Monday, July 10, 2006

As are most certainly aware, the AL West is the most competitive division in baseball right now, with four teams separated by a mere 2.5 games.

And for all the problems the Angel offense has had this year, at least we've scored more runs than the Athletics, which is true of every team in the American League. This is not just an illusion created by the Oakland home park and its luxurious foul ground; the rank last in the AL and next-to-last in the majors in Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average, as well. (The Angels are an unexceptional eleventh.)

And while Texas has what BPro's measures peg as the sixth-best offense in the AL, their pitching is at best mediocre (a 4.63 ERA, which their team has, is probably okay for that ballpark), and they have a shallow rotation. Seattle appears to be mediocre on all counts.

In short, no team in this division is the complete package, and the division is entirely winnable. Our two-game deficit at the break is actually a pretty spectacular result once you consider:

  • Vladimir Guerrero has gone through the worst slump of his career and is putting up what is to this point his worst season.

  • Injury and its presumed effects (e.g. decreased velocity) have resulted in Bartolo Colon having one good start all year.

  • Adam Kennedy, who has been an average or better hitter for each of the last four seasons, is putting up a year nearly identical to his poor 2000 and 2001 campaigns.

  • Casey Kotchman, who was expected to build on his 278/352/484 performance in part-time last season, has been stricken down with mononucleosis, and played absolutely horribly when he was on the field.

  • For the second straight season, Dallas McPherson has gone down with injury just when it seemed like he was getting it together with the bat and starting to establish himself as a contributor.

  • Legs Figgins, who entered the season as a career .292 hitter, is only hitting .267 -- which is actually good, as he has raised his average by 14 points over the last ten games.

  • Garret Anderson is having the worst season of his career, hitting for neither the average nor power that has made him a tolerable hitter in the past.

  • That's a pretty horrible list of problems, but thankfully Oakland has had their own and kept us in this race.

    You can look at that and see how the Angels might improve in the second half of the season. Vlad, Figgins, and even Kennedy should be expected to improve to some degree, and Kotchman and McPherson could provide a nice little boost if they can come back healthy and ready.

    The thing is, Oakland is singing the same song. They have disappointment up and down their lineup, with Dan Johnson, Mark Ellis, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and Mark Kotsay all hitting well below where they have in the past, and in every case but Chavez's not only are the hitting below expectations, they're barely above replacement level, if at all. If just one or two of those guys can turn into an even average hitter the rest of the way, that would actually help that team out quite a bit.

    But the Angels can't worry about that, except for the days when we face them ourselves. Nor can we worry about when or if Gary Matthews Jr. will return to Earth in the Lone Star state (or whether his likely decline will be matched by Mark Teixeira getting back on track). All the Angels can worry about is themselves. Our Lads have come on strong over the past couple of weeks (no team in the majors has a better record over the last ten games), and shown the kind of well-rounded quality play to which we've become accustomed, spearheaded by a starting rotation that's making fools out of its hapless opponents. The Fat Lady has sat down, and we have the power to keep her waiting in the wings for some time.

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