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

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Could things be going any worse for the Cleveland Indians right now? That’s doubtful. After all, they did just get swept in one of the most important series of the season and now find themselves trailing the Tigers by seven games in the AL Central. Quality baseballing it was not, but time marches on and the Tribe has to focus on finding a way to rebound. They’ll get that opportunity this weekend as they welcome the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to Progressive Field for a three game set.

While many fans are disappointed with the way the Indians have performed over the past four games, things could still be much worse. The Angels serve as exhibits A, B, and possibly even C for how things can go wrong and unravel from the get go. The Indians may have shot themselves in the foot against the Tigers this week, but the Angels have been under-performing and fighting a losing battle since day one of the 2013 season despite sporting one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball.

The problems for the Angels over the past two seasons have centered around their offseason signings. During the winter heading into the 2012 season, they signed Albert Pujols away from the Cardinals for an absurd 10-year $240-million contract. So far the return has been anything but what they had expected as Pujols has struggled with injuries and declining performance. Now he finds himself on the DL, perhaps for the remainder of the season, with a tear of the plantar fascia in his foot. So much for savvy investing.

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As if not to be outdone… by themselves, the Angeles decided to dive head first into the free agent pool again this past offseason by signing Josh Hamilton away from the Rangers, for a slightly less absurd but still equally bad multi-year deal that will keep the slugger in the Angels outfield well past his prime years. Much like Pujols, the performance they have gotten in return for their investment has been anything but what they envisioned. Hamilton has struggled to simply put the bal in play, let alone do it with any sort of authority. He currently finds himself hitting .217/.271/.397 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI. He’s also striking out in 25% of his at bats and has accumulated -0.3 bWAR.

However, for all the troubles of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the same cannot be said for Mike Trout. The second year player has avoided the dreaded sophomore slump that has befallen so many rookie sensations over the years. In fact, Trout hasn’t just been good in year two. He’s been great. He has experienced improvement in nearly every major statistical category. He is currently hitting .333/.424/.580 and has slugged 20 home runs and driven in 70. Safe to say, Trout is well on his way to another 30 home run season and should surpass 100 RBI. Most impressive of all is the fact that Trout should rack up his second straight season of double-digit bWAR. In 2012 he racked up 10.9 bWAR, in 2013 he is already at 6.1 bWAR. Simply put, the kid is an absolute stud and the best player in the game today.

From a pitching perspective, the Angels pitching staff hasn’t delivered on its potential at all. They currently rank 25th in team ERA, 27th in team WHIP, and 25th in batting average against. The only starter in their rotation to show any real signs of life this season has been CJ Wilson, and even he hasn’t been that great after signing a huge free agent deal in 2012. The man is dreamy in those Head and Shoulders commercials, though.

The biggest disappointment for the Angels pitching staff has easily been Jered Weaver. He has struggled with injuries and declining speed on his fastball for most of the season and hasn’t been able to get on track. He’s still posted a sub-3.00 ERA, but the overall effectiveness just hasn’t been what it has been in years past. He was better in July, going 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in six starts, but for many it was viewed as too little, too late.

As for the rest of the Angels, the sport a lineup that features mega power hitter Mark Trumbo and little else of note. Much lick Trout, Trumbo is one of the young up and coming hitters in the game and his 25 home runs and 70 RBI certainly attest to that. However, after him and Trout… along with the shells of Pujols and Hamilton… there isn’t much more to write home about. Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick have their moments, but a when looking at a supporting cast of Chris Iannetta, Chris Nelson, and Cole Calhoun in the every day lineup and Jerome Williams, Tommy Hanson, and Garrett Richards in the rotation and it begins to make sense why the Angels find themselves in fourth place in the AL West.

For the Indians, this is a perfect opportunity to get back on track. The Angels are nowhere near the elite team many felt they would be heading into the 2013 season and as long as Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo are kept in check there is little reason to worry. Even still, expect Mike Trout to do a handful of cool things over the next three days. He’s a great player and as is normally the case great players make great plays. It’s just what they do. So while it’s easy to be down on the Tribe after their recent series, the Angels and Trout should help put a smile back on our faces. This could be fun to watch.