Tuesday, May 03, 2005

So we're just about one month into the season, and, overall things look pretty good. I'm still pleased about the series against the Yankees, disarray or no, and taking that last game in Minnesota was big; losing a series on the road to a strong team is no crisis, and eking out a win against Johan Santana is no small feat. And, despite his poor day at the plate and early jitters afield, seeing Adam Kennedy back at the keystone is a very reassuring sight.

Here is some of the good and bad from the first month:

Good: Vlad. He's picked up right where he left off last year, hitting 337/380/604 to date, and is three-for-three in stealing bases for good measure. He still looks like a gimp in the outfield most of the time, but it's a worthy price for his all-around play.

Bad: Steve Finley. See what shocking insight I can provide? Finley's big night last night got his line up to 167/248/378. You know what's silly, though? Father Time ranks third on the Angels in RBI with 14, behind Garret (21) and Vlad (20). Lest you think that's because of clutch hitting, take note that he's only hit 182/240/227 with runners in scoring position; he seems to be knocking in runs with outs. So they must be productive outs! But it's a lot easier to make productive outs when the three guys hitting in front of you are already in scoring position. And another thing: add 100 points of batting average to his line and you get 267/348/478, which I think would be rather pleasing. Finley's a career .274 hitter. Unless he's found the cliff this year, he should improve.

Good: Almost all of the bullpen. K-Rod's up to his old tricks, striking out 17 against zero walks in just over 12 innings, and has blown only one save, and it was a tough save, and one where he didn't even make that many mistakes. Scot Shields is on a pace to throw over 90 quality innings once again (or have his arm fall off), and Brendan Donnelly has bounced back from some rocky openings at the beginning of the season. Jake Woods has also looked sharp in his nine innings.

Bad: Esteban Yan sucks. Yeah, his ERA is a tolerable 3.38. But in 13 1/3 innings he's struck out seven while walking nine. Maintaining a good ERA with that kind of rate is not sustainable, but keeping him out of high leverage situations should be fine.

Good: The new Jarrod Washburn. In 2002, 37.5% of Ace's balls in play were groundballs; so far this year 51.6% are. This is no mere fluke of the numbers; it's by design. "I have a real good changeup and sinker, and I'm getting a lot more ground balls than normal," he told the LA Times after his excellent start last night. You remember, I'm sure, how much Jarrod used to rely on his four-seam fastball. It was beautiful to watch when it worked. But in the last couple of years, it wasn't working, he was getting hit and his strikeouts were plummeting. Jarrod has clearly worked on expanding his repertoire, and so far the results are great: strikeouts up, groundouts up, runs allowed down. It's still early in the year, and I don't know that I expect him to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA, especially given that he can still look like a BP pitcher every other start or so, but overall I think this new approach is a good thing, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. I'm also looking forward to writing a non-run-on sentence.

Bad: The same old John Lackey. Good good good: collapse. Strike strike strike: meltdown. Lackey's Jekyl and Hyde routine has been in full force this season. Now, he always struggles in April, and he's dealt better with on-field adversity in his last couple of starts. But he has to stop taking 100 pitches to get through five innings. He's in a pitcher's park tonight, against a struggling offense; it's time to put a good start together.

Good: Dallas McPherson's defense. Yes, he dropped a popup in Yankee Stadium. But he's looked good on grounders and has demonstrated a strong and accurate arm. His only real goof-up beyond the popup was when he cut in front of Orlando Cabrera in Minnesota and apparently distracted The OC from making the play. But you have to realize that McPherson has likely never played with a shorstop with Cabrera's range before, and he's probably used to having to make that play. Experience will teach him about such details.

Bad: Dallas McPherson's baserunning. Hopefully, Experience will keep Dallas for extra tutoring on this one. He tried to go from second to third on a grounder to The Jeter in New York, and got inexcusably doubled off of first at one point, as well. Of course, such recklessness kind of fits in with this team.

Good: Bartolo Colon is back. Aside from one bad start and one bad game against A-Rod, he's looked like the Colon he was supposed to be when he was signed. Last season, he allowed a batting line of 265/324/472; this year it's down to 211/277/366. As a result, his ERA has dropped by nearly two runs.

Bad: Angel DH's are hitting 234/291/255 this season -- they would be better off hitting against Bartolo Colon.

Worse: Angel third basemen are hitting 174/222/304.

Best: At 15-11, the Angels have a two-game lead in what might well be the major's toughest and tightest division over the course of the season.

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