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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Juan Is The Loneliest Number: Mariners 4, Angels 2

Lackey stank on ice for the second straight game; I'm not sure why Scioscia kept him in as long as he did, but I'm sure the general randomness of the bullpen had a lot to do with it. He's had one quality start since returning from the DL, and a grand total of seven strikeouts. Matt Welch's cogent observation that Lackey's descent to mediocrity or worse since a August 26, 2008 complete game against the A's. One wonders if he hurt himself then, because he's averaged under 6 IP/game, and tonight's awful outing did nothing to dissuade me of that.

Juan Rivera hit a solo homer in the fifth against former Dirtbag (and Jered Weaver's ex-teammate) Jason Vargas. Rivera also made a fine catch to rob Russell Branyan of a homer in the ninth, but he clearly wasn't able to do the rest on his own. The Angels hit into two double plays, one of them a lineout by Bobby Abreu which was just bad luck, and there were some hard-hit outs in the eighth, too, two consecutive liners caught at first. Sometimes you're the bug, and sometimes you're the windshield, but with the Rangers winning both of their double header games against a pitiful Oakland team, the Angels look increasingly like a .500 team that's stuck in neutral.

One problem I'm increasingly having with this squad is the supposition that once all the injured players come back, the team will go right back to the best-record-in-the-AL version from 2008. Steve Bisheff's recent piece asking whether Vlad is on the decline is not a little timely; I think he is, and more, that this is a transition team. Lackey may not be back, and the Angels won't have Nick Adenhart to turn to if — more realistically, when — he goes. A few more outings like this one and Lackey might just end up a Ranger or an Astro next year. Vlad and Abreu walk, Kendrick suddenly turns into a limp puddle of helpless goo at the plate, Figgins goes away, and you're talking about a wholesale turnover of the outfield and large portions of the infield as well. Add to that the already full-blown collapse of the bullpen and a dubious rotation which will see large parts leave after this year (Lackey and Escobar for sure), and suddenly you realize this team could be to the Angels what the 2003 squad was for the Mariners: their last sniff of winning for a very long time.

Update: Attendance 38,000, and the seats far emptier than that on a Friday night. The economy's bad, and the Angels have been less-hard-hit than some other franchises, but this is a mediocre team, and those don't draw well.

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Taking some of this with a grain of salt, given that you trend towards doom-and-gloom, there's a good bit of truth there. But if Escobar is effective upon his return, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a short, incentive-laden deal for next year. Lackey's a goner for sure, but at this rate it might not be so huge of a loss. But as for "last sniff of winning for a very long time," I'd urge you to check out how some of the young hurlers are performing particularly at the single and double-A level. There's a couple of real keepers there. The bigger question concerns the offense, which will have to rely on Rivera, Morales and Brandon Wood going forward.
Really, Matt? Howard Kendrick (I liked Howie a lot better — that guy hit!) looks like he's totally lost at the plate. He never struggled before and he's just clueless now. The Angels have bupkis in the outfield corners, a much weaker rotation, a bullpen full of crap, and not a whole lot that looks like difference-maker material behind all that in the minors thanks to years of unimpressive drafts.
Your "bupkis" corners include a .405 OBP matched with a .305/.346/.444. Kendrick has blown, sure, but the statistical chances of that continuing are not great. Morales, meanwhile, has exceeded all expectations. As for the "much weaker rotation," I guess I don't know what you're talking about. Until recently at least they had the best rotation ERA in the AL. And now they are folding in three high-quality pitchers who were injured (two of whom, I assume, will eventually return to something resembling form). By the end of June, this will be one hell of a rotation, and it hasn't been chopped liver til now.
Matt, I'm beginning to wonder if Lackey and Santana really will return to form, at least this season. As you yourself have illustrated, Lackey had not pitched like an ace in nine months. Right now, Santana has nothing on his fastball. He is as injured today as he was in Spring Training (ligaments do not heal), I suspect. The Angels will continue to wallow in mediocrity this season if those two do not, in fact, return to form. I probably have a rosier outlook for the future (say, 2011) than Rob does, though, primarily because I have a feeling that a couple of the good pitchers down in the minors will be of help by then. As for the lineup, though, a lot depends on Brandon Wood, if not now, then in the future, and if not him, then whomever he brings in return assuming he gets dealt.
Where's your Abreu now, Matt? Two DP's in one night?

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