The Angels are convinced they’ve improved
TEMPE, Ariz. – As an organization, the Los Angeles Angels have existed somewhere on the perimeter of what they are and just to the left of what we presume them to be.
For the better part of a decade or so, they’ve been funny like that.
They’ve often won more than it appears they should, and in places within the game where other teams lose or at best hold their ground, mannerisms that reflect the attitude of their manager and the kinds of players that prosper under him.
Then again, about the time they have us convinced they are reliable enough to believe in, along comes the confusion.
Sometimes, that’s in October. In the eight seasons since they won a World Series and covered a blue town in red, they’ve played seven playoff series and lost five of them. The way the Angels wore down a division over six months lacked the same conviction over, say, a week.
Sometimes that’s in a season like 2010, when they lost 82 games, scored 202 runs fewer than they did the season before, were undone by a late-May injury to a single player (Kendry Morales(notes)), and was preceded by a winter in which they saw Vladimir Guerrero(notes), John Lackey(notes) and Chone Figgins(notes) depart.
And sometimes that’s in an offseason like the one they just limped through, when their faith in the system almost seems to outweigh the requirement that one put players in the system so it may prosper.
Generally, the Angels of Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia have gotten it right. As the franchise honors its 50th season, the Angels find themselves in the most prosperous era of their history, which, granted, ain’t much of a history. But, still. They win, usually. They are profitable. Their brand means something, and their style of play is revered in the game.
Considering all that, they are a touch sensitive to criticism, an incongruent defensiveness given how hard they’ve worked to upgrade the franchise and in return be held to a higher standard – their standard. It wasn’t so long ago when 80-82 would be grounds for hope, and now a decade later it is viewed as beneath them. And wasn’t that the goal?
Ah, well, what’s important is that the Angels feel reasonably comfortable with who they are today. For the first time in four years they are not defending an AL West title, and for the first time in at least twice that long the arguments against their title hopes outnumber the arguments for them. It’s what a third-place finish will get you, that and a somewhat clumsy offseason, along with a roster that’s putting itself back together in a lot of places.
So, here are the Angels again, on the perimeter, just to the left, certainly capable, but needing to return to a game that so often was beyond the sum of its parts. They do make life interesting, and funny like that.
“Sometimes,” Torii Hunter(notes) said on a cold, wet morning, “you have to be smacked down to a lower level just to have a reality check. We had a reality check last year. We got slapped in the face.”
Their game was unrecognizable, is what it was. Poor defense followed a lousy bullpen. A batter’s box offense neither put runners on base nor drove them in. Now they return in relative health, but not with an offensive makeover. They return with improved outfield defense, if not exactly what they had in mind. They return with more bullpen, but uncertainty in the ninth inning.
Just as important, they return to a division that holds the defending American League champions in the Texas Rangers, and a formidably reworked team in the Oakland A’s.
What that means to the Angels depends on the issues they arrived with in February, and how different those will be from the ones they bring into April.
That means Scott Kazmir’s(notes) arm strength, Morales’ recovery, Erick Aybar’s(notes) improvement, Howie Kendrick’s(notes) growth, Fernando Rodney’s(notes) command, Maicer Izturis’(notes) sturdiness and Peter Bourjos’(notes) bat, along with production out of catcher and third base.
They seem to be asking a lot. But, then, Scioscia always did. The philosophies the Angels followed – the very ones that produced those division titles – are unchanged. In some part, however, so are the players, some the very ones that just delivered third place.
“The philosophy hasn’t changed,” Scioscia said. “We spent a lot of time this winter peeling the paint off this to make sure we didn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. … If we didn’t lose [Morales] I think we make those last four game with Texas meaningful, that’s for sure.”
What is left is to take what they have and turn it into something worthwhile, which has become a habit of Scioscia’s. He says he is sure this roster will work. He says there is no sense re-thinking the offseason, given it has no bearing on today or, for that matter, tomorrow.
He said he was satisfied with the trade for Wells, optimistic that Morales will be in the lineup come opening day, and sure their usual game will return to them. Then, perhaps, the Angels can be the Angels again, funny like that.
“We’re a better team now,” Scioscia said, “than we were at any point last year.”