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ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Los Angeles Angels have an opportunity here, the same opening that allowed them to finish third, second and third in the American League West over the past three seasons.
Ace Jered Weaver has a broken left elbow and, a television reporter's pregame line of questioning here notwithstanding, will be unable to pitch for four to six weeks despite being right-handed. Something about mechanics and then, positioned 60 feet from a guy with a club, being unable to defend oneself against whatever comes of that.
(Hey, it's the home opener. Not only do the poets come out, they bring their horrifyingly dense friends.)
Weaver's left arm is in a sling, where it will stay for a while, certainly for long enough to damage the Angels' hopes for organizational revival. You know, if they allow it.
And then this could be the slump of last April (Albert Pujols edition), or the slump of 2011 (they traded away Mike Napoli and traded for Vernon Wells edition), or the slump of 2010 (the where's Vladdy and Figgy edition), if they allow it. All the stuff that foiled previous seasons. For long enough, the pitching has been spotty behind Weaver and the occasional wingman – Ervin Santana for a season, Dan Haren for another, C.J. Wilson for a half-season – and manager Mike Scioscia over three seasons has employed (or, in some cases, endured) three different closers. Those would be Brian Fuentes, followed by Jordan Walden, followed by Ernie Frieri, and now he waits on Ryan Madsen.
For long enough now, the best part of the Angels, an organization that once won by insisting on pitching and defense, was Weaver. Is Weaver. Have Pujols and Josh Hamilton hit to their potential, have Mike Trout do it again, make it all work together, and still the Angels' path to October – after three dark ones – is Weaver and four reasonable starters behind him and a lock-down bullpen behind them.
That starts, again, with Weaver, who'd pitch with just about anybody in the game given the ball and a chance. Who'd stand up down the stretch, who is 18-9 in September in his career, whose postseason ERA in six games – three of them starts – and as a very young man is 2.61.
As it lies, and for the next four to six weeks, there appears to be little to rely on in the rotation. Just Tuesday night, hours after the news of Weaver's injury rumbled through the clubhouse, Wilson trudged through a 43-pitch first inning against the Oakland A's. By the second inning, the Angels trailed, 4-0, on their way to a 9-5 loss against a small-market franchise that for all its limitations has mined a better pitching staff.
First they fell behind the Texas Rangers, then the A's, and now it seems the more money Arte Moreno throws at the problems the further they get from the solution. Their former best prospects are scattered across the league, the payroll gets bigger, the expectations swell and then, well, nothing.
On Tuesday night, in the last home opener in baseball, large sections of Angel Stadium were unoccupied. The organization of Scioscia, and first to third on a single, and taking the game to the other guy, and pitching-pitching-pitching, seemed to have shrunken. Wilson will be followed Wednesday night by Joe Blanton, then Thursday night by Jason Vargas, and Tommy Hanson after that. We've known this for months. It looks different without Weaver out in front, even for a month. Garrett Richards, the 24-year-old right-hander, will take Weaver's place in the rotation, and he was about the best thing the bullpen had going for it over the first week of the season.
So it seems the Angels will have to bash their way through Weaver's absence, which means a number of them will have to come out of first-week slumps, get hot, and stay hot. And it seems that might not be the best way to go about this (philosophically speaking), but it seems that's where they are, who they are. The Angels were light on pitching before. And now their anchor is in a sling for who knows how long.
Scioscia said Tuesday they'd have to "patch it together," and hope to "absorb it," but there was no getting around the short-term impact of an infirmed Weaver.
"When you lose someone of Weave's ability," he said, "it puts a hole in your pitching staff in a couple areas."
The Angels had a few of those already, see. In the face of some odds, they were counting on the staff coming together, not coming apart.
"You won't be able to replace Jered Weaver in the big picture," general manager Jerry Dipoto granted. "We don't have six guys capable of being Jered Weaver. We have 12 guys capable of being major-league pitchers.
"You're always going to have to scramble the jets in a situation like this. … This is all hands on deck. We're trying to win a championship here."
[Also: Fan holds baby, catches home run]
If they don't, you know what they'll be talking about next spring. They lost Weaver in April, lost him for a month or so, and there wasn't enough left to make it right. It'll be there if they need it. Or, they can find a way around it, which, lately, hasn't been their nature.
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