Hope remains for Halos, South Siders
ANAHEIM -- It wasn't supposed to be like this for the Angels and the White Sox, an intensive search for silver linings in mid-May.
Two of the sport's heaviest disappointments through the first quarter of the season are sharing Angel Stadium through Sunday -- with the White Sox edging the Angels, 5-4, in Thursday's series opener -- and about the best they can say for themselves is that there are three-quarters left to turn it around.
Chicago is last in the American League Central -- an intriguing division with more subplots than anyone imagined -- and Los Angeles has only avoided the cellar in the AL West only because Houston joined the division this season.
As bleak as it appears from the outside, on the inside one hears expressions of optimism in both quarters.
The Angels believe the impending reinsertion of ace Jered Weaver at the top of the rotation and additions of Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett and Kevin Jepsen in the bullpen could transform the pitching staff. It certainly can't hurt. Only the Astros, at 5.79, have a higher team ERA than the Angels' 4.77.
"The biggest thing about having a guy like Weaver back in the rotation," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "is you can create some momentum. You can go three, four times around the rotation with a chance to win every night. No doubt this team has big winning streaks in it that we're going to need.
"A guy like Weaver and the insertion of some back end bullpen helps a great deal."
The White Sox, meanwhile, have no complaints about their arms. They're waiting for their offense to wake up and smell the triple-shot latte.
"Ideally, yeah, that's what you'd like to see," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said when a media correspondent wondered if his club is capable of taking flight once the offense finds its mojo and supports the fine pitching. "But it doesn't always work out that way. When you've got good pitching, you don't hit. When you hit, you don't get the pitching."
Ventura, a wonderful player in his time, clearly is all too familiar with the maddeningly unpredictable nature of the game.
With All-Star level starters Jake Peavy (5-1, 2.96 ERA) and Chris Sale (4-2, 2.88) headlining a quality rotation and Addison Reed (12 saves) shutting out the lights, Chicago came into the four-game series tied for sixth in the Majors in team ERA at 3.48.
But Ventura's offense has been more miss than hit, scoring 12 fewer runs than the fine pitching staff has yielded.
Alex Rios, who hit his ninth home run on Thursday night, is having a solid season. But Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, the other credentialed big boppers, have been slow to get that sluggin' feeling.
Dunn went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the opener, perhaps a hopeful indication to the skipper that the bats might be warming with the weather.
"Offensively," Ventura said, "guys are starting to pick up. It's a positive sign in the right direction. We're starting to see better at-bats, squaring balls up."
The Angels are squaring balls up, and launching some. Albert Pujols put the Angels on the board with his seventh home run of the season in the fourth inning.
With Pujols, it was only a matter of time before he began to punish some baseballs. The same holds true of Josh Hamilton, who has been getting better swings lately.
In spite of the sluggish starts of the two superstars, the Angels came into the series eighth in the Majors in home runs but only 16th, middle of the pack, in runs driven in.
What's strange about this Scioscia team is that it does not bear his familiar stamp of all-out aggression on the bases. There has been little aggression at all. Whatever happened to that Angels' fast break?
Only three teams have a worse success rate than the Angels' 57.7 percent with just 15 steals. Sitting around waiting for missiles to be lifted never has been Scioscia's style.
What's strange about the Angels' uninspired baserunning is that they have the potential to be lethal, to test the resolve and nerves of opponents.
There is not a swifter trio of players on one Major League team than the Angels' Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Mike Trout. When Bourjos is ready to explode off his hamstring and reclaim the leadoff role with his .370 on-base percentage, it would be fascinating to see Scioscia align them atop the order, in front of bashers Pujols, Mark Trumbo, Hamilton and Howie Kendrick.
Turning all that speed loose would create energy on the field, in the dugout and in the stands, where the faith of the faithful has been tested.
"Energy?" Scioscia said. "We need runs."
He did not disagree when it was pointed out that energy often is what produces runs.
"If it makes sense for the guys who are going to drive the ball," Scioscia said, "it's a lineup you'd consider. The injection of team speed is something we need to have reappear."
Trout has adapted nicely moving from No. 1 to No. 2 in the order, and there's every reason to believe he'd be just fine moving down one more spot. He is the dream No. 3 hitter, with a power-speed combination matched by few, if any, contemporaries.
It might be a slight mental adjustment for Pujols to hit cleanup. But if it's best for the team, of course he'd be happy to do it.