Monday, April 4, 2011

Ill will in three easy games

Last season was a train wreck by Angels standards. The offseason threw gas onto the fire. But as the months passed, I began to look forward to baseball once again. Surely, the many issues which plagued the 2010 Angels would be muted by regression to the mean. A bullpen once renowned for greatness would rebound from a depressing year, a sputtering offense would regain its best hitter, and an admittedly terrible offseason signing would still improve the team with better-than-Abreu defense. Birds would sing, the Rangers would flounder, and I'd again have a reason to watch baseball in the fall.

Opening day was a pleasant affair. The odor of failure had already begun to leak from the bullpen, but, masked by some good defense and a home run by Jeff Mathis, it was easily ignored as the fetid scent of yesteryear. But that which is ignored so easily during a win is acutely inhaled in a loss. The essential failures of 2010, notably a bullpen with a disturbing propensity to take on earned runs from offenses with questionable skill, continue today. Fernando Rodney, another example of a signing inspired by an Angels management structure that lacks any insight into valuable, realistic player evaluation, has successfully provided below replacement-level production for the mere sum of 5.5 million dollars per year. Meanwhile, the only capable arm in the bullpen belongs to Jordan Walden who, despite showing flashes of brilliance, is still young and coming off a major surgery which should force Scioscia to limit his innings count.

The bullpen failures are perplexing because they seem unique to the Angels. Nearly every other team routinely calls up AAA relievers and earns league-average production for the pittance of an entry-level MLB contract. LA, on the other hand, signs disproved statistics (saves, holds, ERA) to multiyear, multimillion contracts and exclaims "this is our year!" while quietly booking time at Augusta for the first week of October. Someone, be it Arte Moreno or Bill Stoneman or another "advisor to baseball operations" must recognize the incessant failure of Tony Reagins and suggest an alternative. Or perhaps not.

Meanwhile, the starting rotation which looked so promising a week ago is already showing some very obvious defects. Scott Kazmir, whose signing I resolutely defended, is undoubtedly weeks away from retirement. His new found inability to throw 95+ could be overlooked if he learned to manage the strike zone, but his poor command leaves him without a single worthwhile pitch. Some pitchers manage the transition from power pitcher to finesse junkballer, but Kazmir has not, and will not, and thus must not occupy a space on the Angels roster.

Joel Piniero continues his time on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. When this malady inevitably turns to a season-ending surgery, the best top-4 in the majors turns into a mediocre top-3 with a still-tepid offense.

The Rangers managed to sweep the Red Sox, again allowing Boston to trample my wishes and desires, this time several months earlier than usual. The Angels, already in last place and 2.5 games back of Texas, will need to play better baseball against much better teams than the Royals if they wish to avoid a second straight year of fall golf and offseason injuries.

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