After an off day today, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim begin a three game series against the American League West leading (still proceeding) Texas Rangers that could conceivably end with manager Mike Scioscia and company finding themselves atop the division on Monday morning.
In preparation for the possibility, the Angels will start Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver will go on three days rest, so that the team’s starters for the weekend will look something like this: Friday – Dan Haren, Saturday – Santana, and Sunday – Weaver.
When asked to comment on the possibility of Los Angeles having sole possession of first place in their division, General Manager Tony Reagins reportedly (read: was not heard by anyone to have) said:
Who the [Getting Blanked] is laughing now, [Getting Blanked]ers?
To contrast Reagins point, every one who has seen Vernon Wells’ .242 OBP, Bobby Abreu’s almost 225 innings of defensive service or Jeff Mathis in general remarked:
What the [Getting Blanked]?
To steal terminology from the laziest of baseball reporters, the Angels are playing good baseball. With six straight victories, Los Angeles has the longest active win streak in baseball, and it’s a very good time for the team to find itself on a roll. The Rangers will meet the Angels tomorrow after finishing a bullpen tiring four game series against the Red Sox today and then face more AL East competition with the Tampa Bay Rays once Los Angeles leaves town.
A quick look at the team’s offense reveals little about the secret to their success. They rank near the bottom in almost every offensive category among American League teams. While their starting pitching, led by Weaver, Haren and Santana, has received a lot of credit this season, the rotation’s quality falls off as soon as you look past the triumvirate to Joel Pineiro and one start hero Jerome Williams. The bullpen is similarly top heavy with rookie closer Jordan Walden and veteran Scott Downs being especially dominant while constantly making up for the mound aux follies that is a Fernando Rodney relief appearance.
What sets the Angels ahead of the peers in the division is their defense. The team ranks third in the league for fielding runs above average according to FanGraphs, and while discrepancies exist between different defensive metrics, there isn’t a valid system in the universe that isn’t going to tell you that Peter Bourjos in center field is probably the best evidence there is of God’s existence.
But the Angels’ remarkable defensive abilities go beyond just Bourjos. There isn’t a single regular on the team who isn’t above average when it comes to fielding their position according to UZR. Even according to DRS, only Alberto Collaspo at third base hasn’t saved more runs with his defense than the average player at his position.
It’s an impressive defensive grouping that has quietly allowed the Angels to sneak up the AL West ladder, often making the team’s pitching look even better than it is. What I appreciate most about this is that you contrast the Angels to a team like the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers and their defense be damned approach, you find two teams with incredibly different structures both finding a measure of success this season.
As a bit of an aside, the comparison also makes me think about an often used point of criticism for stats obsessed fans. It’s been suggested on more than one occasion that in the number crunching, you lose an ability to enjoy the game itself. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. By comparing the Angels to the Brewers, while using numbers and thinking about front office decisions, it actually enhances appreciation and leads not only to an enjoyment over what is being done on the field, but also insight into two differing philosophies for assembling a team. It’s an exercise in stimulation for both emotions and intellect.