons. Let's dig down deeper and figure out how they can complete this improbable feat:

Win: Obvious, right?

Sure, but that's not the same thing as automatic. The most worrisome thing about this opportunity is the Angels' trajectory. They went into Baltimore with Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver lined up. That's about as automatic as you can get, right? No such thing as automatic.

Haren and Santana didn't pitch well -- it happens -- and the Angels lost the two games that, in retrospect, cost them a chance to really apply pressure to Boston. This is the one time of a baseball season that is all about momentum, and the Angels desperately need it.

Straighten the A's. The Angels may have exorcised some demons by taking two of three games in Oakland last week, but they're still 7-9 this season against the A's. It's pretty simple. They're batting .223 against Oakland, their worst mark against any team other than the Cleveland Indians (oddly).

The A's haven't announced a starter for Sunday's game yet, but they'll use ace Gio Gonzalez (who just shut the Angels down in Oakland) and Guillermo Moscoso (who is pitching the best of his career) in the first two games. This Oakland series isn't automatic no matter how lifeless the A's are looking right now. They show more fight when they face the Angels, probably a mixture of confidence and motivation.

Let Texas party. The Angels should root hard for Texas in the next few days. Manager Ron Washington has said he won't rest his regulars until his club has clinched. The Rangers' magic number to win the AL West is three. The ideal scenario: Texas sweeps Seattle and clinches Sunday, meaning the Angels will see lineups sprinkled with September call-ups in each of their three season-ending games against the Rangers.

They figure to face Texas' ace, C.J. Wilson, on Monday. If Texas has clinched, Washington probably will limit Wilson to five innings or so as a tuneup for the playoffs, a huge advantage for the Angels.

Buy a Yankees cap. The Angels could get stung by the flip side of Texas clinching early. The New York Yankees have already sewn up the AL East. They're on the verge of locking up the best record in the league, with a five-game lead over Detroit and Texas.

While Yankees manager Joe Girardi undoubtedly will pay lip service to the integrity of pennant races, his first responsibility is to get his team set for the playoffs. The Yankees will look to rest regular position players and scale down their starters' innings over the final week.

The Angels need to hope that the Yankees' depth (and pride) wins out, because they play exclusively against the two other wild-card contenders in their final six games. The Angels need help, and the Yankees are their best friends right now. So, what is the Yankees' reward if they help the Angels? They get to face them in the American League Division Series.

Angels 7, Blue Jays 2: Three Up, Three Down

September, 21, 2011
Just when you think they're out of it, the Angels usually make things interesting.

They continued to pound Toronto Blue Jays pitching in a 7-2 win Wednesday at Rogers Centre that pulled them to within 2 1/2 games of the free-falling Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race. The Angels have seven games left -- one more in Toronto before home series with Oakland and Texas.

Boston, which has gone 5-16 this month, has to tangle with the first-place New York Yankees in the Bronx this weekend before concluding the season at Baltimore.

The Good:

Peter piper. The offensive production from Peter Bourjos in the second half has been both surprising and remarkable. He's doing things rarely accomplished. With his 10th triple (he finished a double shy of the cycle), Bourjos is the first Angel ever with 25 or more doubles, 10 or more triples, 10 or more homes runs and 20 or more stolen bases in a season. What does that mean? Not sure, but it gives a snapshot of what a unique blend of talent he has.

Extra time. You figured the Angels would need to score to fare well in this series, and they've been swinging with confidence the past two games. The last time they had as many as 14 extra-base hits in a two-game span was June 12-13 of 2009, when they had 15 against the San Diego Padres.

Old haunts. Vernon Wells had a big game and -- say it together -- could this be a game that gets him going? OK, it's probably too late for that at this point, but getting him hot for the last week would be helpful. He mashed his 24th home run and drove in four. He likes that dome.

The Bad:

Wrist shot. Dan Haren usually doesn't stay down for long, and the Angels are hoping he can make another fast recovery. Coming off one of his worst starts of the season in Baltimore, he handcuffed the Blue Jays for eight innings before taking a line drive off his left wrist. The Angels will be holding their breath for X-ray results. If it turns out to be broken or even seriously bruised, their playoff push could be in trouble. Haren's last start is supposed to be Monday against the Texas Rangers.

Second lefty. It fell under the "who cares" category -- Hisanori Takahashi giving up a ninth-inning run with the lead well in hand -- but options short of Scott Downs have been worrisome this season. Say lightning strikes and the Angels do make the playoffs, who does Mike Scioscia turn to if he needs a reliever to start the seventh inning? All the options are a little scary, aren't they?

Struggles, unending. Catcher Jeff Mathis is batting .180 with a week left in the season -- .180!

Angels 10, Blue Jays 6: Three Up, Three Down

September, 20, 2011
The Angels guaranteed they won't be eliminated from playoff contention on this road trip with a 10-6 win at Toronto Tuesday night.

Coupled with the Boston Red Sox's 7-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the Angels now are 3 1/2 games out in the wild-card race. They trail the Texas Rangers by five games in the AL West. They have two more games left on the road and six more left at home.

The Good:

Young lumber. Mark Trumbo got a little separation in the Rookie of the Year race and helped his hometown Angels stick around a little longer. He golfed his 29th home run -- a vicious line drive-- putting him within two of Tim Salmon's team record for a rookie. He also drove in four runs, giving him 87 RBIs this year, most in the majors for rookies.

Top heavy. Setting the table had been an issue in recent games, but you couldn't have had a more bountiful meal in this game. The top three hitters went 8-for-13 and scored five runs. For at least one night, the Angels resembled one of those Beast-from-the-East offenses, getting on base and cashing in all night.

Coming right up. Getting a couple of solid starts from Jerome Williams and Joel Pineiro sets the Angels up to get their Big Three pitchers in a row over the next three days (and the last three). That tends to work out well. Since the end of June, the Angels are 31-14 when one of those guys -- Jered Weaver, Dan Haren or Ervin Santana -- starts.

The Bad:

Catching cold. The Angels have been solid with their gloves all season, but lately things have gotten a bit messy. The end of Tuesday's game wasn't exactly nice and neat thanks to Trumbo's error. He just missed Howie Kendrick's throw on what would have been the final out, giving the Angels three unearned runs allowed in the past two games.

Kid's confidence? One of the subplots of the end of this season involves the Angels' top prospect. They would love for Mike Trout's career to get off to a nice, solid start. But lately he's been struggling -- 1 for his last 18 to drop his average to .206 -- and you wonder whether the 20-year old's confidence is being tested.

Resistance. This pennant race would have gone a little bit differently if the rest of the AL West had given Texas even token resistance. Including Tuesday night's win over Oakland, the Rangers are 23-9 vs. the A's and Seattle Mariners this season. They have five more games left against those teams.

Blue Jays 3, Angels 2 (10): Three Up, Three Down

September, 19, 2011
Torii HunterAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris YoungTorii Hunter homered Monday in Toronto, but it wasn't enough as the Angels lost in 10 innings.

The Angels continued to fritter away their playoff hopes on the road, losing 3-2 in 10 innings to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, their third loss in the last four games.

The Angels lost ground in both playoff races. They're now five games out in the AL West and 4 1/2 out in the wild-card race with only nine games left.

The Good:

(Small doses of) power. Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo hit solo home runs off Ricky Romero, a Los Angeles native and former Cal State Fullerton Titan. Otherwise, the Angels had no offense to speak of. It seems as if those two have often worked in an offensive vacuum during this team's sputtering playoff push.

Williams' work. It looks more and more as if that poor start in Oakland was the anomaly, not the rule. Jerome Williams has been better than solid, even working on extra rest as the Angels position their Big Three starters to work as often as possible. If Williams had fielded his position better (he dropped the relay on a double-play ball and made the throwing error that cost him two runs), he would have had a dominant evening.

Relief work. Scott Downs has had a remarkable season, but he's not a miracle worker. He escaped one dangerous situation in the ninth, but after Erick Aybar's error put him in another jam, he gave up the Adam Lind fielder's choice grounder to fifth infielder Hunter that brought in the winning run in extras. Downs, in his first season with the Angels, has been perhaps the team's most consistent player.

The Bad:

Turned off (ense). The Angels just haven't been reliable enough on offense to stay afloat. They go long stretches of games without managing a base runner and rarely put consistent pressure on other teams. Seven hits and zero walks in 10 innings really doesn't amount to an offense, and that has been a familiar refrain.

Settings. This trip has had some rather drab backdrops, perhaps fitting for the Angels' fall from contention. The crowds in Oakland were just a few scattered thousand a game and the 11,000 or so who showed up in Toronto accounted for the smallest crowd of the season there -- and 7,000 fewer than showed up at an exhibition hockey game down the street. If a tree falls in the forest ...

Opportunism. Thinking like this can drive you crazy, but if the Angels had just managed to eke this game out and beaten last-place Baltimore on Friday and Saturday -- far from impossible tasks -- they'd be 1 1/2 games out in the wild-card hunt, with Boston apparently sinking like a stone (and Tampa facing the New York Yankees six more times). They've blown what could have been a golden opportunity and have no one to blame but themselves.

Angels 11, Orioles 2: Three Up, Three Down

September, 18, 2011
The Angels' offense snapped out of its funk and erupted in Baltimore, giving Jered Weaver all the support he needed to pick up his 18th win on short rest, as the Angels won 11-2 Sunday to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.

The win got the Angels to within four games of the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race and to within four of the Texas Rangers in the AL West pending the outcome of Texas' game in Seattle.

The Good:

Career day. Erick Aybar has been a force at the top (or bottom) of the Angels' lineup since he emerged from his August funk, but Sunday was in an entirely different category. Aybar, a defensive whiz at shortstop, had never done anything like this. He went 4-for-4 with two home runs, five runs and four RBIs. He already has doubled his career high for home runs (10) and is making up for a down offensive season last year.

Weaver can cruise. This was the perfect game for Weaver to pitch on three days' rest, because he was able to wrap up a fairly efficient afternoon after six innings and 97 pitches without Mike Scioscia worrying about a bullpen implosion. Now, Weaver can make two more starts on regular rest, the final of which would be at home against Texas in the season finale. In a normal season, Weaver would be at the front of the pack in Cy Young talk, but Justin Verlander looks like he's running away with it.

Wells respite. When this season is over, Vernon Wells is going to have to answer some difficult questions about why he played so far below his career norms in his first season with a new team, but Sunday was a break from all that angst. He hit his 22nd home run, one of two hits, and got his average "up" to .219.

The Bad:

Beanings. It's always hard to discern a pitcher's intent when he throws up and in to a batter, but Baltimore's Mark Reynolds guessed that Ervin Santana had bad intentions when he hit him in Saturday's game. That led to a bit of hostility Sunday, with umpires warning both teams, but reliever Brad Bergesen looked distraught after he hit Jeff Mathis in the helmet (and umpire Laz Diaz elected not to eject him). It was a scary moment and, thankfully, Mathis was OK.

Schedule. The Angels probably wished the Orioles well after Sunday's game, because Baltimore could open a back door to the playoffs -- though it's quite a longshot. The Red Sox are reeling, but their diehard fans have this to fall back on: Seven of their final 10 games are against last-place Baltimore. Maybe Buck Showalter can get his team to play with as much passion in those games as they did against the Angels over the weekend. Tampa Bay, the second-place team in the wild card, has six left against the best team in the league, the New York Yankees.

Schedule II. The Angels would love to be alive for a playoff spot entering that Sept. 26-28 series at home against Texas, but that's going to be tough to pull off. The Angels have gone 10-12 against their intervening opponents while Texas has gone 22-9 against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's. Anything is possible, but the wild card could be a more likely avenue, tricky as that route seems.

Angels searching for vintage Vernon

August, 27, 2011
Vernon WellsAP Photo/Tony GutierrezAs Vernon Wells goes, so do the Angels.
Vernon Wells has a conflicted relationship with the past.

He's been scouring video of his at-bats from 2006, his best season, hoping to uncover clues that can help him out of the misery of 2011. But he's trying not to dwell on more recent developments.

"I don't care about what happened in the past, good or bad. All that matters is that next game, that next at-bat, your next play in the field," Wells said. "That's all that matters from this point on."

Manager Mike Scioscia said he has talked to Wells about the way a pennant race can offer new life to players suffering through miserable seasons. Wells, in his first season with the Angels, is batting just .215 with a .249 on-base percentage, both of which rank near the bottom of the American League.

"We told him, 'Your numbers are going to be ugly. There's no way you're going, in five weeks, to make up for the frustration you've had in this season,'" Scioscia said. "We have a lot of confidence in him."

It's beginning to look like Wells has confidence in himself again. Since making a slight change to his batting stance -- distributing his weight more evenly and avoiding shifting to his front foot -- Wells has been hitting line drives, some of which clear the wall. He has nine hits in his last 17 at-bats, including a home run and triple in the Angels' 8-4 win over the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.

Getting Wells going has been Item No. 1 for the Angels' offense much of this season. Wells seems to have found something after looking at the 2006 video provided by the Toronto Blue Jays when the Angels were there two weeks ago.

"I think just hitting home runs probably got me going in the wrong direction," Wells said. "I've always said I wasn't a home run hitter. The home runs I hit were just elevated line drives. I think I bought into the whole home run thing, so I'm trying to get away from that."

Putting friendship to the test

August, 25, 2011
In October of 2010, Vernon Wells finally got to go to the playoffs. He just had to pay for his seats, like every other fan at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark.

Wells attended the Rangers’ playoff and World Series games near his home – and even a couple in New York – to support one of his closest friends, Rangers infielder Michael Young. Sometimes, he went with his wife and friends. Sometimes, he brought his two little boys.

But he didn’t miss one. That’s how much he cares about Young.

“You wish you were there, but being happy for him far outweighed anything else. Getting a chance to watch him finally get a chance to play in the post-season, to see the enjoyment in his face, it was fun,” Wells said.

What might prove even more fun for Wells is to force Young to stay home in October, because this time Wells is an Angel. His team is in a heated pennant race with Young’s Rangers. The teams play a crucial three-game series this weekend in Texas with the Angels trailing by just two games.

Wells and Young talk two or three times a week. Their families have become close over the years. But when the games start, there’s not a lot of room for empathy or chit chat.

“I love the guy like a brother and I want him to have great years every year of his career, but when we’re on the field I’m trying to win for my team and he’s trying to win for his,” Young told ESPNDallas.com’s Richard Durrett.

This friendship has an odd wrinkle to it. Wells grew up in South Arlington, about 10 minutes’ drive to the Rangers’ ballpark and still lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Young grew up in Covina, roughly 25 miles from Angel Stadium.

“We both get to go home while we’re on the road,” Wells said. “It’s a different way of looking at it, but we’re both in the same boat now.”

The two players have been friends for 14 years, bonding shortly after their were picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1997 draft. They played together at every level until Wells moved up to Triple-A in 2000 and Young moved on – traded to Texas for Esteban Loaiza that June.

From there, both players began building lucrative major-league careers, but until last season, Young, 34, had never played in the post-season. Wells, 32, still hasn’t – Until January, he was stuck in Toronto, which plays in a division dominated by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Young said it meant a lot to have Wells along during his playoff experiences.

“If he ever needed anything, I’d drop everything and help,” Young said. “He’d do the same.”

Blue Jays 5, Angels 4 (10): Three Up, Three Down

August, 14, 2011
The Angels' two main weaknesses -- an anemic offense and shaky relief pitching -- cost them dearly in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre Sunday. Rookie closer Jordan Walden gave up the tying run in the ninth and Fernando Rodney walked two batters to set up the winning rally an inning later.

The Angels offense, stuck in a brutal slump, had one base runner after the fifth inning.

The Good:

Hunter's swing. For the first time this year, Torii Hunter is swinging like he did for much of last season. He's getting base hits and, when a pitcher makes a mistake, he's hitting it a long way. Hunter connected on a high fastball and sent it soaring into the right-field stands for a two-run home run in the first inning.

First eight. Things actually went according to the Angels' formula. Dan Haren went seven solid innings, setting up the Angels to use their top relievers in the eighth and ninth. Scott Downs held up his end, pitching around two hits, but Walden got hit hard an inning later.

Setting tables. Mike Scioscia is trying some new stuff with his lineups, some of them promising. He plugged Peter Bourjos into the leadoff spot against a left-hander and it produced some action at the top of the lineup. The first four hitters in the Angels' lineup had five of the six hits in the game. That tells you how things went for everybody else.

The Bad:

Kid closer. Hostile environments seem to give Walden problems and that can spell trouble for a closer. Walden has blown eight saves, most in the majors, and six of those have been on the road.

Run drought. Six hits and no walks in 10 innings aren't going to win you a lot of games. It's not an official stat, but the Angels must lead the league in quiet innings. They've slipped into one of those ruts that have cropped up periodically this year and figure to be their downfall.

Aybar's slump. He moves around in the lineup, but wherever Mike Scioscia puts him, he just keeping making outs. This slump is one of the deeper ones you'll ever seen, one hit in his last 39 at-bats. He's basically done nothing in the last four series.



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