These are dangerous times to be a sports star in the city of Los Angeles. The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant goes down for the year. The Dodgers’ Zack Greinke breaks his collarbone. And the Angels’ Jered Weaver is out until May with arm problems. It’s the latter that will be our focus in American League MLB coverage, because Weaver’s injury is just the most serious thing to happen to the Halos in an April that, for the second straight year, has seen everything go wrong. What’s going on in Anaheim?
The Angels have lost eight of their first eleven games, a problem that’s only aggravated by the Oakland A’s getting off to a hot start in the AL West and the Texas Rangers also playing well. Los Angeles, after the offseason signing of Josh Hamilton are in an early 5 ½ game hold. Is there still plenty of time? Absolutely. But there was still plenty of time last year when they stumbled out of the gate after the signing of Albert Pujols, and while the Angels got back into the 2012 race, they never quite overcome the bad start.
Hamilton has imitated Pujols, and gotten off to a terrible start in the first year after the big free-agent contract. His stat line shows a .260 on-base percentage and .302 slugging percentage, both in the “anemic” category. He’s joined by Mike Trout, who’s at .288/.347. The lack of power production is the reason the Angels are tied for 12th in the American League in runs scored.
The pitching is even worse, where the team is 15th in ERA and here’s where we come to the impact of Weaver’s absence. Four pitchers have made two starts thus far—C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson. Only one—Vargas—has an ERA under 5.00. Again, while we obviously note that it’s early, who in this group besides Wilson can be considered a sure bet to step it up and pitch well? Hanson might—he’s young and he’s got good stuff. But he was never more than above-average in Atlanta and now he’s facing American League lineups.
Relief pitching was LAA’s ultimate undoing last year and the early returns this year are a mixed bag. Ernesto Frieri is the current closer until Ryan Madson can get healthy, and he’s pitching well, as are Sean Burnett and Jerome Williams. But Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen and Mark Lowe are getting shelled, and the Angels are among just four American League teams to have multiple blown saves at this early stage.
I’ve talked about the bad news, but a fair and accurate picture requires we point out some positives. Pujols is settled into his new home, with a .480/.595 start to the season. Howie Kendrick is swinging a good bat, and while Mark Trumbo isn’t hitting home runs yet, he’s still slugging .468, and with a stroke like his, the long ball will come soon after that.
Furthermore, Weaver is expected back in May, and Madson’s recovery is coming along well enough to get him back by the end of this month. The return of the #1 starter and the natural closer allows everyone else to fall back into their proper niches in the pitching staff.
No one should alter preseason predictions after two weeks, save for a dramatic season-ending injury, and I’m certainly not backing off my pick of the Angels to win the AL West. But on the flip side, I picked them somewhat reluctantly, not being all that thrilled with the alternatives, and there certainly has been nothing in the first two weeks to alleviate my doubts—namely that once you get beneath the glittering façade of LAA’s stars, there’s just not quality depth. That depth, at least in the starting rotation, is getting an earlier test than we thought.
AMERICAN LEAGUE NOTES
*Oakland is off to a hot start, because the bats are sizzling. They lead the AL in runs scored by a big number—the gap between the A’s and second-place Detroit is greater than the gap between the Tigers and 10th-place Cleveland. Power has been the biggest part of that, thanks to an AL-best .486 slugging percentage for Oakland. But they had to put Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list until the end of the month, so that, along with a natural cooling-off, should settle things down a bit.
*Texas might be 8-4, but the pitching injuries continue to pile up. Matt Harrison will miss at least the rest of this month with a bad back, something that adds on to the longer-term absences of Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz.
*The AL Central is mostly packed up, thanks to Detroit’s problematic bullpen. The Tigers have blown three saves in five opportunities, but still lead the pack at 6-5. Minnesota got yet another bad break with the loss of Cole DeVries to a forearm injury. Last year, DeVries joined Scott Diamond as young arms who gave the Twin Cities some hope. Now DeVries joins Diamond on the disabled list.
*As expected, the AL East is a complete logjam, with everyone between 6-4 and 4-6 coming into Sunday’s games. This works to the advantage of New York, who are trying to keep afloat until Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson come back over the next several weeks. Toronto suffered the latest big injury, losing Jose Reyes until June. I was never on the Blue Jays’ bandwagon to begin with, and won’t be in the least surprised if this team starts to separate itself from the pack—in the wrong direction.