Angels' depth passing early test
Despite injuries, offensive woes, Halos have AL's best record
OAKLAND -- Take away your top two starters from the rotation, lose large portions of your infield, see your best hitter nicked up and hitting 68 points below his career average, watch your entire offense perform below expectations, and what do you have?
In the case of the Angels, you have the best record in the American League.
What superficially looks like a tale of woe turns out to be a success story. The Angels' depth has been seriously, rigorously tested at the regular positions and on the pitching staff in the first two months of the 2008 season. But their depth has passed every test. This is one reliable hallmark of a successful team.
"We've talked about this for a long time," manager Mike Scioscia said on Friday. "I think our depth has been important to us not only when it helps us to win, but when it hasn't been there and guys have been hurt, we've had some seasons that have been tough.
"When you take out all the guys that obviously we count on and you give up that template to work from, take those guys out, and you still have the depth to have a good team. We feel it's a good club and the depth can only help us when these guys start coming back."
With a 3-1 victory over the Athletics on Friday night, the Angels, at full health or not, have won six in a row. Without the exceptionally versatile Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar, after earlier being without Maicer Izturis and Howie Kendrick, with Vladimir Guerrero coming back from missing three games with a knee injury, the Angels were far from pain-free. But they were not hurting at all in the standings.
As Scioscia pointed out, while the Angels were losing position players to injuries, the pitching staff has been doing a nice job of stabilizing the situation. From May 20-June 2 the Angels scored four or fewer runs in 13 straight games. But the pitching was sufficiently strong that this offensive drought was not a crisis, or even a particular problem. The Angels went 9-4 in those 13 games.
And that has been the story of the season. At the outset, the Angels were without both John Lackey, who was 19-9 last season, and Kelvim Escobar, who was 18-7. Escobar is not back yet, and Friday night's start was just Lackey's fifth of the season.
Those sorts of top-of-the-rotation injuries would severely damage lesser operations. But the Angels merely turned to Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. All they have done this season is go a combined 17-4.
That is astounding all by itself, but the pitching picture just keeps getting better. The Angels have had injuries in the bullpen as well, but lately have fortified their relief corps with the addition of Jose Arredondo in a setup role. He has given up no runs in his last eight appearances. And closer Francisco Rodriguez has been, by the basic numbers, the best in the business. He leads the Majors with 25 saves, and with Friday night's spotless ninth inning, he has converted 22 straight save opportunities.
The fact that Guerrero returned to the lineup with two hits and an RBI was encouraging, although his .254 average and related offensive numbers look as though they belong to someone else. In fact, the offensive shortcomings are obviously not all on him. The Angels rank 10th in the AL in runs scored. This is a situation that, Scioscia noted, cannot persist.
"Our offense is still not where it needs to be," he said. "We've just been pitching great baseball and catching the baseball and just holding on. We can't keep putting our pitchers in that position."
Despite the fact that the offense has not developed continuity might be one more cause for long-term optimism.
And then there is this: This has been the Year of the Home Team on the Major League calendar. At this moment, only three of 30 clubs have winning road records. Yet the Angels are a dominant 20-11 away from home.
Scioscia has an all-purpose refrain for this sort of issue: "It's not our focus to worry about where we're playing, or who we're playing, but how we're playing."
No doubt. But part of the road record might be that with Rodriguez saving every game in sight, the Angels away from home need have no fear of the bottom of the ninth.
"If you're going to be a good team, you have to be able to close out games," Scioscia said. "Frankie's a huge part of what we are as a team."
This team has encountered some serious difficulties over the first 62 games of this season. And yet it is 38-24. The problem for the rest of the league is that you could easily see how the Angels could get not only healthier, but better.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.