Angels hope new faces provide September spark
OAKLAND -- When David Freese fractured his right index finger on July 22, his Angels were at the height of their ascension, at that point 54-40 and two games up on the Astros for first place in the American League West.
What followed was almost inexplicable.
The Angels lost seven of their next eight games, then they put together their worst August in 16 years. They lost 19 games, their most in August since 1999, and were outscored 158-86. When September began and the rosters expanded, they were 65-66, 7 1/2 games out of first place and 3 1/2 back for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"It's frustrating just to see the guys hurting," Freese said. "I'm excited to come back with a little over a month left and try to help us win."
Freese was activated off the disabled list Tuesday, along with outfielders Matt Joyce (concussion) and Collin Cowgill (sprained right wrist), infielder Taylor Featherston (upper back strain) and reliever Cory Rasmus (right forearm strain). Also called up were starter Nick Tropeano, right-handed reliever Mike Morin, lefty specialist Wesley Wright and catcher Jett Bandy.
To create room for Cowgill and Wright on the 40-man roster, right-hander Drew Rucinski and outfielder Alfredo Marte were designated for assignment.
So there's some new blood in the Angels' clubhouse, and it's a new month.
Maybe it's the start of better baseball.
"It's funny how this game sometimes works in months," right fielder Kole Calhoun said. "Obviously August was a terrible month for us. Turn the page. We still have a chance to make a run at this thing. Hopefully we start playing some good ball and pull together as a team, make it kind of interesting going down the stretch."
The Angels finished the month of August last in the Majors in batting average (.221), on-base percentage (.281), slugging (.344) and runs per game (2.97). They were tied with the Phillies -- the 28-games-below-.500 Phillies -- for most errors (22). And they didn't pitch well, either, ranking 28th in starter ERA (5.64) and 23rd in reliever WHIP (1.39).
Their three best hitters -- Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- batted a combined .218. After second baseman Johnny Giavotella was placed on the DL with an undisclosed illness on Tuesday, their Nos. 7-9 hitters went a combined 10-for-58. And their third basemen -- Conor Gillaspie, then Kaleb Cowart -- combined to go 15-for-83 with 26 strikeouts.
Then there's Jered Weaver, whose average fastball velocity dropped from 85.12 mph in June to 82.91 in August, after spending July on the DL. And Hector Santiago, who has given up 14 runs (13 earned) in his last three starts. And Matt Shoemaker, who gave up 13 runs over a two-start stretch before getting sent down.
"Just a bad month, man," Calhoun said. "Nothing went our way."
During a three-game sweep in Chicago from Aug. 10-12, the Angels went a combined 1-for-32 with runners in scoring position. On Aug. 16 in Kansas City, Huston Street blew a save in the ninth and former Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales got the walk-off hit in the 10th. While suffering a three-game sweep to the Blue Jays at home from Aug. 21-23, their pitching staff gave up a combined 36 runs.
Street yelled in the dugout on Aug. 22 and Weaver yelled in the dugout on Aug. 25, after Trout and Calhoun miscommunicated on a fly ball. Five days later, Trout and Calhoun both missed fly balls in the sun, with Weaver on the mound. Last Wednesday, they were three outs away from being no-hit by Justin Verlander. On Friday and Saturday, Trevor Gott and Joe Smith provided back-to-back bullpen meltdowns.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked if he believed the symbolic nature of starting a new month can reinvigorate his reeling team, to which the Angels' manager emphatically shook his head.
"Whatever day the calendar says is really not the issue," Scioscia said. "The issue is continuing to hopefully improve as a team. … We're in this thing. Sometimes it takes one spark and you start to play like you can. That's what we're looking for."