Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Well that was fun while it lasted. The Indians were rolling after coming off a very successful 7-2 road trip and everyone thought they had turned the corner in 2012. Now after losing two out of three to the Royals, we’re right back where we started as a fan base. Where is the offense?

On the road trip the bats came to life in a big way, but against the Royals they went back into hibernation mode. During the three game set they managed only eight runs, went 19-for-92, and repeatedly failed to get clutch hits in key run-scoring situations. A major factor in this was a lack of plate discipline. The Indians lead the league in walks and drew 17 total for the series. Unfortunately, nine of the 17 walks came in the opening game, which they won scoring only four runs total.

The fact that the Indians were unable to take advantage of a struggling pitching staff was a bit disheartening, but it’s not as if these problems can’t be corrected. Focusing on plate discipline, working counts, and taking their walks is something we know they can do. It’s all just a matter of execution and understanding the given situation during each at-bat.

From a pitching standpoint Josh Tomlin fell back to earth a bit and Derek Lowe was solid again in his six innings of work. It’s beginning to look more and more like the Indians will be able to rely on Lowe to be a stable foundation for their young pitching staff. They’ll need him to be if Ubaldo Jimenez continues to struggle the way he has. Watching him consistently throw 60-plus pitches in the first three innings makes me regret trading away Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. The more we see from Jimenez, the more it looks like Antonetti got the raw end of the deal in his first major move as a GM.

As for the Angels, where do I even begin to sort out this mess? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of America of the planet Earth are off to a terrible start. After winning the offseason sweepstakes by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, many picked them to compete with the Rangers for AL West bragging rights and Junior Circuit supremacy. If only all the talking heads and prognosticators could get a mulligan on that one.

The Angels come into Progressive Field with a record of 6-13 (including 3-7 in their last 10), good enough for last place in the AL West. To make matters worse, the Rangers are the best team in baseball and running away with the division. They’re already nine games back and quickly digging themselves into a hole that might be near impossible to get out of. Again, pennants can’t be won in April, but they can be lost.

So who or what’s to blame? It all has to start with Pujols. He was the big fish they landed and his presence in an already potent lineup was expected to be what put them over the top. So far there has been zero return on the 10-year, $240 million dollar deal. Pujols has a pathetic slash line of .224/.280/.316 and has yet to hit a home run. He has four total RBI, and batting .143 with runners in scoring position (.000 with two outs). His 13.8 strikeout rate is his highest since his rookie year and his 7.7 percent walk rate is a career low. Again, things could be going better.

Of course, he’s not the only one to blame. Like the Royals, no one on the Angels is hitting right now. They’ve mustered up only 69 runs (20th) along with a team batting average of .252 (12th) a .303 on-base percentage (21st). Combine that with their pitching staff, which is also getting off to a poor start, 4.36 ERA (21st) .245 batting average against (16th) and the end result has been a run differential that is 4th worst in the AL (-11). It is early and these numbers will probably level out, but it’s still cause for concern if you’re a fan of the Angels.

Naturally there are two ways of looking at this. Either the Indians are getting the Angels at the perfect time while they are low on confidence and struggling, or the Indians caught them at the wrong time and this is going to be the series where they finally explode. Personally, I’m hoping for the former, but both scenarios are definitely in play here.

Series Trivia: Casey Kotchman is a former first round pick of the Angels. He currently owns which Major League record? (Answer at the end)