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What we missed: Western Edition

Harry How

Perhaps this goes without saying, but I'm going to say this anyway: The Dodgers of Los Angeles County and the Orange County Angels of Orange County have both been terrible. Which is all the more strange and symmetrical because both teams were thought, just a few months ago, to be excellent. The Angels were consensus favorites in the American League West, the Dodgers probably co-favorites (with the Giants) in the National League West.

Did I mention they've both been terrible? It's quite strange. But from strangeness comes enlightenment!

Let's start with the 27-36 Angels. Last year they finished third in the league in scoring; this year they're just eighth. Mark Trumbo's actually been better this year, and Howie Kendrick's been much better. Mike Trout's again been tremendous. But Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar are way off, and Josh Hamilton ... well, much electronic ink has been spilled over Josh Hamilton, and only some of it in vain.

Now, it seems that Trumbo and Kendrick should have largely compensated for the struggles of Pujols and Aybar and Hamilton, and to some degree that's true. Last season the Angels finished with only 46 runs more than the league average; this season they're on pace to finish roughly eight runs over the league average, and 38 runs isn't a huge difference. They were good last year, and might well be good again.

Considering they lost Torii Hunter, one of their best hitters last year, there wasn't any reason to think the Angels would score significantly more runs this season. There was, on the other hand, reason to think they would be roughly as good. You know, assuming that Josh Hamilton didn't completely tank. Which he has. And that Albert Pujols would hit roughly as well as he did in the last four months of last season. Which he hasn't.

Before we continue, a Baseball Question for you ...

Which team currently leads the American League in Earned Run Average?

Kansas City. Seriously. The Royals revamped their starting pitching last winter, and it totally worked.

And who's 11th in the American League in ERA? Those Orange County Angels. Last season the Angels' team ERA was slightly better than league average, and this year it's significantly worse.

Before we leave the Royals, an oddity: The Royals are better because they acquired Ervin Santana from the Angels, who should be better because the Royals traded for Ervin Santana, who went 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA last season. Alas, Santana's innings have gone to Joe Blanton, who's been even worse. Other innings have gone from Dan Haren and Zack Greinke to Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson, both of whom have been decent. The Angels' biggest pitching problem has been simple: Jered Weaver's made only 4 starts instead of 13.

Granted, there is a logical fallacy with blaming the Angels' pitching problems on Weaver's injury: Many of his missing innings have gone to Jerome Williams, who's actually been quite good. Once you get past Blanton's 5.87 ERA, the Angels' sub-par team ERA is partly the result of a few dings here and there, with bloated ERA's from relief pitchers you've never heard of.

Now, about the Dodgers ... Like the Angels down the road, the Dodgers were supposed to be really good, with a powerhouse lineup and a pitching rotation that went eight or nine deep. Well, the powerhouse lineup ranks sixth in the league in scoring (not bad) while the injury-plagued rotation sports a 3.70 ERA, better than average. Essentially, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu have saved the staff.

Could we have foreseen any of this? There was no way to guess that Chad Billingsley would start only two games before going down for the season. There was no way to guess that Zack Greinke would wrestle with Carlos Quentin. There was probably no way to guess that Chris Capuano's control would deteriorate. Josh Beckett, though? He's given up three or four extra home runs, and has otherwise pitched decently enough. Of course now he's hurt and maybe out for a long time. Considering that Beckett's been reasonably durable over the years, we probably didn't see that coming.

Couldn't see Hanley Ramirez's injury coming, either. What about Matt Kemp's struggles? Well, he did ARBITRARY ENDPOINT ALERT bat .217/.277/.382 from last August 17 through the end of the season. Before that, though, he'd showed little ill effect of the injury that cost him six weeks earlier in the season.

Here's what I think we might have guessed before this season:

1. Josh Hamilton's second-half struggles last season were meaningful.
2. The Angels would miss Torii Hunter's defense in right field (they have).
3. Joe Blanton would keep throwing too many fat pitches.
4. One or two of the Dodgers' starters might get hurt (but that's why they had eight!).

Adding up everything, I think it's fair that nobody could reasonably have seen this coming. Even if Hamilton struggled as the Angels' new right fielder, they seemed to have plenty of other good players. And even if Chad Billingsley got hurt, the Dodgers seemed to have more than enough starting pitchers.

Sometimes things happen in baseball that we just can't predict, at least until Multivac is improved. And even the things we might have predicted with some confidence don't explain why both clubs remain long winning streaks away from just reaching the .500 mark.

Sometimes things just happen.