Tough road ahead, but Angels have time
ARLINGTON -- The Angels were built for power, so why was their manager so happy with all those walks, infield singles and sacrifice flies on Saturday afternoon?
"These things have to appear in your offense on a consistent basis," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
He'd just watched his Angels defeat the Rangers, 4-2. Better yet, he'd seen them do a dozen little things that warmed his heart. He looks around his clubhouse and sees plenty of power and figures the home runs will come eventually. Until that happens, the Angels are going to have to do some other things.
For one afternoon, the Angels were the team Scioscia expected them to be: smart, resourceful and confident. There must have been five or six other times this season when he watched a game like this one and thought the worst finally was over and his team was about to begin a sprint to the postseason.
"Once it gets going, it's going to be like a train," reliever LaTroy Hawkins said.
Indeed, that's the way a lot of us still see the Angels. When this season began, they seemed close to invincible, with a terrific rotation, deep bullpen and an offense anchored by the game's best offensive player, Albert Pujols.
Instead, it has been one thing after another. Pujols is hitting .195 with one home run in 133 at-bats.
Yes, it's still early, but he has barely resembled that other Pujols, the one who controlled an at-bat the moment he stepped into the batter's box.
Speaking of good signs, Pujols did draw a walk to lead off the eighth inning on Saturday. That was his first in 61 at-bats, an incredible drought for a guy who averaged 107 walks between 2008 and 2010.
If Pujols starts to walk, home runs will follow. And if home runs follow, the Angels could still make something out of this season. But Pujols has been just part of the problem. Shortstop Erick Aybar is hitting .200. Center fielder Peter Bourjos is at .196.
Scioscia trotted out his 29th different lineup combination in a constant search for something that will deliver results. It could be as simple as youngster Mike Trout igniting the top of the lineup.
Or it could be as simple as Pujols getting hot. Once that happens, he'll have an impact on every other hitter in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Scioscia finally hopes he may have gotten the pieces lined up in his bullpen, with Jordan Walden regaining the closer's role and slotting Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and others in front of him.
If you're looking for hope, it's in a rotation that has been one of baseball's best.
"It's the heartbeat of our ballclub," Scioscia said.
Even with the Angels buried in last place in the American League West most of this season, even as they've fallen as far as nine games behind the Rangers for a few days, it's that rotation that gave Scioscia hope.
As long as his guys were pitching well, he had hope.
"Now we need to match it with some offensive support," he said. "Sometimes, the wins and losses you can't control, but you can certainly control how you're playing the game, and we need to keep bringing it."
On Saturday afternoon, the Angels scored just four runs, but it was the way they scored them that had to encourage their clubhouse.
Torii Hunter drew a two-out walk in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. Mark Trumbo followed with a two-run home run.
And then, in the seventh, the Angels scored twice more when Trumbo drew a leadoff walk. Three infield singles and two sacrifice flies to the opposite field followed the walk.
"We're capable of hitting three-run home runs," Trumbo said. "But we're a much better ballclub when we're executing and doing the small things. I was just as happy to draw a leadoff walk as hit the home run. Things like that lead to rallies. It's an attitude."
Someone asked about one victory meaning more than one victory, and Trumbo said the Angels needed a bit more of that intangible thing the Rangers have.
"We need some attitude," he said. "That's how they play. We need that figurative chip on our shoulder. Winning is an attitude, and good clubs seem to have it. I think an example of it is come-from-behind wins. We haven't had much of it this year, but every team I've been on that's gone on and done some damage has been a good come-from-behind team. If we can get the right attitude going a little more consistently, we can start doing some serious damage."
That's probably the toughest thing for these Angels to deal with. They're still four games under .500 at 15-19 and seven games behind the Rangers. There's still 128 games to go, time enough to accomplish anything, but the Angels have played so poorly that the temptation must be to try and hit nine-run home runs and win six games in a single day.
Good teams grind it out, one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time. Playing 'em one game at a time is not sexy, but it does work.
"That's part of the game," Pujols said. "We're pretty good, and it's a long season. We just need to put things together. It was a good win today. Now we need to come back tomorrow. We're 33 games into the season. That's why you play 162."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.