An 8-15 month of April to start the sunk the 2012 Angels, or at least that is how the narrative goes. It was a month where just about everything went for the Halos including Albert Pujols' infamous homer drought and the Bullpen of Sorrow blowing every lead they could, sometimes blowing it twice, just to make sure it was good and blown.
That month was a particularly brutal experience for the fans that lived through it which is really too bad because, well, it looks like it might happen again.
No, I'm not about to freak out that Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton went (GASP!) one whole game without a homer. I'm going to wait at least a week before I reach for that panic button. I'm not that irrational. Rather, this early concern over the Angels fortunes largely stems from the realization that the scheduling gods of MLB apparently hate the Angels. Just look at their April schedule:
Apparently the MLB schedule makers really wanted to see how the Halos would've done had they gone to the post-season in 2012 because 18 of their first 28 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season (Reds, Rangers, A's and Tigers). Looking back to last season, the Halos managed to go .500 against those teams (though they did not face the Reds at all). Going back a few years, the Halos have faired considerably worse, especially against Texas who they had a losing record against in each of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.
In the ten games where they get a reprieve from the brutal opponents they have to play the Astros, Twins and Mariners, but will have to face Minnesota and Seattle on the road. Those are still games they should win, but still, road games are tougher even if the opponent stinks.
OK, so big deal, they might be kind of average in April. Why all the hand-wringing?
Expectations, that's why.
Even going .500 in April, regardless of the strength of schedule is going to once again look like the Halos stumbled out of the gate despite all their star power. Every national columnist will gleefully dust off their old "Money can't buy championships" articles so that they can take down the Angels even harder than they did the year before. While many of the players claim they don't pay attention to the press, there is no denying that their April struggles in 2012 generated a whole lot of sound bites from the Angel roster talking about how they were "pressing" to try and get things back on track. One has to think that a repeat of last April, even if it isn't quite as bad, will only incite the same kind of pressing that exacerbated their struggles the year before.
Having a tough stretch of the schedule is something every team has to deal with at some point. Unfortunately for the Angels, it comes in a month that has been strangely troubling for them the last few years. From 2008 to 2012, the Angels have only once had a winning record when they woke up on the morning of May 1st. That is the kind of trend that can give clubhouse some real demons to deal with which is why it feels like this tough slate of games is so much more threatening than it probably should be.
What also doesn't help is the general state of the Angels coming out of spring training. Even if, like me, you don't put much stock in spring training performance, you can't help but be concerned that the only two guys on the entire pitching staff that were pitching well when the team broke camp were fifth starter Joe Blanton and swingman Garrett Richards. Shaky pitching was always a concern for this roster, but it seems especially shaky now, which is a real double whammy considering the level of competition they are about to face.
Really the only thing going in the Angels' favor is that, well, you can't predict baseball. All the indicators seem to suggest that the Halos are in for a slow start, but through their first game, all those concerns went unrealized. Weaver pitched well, the bullpen was tremendous and they beat a very good Reds team in a hard-fought game that a team worried about disappointing start could've lost several times.
Let's hope all of that continues through the rest of April and beyond.