Written by Sandy McKenzie
Three weeks into the 2012 season the Angels were a hot mess. Floundering, if you will. At 6-14 they were the bottom feeders in the AL West, nine games behind division leading Texas. (Mercifully, I’m already out of fish references.) They were batting an unimpressive .238 and the bullpen had blown six leads, all resulting in losses, stats all too familiar to Angels fans. Mike Scioscia marched a different lineup onto the field almost every night, kind of like throwing spaghetti onto a wall to see if he could get something to stick, but how could it? The acquisition of Albert Pujols had left Mark Trumbo a man without a position, but the team desperately needed to find a way to keep his bat in the lineup. Kendrys Morales’ torrid spring had solidified his place in the DH spot, which left Trumbo, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos, Bobby Abreu, Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Alexi Amarista in something of a merry-go-round battling for at bats. Something had to give, and lots of somethings finally did.
On April 27th, Bobby Abreu was released and Mike Trout was called up from Salt Lake City. Then, in the space of two weeks, Torii Hunter was placed on the restricted list; Chris Iannetta, LaTroy Hawkins, Wells and Ryan Langerhans (brought up to take Hunter’s spot) were placed on the DL; Amarista was traded to San Diego for reliever Ernesto Frieri and Mickey Hatcher was relieved of his duties as hitting coach. Suddenly, filling out the lineup card wasn’t quite as difficult for Scioscia and the Angels’ bats were finally waking up.
The Angels have been on a tear since the shake up. In the space of a week, the Halos went from cellar dwellers to second place, at one point a mere three games out of first. Mike Trout has been at the center of it all, hoisting the team on his shoulders and becoming the quintessential leadoff man. His current slash line is .337/.532/.929 (the .337 is good for 2nd in the AL behind Josh Hamilton) with 19 stolen bases. Not bad for a kid who can’t buy a beer. The crazy-stupid speed he brings to an already speedy outfield isn’t hurting, either. Trout’s success has been a catalyst for the rest of the lineup, and a consistent lineup has allowed the Angels to maintain that success. There’s something to be said for guys knowing what their role is and what’s expected of them day in and day out. That has rung true for the bullpen, as well. The acquisition of Frieri and his move into the closer’s role has helped define the roles of most of the relievers, and the bullpen as a whole has been more consistent and effective than they’ve been in several seasons. The defense has never really been a question. With Callaspo, Aybar, Kendrick and Pujols, the infield is solid. The outfield doesn’t get much better than Trout/Bourjos/Hunter, but I’d take Trumbo/Trout/Hunter over most other outfields in the AL any day of the week, too. Wow – pitching, defense, and a lineup that’s producing runs. Stay tuned, Angels fans. This could get interesting…