Thursday, April 10, 2008

10 Games In

After ten games and three series, the Angels sit at 6-4. It's been a bit of a roller coaster start, with standout performances on the mound by Joe Saunders and Jon Garland, and awful perfomances from Dustin Moseley and......Jon Garland. A couple of blow out losses have pushed the team ERA up a bit, but for the most part, all things considered, the starters have been fairly decent. Ervin Santana has been solid in two starts and has a 1-0 record to show for it. Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders have also tossed two quality starts. When John Lackey returns and replaces Dustin Moseley, the staff will look very strong.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has been shaky at best, not exactly a surprise. Darren O'Day is the only reliever with an ERA under three, but he's pitched a little worse than that suggests, allowing nearing two baserunners per inning. Frankie is hobbled, and it's affecting his velocity. Shields is still trying to work his way back. Speier had a chance to show everyone that maybe letting Frankie walk wouldn't be such a bad decision, and promptly gave up a two run bomb to Travis Hafner. Best case, Frankie gets healthy, Shields works to full strength, and this becomes a strong unit again, but for now, the bullpen is a weak link.

Offensively, the punchless Angels are tied for the AL lead in homers with 14, four coming from newly acquired Torii Hunter, including a walk-off grand slam the other night. Six different Angels have homered, and five have done it more than once. Hindered by a slow start last season, Chone Figgins is showing that his hot finish was no fluke. His 14 hits leads the AL, and don't look now, folks, but he has eight, count 'em EIGHT walks. He trails only Luke Scott in OBP, and that's in 20 more plate appearances. Of course everything in this post comes with the sample size caveat, but if the plate discipline is real, he could have a tremendous season. Staying on the infield, Howie Kendrick is showing that both his ability to hit for average, and his propensity for injury are real. His 429/467/571 start is terrific, but he's already missing time because of a hand injury sustained on a pitch that didn't even hit him. He's looked very good on defense as well. Meanwhile, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis, while getting it done in the field, have left their good springs in Tempe and are struggling at the plate.

In the outfield, Juan Rivera and Reggie Willits can't be happy the way things are shaking out, and you have to figure that at least one of them will be gone in a couple of months for bullpen help. But you just never know who is going to get injured, especially with four aging starters in the current outfield/DH rotation. The two have four at bats between them. The rest of the outfield has nine home runs collectively. Hunter, Matthews, and Guerrero have combined for seven of those homers, and all are hitting .300 or above. Behind the dish, Mike Napoli's underwhelming .231/.286 is nicely offset by his three homers (one a grand slam) and .615 slugging percentage. Jeff Mathis isn't going to hit, but he can play defense.

So at this point of the season, there haven't been any big surprises, outside of Figgins' sudden ability to take a walk or eight. Over his career, he generally draws about one walk every ten or eleven plate appearances, which isn't bad, but not ideal for a lead off hitter. This year he's up to one every five or six. I don't think anyone expects him to maintain that pace, but if he can keep it around 1/8 or so, that would be a fantastic ISO OBP, combined with a batting average around .300, that would put his OBP around .400 or above, a mark he's never surpassed in a season, not even last year when he hit .330. That's where it all starts. If he can jumpstart the offense like that, the Angels will be in very good shape, especially with a lineup that doesn't really give a pitcher a break until the 8th spot, and even then, you'll mostly have Mike Napoli and his power in that lineup position.

A big series up in Seattle starts tomorrow night. The games themselves aren't particularly important (though every game is somewhat important), but right now, the Mariners are trying to convince themselves that they're the team to beat in the West. If the Angels can go up into their building and take a couple of victories, it could help to sow the seeds of doubt that still linger around the Mariners. If the Mariners come away with a sweep, it will be a big boost of confidence that can take them through the early portion of their schedule. Both teams have their top three starters lined up, and both teams have bullpens that are really struggling, so it should be a very competitive series.

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