Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Caleb Pfeiffer On Tonight's Matchup
Harden is coming off of his best start of the season, an eight-inning shutout of the Phillies, in which he struck out 11 while allowing just three baserunners. That performance earned a Game Score of 88, which was topped by Harden only once before in his (brief) career, in a complete-game shutout that he threw against the Rangers on July 14 of 2005, which was scored a 91. Santana also has thrown a gem that was rated an 88 this season—a complete-game, four-hit, nine-strikeout shutout of the Royals on May 5—and has thrown two more games so far in 2008 that clocked in at 80 as well. Always a threat to break down and miss significant time, Harden has been allowed to throw 100 pitches or more in just four of his 11 starts this year, while Santana has reached that mark in 14 of 16 outings.As I mentioned in yesterday's game recap, Kotchman's mojo seems to have been abraded by repeated exposure to Mickey Hatcher. It's hard to tell whether Howie Kendrick is 100%, but judging from his month-plus of lousy .238/.261/.314 production since returning from the DL on May 30, you have to wonder whether he's fully healed — and/or he's having a junior-year slump.
With last night's loss, the Angels have now scored a total of six runs in their last five games. The LA offense has been hurt this season by a lack of power in the infield, particularly at second and third base. Angels third basemen have hit just a pair of homers, the least in the majors, while their second basemen have hit only one (which is more than one other team, as Cleveland's keystone contributors have yet to get on the board). The team's first basemen (eight homers) and shortstops (five) haven't shown much power either, and therefore LA has gotten fewer homers from its infielders (not including catchers) than any other team in baseball.
Besides first baseman Casey Kotchman, whose power stroke seems to have dried up this season—two homers in his past 59 games, after six in his first 20—the Angels home run leader amongst non-first base infielders is Maicer Izturis, with three (he has 16 career bombs), which underlines the seriousness of the problem. As long as Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick stay healthy enough to man third and second base, the Angels offense should be fine, but the team has shown that it has no suitable depth to survive if either (or both) again hit the shelf for any extended period. While Figgins was out for most of May and part of June, the replacement Halos at the hot corner were dreadful: despite Figgins' OBP of .398, Angels third basemen have collectively put up a line of .256/.326/.305, which adds up to the lowest OPS in the majors at the position. At second base, the Angels' overall line is a grisly .259/.323/.342, and that's with the benefit of Kendrick's decent performance in the limited time he has been healthy.
It's not "either," it's "both" -- Izturis is a fine 4th infielder; but when he's hurt, too, then we're dipping down into not-ready-for-prime-time 23-year-olds.
The key line in all of this is that the team will be fine w/ Figgins & Kendrick healthy. Lack of home runs from both of those guys ain't the problem; they're both among the league leaders at per-AB offense from their positions, even with their recent (and, I think, temporary) slumps. The more structural problem is that Aybar & Mathis & Matthews can't really hit, G.A. is ice cold when he's not hot, and Scioscia has not been maximizing his lineup.