Club on rise with recent winning streak, ace Weaver's impending return
KANSAS CITY -- It is not difficult to see a brighter future for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The hard part with this club came as recently as one week ago, looking at the Angels' 15-27 ledger and trying to ascertain how all that talent came to that sort of record. Well, the pitching might have had quite a bit to do with it.
Now, the outlook is not nearly as grim. The Angels, at 21-27, still have uphill as their next direction. But they also are in their best stretch of the season, their winning streak stretched to six with Friday night's 5-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Every portion of the Angels' game has picked up during this streak. Their starters have delivered five fine performances. Their bullpen has held leads. Their hitters have produced 47 runs over six games.
All right, all of the Angels' opponents in this stretch -- the White Sox, Mariners and Royals -- are now playing under .500 baseball. You cannot blame the Angels for this. They are just playing the schedule. They are not drawing up the schedule.
But the Angels' play has picked up, and there is further reason for optimism. Rotation ace Jered Weaver, coming back from a fractured arm, had a successful bullpen session on Friday. If another bullpen session on Sunday goes well enough, manager Mike Scioscia said that Weaver could rejoin the Angels next week.
There aren't many clubs that could withstand getting only two starts out of their ace over the first two months of the season. The Angels apparently aren't one of those clubs.
But the theme here is that, for the Angels, the worst is over. Leading out of that, the next concept would be that the best is yet to come.
There have been some impressive offensive displays during this stretch; two 12-run games and then a four-home run game in the opener of this series on Thursday night. But for Scioscia's view of what needs to happen for this club to succeed over the long term, the pitching has been even more encouraging.
"To be honest with you, the quality starts is doing a lot more for our outlook, and holding leads, is doing wonders for our outlook," Scioscia said. "I think we're very comfortable with the fact that our offense is going to be there for us. Hopefully, we'll start to get a little more depth as guys start to come back from being banged up.
"Our ability to hold leads will improve and the depth of our rotation will be there. That's what this thing is all about, is the ability to get out there with someone on the mound every night with someone who is going to give you a chance to win. And when you do get a lead, some guys in the bullpen to hold those leads.
"We're developing bullpen depth. I don't' think we're where we'll end up to be, with Ryan Madson and Kevin Jepsen, who we anticipate helping us. But Sean Burnett was huge for us, and that was indicative [Thursday] night, coming in to get a ground ball [double play] and get out of an inning. There's a lot of games when Sean wasn't available or was on the DL, that we knew there was a role for him that would come up in a key spot in a game."
Jason Vargas has won two of the games during the streak, including Friday night's contest. The lefty went 7 1/3 efficient innings, before turning the game over to Garrett Richards, who got the necessary five outs for his first save.
The thought is that if the Angels' pitching staff can keep this club in games, the offense will produce enough to win. There have been some performances below career norms in the Angels' lineup, but this remains a diverse offense, with speed and power and the proven ability to generate runs in several ways.
When Scioscia was asked if this level of play was sustainable, he smiled and responded: "I sure as hell hope it is.
"Hopefully, we're going to keep building momentum and moving in the right direction. But I think this is much more in line with the team we projected, the way we've seen them play the last week."
That is the idea. The team the Angels projected would be an exceptionally good team, maybe even a championship team. When this club went 15-27, it seemed to be a completely different team.
This recent 6-0 club, however, looks much more like Plan A. The sample size is small, but both the direction and the performance are greatly encouraging.