COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Angels are 21-8 since Aug. 22, finishing their season as one of the American League's hottest teams. As we wonder how that happened, a number of candidate explanations present themselves.
But how many of them are to be believed?
On the offensive side, it's hard to believe any of it. Despite disabling Albert Pujols, the Angels are marginally better from the plate in the last month, batting .264 before Aug. 23 and .270 after. Their OPS was .745 before and .761 after. The entire difference is a small increase in slugging percentage, which is up from .415 to .431.
Of course, the Angels have hit brilliantly with runners in scoring position. From Aug. 23 to Sept. 21, they batted .323 (74-for-229) in that situation. Timely hitting does make a difference. The Angels are 24-27 this year in one-run games, but 8-3 starting on Aug. 23.
But much of what we're seeing offensively simply isn't real. Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have been what they've been all season, and that is real. Josh Hamilton is a little better during this run of games, batting .323 with an .863 OPS, but he still has hit only two home runs during the month. All that, perhaps, we can write into the mix for 2014.
Who among us, though, really believes that hitters like Kole Calhoun, Grant Green and Chris Iannetta are the hitters we've been watching for the last month? Prorating Calhoun from Aug. 22 over 162 games, he is a .320 hitter with a .908 OPS, and he has 29 homers with 139 RBIs. Take Grant Green's last month and prorate it over 162 games and he finishes with 102 RBIs. Do the same with Iannetta and he hits 48 homers for the year.
The lesson here is that maybe Green can hold a position and maybe Calhoun can hold a bat, but there's really nothing one can point to from the last month of offense as a real solution to whatever made the Angels 55-71 in the first place.
Richards has taken six starts in the last month, tossing up a 2.48 ERA and a 4-1 record. If we're wondering why the Angels held a staff ERA of 4.49 through Aug. 22 and it has been 2.99 since, starting Richards instead of Blanton is a good chunk of it. I remarked long ago that starting Blanton instead of Richards was an error from the beginning, and that appears to have been right.
Another big factor, though, has been the Angels' bullpen, which has a 2.06 ERA from Aug. 22 to now. And the hammer is Ernesto Frieri, who, starting on Aug. 23, is 1-0 with 10 saves in as many chances and a 1.23 ERA. Before Aug. 23, Frieri had blown four of 30 save chances, and he was 1-4 with a 4.55 ERA.
So, what do the Angels take from this last month going to 2014? Two things.
One, Richards has earned a commitment to be in the starting rotation next year. If the Angels are going to sign veteran fifth-starter types, it can't be at his expense. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson have been very solid all year, and Richards has to be next in line. If any single decision has killed the Angels this year, it was signing a veteran mediocrity like Blanton to a contract that committed them to giving him the ball while a top draft pick, ready to go, sat and waited. Imagine the difference in the Angels' season if they went with Richards from the start. At the very least, they would be in that wild-card mix.
The Frieri situation is more puzzling. Even after Frieri saved 23 games for the Angels last year, they didn't seem sold on him. They signed Ryan Madson as a free agent, figuring that, maybe, Frieri didn't have the staying power. For much of this season, Frieri proved them right, though an injured Madson couldn't save them. But now Frieri is hot again, and, one thing about him, is that he loves being that guy.
Then again, it's a strange time of the year, spring training in the fall for teams that have fallen from contention. Frieri made four of his 13 appearances in the last month against contenders (three against the Tampa Bay Rays and one against the Texas Rangers), allowing one run in four innings to notch a win and three saves.
Going to 2014, can the Angels trust Frieri? Maybe. Can they trust Richards? At this point, they really have to.
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Bill Peterson has covered and written about Major League Baseball for more than 30 years in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Texas and Los Angeles, where he now lives and writes a baseball blog, Big Leagues in Los Angeles. He is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TheBillPeterson.
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