ANAHEIM, Calif. — Success can be a relative term. If you heard in spring training that the Angels would hit the All-Star break with a record of 44-49, in third place, you’d have deemed the first half an utter failure.
But if you also knew that they would have had three starting pitchers on the disabled list and — most important — their two superstar sluggers in the middle of the order playing far below their career norms …
Well, let’s just say it could be worse.
The glass-half-full way to look at the first half for the Angels is that they’ve endured stretches in which just about everything went wrong, yet they pulled it together and played well enough over the past month to get to two games from .500 before losing the last three games before the break.
“I think this is pretty close to the team we expected,” Mark Trumbo said on the heels of a stretch in which the Angels won 11 of 14.
The blueprint was for the Angels to have a powerful, dynamic offense, a starting rotation that was just good enough, a solid bullpen and good defense.
They had just that — with the possible exception of the defense — for most of the past six weeks. During the past 51 games, the Angels were 29-22, a .568 winning percentage that would yield 92 victories if they sustained it over 162 games.
“If you have good components, and the right pieces, there is no way at some point you won’t all click together,” Howie Kendrick said.
The problem, however, is the Angels started late. The first 42 games, when they went 15-27, might still prove to be too much of a deficit to overcome. If the Angels continue that .568 percentage through the final 69 games of the season, they’ll end up with 83 wins, far from what they’ll likely need to make the playoffs.
A combination of injuries (Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols, Sean Burnett) and underperformance (Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton) are to blame for sinking the Angels into this hole.
Angels starters have a 4.57 ERA, which ranks 11th in the league. Of the five spots, the only one that has given them consistent production is C.J. Wilson’s. Jered Weaver, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson have all been injured or unavailable for stretches. Joe Blanton has a 5.53 ERA.
Offensively, the Angels rank sixth in the league in runs per game, but they need to be better than that with this pitching staff.
Because of the struggles of Pujols and Hamilton, the Angels rank 10th in OPS out of the No. 3 spot, and 13th in OPS out of the cleanup spot. Both Pujols and Hamilton showed signs in the first half, but nothing sustained for more than a few weeks.
It adds up to a team that reached the break with, as Manager Mike Scioscia acknowledged “not a huge margin for error.”
They exhausted that long ago.
A breakdown of the good and bad in the first half:
MVP: Mike Trout was supposed to have set an impossibly high standard for himself in his rookie season, doomed almost certainly to have some sort of decline. Right? Not so much. Trout’s numbers are almost identical or better than last year’s numbers in most areas except for power, in which he’s down slightly. Still, he’s been one of the few consistent fixtures in the lineup and in the field. Hard to imagine where the Angels would be without him.
Best newcomer: Jason Vargas, who was acquired from the Mariners last fall for Kendrys Morales, rebounded from a slow start. He had a 6.75 ERA in his first three starts, but since then he’s posted a 3.05 ERA in his next 11 starts, including winning the AL Pitcher of the Month award for May. Vargas has been out for three weeks after having surgery to have a blood clot removed, but he’s expected back by the end of the month.
Biggest disappointment: In his first season after signing a five-year, $125 million deal, Hamilton spent most of the first half slumping. He says he has been healthy — with the exception a few days out because of a sore wrist — so the Angels are clinging to the belief he’ll eventually live up to the back of his baseball card. He showed signs over the final three weeks of the first half, but the Angels will need to see more.
Biggest win: July 6 vs. Boston Red Sox. The Angels had two unthinkable victories, one in which they rallied from a seven-run deficit against Felix Hernandez to beat the Mariners and one in which they scored four runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie against the Red Sox. It’s what happened in extra innings that makes the Boston game edge the Seattle game. Hamilton won it with a homer — against a left-handed pitcher. It was the signature hit for a player who the Angels badly need to produce more of them.
Worst loss: June 23 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates. The Angels bullpen has been dependable for most of the season, particularly Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri. On this day, though, both got torched. Frieri gave up three runs in the ninth and then Jepsen allowed four in the 10th, with some atrocious defense mixed in to make this a particularly ugly defeat. It also concluded being swept in a three-game series at home.
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