Best Record in Baseball Meets Hottest Offense in Baseball - TBLA Angel Preview

Back in April, baseball fans were making fun of the struggles of the Angels for good reason. They were in last place, noted super slugger Albert Pujols went homerless for April, and the whole team was struggling to score. The team resembled the 1968 Chicago White Sox hitless wonders more than the team expected to go toe to toe with the Texas Rangers.

Six weeks later good fortune is once again looking down upon the Angels as a plethora of players stepped up their games. Many are pointing to the arrival of phenom Mike Trout as the catalyst for the positive change, and they wont' find this writer disagreeing, as their record speaks for itself since he arrived.

The Angels are currently 32 - 29 and only three games behind the Texas Rangers. When Mike Trout arrived they were 6 - 14 on April 27th. Yet, it is not just the Trout show; Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols, and lately Torii Hunter have played major parts in this renaissance. You just have to look at what that foursome did against the Rockies this prior weekend to get an idea just how hot that group is.

Trout - 16 Plate Appearances, Eight Runs Scored, Eight Hits, Four Stolen Bases, 1.268 OPS

Hunter -16 Plate Appearances, Eight Runs Scored, Eight Hits, Three Home Runs, Nine Runs Batted In, 1.825 OPS

Pujols - 15 Plate Appearances, Six Runs Scored, Five Hits, One Home Run, FIve Runs Batted In, 1.390 OPS

Trumbo - did not join the Coors fun until yesterday but made up for lost time with two three-run home runs, the second time this week he hit two home runs in one game.

Still, as hot as those four players have been, the rest of the team is still struggling to find their historical production. The infield other than Albert has been terrible, so the outfield and pitching have had to make up the difference. Since April 27th they have been.

1st Base - Albert Pujols, you might have heard of his early season struggles but that is yesterdays news. Albert did go 114 plate appearances with out a home run but since hitting his first home run on May 6th, Pujols has been himself. 148 plate appearances, nine home runs, thirty one runs batted in (33 games), and his normal .942 OPS.

2nd Base - Howie Kendrick is one of the Angels who is still struggling. Kendrick has now been a mainstay in the Angel infield for seven years and this is his weakest offensive season to date. He has shown he has the bat but so far not much is coming from it.

SS - Erick Aybar is making Dee Gordon look like Cal Ripken. No one can do that, but.........Aybar has been horrific with a .220 / .256 / .287 triple stat line.

3rd Base - Alberto Callaspo has only been a good hitter for a full season twice in his career so maybe his troubles should not be a surprise. In fact they look eerily like 2010. They Angels did try Mark Trumbo here early in the year but gave up the experiment. With Callaspo's .308 slugging % one has to wonder if they won't try again. Albert Pujols played 3rd against the Rockies, he might do it again against the Dodgers.

Catcher -Bobby Wilson might actually be making Angel fans pine for Mathis. Chris Iannetta when down several weeks ago and Bobby Wilson has become the starting catcher. You want to talk about an offensive black hole. That is not even hyperbole, that is being nice. Seventy six at bats. ZERO extra base hits. ONE run batted in. An OPS of .403. Mike must love his bad bad bad hitting catchers as this travesty of offense perpetrates itself upon Angel fans. Dodgers fans actually don't get to watch this suckitude because Bobby Wilson suffered a concussion and is on the DL, so catching this series should be a tandem of Hank Conger and John Hester.

RF - Mark Trumbo is knocking the snot out of the ball. Sophomore slump nothing, this kid has raised his level of offense to herculean levels. Lest you think I be joshing here is the small list of American League hitters with an OPS+ > 150 with over 200 plate appearances.

                                                                      
Rk            Player OPS+  PA Age 2B HR RBI BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1       Paul Konerko  183 226  36 13 12  35 26 35 .365 .447 .614 1.061
2      Josh Hamilton  182 253  31 14 22  61 25 52 .338 .399 .698 1.097
3        Mark Trumbo  179 208  26 14 14  39 16 46 .326 .380 .632 1.011
4    Josh Willingham  166 237  33 18 11  41 32 53 .289 .409 .558  .968
5      Matthew Joyce  165 213  27  7 11  31 29 43 .282 .396 .542  .939
6        David Ortiz  160 256  36 20 14  38 31 34 .308 .391 .585  .975

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/11/2012.

CF - Mike Trout has been written about and written about and deservedly so. Not only is Mike Trout possible the best prospect in the history of the Angels, he might simply be the best prospect of the 21st century as he holds his own against Byrce Harper. Not sure if I need to post his numbers but here we go:

First off, remember he's 20 years old.

177 Plate Appearances, 33 runs scored, 18 XBH, 24 RBI (Leadoff Spot), 13 Stolen Bases, 15 Walks, .350 Batting Average, .407 On Base %, .548 Slug%, all while playing Pete Reiser like defense. I've heard Mickey Mantle being bounced around as a historical comp, but that is crazy, for my money he's like ex-Dodger Pete Reiser. Speed, power, crazy defense, not afraid of walls, batting average, frenetic energy.

If you can't enjoy Mike Trout playing baseball, you ought to find another sport.

LF - Torii Hunter came back from his leave of absence on May 29th but didn't do much until the bright lights of Coors called out his name. Three games, three hits each game, threer home runs. He Loney'd it.

Bench - Maicer Izuruis, Kendry Morales, John Hester, and Hank Conger

Pitching Matchup

Game One - Garrett Richards will be making his second start of the 2012 season. He was excellent in his first start against Seattle last week, going seven innings and striking out eight. He came into 2012 as the Angels top pitching prospect. Here is the Baseball HQ scouting report on him:

Big and strong pitcher who finished 3rd in TL in ERA. Possesses excellent, natural stuff highlighted by plus FB and CB. Throws with quick, smooth arm action and adds sink at lower velocity. Dom dropped despite power arsenal, though should rebound once mechanics become more consistent. Needs to improve potentially-average CU and SL.

Game Two - Jerome Williams came back from oblivion last year to give the Angels a huge shot in the arm, and was primed to be the number five pitcher this spring. Injuries set him back so he did not make his first start until April 15th. He's had a brilliant game and some lousy games mixed in to his game logs so far. The former Giant number one pick in 1999 was actually in the Dodger system in 2008 but never got the call.

Game Three - CJ Wilson has been brilliant, living up to every penny of his contract. He had some control problems at one point this year but has sorted that out and is coming off a eight inning masterpiece in Coors. In his last six starts he has given up 2, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1 runs in those games.

Bullpen: One huge reason for the Angel recent success was a minor trade they made with the Padres in which they gave up utility minor league infielder Alexi Amarista for Ernesto Frieri. It was a terrible trade for the Padres as they got a utility infielder, but the Angels got the big arm the bullpen needed. Jordan Walden was struggling terribly in the closer slot so even the few games the Angels were leading were in danger headed into the ninth. Frieri immediately made an impact by moving into the setup role, allowing Scott Downs to take over the closer duties. Since that trade the trio of Downs, Frieri, and Walden have been outstanding, giving the Angels one of the best end-game bullpens in baseball. The Trade happened on May 5th, the Angels are 21 - 12 since the deal. Frieri has yet to give up a run in 16 games, compiling 33 strike outs in only 16 innings making Kenley Jansen looking like Jamie Moyer. He has a some control problems as he's also walked 11 along with 2 HBP in those 16 innings but since he's only given up TWO HITS, it has not been a problem. Scott Downs and Frieri are currently sharing the closing duties. Downs gave up his first earned run of the season yesterday in his 24th game. Jordan Walden is enjoying the setup work, since being pulled as closer he's made 15 appearances and given up runs in only three of those games. Looks like he's been a tad lucky as he has walked nine in those games.

Matchup:

Dodgers miss Haren and Weaver, plus the bats are coming off a high of Coors to Dodger Stadium so all those runs they scored this past weekend will dissipate into the Dodger thick night air. It will be an interesting series The Dodgers appear to be outgunned, but with the DH not in play the Angels will be missing one key hitter, so that helps. As good as the back of the bullpen has been for the Angels I would not be surprised if Frieri leaves the Ravine with some runs scored against him on his docket.

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