Joe Christensen’s Sunday Insider: Don't rush to judgment on Halos

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2012 - 2:04 AM

The Angels might have a lot of star power, but they still could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.

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Zack Greinke is the latest high-profile addition to the Angels rotation, but even a foursome of him, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren doesn't mean the team is a lock for the postseason this fall.

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This must be a thrilling time to be an Angels fan with Albert Pujols on the rebound, Mark Trumbo hitting homers at a Josh Willingham clip, and two other players threatening to give the team a sweep of the major awards in Jered Weaver (Cy Young) and Mike Trout (MVP and Rookie of the Year).

But even with the additional wild card this year, and even with a starting rotation that includes Weaver, Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren, the Angels are no postseason lock.

Their bullpen is a disaster. On a recent 10-game road trip to Texas, Chicago and Oakland, Angels relievers posted a 10.54 ERA with four blown saves and five losses.

Scott Downs (strained shoulder) and Jordan Walden (sore neck) are on the disabled list, and the front office is scrambling for reinforcements. The Angels were among the teams practically begging the Twins to move Glen Perkins before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, but the Twins refused.

Last week's series in Oakland reminded the Angels that their superstar talent might not be enough. Weaver twirled a four-hit shutout Monday to improve to 15-1, Trout hit his 20th home run Tuesday on his 21st birthday, but former Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins blew a lead Wednesday, and the Angels lost the series.

Stacked with starting pitching and a bullpen that leads the AL in ERA, Oakland actually looks better equipped for the pennant race.

Let's assume the Yankees and Rangers pull away for division titles. The Central is a two-team dogfight between the White Sox and Tigers, and both are jostling with four other teams -- the Orioles, A's, Rays and Angels -- for the two wild cards.

The Angels had their sights set on dethroning Texas when they committed $317 million to Pujols and Wilson as free agents. General Manager Jerry DiPoto made a key trade in May, plucking closer Ernesto Frieri from San Diego, and the Angels continued to show they were all in when they acquired Greinke from Milwaukee on July 27.

Torii Hunter used to grumble that the Twins front office wasn't aggressive enough. Watching the Angels from afar these past eight months, it's as if Hunter has added assistant GM duties to his role in right field.

But sometimes talent isn't enough. Entering Saturday, the Angels were 9-14 in one-run games (compared to 19-14 for the A's and 22-6 for the Orioles).

Every time Trout comes to bat at Angel Stadium, fans chant "MVP! MVP!" He's one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors, and he entered Saturday leading the AL in batting (.345), stolen bases (36), runs scored (88) and OPS+ (183).

The Angels were 6-14 when Trout arrived from Class AAA on April 28. If the ballots were cast now, he probably should be the MVP, with apologies to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.

But Oakland rookie Yeonis Cespedes has been pretty valuable, too. The Cuban defector entered the weekend leading the American League with a .400 batting average since the All-Star break. With Cespedes in the lineup, the A's were 48-30 (.615), even better than the Angels' 51-38 (.573) mark with Trout.

So while the Angels have stolen the headlines, there are plenty of compelling teams around the majors. And in eight weeks, only 10 will be part of the postseason.

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