It looks like things are off to a terribly slow start in Anaheim once again; fortunately all us Angel fans are more than acquainted with slow starts from this team. The experience from last year just means the Angels fan base has the experience to know that we CAN furiously push on the panic this early.
Now I do understand that things are off to a more unfortunate start than a slow start if anything with Weaver out for 4-6 weeks and Aybar being pulled out of last night’s game, but aside from that there's absolutely no reason to be pushing the panic button already. Oh, you mean we went 2-4 to start the season, on the road, against playoff contenders. The Angels weren't fighting tooth and nail against Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum to pull together pathetic victories; they went up against some of the best teams in baseball in the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers. The fact that they lost the home opener to a red-hot playoff contender AND division rival doesn't do much to inspire panic in me, especially when the finishing blow was delivered by a notoriously unreliable reliever. As a matter of fact, I actually think that a lot of this bad streak to start the season is good for the Angels. Aside from losing Weaver and Aybar most of everything that's been going on for the Angels has been good for the team. Why?
For starters, this is the kind of bad streak that weeds out the "haves" from the "have not’s" on this team. Most importantly, we have been able to establish very early on the Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen are relievers not to be trusted with close games. Jepsen has been notorious throughout his whole career with the Angels for being wildly unreliable; he's a guy who may show up with good enough stuff to get through an inning, but he is also just as likely to turn up with a jerry can full of gasoline ready to "light this baby up". Allowing Jepsen to come into close games consistently is just asking for serious trouble, and it's not like the Angels don't have better options in the 'pen this time around. The only time Jepsen should be allowed to pitch in a game is with a lead greater or equal to 3, anything less is putting the team in a risky situation. Jepsen isn't the kind of reliever who will fall apart for an inning but will only give up a few hits and a run or two. No, Jepsen is a guy who will let the team break the game completely open (which is exactly what we saw in the Angels home opener). Just like his appearance last night, in which he gave up 4 runs off two homers in 0.1 inning, Jepsen will make himself prone to the home-run ball and the big hit.
Scott Downs, on the other hand, used to be incredibly reliable until the last half of 2012. Unfortunately it seems his age and fragile nature have caught up with him and made him go from being a wildly popular reliever to someone who should be stuck in the back of the 'pen. As shown in the home opener Downs couldn't come into the game without automatically turning it into a crapfest. Nothing can be considered "safe" with these two, especially a 1 run game against a crazy hot division rival. The good thing about these 2 relievers is that they've established their inability to pitch in close games early enough that Scioscia can effectively remove them from their duties and entrust other relievers with their roles. Sean Burnett may have been brought in as a lefty-heavy specialist, but he can get right-handed hitters out at a FAR better pace than Downs. Downs can't even get lefties out anymore, his job needs to be given to someone who has at least hasn't proven to be terribly unreliable. The key this year is Scioscia's ability to recognize these inefficiencies and replace them instead of letting the issues drag itself out as far as it possibly can until people start questioning his job. Fortunately I do not see that happening as Scioscia has had to have learned that his stubbornness does not work anymore. This bad streak is good for the Angels in that it has highlighted enough of our biggest problems that the management should be able to swiftly move in and fix everything up in an instant.
There's not much that can be done with the starting rotation, who has already shown to be pretty shaky but not completely useless. While some people might argue otherwise the fact is that if our rotation can keep the opposing teams from putting up any more than 4-5 runs then they are doing their job. This isn't the Angels where the pitching had to keep the opposition to 2-3 runs a game if they wanted a chance at sniffing victory because of an inept offense. The pitching doesn't need to do that anymore with this massively beefed up lineup backing it up, a lineup that has been full of shortcomings this season yet has STILL been putting up a healthy number of runs on the board (especially for having to compete against fellow contenders early on). Josh Hamilton might be starting off the season very Pujols like (circa April 2012), but that's to be expected from a big time free agent heading into a new ball club with tons of pressure on his shoulders. He's a mentally sensitive guy so this kind of high pressure start to the season is bound to have this kind of effect on him. Once he is able to get out of his funk, which he's proven to be capable of time and time again, he will absolutely rake and destroy this league. This is much unlike last year where the offense faced a handful weeks before getting it together, this time it's just a handful of terrible games for them to get it together.
Since the Angels have such a potent offense does the rotation really need to get remarkably better for this team to really take off? No, not really actually. This rotation is capable to keeping it relatively together before the bullpen comes in, a bullpen that's been absolutely fantastic aside from Jepsen and Downs (and that one realllllyyyy bad game in Texas). This just means that the improvement the Angels can get from Weaver's injury early on will be highly beneficial to the team. Wait, did I just say improving from Weaver's injury? Whhaaaaaa???? This gives Garrett Richards the shot to crack the rotation, a shot he will absolutely capitalize on. Richards has been seriously spurned by the Angels in his quest for a rotation spot, the final nail in the coffin being the Joe Blanton signing. He was very fortunate to just be able to make the Opening Day roster given the fact that many expected him to be shuttled back to Salt Lake until he was needed. No, instead he was given a bullpen spot where he can pitch long relief and in this spot he's shown just how fantastic he can be. He's been on fire pitching out of the 'pen, and one has to think this is fueled by a fire started by his spurning from the rotation and placement in the bullpen. Weaver's injury was fortunate to come this early when Richards fire and ambition is still red-hot, had it (or any other starter injury) come months later Richards could have very well become disillusioned by his inability to nab a rotation spot.
Instead Richards' fire could very well propel him to that level we all know he's capable of reaching, but hasn't been able to so far. Having those ambitions fuel his pitching performance could very well earn him a spot in the rotation and push Joe Blanton to long relief. If this happens it's only because he's begun the process of blossoming into Weaver Junior like he's supposed to and the organization has recognized this. It wouldn't suddenly make the Angels rotation dangerous or anything like that, but it'll give us another strong starter for a team short on that commodity.
Last year many people said the Angels slow start is what doomed them to miss the playoffs, but this isn't the case at all. The bullpen is what doomed this team, the Angels had more than gotten over the slow start to the point where they could have taken first had the bullpen not screwed them over. The Angels were three games out of first place as late as July 31st before the bullpen destroyed their chances at sweeping Texas. It wasn't until the collapse in Texas that the Angels started fading away, if they had played themselves out of the playoffs by the end of April would they have been able to give away their shot at taking the division lead in late July? Even if the Angels do continue their slow start they will get over it in due time, and unlike last season this bullpen is built for long term success.
They'll get to where they need to be by the end of the season, even if there are a few hiccups across the first month of the season. Now stop crying so damn much about it, no one is making the Angels fan base look more entitled and whiny than (most) of you guys. Just as the true players are being weeded out on the team the true fans are making themselves known by not going on an out-of-control-panic-session like most people are.
Sometimes you guys make me feel like I'm surrounded by Yankee fans.