ANAHEIM, Calif. – It's an untidy baseball season when your pitching staff is best known not for getting hitters out, but for its flake-free hair. So, while the ERA suffers and with it the Angels' designs on contending, the team picture does promise to be 100 percent handsome.
Over two months time that has seen its share of troubles from all over the roster, chief among the issues has been the Angels' alarming inability to throw strikes, to finish hitters when they do throw strikes and pretty much everything that rolls downhill from that. Angels pitchers have been slightly more effective in May, and particularly over their recent run of nine wins in 11 games. Effectiveness is in the eye of the bat holder, however, and perhaps the subtle turnaround has just as much to do with pitching to the Chicago White Sox (28th-ranked offense in baseball), Seattle Mariners (25th), Kansas City Royals (23rd) and Los Angeles Dodgers (29th).
As unsettling for the Angels is the notion that they may be pitching about as well as they are capable, given it appears they cut corners on the rotation after the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton signings. That and the fact they've already gone through 10 starting pitchers (and 21 pitchers overall, including Garrett Richards as both a starter and reliever), and none of those 21 has been intended closer Ryan Madson, so it's been a bit of a mess.
Now for the reasons for Angels hopefulness, and the reasons fewer folks are talking about firing manager Mike Scioscia or pitching coach Mike Butcher:
Jason Vargas has been more than adequate in six of his past seven starts. The Angels have won his past five starts. Joe Blanton, who has allowed more hits than anyone in the game and remains on pace to give up something like 300 of them, has back-to-back quality starts. Jerome Williams has won three consecutive decisions. Tommy Hanson has returned from bereavement leave and on Friday will make his second start in a month. And C.J. Wilson's hair looks great.
Finally, well, it's late May and a 20-game winner did walk through the door. Left rolling in agony on a mound in Arlington, Texas more than six weeks ago, Jered Weaver indeed walked into the Angels' clubhouse at 20 minutes before 4 p.m., went straight to the team computer to order tickets and then set to preparing for his first start since April 7.
The clubhouse seemed loose enough. The conversation when Weaver arrived was about whether mermaids are real. Bob, the gentleman who mans the door, was brought in for the final word. See, Bob was in the Navy. So, you know, he'd know these things.
That brought a topic change, to the Tampa Bay Rays prospect recently ejected from a strip club.
The sincere question from one Angel: "Why would they throw you out for throwing 50 cents at a stripper?"
The exceedingly rational response from another: "It, uh, hurts?"
He'd missed 10 starts after breaking his left – non-pitching – elbow. The freak injury initially brought Richards out of the bullpen, but over time the bullpen suffered for it, and then Hanson left to tend to his family, and suddenly the number of starters was in double-digits and the season wasn't a third over.
So Weaver brings stability. He took the ball Wednesday night, allowed a run in six innings to the Dodgers, struck out seven and walked none. He threw 86 pitches, a number that will increase with the innings as he gets his legs under him.
And Weaver brings attitude. After four perfect innings, he allowed a leadoff double to Andre Ethier in the fifth. He struck out Matt Kemp and Scott Van Slyke. He had a 1-0 lead, and he was going to fight for it. Skip Schumaker flared a run-scoring single to center field, perhaps broke his bat doing it, and then Mark Ellis definitely broke his on a soft fly toward left field. The rookie J.B. Shuck broke in, eased up and fielded the ball on a hop. Weaver appeared incensed, first turning toward his dugout and then to left field, shouting, "What the [rhymes with Shuck's] going on?"
He later said he wasn't angry at all, but frustrated that good pitches were turned around with so little authority and still became hits.
In the end, after a 4-3 win and a half-game gained on the Rangers, the Angels did seem closer to whole. They'd played closer to whole.
"We'll see," Weaver said, "if we can't get things going."
Like last year, when Weaver won 20 games and lost five, the Angels are playing from behind. It'll have to get better. And while the offense has not yet been what most expected, it could have been, and a lot of this deficit would be there anyway, given the bulk of the pitching.
"The fact you're getting a bona fide Cy Young candidate back in your rotation has to lift a team's confidence," Scioscia said. "We need performance and that's what we did tonight."
So much was expected. So much is still out there. And Weaver makes a difference. He'll have to.
You know, given the Angels were supposed to be better than the rest of the AL West, by head and shoulders.
Related content from Yahoo! Sports
• Stadium controversy in the Bay Area?
• Royals' manager Ned Yost swarmed by security at Chiefs practice
• Photo surfaces of Barack Obama's baseball-playing days
• Rays' top pick in hot water again, this time involving strippers
- Sports & Recreation