Monday, May 01, 2006

April ends with the Angels standing at 12-13, one game out of first place in the AL West. The team has yet to get into any real groove or suffer any debilitating slump; our longest winning streak is three games and our longest losing streak is three games (though we have a pretty good shot at extending that tonight). We have lost high-scoring games and we have lost low-scoring games.

Our record at this point doesn't bother me too much. Last April ended with the Halos 13-11, and I'm sure you remember our spectacular 27-27 record over the months of July and August. Our lukewarm start can be easily overcome, especially in light of the rest of the division being in similar straits.

What Went Right in April
Vlad's 306/330/490 AVG/OBP/SLG line is, of course, lower than we should expect, but despite a few slumps of a couple games in length here and there, he's hit pretty well. Garret Anderson's 309/356/511 is picking up the slack, and Adam Kennedy at 324/363/459 is no slouch. The OC is off to a good start, and Legs Figgins is only a little bit below where we would expect him to be when the season ends.

As for the pitching side of the ledger, our key bullpen guys end the month with some pretty good numbers, though they have been inconsistent at times. John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana all have ERAs under 4.00, and though each has had a bad start or two (particularly Ervin), they have, for the most part, kept the Angels in their games.

What Went Wrong in April
A lot, actually. Jeff Mathis hasn't demonstrated that his offensive skills are ready for the big time, and Casey Kotchman's .162 batting average may overstate his actual offensive contribution thus far. Casey is lucky that Kendry Morales slowed down after a hot spring training, to the tune of 235/286/365 in AAA. This relieves a lot of the pressure on Casey to perform now to keep his job. He did have a couple of nice plate appearances yesterday, so hopefully he's turning things around. He's looked awful at the plate, and that can't stand.

Our offense ranks a meager eleventh in the league. Partly to blame is the injury to Juan Rivera, who was expected to provide solid offense, and even help to cover Darin Erstad against left-handed pitchers. And though Darin's defense in center has been a breath of fresh air, his offense has provided a far more putrid smell. Tim Salmon has helped to cover the lack of Rivera somewhat, but his aged body prevents him from playing every day, and he's also filled Rivera's double play quota, having grounded into three in his 50 at-bats, which would add up to a whopping 30+ over a full season.

I think the most long-term distressing news out of April comes from our starting rotation. Bartolo Colon pitched inconsistently before being sidelined with an injury, and Hector Carrasco, through two starts, has not appeared equal to the task of replacing him. A bad start by Hector tonight against Oakland, and you can prepare for the howls to commence the Jered Weaver era to get even louder. Weaver the Younger is managing a very solid 3.41 ERA in the PCL, striking out a whopping 32% of opposing batters while walking a miniscule 4%.

Speaking of Weavers, Jeff was pencilled in to give the Lads around 215 league-average innings. One month in, his ERA stands at a team-worst 7.48 and he's only averaging 5.5 innings per start, the least of the four healthy original rotation-members. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 20:7 is somewhat encouraging, but he's allowed 37 hits and five home runs, both the most on the team. He's not fooling anyone on the mound, and it's showing in his performance.

If Jeff can't straighten things out (I believe he will), and if Bartolo can't come back strong or be competently replaced, that means that 40% of our starting rotation will be substandard, which is gonna kill us. I am in no position to make any comments about Bartolo's health or ability to come back at his normal level of performance, but color me skeptical that Carrasco will be able to fill any kind of void in the rotation.

The good news is that it's early and there is plenty of time, and our AL West competitors are doing their best to make sure this race stays close wire-to-wire.

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