Disappointing season taking toll on Scioscia
Baseball's longest tenured manager not making excuses for letdown season
ST. PETERSBURG -- Prediction from last March: The Josh Hamilton addition changes everything about the Angels -- and makes them division winners and legitimate World Series threats.
Current reality: As baseball disappointments go, there's none more depressing than the Angels as they head into the final month of a season they can't wait to end.
Mike Scioscia sat in the Angels dugout at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon, and it was obvious this disastrous summer has taken its toll on the most tenured manager in the Major Leagues.
He said he's been eating too much, has put on weight and his face showed the pain of a team expected to do so well, yet has failed so dramatically.
"Yes, on a daily basis, it's been so frustrating, but hopefully we're going to start to regroup and get things going in the right direction," he said as a few players in shorts worked out.
Later that night at Tropicana, after a so-so start by C.J. Wilson, the Angels wiped out a 5-1 Tampa Bay lead and, at the expense of Rays closer Fernando Rodney, scored two runs in the ninth to win 6-5, their fourth straight triumph.
Then, in the second of the three-game series, the Angels went quietly. They lost 4-1, but with a solid effort in Thursday afternoon's getaway, shut out the potent Rays, 2-0, behind crafty Jason Vargas.
"Yes, this year has been very disappointing," Scioscia repeated. "The thing that keeps all of us going is we just love the day-to-day challenges, the day-to-day workouts on the field, getting the guys ready and looking to where the issues are and trying to fix them.
"And it's still about winning."
Wilson put it this way: "We have a lot of guys who are hungry, that really want to do some damage in these last weeks of the season. We showed that here."
The Angels haven't played in the postseason since 2009. But when owner Arte Moreno threw $125 million at Hamilton to go with the $240 million contract he gave Albert Pujols and another $77.5 million for Wilson the year before, combined with the potential of 2012 American League Rookie of the Year sensation Mike Trout, the Angels had more than enough pieces to be one of baseball's premier teams.
The story has been told many times the last four or five months about the lack of results versus Moreno's huge investment. The Angels are in third place in the AL West and on a pace to finish with their worst record in Scioscia's 14 years.
"You're never going to have a perfect team," said Scioscia, the highest-paid manager in the Majors at $5 million this year. "When we got to Spring Training, I think a lot of the pieces looked like they were going to lead to great on-field chemistry.
"Yet, going into Spring Training, we had some concerns -- all of us in the organization did. Starting rotation depth was an issue, our bullpen depth. A lot of our bullpen was contingent on Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson. Sean was injured and didn't pitch much. Ryan never made it back."
Madson had numerous setbacks in his recovery from 2012 Tommy John surgery and was unable to pitch this season. The Angels, who signed him for $3.5 million during the offseason, released him on Aug. 5. He pitched just one inning for the Class A Inland Empire 66ers.
Pujols got off to a dreadful start in 2012 after signing his hefty 10-year deal. Most recently, he went on the disabled list in July. He's finished for the season because of a partial tear of his left plantar fascia. A lifetime .325 hitter, he was batting just .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs when his season ended.
Hamilton has struggled in his new uniform -- far below his .304 lifetime average. He's batting only .234 and has struck out 132 times.
Pitching, however, has been the true culprit.
The additions of Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton and Vargas haven't panned out and, of course, Burnett and Madson have been busts. Blanton, for example, is 2-14 with a 6.12 ERA.
"We just haven't been able to pitch the way a championship-caliber club is supposed to," said Scioscia.
The Angels' team ERA (4.37) ranks 12th among the AL's 15 teams and 27th overall in the Majors.
Scioscia says clubhouse chemistry is fine; on the field is another matter.
"Not at all in the clubhouse," he said. "Clubhouse chemistry is one thing, on-field chemistry is critical. What I mean by that is a pitcher-catcher relationship, making sure they understand what the game plan is. On the defensive side, understanding the situations, understanding who you're working with, where the feeds need to be -- your whole lineup chemistry and how it flows.
"Some of that has been in place, but we've paid a price, because we haven't done it at the level we need to."
So much has been written and reported about the Angels' failure this season, but I asked Scioscia if there is one underlying factor he can point to.
Maybe the underachievers?
"The one thing that highlights our organization is that maybe the depth wasn't there to absorb some of the non-performances and guys who've been out of our lineup, particularly on the pitching side," he said. "We lost Vargas for over six weeks, lost Jered Weaver for over two and a half months.
"In some areas you have depth to absorb, other areas it's more of a challenge. It was tough to absorb Burnett and Madson not being here all year, and premier starters in our league that missed time.
"We don't look at where we are because of injuries. It's more of a situation of some guys not performing at a level that they can. In a 15-team league, we've given up the 12th most runs. That's troubling. You have to control the defensive side and the first course of action is to pitch well. We need to get better at that."
Scioscia is a Moreno favorite. He's signed through 2018, the result of a 10-year, $50 million contract. He'll earn $6 million each of the final three years.
There have been reports Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto aren't on the same page. Not at all, insists Scioscia.
"There are no philosophical differences. Jerry and I are, certainly, as far as our baseball philosophies are concerned, in line. You're not going to agree on everything. That's healthy. You have to have conversation. You've got to throw it on the table and just see if it has merit, talk about it, peel the paint off of it and I feel that's happening."
The question of Scioscia's status beyond this year has been raised.
I cannot fathom Moreno replacing him. Scioscia means too much to the franchise. Yet if it should happen, because of his credentials and managerial ability, he'll be out of work just a few minutes. Most any team with an opening would love to have him at the helm.
Under Scioscia the Angels have achieved the best success in franchise history: five AL West titles in six seasons and a World Series championship in 2002.
"There's a frustration level all of us have dealt with this year," he said, frowning. "You have to work hard to minimize the infusion of that into the clubhouse. A lot of guys in our clubhouse are frustrated too. This game keeps you going."
And with another long pause: "This is where you really earn your money -- when things are going poorly. You have to keep things together, you've got to keep guys with the focus of winning a game. At times we've done that and at times it's been a challenge."