Angels, Pujols slump through April waiting game

Tim Brown

ANAHEIM, Calif. – There's nothing to do here but wait.

That's what April is, at least what the Los Angeles Angels have made of it, since so far they've neither pitched nor hit with anything like the veracity of Arte Moreno's offseason pen strokes. They've not been very good or especially bad, so somewhere between the Texas Rangers' first 11 games and the Boston Red Sox's first 11 crises, that's where the Angels lay.

Late in Tuesday night's game against the unspectacular Oakland Athletics, after Mike Scioscia decided one of his aces Dan Haren was done in the seventh inning after 85 pitches and while the bullpen was coming apart behind Haren, Angel Stadium was introspectively and miserably quiet. The scoreboard begged for noise, the rally monkey begged for faith, and all one could see of the fans was the 5s on their backs as they trudged toward the parking lot.

Albert Pujols, of course, wears No. 5, so they do, too.

Eleven games into life as an Angel, Pujols has not hit a home run and the Angels have not put together so much as back-to-back wins.

That's not necessarily a problem yet, but the certain plan was to hit the twice-defending AL champion Rangers in the mouth before the nights turned warm. Instead, the Angels are rooting around for something like consistency and, this morning, sucking their breakfasts through straws.

As Haren told reporters amid the gloom of the club's seventh loss in 11 games, accounting for its five-game deficit in the AL West, "You can only say it's early for so long."

So, halfway through the first month of Pujols and C.J. Wilson, of an offense that was to radiate from the three-hole outward, of a starting rotation that was supposed to be a one-through-four alligator moat, the Angels have been just, I don't know, sort of, I guess, dull.

Meantime, back in Boston, the Rangers were putting 21 hits and 18 runs and a 12th crisis on the Red Sox. And out in Milwaukee the Los Angeles Dodgers were coming back from two late deficits before perishing in the ninth inning, and even then their 9-2 record matched the Rangers' 9-2 for the best start in baseball.

If there were two places with which Moreno's Angels expected to keep pace, they were Arlington and Chavez Ravine. The Rangers had lost their ace (to the Angels) and the Dodgers had lost their minds (to Frank McCourt). The Angels spent better than $300 million to close on both, yet going on two weeks into the Angels being the Angels again they've drifted into last place in the division and no longer own the buzz in a town that runs on buzz.

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Maybe within a couple of weeks none of this will have been worth mentioning. But for the moment Pujols has had little influence on a batting order that was among the worst in the American League last season, and an already suspect bullpen has been a touch on the flammable side, and the rotation has been something less than advertised.

That's really no way to re-introduce oneself after two dark Octobers and after the most promising winter in franchise history. Instead, Scioscia's recent pregame sit-downs with reporters have been spent explaining his efforts to get Mark Trumbo into the lineup, followed by postgame sessions explaining why the Angels came up a little short again, the unmentioned being that the Rangers just put another game between themselves and the rest of the joint.

There is no doubt the Angels are better than this, that they are at least the equal of the Rangers. They haven't been so far, however, most recently on a Tuesday night when they had the A's down a run going into the eighth inning, then were down themselves by three runs leaving it.

First they weren't getting enough quality starts from a rotation that stands with the best in the game, then they weren't scoring the runs to adequately support those quality starts, and then the bullpen wasn't finishing those quality starts. It's the sort of moving target that makes a team 4-7 and drives its fans onto the freeways before the monkey has sung; the kind of stretch that comes with every baseball season but still doesn't quite match the billboards Moreno hangs on every street corner.

The solution for the folks of Orange County – and any of those who've drifted south from the reign of McCourt – seems to be time – time for Pujols to find his power stroke; for Scioscia to find a spot for Trumbo; for Erick Aybar, reportedly nearing a contract extension, to get on base; for the whole thing to catch up with what the Rangers charged out of camp doing.

"We have to be more than Albert and we are more than Albert," Scioscia said a few days ago. "We have to be deep enough to go nine games without Albert hitting a home run."

Then two more games passed.

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And still they need more time – time for starters other than Jered Weaver and Wilson to pitch to their reputations, though Haren gained on it some against the A's; time for the bullpen to work; time for general manager Jerry Dipoto to make it better.

That might sound like a lot of waiting around. Indeed, that might not sound like what the Angels had in mind two weeks ago. But, that's where the Angels are today. More, that's who they are today.

It's April. You wait.

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