10/03/10 5:58 PM EST
Morales' injury defines Angels' frustrating year
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. There were injuries to key personnel before the season, early in the season, midway and late in the season. None rivaled the sheer impact of Kendry Morales' loss on May 29 (More | ) in arguably the freakiest injury in franchise history.
Leaping on home plate after a game-winning grand slam against Seattle into the waiting arms of a dozen teammates at Angel Stadium, Morales landed awkwardly on his left foot and stayed down for an uncomfortably long time.
Carted off the turf as teammates stood frozen in disbelief, Morales was taken to a nearby hospital where X-rays confirmed the darkest suspicions. Morales had a fracture in the lower left leg, and a surgical procedure would have him out for the season. The prognosis for 2011 is good for the slugging first baseman, but the loss of his booming bat and meticulous glove work at first base proved devastating.
There were other losses along the way -- starters Scott Kazmir early and Joel Pineiro later, catcher Jeff Mathis, relievers Matt Palmer, Brian Stokes and Jason Bulger, infielders Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar -- but Morales' was crushing. Manager Mike Scioscia used nine different athletes at first in his absence, hoping in vain to fill an irreparable void.
The offense took flight briefly in June, when the team went 18-9, but a 9-17 July collapse was followed by mediocrity for the balance of a frustrating season.
The starting pitching, coming together with arrival of Dan Haren in a late July swap with Arizona (More | ), remained top notch. Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana were consistently superb. The bullpen was erratic, with closer Brian Fuentes dealt to Minnesota in August. The defense, like the relief corps, had its ups and downs.
The real issue, however, was an offense that never found its stride. Almost every hitter in the lineup experienced a substandard season after a remarkable number of hitters enjoyed career years in 2009.
Torii Hunter once again was the Angels' most productive offensive player (More | ), and the nine-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award outfielder showed his team-first attitude by moving from center to right to accommodate the arrival of ultraswift and exciting Peter Bourjos, who is one of the building blocks for the future, along with the likes of catcher Hank Conger, slugger Mark Trumbo and, down the road, outfielder Mike Trout.
Hideki Matsui had a great start, slumped and finished strong, providing a solid season as the primary designated hitter. But the man he replaced -- Vladimir Guerrero -- happened to deliver an MVP-caliber campaign in his new digs in Texas, helping drive the Rangers to their first AL West title since 1999.
Chone Figgins' juice at the top of the order also was missed, with a handful of candidates struggling to replicate his ability to kick-start the offense with his plate discipline, speed and daring.
Perhaps most damaging of all was the club's inability to deliver in clutch situations with runners in scoring position. One of the defining characteristics of the 2009 club: It never showed up.
Record: 80-82, third place, AL West
Defining moment: Morales goes deep against the Mariners on May 29 with the bases loaded, touching off a wild celebration as he approached home plate at Angel Stadium. Teammates gathered, waiting to pound Morales as he landed on the plate and fell into their arms. But he never got up. An awkward landing on the plate in the mass of bodies left his lower left leg fractured. Surgery would end his season. Fifth in the AL MVP balloting in his breakout 2009 season, Morales was limited to 51 games -- and his team never replaced the thunder in his bat or his defense at first.
What went right: Weaver erased all concerns about the loss of staff ace John Lackey with a superlative season as the leader of the rotation, ranking among the AL leaders in strikeouts, ERA, innings, lowest opponents' batting average ... everything but wins. With dismal offensive support, Weaver's record in no way reflected his work. Few in the game were as good as the cross-firing right-hander (More | ). Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro also delivered the goods, but Pineiro was sidelined with a strained left oblique on July 28 -- three days after another top-shelf starter, Haren, was acquired from Arizona for Joe Saunders and three pitching prospects. Hunter was a consistent presence in the heart of the order, and Mike Napoli unleashed power, along with Matsui and Bobby Abreu.
What went wrong: The offense, overall, fell apart. Losing Figgins' spark at the top of the order was a bigger blow than the club figured, with Aybar struggling to match his superb 2009 season. Abreu and Juan Rivera did not return to 2009 form, and Brandon Wood struggled mightily to produce offense at third base. While Matsui started and finished well, he had a long stretch in between where he did not deliver. The biggest problem was the team's inability to produce with runners in scoring position after leading the Majors in '09 with a club-record .297 batting average in those crucial situations.
Biggest surprise: Bourjos came aboard in early August, moving the great Hunter from center to right, and showed promise of spectacular things to come with his blinding speed in center and on the basepaths, along with his strong, accurate arm. He did not hit consistently, but there's life in his bat and the prospect of great things to come. Right there with Bourjos was Jordan Walden, emerging in September as a potential closer with his 98-100-mph heat.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.