Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Angels: Goliath awakens?

It's definitely not the beginning of the end for any of the other four AL West ball clubs, but it's not an easy feeling knowing the beast is growling a bit. Like most baseball fans, we all like underdogs, the feel good, come from behind teams. Well, prior to April the Angels were not classified as an underdog. With Pujols, Hamilton, and Trout? and don't forget the new hurlers they signed. Now a month and a half into baseball and the Angels, the great 2013 Goliath is starting to look more like the Houston Astros (who are nipping at their heals). Either way this team ends up, even with a 10 game lead on first place, when the fore mentioned super-sluggers start hitting home runs, its time to pick up the pace.

MLB reporter Alden Gonzalez wrote after yesterday's win: 
You can drive yourself crazy examining the Angels' slow start, poring through all sorts of reasons why a team this talented, this accomplished and this expensive could possibly head into Tuesday's game with the fourth-worst run differential in the Majors and a 10-game deficit in its division.
Or you can simplify it like this: Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are getting paid a lot of money, and neither has produced much.
If nothing else, the ensuing 6-2 win over the Royals at Angel Stadium -- a night when Pujols and Hamilton homered in the same game for the first time, joining Mike Trout and Howie Kendrick in a mini home run derby -- was a reminder of how much better this team can be if its two most accomplished players revert back to their normal selves.
The Angels' hope is that it's a sign of things to come.
"If those guys get going, that's a lot of damage that can be done," Kendrick said. "Those two guys, they're known for going deep. They definitely hit the long ball."
Jason Vargas gave up only two runs in seven-plus innings, snapping opponent Jeremy Guthrie's 18-game unbeaten streak on a night that saw the Angels hit four homers to tie their season high.
Trout's homer was the icing on the cake, a seventh-inning laser to left field to give him seven on the year while putting his batting average at .351 over the last 14 games. In short, Trout has been there.
The other two stars haven't -- until now, perhaps.
Hamilton's homer came one day after he exited because of the sinus congestion he continues to battle. It came in the sixth inning, on Guthrie's first pitch of the at-bat, and it traveled about 430 feet into the grass in center field. It was his fifth homer on the year, and his first against a team other than the Astros.
No surprise, it was the best a ball has felt off his bat all season.
"That felt good," said Hamilton, who also lined out and drew a full-count walk, putting his batting average at .214. "That was barreled up. It was just nice and easy, don't over-swing, let the pitcher supply the power. It felt good."
Pujols' fourth-inning homer, a rocket that landed above the stacked bullpens, snapped a nine-game homerless drought -- a stretch that saw him bat .200 -- and gave him six on the year, 481 for his career. Pujols hates talking about injuries, but it can't be easy for a guy dealing with pain in his right knee and plantar fasciitis in his left foot to generate much power.
"No doubt it's affected him," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "When we got into a little warmer weather, I think he's rebounded a bit. He hit a rocket last night to right-center and killed one tonight. Hopefully he's going to start to feel better in the box."
The Angels didn't play a clean game -- not when you consider Chris Iannetta and J.B. Shuck were both thrown out at third base in the third inning -- but they hit four homers at home for the first time since July 8 of last year, received a solid start from a key newcomer and scored in five straight innings for the first time since April 19, 2011. In the process, they beat a starting pitcher who hadn't lost since Aug. 3 of last year and still has a 2.82 ERA on the season.
"They've got some guys that have got some tremendous pop over there," Royals skipper Ned Yost said, his team now 19-17. "They weren't horrible pitches; they were pitches that probably caught a little bit too much of the plate that were down."
Heading into Tuesday's game, the two were batting a combined .223 with nine homers -- the same number Vernon Wells has hit for the Yankees -- and a combined Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of zero.
Yes, the Angels have been ravaged by injuries and haven't done anything well. But this is a club built around Pujols and Hamilton, two guys signed to combined contracts of $365 million. They're the ones who need to drive the engine.
"Those guys eventually will get going and we need them," Scoiscia said, "but it's going to take more than that."
Sure it is. But you'd be surprised how much two guys can help.

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