Artie Moreno, the epitome of what fans hope for in an owner, spent the offseason making dramatic moves to improve the Angels. He signed Albert Pujols, the best hitter in baseball to a 10-year contract worth $250 million. He signed C.J. Wilson, a Huntington Beach product and the best available pitcher in free agency, to a rich contract as well. He then engineered a trade at the weakest hitting position on the roster for Chris Ianetta, a significant improvement at the catching position. The Angels already had a lineup that combined young stars -- Mike Trout, Peter Bourjous, Mike Trumbo and Howie Kendrick -- with veteran hitters Tori Hunter and Vernon Wells. They have the best young pitcher in the American League, Jared Weaver, and a solid number two in Dan Haren. Pundits through the world of baseball prognosticated that the World Series was theirs to lose.
But the Angels have spent the season in the basement of the American League West. They were shut out back to back last week. They have been shut out seven times in this young season. Meanwhile the Texas Rangers are dominating their division and look on the way to capturing a third straight division title. The Angels anticipated sell-out crowds for every game with a ticket seen as a hot property. What went wrong?
The team cannot seem to hit consistently and the biggest disappointment is the performance of Albert Pujols. His batting average has been hovering below .200 and it took him over 100 at bats to hit his only home run this year. Switching leagues after spending his career in St. Louis is certainly a factor. He doesn't know the American League pitchers and has no book on them. He is adjusting to a new environment. But generally if a hitter can succeed in one park he will at least be a credible hitter in others. Some observers in spring training concluded that his bat speed has lost velocity over time. But much of what has occurred has to do with the psychology of desperately trying to succeed. When a player starts pressing and is frustrated by failure he loses the natural way of doing things that made him successful.
Any golfer can tell you that when the game starts to deteriorate it can end in meltdown. When one of the biggest national stories is the horrific start to a season for a player like Pujols, every plate appearance is viewed under a microscope. It seems to have been contagious, with only Howie Kendrick hitting with any consistency. This is where the impact of a hitting coach like Micky Hatcher, who left in the offseason can be helpful.
The relief pitching has not been effective and the Angels look for a closer who can add some stability. Eventually the responsibility for the team has to turn to Mike Sciosia. I loved him as a catcher for the Dodgers and he has been an excellent manager over time. This is a situation that calls for adjustment, motivation and teaching.
A baseball season mirrors life -- it is long and has many chances for redemption. I think the Angels will turn it around and start to hit and win and that Pujols will salvage his season, but I've been an Angels fan since 1961 (when they started in Los Angeles). I caught my first baseball in the old Wrigley field where the Angels first played in Los Angeles. My father lived and died with the Angels. This is a time when we find out who the true fans are.
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