Wednesday, April 13, 2011

With Apologies to Branch Rickey

      By Ross Newhan

      The late Al Campanis, the longtime scouting director and general manager of the Dodgers, liked to espouse a theory he learned from the legendary Branch Rickey in Brooklyn.

      Rickey would tell him that you can't really gauge your own club at the start of a season until it has played every other club in the league.

     Of course, in Rickey's time, there were only eight teams in each league and the Dodgers, for instance, might have completed a league cycle by the end of May. Now there are 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American, and a team might not have played every other team until the end of June.

     The Angels, for instance, will have played 14 games before they even encounter a team from their own division, on April 18.

     Getting a gauge on them to this point might conflict with Rickey's theory, but the temptation to do so is too strong as they prepare to leave Anaheim Thursday for a series with the Chicago White Sox.

     In short, they have not looked like a $140 million team, although Dan Haren turned two runs into a one hit, complete game shutout that snapped the Cleveland Indians' eight game win streak Tuesday night after the Angels learned that their division rival and American League champion Texas Rangers had lost league MVP Josh Hamilton for possibly two months with a broken right arm suffered as he slid home head first, his arms extended, in an afternoon game with the Detroit Tigers.

    Obviously frustrated, Hamilton said the decision by third base coach Dave Anderson to send him home was stupid and overly aggressive, a sentiment that Hamilton should have kept to himself or expressed internally and not to the media. Manager Ron Washington defended Anderson, saying the Rangers are not "wimps" and will not play like wimps.

    Asked about the loss of Hamilton before Tuesday night's game at Anaheim Stadium, Angel manager Mike Scioscia said he was unaware of it.

    "My thoughts are on Kendrys Morales," he said, referring to the first baseman who continues to recover from the broken leg of last May.

    Morales is getting closer to returning to the middle of the Angel lineup, and it can't be too soon.

    The Angels were averaging only 3.7 runs per game through their first 11, a problem that should correct itself when Morales returns and Vernon Wells finds his timing (he opened the season 4 for 44 with two runs batted in). The Angels need that middle of the order potency if catcher Jeff Mathis is going to hit below the Mendoza Line in the No. 8 hole in the lineup and the No. 9 hitter, center fielder Peter Bourjos, remains an offensive uncertainty. The fleet Bourjos has made his mark on defense and isn't going anywhere. Mathis has only to look over his shoulder to see the promising rookie, Hank Conger. waiting on the bench.

   The larger issue may be the pitching.

   The rotation, after the Big Three of Jered Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana, is a huge question mark. Joel Pineiro can't seem to retain his physical stability, Scott Kazmir can't regain the winning form of Tampa Bay and there is no certainty that promising rookie Tyler Chatwood, a 4-0 loser to Cleveland in his major league debut Monday night, is ready.

   The bullpen is also a quandry. Fernando Rodney has already lost his closer role and two pitchers expected to fit in the middle or set up roles, Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn, have already been sent to the minors. Fortunately for the Angels, Jordan Walden has made six scoreless relief appearances and appears to have adapted to Rodney's closer role despite his comparative inexperience.

   I still think the West is a two team race between the Angels and Rangers. I have refused to jump on the Oakland bandwagon despite the formidable pitching that has prompted many others to make the jump.

  It is barely mid-April and Branch Rickey would be sneering at an analysis this early. Rickey may have been the Mahatma but he knew nothing of the internet and the liberty of a blog.  


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