06/14/11 11:54 PM ET
Angels plan on heating up with the weather
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
They could be buried, given their inability to play .500 baseball while struggling to generate offense and playing dismally at home. Underscoring their biggest issue -- hitting with runners in scoring position -- is their 4-9 record in extra innings.
Featuring a clubhouse full of performers who have a history of warming up with the weather, the Angels feel they can put together a run and apply some heat on the defending division champion Rangers.
Among those who have underachieved offensively for two and a half months are Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells, the veteran outfielders expected to produce runs in the heart of the order in the absence of Kendrys Morales for the rest of the season.
Bobby Abreu's power numbers also are down, but he has continued to get on base, setting the table for those behind him. Abreu has been known to lift his production as the summer months arrive, and Hunter and Wells also prefer the heat to the cold, wet conditions that seemed to follow them throughout the opening months.
If Hunter and Wells drive the ball the way they have in the past and the way manager Mike Scioscia feels they can, the offense suddenly takes on a different look -- and the starting pitchers acquire a happier disposition.
"On the confidence side, it's hit and miss right now," Scioscia said. "We need to get our mojo back, get our swagger. Our guys are prepared. Our guys are competing like hell -- maybe to a fault sometimes.
"You have to go on the field with the confidence that if things don't go your way, you'll make it up in your next at-bat. We're at our best -- even earlier this year, not two or three years ago -- when we could go on the field and make that 90-foot square in the middle and everything around it their field. We need to bring things on the field we're really good at on a consistent basis."
The pitching staff has been rock solid. Rookie Tyler Chatwood has delivered impressively while filling in for Scott Kazmir to complete a rotation fronted by All-Star candidates Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro are proven veterans capable of going on rolls and racking up wins.
Jordan Walden's emergence as a lockdown closer with his triple-digit heat has been one of the early-season's most upbeat story lines. Southpaw Scott Downs has provided high-quality setup work, and Rich Thompson has ably absorbed the bullpen workhorse role.
The team's young position players -- center fielder Peter Bourjos, first baseman Mark Trumbo and catcher Hank Conger -- have shown flashes of brilliance and the promise of big things to come. If they continue to develop confidence and smooth out some rough edges, the offense will benefit measurably.
Infielders Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo have been rock solid, getting on base, keeping rallies going and playing solid defense.
Overall, the defense has been a plus, notably down the middle. The outfield is superb and figures to keep getting better as Wells, Bourjos and Hunter grow more comfortable with each other. Catchers Jeff Mathis and Conger have handled the pitching staff capably, with Bobby Wilson waiting for the opportunity to show what he can do.
"We know we have the talent to be a contender," Hunter, the ever-upbeat clubhouse leader, said. "We just have to put it all together and show it on a consistent basis."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.