Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Angels batting surge a three-man show

Though the Angels have surged offensively to win eight straight games, the hit parade still isn't such a great show by American League standards. Indeed, the majority of the Angels offense continues to produce nearly nothing. But Albert Pujols has arrived, Kendrys Morales is back and Mark Trumbo keeps on coming.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


Suddenly, we look at the Angels and see this relentless offensive team. The Angels have scored five runs per game during their eight-game winning streak, which they will try to extend Wednesday night when they go for the three-game sweep of the New York Yankees at Angel Stadium.

It's good to finally see the Angels do a little hitting and make their season exciting. But when we look inside the lineup, we still see a precarious situation. The Angels offense during the winning streak is being carried entirely by three hitters in the middle of the order -- Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo at three, four and five (In what follows, we'll call them PMT.). The rest of the batting order is worthless, or worse. A special exemption might be granted for No. 6 hitter Howie Kendrick, who hits enough singles to drive in PMT, but hasn't made the kind of contribution of which he is capable.

PMT is batting .354 (34 for 96) with 10 homers, 28 RBI and 19 runs scored during the winning streak. PMT also has chipped in three steals in four attempts, along with four doubles and a triple.

The whole rest of the team, during the winning streak, is batting .223 (41 for 184) with one homer, 11 RBI and 21 runs scored, as well as five for seven in steals with three doubles and a triple.

The way the Angels are pitching and playing defense, all it has taken to make them into a serious player is for three guys to start hitting, because, before then, no one was hitting, except, at times, Trumbo. Now, PMT is spinning so much production from the middle of the lineup that it's hard to see how little the rest of the lineup is creating.

Mike Trout's arrival has been, on the whole, a great development for the Angels. Before the Angels called Trout, they were 6-14 with a .250 on-base percentage from the lead off position. Since he arrived, the Angels are 20-11 and their lead off position is getting on base at a .368 rate. But during the winning streak, Trout is only a .200 hitter (seven for 35) with a .243 on-base percentage and a .586 OPS.

Next up, we have the No. 2 hole, where Angels manager Mike Scioscia likes to put switch-hitting third basemen who seldom drive the ball. The two men anchoring that spot -- Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo -- are a combined .151 (five for 33) from there during the winning streak.

So, it's not like PMT coming up right here has started off with a lot to work with, especially considering that the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters, who precede Trout and No. 2, have been as poor as one might expect. The last three spots in the order are .232 (20 for 86) during the winning streak. The low spots have enjoyed one high moment -- a pinch-hit grand slam by Callaspo from the nine hole that gave the Angels a 5-3 win at Seattle on May 26. That blast accounted for four of the eight RBI generated by the last three spots during the winning streak.

But now we're seeing the Pujols the Angels thought they signed when they brought him here for 10 years at $240 million during the winter. Pujols has triggered this latest Angels surge like no one else, hitting .375 (12 for 32) with five homers, 10 RBI, eight runs scored, a double and a stolen base during the winning streak.

Following Pujols is Morales, the player the Angels knew they lost on that sad night two years ago when he fractured a leg during the team hop at the plate to celebrate a game-ending homer he had just hit. During the winning streak, Morales is batting .345 (10 for 29) with a homer, six RBI, five runs scored and two doubles.

Next, we get Trumbo, the man without a position who still is improving so much at the plate. During the winning streak, Trumbo is batting .343 (12 for 35) with three homers, five RBI, six runs scored, a double, a triple and two steals in three attempts.

Kendrick, following Trumbo in the order, is .296 (eight for 27) during the winning streak. But all of his hits are singles. During the winning streak, Kendrick has a .300 on-base percentage, because he has one walk, and a .296 slugging percentage, because he has no extra-base hits. And he still has eight RBI in the eight games because always, it seems, someone from the PMT cluster is on base before him to score on a single.

So, the Angels are better offensively, but they're not up there with the powerhouses, by any means. It's nice to average five runs per game during a winning streak, but Texas and Boston are ahead of that over the whole season, with Texas at 5.66 runs per game and Boston at 5.29. The Angels OPS during the winning streak is .741. But five American League teams are ahead of that over the entire season, and .741 isn't a whole lot better than the league-wide OPS of .729.

During the eight-game winning streak, whatever the Angels are doing is working. But they still have a lot of work to do through the majority of their order to become the kind of offensive team so many people expected to see during the spring.

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