Angels have nowhere to go but up
Maybe this is the low point.
The Angels surely have thought that a few other times this season, only to crash into another brick wall. At some point, it has to turn around, doesn't it? That's the logical assumption. There's just too much talent for this kind of stuff to continue.
Another game slipped away on Tuesday night, a 7-6 road loss to the Astros in which the Angels committed three errors and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. At 11-21, they're 10 games under .500 for the first time in seven years and 8 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West and off to their worst 32-game start in franchise history. They'd have to pass nine teams to get one of the AL Wild Card berths.
Is there still time? Sure, there is. That's exactly the kind of question manager Mike Scioscia had hoped not to be answering for the second year in a row. The Angels were 14-18 and 7 1/2 games behind the Rangers at this point last season. They finished with a 76-55 sprint and were two games out of a Wild Card berth with nine to play.
Their hope this time is that Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols will find their mojo, that ace Jered Weaver and reliever Ryan Madson will be productive after they return from the disabled list and that they finally will look like the team that was favored by many to win the AL West.
The thing that has to be so frustrating to Scioscia and general manager Jerry DiPoto is that the Angels had a reasonable blueprint for winning the division. They were a very good team at the end of last season, and even before the signing of Hamilton, DiPoto had himself a nice offseason by adding three solid arms to the rotation and a quality reliever to the back of the bullpen.
Were they better than the Rangers and A's? That's a good one to chew on. The Rangers and A's have taken a completely different approach to building a team. Neither has spent as much money as the Angels, but both have better pitching staffs. There's a message in there somewhere.
The Angels are next to last in the American League in quality starts and 12th in rotation ERA (4.84). Meanwhile, their bullpen has the second-lowest percentage of converting save opportunities in the league (44 percent).
Again, though, the Angels still were favored by many to win the AL West and play deep into October. It's easy to rip the blueprint now, but it looked solid on Opening Day.
Here's what happened:
• That dream lineup has yet to click. Pujols is hitting .231 and slowed by foot problems. Hamilton is hitting .202 and swinging at pitches way out of the strike zone. Until he shows he has the discipline to lay off bad pitches, there's no reason to mess with the strike zone. Mike Trout is hitting .274 and so far unable to recapture last season's magic when he looked like the best baseball player since Willie Mays. As a result, the Angels are ninth in the AL in runs.
• As for the rotation, there's hope. The Angels are 4-3 in C.J. Wilson's seven starts, and the three newcomers -- Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton -- have all pitched well the last two weeks. Weaver's absence creates a large hole, but four of the five are pitching at a high level.
• There's little margin for error with a bullpen that has three relievers on the disabled list. The Angels have lost six games in their opponents' final at-bat, but with Madson about to begin a rehab assignment, things should begin to stabilize by the end of the month.
Now about Scioscia. His job is to get his guys to play hard and put them in position to succeed. For the last 14 years, he has had few peers. If the Angels were to fire him, he'd be out of work about 20 minutes.
Ultimately, he's only as good as his players, and unless the problems of Pujols and Hamilton and the injuries to Madson and Weaver can be traced to him, it seems silly to even discuss firing him.
The challenge will be getting past enough teams to get a playoff berth. At the moment, the Rangers, A's, Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox appear to be the AL's five best teams.
But there were legitimate reasons so many of us thought the Angels were good enough to win a championship. First, they have to get their players back in uniform. And then they'll find out if the blueprint was as good as it appeared to be in the first place.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.