Wins piling up for Angels after sudden turnaround
Momentum has shifted back to big-time performances, lofty expectations
KANSAS CITY -- For the first six weeks of this season, victory generally eluded the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Now, victory seems to be drawn, almost magnetically, to the Angels.
The Angels made it seven straight victories on Saturday with a 7-0 triumph over the Kansas City Royals.
On the surface, this was a contest that looked like it would head in the opposite direction. Jeremy Guthrie was starting for Kansas City, and he had done a commendable job for the Royals this season. And he still has done a commendable job overall, but now two of his three losses have come at the hands of the Angels.
The Angels, on the other hand, were starting Billy Buckner. He was making his first Major League appearance since May, 2010. Coming into this start, he had not pitched since May 11 in Triple-A.
Buckner did his bit, pitching five shutout innings. He was in trouble occasionally, but he wouldn't let the Royals get on the scoreboard. He provided another winning chapter, particularly positive for him since he first came up to the Majors with the Royals in 2007. Four relievers contributed one scoreless inning each, and the Angels won going away.
Buckner was the 10th starter the Angels have used this season and the 21st pitcher overall. The club record for most pitchers in a season is 29, set in 1996. At this point, the Angels get to plead not guilty to the charge of running out of pitching. Their organizational depth has been tested, re-tested, tested yet again.
"If today is an indication, you had four out of the five pitchers [used in this game] were not on our Opening Day roster," manager Mike Scioscia said. "And they came in and put some zeros up. I think we're doing as well as can be expected when you get that deep into an organizational pitching depth chart.
"But you have to figure out a way to keep winning games. And that's what was encouraging today, the fact that Billy came up and gave us five zeros and the bullpen put up four more zeros. You know, a week ago we were not sure who was going to start today, and how we were going to piece it together. And then you end up pitching a shutout."
Improvement in the starting pitching has been the most notable aspect of the Angels' turnaround. In April, Angels starters had an unsightly 5.32 earned run average. During the seven-game winning streak, the starters have posted a 1.76 ERA. With the return of rotation ace Jered Weaver drawing nearer, the Angels appear to be turning a problem area into a workable situation.
Here's the thing, though, about victory coming over to the Angels' camp and pitching a tent. The Angels would have won this game without a hit.
Guthrie didn't allow a hit through the first five innings, but the Angels had the lead, anyway. In the fourth, Mike Trout walked with one out, stole second and went to third on a catcher's throwing error on the play. Trout then scored on a bouncer to third, even though the Royals infield was playing in.
This was a truly telling development. The Angels are 18-9 when Trout scores one or more runs, and 4-18 when he doesn't score.
When the Angels finally did get a hit, it was backup catcher Hank Conger leading off the sixth inning with an opposite-field home run, his second of the season.
You combine the way the Angels have been going with the way the Royals have been going -- 4-14 since May 5 -- and that 2-0 lead seemed strangely insurmountable. And then the Angels kept scoring runs and the lead became flatly unconquerable.
Inadequate as the Angels play seemed earlier in the season, the pendulum has swung back in their direction, toward lofty expectations and winning performances.
"We're playing the type of baseball we hoped we would play, but for the first month, it didn't appear," Scioscia said. "It's here now, and I think these guys are comfortable with playing our game and letting the other teams try to stop us. That's the mode we want to get into when we're at our best."
You've seen plenty of that in seasons past from the Angels. For the last week at least, you're seeing it again.
"Winning is contagious," Billy Buckner said, after he had kept the streak going with his five scoreless innings. "We all feel good around this clubhouse right now."
Much more of the Angels' best mode will be required. But the Angels are once again finding victory to be a regular companion.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.