Signs point to Angels' offense finding groove

Batters have avoided strikeouts as Trout, Pujols wait to get going

April 15th, 2016

The Angels' offense lugged through this season's first week and a half, looking little like the group that clicked throughout Spring Training and appearing all too similar to the one that struggled for most of 2015.

It is, in some respects, encouraging, because they believe it will turn and because they found ways to win while they wait.

The Angels entered their second off-day of the regular season with a four-game winning streak, pushing their record above .500 (5-4) despite mustering three home runs, sporting the fifth-lowest OPS in the Major Leagues and getting a combined .212 batting average from their two best players, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

They boarded their flight for Minneapolis with a belief that their offense would soon show up.

"I think we showed signs this spring," right fielder Kole Calhoun said after Wednesday's 5-1, sweep-clinching victory at the Oakland Coliseum. "Maybe we started off a little slow, but if we can put it all together, play as a team, we can be a really good squad."

The Angels finished Spring Training ranked second in the Majors in OPS and tied for second in runs. But numbers in March can often deceive. A true sign that this offense is capable of more can be found within the constructs of the first 10 days, by the fact that the club struck out less frequently than all but one other team.

The Angels entered Thursday with 6.77 plate appearances per strikeout this season, trailing only the Giants for the Major League lead, and that isn't necessarily a product of a small sample size.

Said manager Mike Scioscia: "That's one of the tools on this team right now."

It comes largely from the left side of their infield. At third base, the Angels swapped David Freese (22 career strikeout percentage) for Yunel Escobar (11.3 percent). At shortstop, Erick Aybar (11.4 career strikeout percentage) has been replaced by Andrelton Simmons (9.1 percent).

Heading into camp, first-year general manager Billy Eppler raved about having "guys who put the ball in play." Eppler estimated that his team already had four players with the potential to hit 20 or more home runs, in Trout, Pujols, Calhoun and C.J. Cron. He wanted to get on-base ability in front of them and "guys who make that high degree of contact" behind them.

That, Eppler believed, would ultimately help make the Angels more aggressive on the bases and more inclined to situational hitting.

It hasn't happened yet, though, largely because they've already hit into 11 double plays, more than all but one team as of Thursday morning. Double-play groundouts are a potential hazard with offenses that generate a high degree of contact. Eventually, though, putting the ball in play at a high rate is supposed to be beneficial.

"But there's more to scoring runs than that," Scioscia said. "We definitely need to get some batter's-box offense. I think you saw the situational hitting picked up outside of the first couple days of the season for us. We've done a better job. I think that all comes into play with the type of offense we have right now.

"We're going to have to mix and match a little bit, put the ball in play, and we have some guys that can drive the ball also. Hopefully it'll be a little broader where we can pressure teams."