Los Angeles Angels: Surviving April


Apr 18, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (14) walks back to the dugout after asking for a play to be reviewed in the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Surviving April

Surviving April seems to be the talk of the Angels as they go deeper into the 2014 season. After going 6-14 out of the gate in April 2012, the Halos have made it their initial goal to get off to a good start. It didn’t happen in 2013, but it hasn’t quite happened in 2014 either. However, one can’t really complain about a 10-11 record when looking back. Starting 10-10 alone would’ve been the difference between 89-73 and tying for the division title at 93-69 at the end of 2012. That’s not counting a 5-13 slump in August of that season. Despite a 112-93 run differential, the Angels are sort of treading water without toppling over at this point. There are a few warning signs that the Halos need to address in-house, but there are also several reasons to believe the Angels are ready to make a run soon. Here is a full update on the Angels surviving April.

The Dominant Force

Mike Trout and Albert Pujols are doing their thing. So was Josh Hamilton before his injury. Kole Calhoun was just turning it on. Despite those injuries, as well as slow starts from David Freese, Erick Aybar, Raul Ibanez, and Chris Iannetta, the Angels offense is third in the American League in runs, first in homeruns, first in triples, and first in slugging percentage. It was said that the Angels would need a lot of offense to compete. Well, they’re getting just that. But they may not need the bats as much with one major positive; one which few gave them a chance.

The Pleasant Surprise

On the pitching side of things, the Halos are 10th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, 5th in strikeouts, and have 3 blown saves. Their starting rotation, however, is 5th in ERA, much better than last season, while their bullpen is 12th in ERA. That is the big pleasant surprise for this team. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have both give the Angels a ton of innings to save the bullpen at the back-end. Jered Weaver took a few starts to get it going, and looks like he’s figuring it out again. CJ Wilson is back and forth, but should hit his stride soon. Hector Santiago is the only starter that has really struggled to get it going, but time is all we can give it. No team is going to have all five starters be consistent all season long. It’s just not in the cards in such an unpredictable game. But this rotation is something to be excited about. This is key to surviving April, and to building off of that. But there is one thing that can spoil their efforts.

Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The One Big Blemish

This is probably the one element that has the Angels surviving April instead of owning it. The current Angels bullpen features seven pitchers, five of which have ERA’s of 3.60 or better. Joe Smith has performed as advertised. Fernando Salas is on a hot streak. Michael Kohn is learning how to throw his changeup for strikes. The remaining two are Ernesto Frieri (9.35) and Kevin Jepsen (6.14). I don’t normally like to put it all on one player, but Frieri is the main culprit. His 9.35 ERA is weighing the entire bullpen down the same way Joe Blanton pulled the starting rotation down with him last season. Being in such an important role, Frieri’s performance has also weighed the entire team down. Jepsen himself has begun to figure it out a bit over the last week. So it’s coming down to Frieri figuring it out, or a move must be made. And Frieri likely will not be the closer when the Angels play a 3-game series in New York against the Yankees this weekend.

Also, after looking at the overall team stats and rankings, I isolated April to see where the Angels rank. Turns out the Angels team ERA improved dramatically, from 4.05  overall to 3.82 for the month. That’s 5th in the AL. And without Frieri all together, the Angels have a 3.71 bullpen ERA, which would be good for 7th in AL. That’s still a much better number than they have now, and would likely have them at least 12-9.

They’re Catching The Baseball Again!

The Angels defense is 8th in errors and double plays, and is 7th in stolen base percentage, which is a huge improvement from 2013. Last season, the Angels had the second worst stolen base percentage as well as stolen bases overall. The infield defense has improved a great deal with Pujols back at first base. Freese has made some very good plays. And Kendrick and Aybar continue to work together to be a quick middle infield. Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger are both improving their defense, especially throwing out runners. The outfield is as fast as any out there. They could do better. But right now, seventh in the AL in errors is okay for now, especially over last season.

But Look At That Run Differential!

The Angels opening series against the Mariners put a dent in the Angels’ record and their pitching stats.  But what still stands out is the 112-93 run differential. The Angels Pythagorean W-L record is actually 12-9. They should be right there with the A’s and Rangers. But the one big blemish in their bullpen has allowed them to let a few games get away that would otherwise have them at 12-9. This makes sense when looking at a team that is 10-11. But the Angels are 10-8 since then. That is a steady pace for a 90-72 season. But with 159 games left after that series, that pace would still only get them to a 87-75 finish. That means a winning streak or two are due sometime. Their run differential suggests they are very close, and should already be there.

What Are The Chances?

As far as the Angels’ playoff chances, they were the division favorites at 60%. And that number has barely changed despite being 10-11. The A’s and Rangers percentages surpassed the Halos, however. That’s mainly because both are 14-8. The Angels percentage is staying relatively the same because they have that 112-93 run differential, which is a sign that they are very close to hitting their stride, but just taking a bit longer than the A’s and Rangers. However, the A’s and Rangers are banged up and both teams have had just as many, of not more bullpen problems than the Angels have. Time will tell if their current streaks are those teams overcoming their losses, or just an early streak in April before the reality of depleted rosters sets in.

Where Exactly Are The Angels?

Outside of Frieri the Angels have pretty much played like a first place team. Despite losing Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun for several weeks,  they have continued to clobber opponents at times. Some guys who were off to slow starts are picking up the pace. The Halos have even showed same late inning fight, tying the score in the 9th inning two nights in a row against the A’s over a week ago. So there are a lot of positives.

The Angels are very close to going on a run. They have a somewhat favorable schedule coming up in May after they get through their current streak of playing several (potential) contenders in a row. The only thing standing in their way is figuring out the late inning bullpen roles. And when they do that, I think we’ll finally see that three team race in the AL West. And in the end, as I’ve said many times, it will likely come down to who survives the interdivisional match ups. But for now, the Angels need to continue surviving April, and then take that chance on making a run.