Angel pitching problems in the second half of the season have received most of the attention, but of almost equal concern over the final three weeks of an already successful summer and for 1986 is the absence of a dependable bat, an everyday run producer.
Kansas City has George Brett. Toronto has George Bell. New York has Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and a cast of thousands.
The Angels have Manager Gene Mauch, who was faced with the delicate task of keeping a veteran team healthy and strong. His 135 lineups in 140 games have also reflected an attempt to produce a measure of offense for a team with a .248 batting average that remains the league's lowest and with an average of 4.4 runs a game that is among the lowest. The Angels still lack a .300 hitter and a member of the top 10 leaders in home runs and RBIs.
There was hope that George Hendrick would be stimulated when his sentence in Pittsburgh was commuted, but Hendrick's bat, like his visibility to the media, has been virtually nonexistent. He's a disappointing 5 for 39 after hitting .230 with the Pirates. Hendrick, 35, is signed through 1988, but he may not be the answer.
Reggie Jackson, with 23 homers and 72 RBIs, primarily against right-handed pitching, has enjoyed a solid season, but at a time when Mr. October generally plays regularly, he is still being platooned. The September role does not entirely satisfy Jackson, but he is the first to admit that you don't build your offensive expectations around a player who will be 40 next May.
The valuable Ruppert Jones has emulated Jackson's productivity in a similar platoon role, but Mauch, as did Sparky Anderson in Detroit last year, apparently believes Jones would not be as consistent playing regularly.
Brian Downing had a brilliant April and August and now leads the club in RBIs with 75, but Downing has the inexplicable tendency to disappear for half the summer. Juan Beniquez, still a part-time player at 35, has maintained his customary profile: high average, .294, and low productivity, 7 homers and 34 RBIs. Bobby Grich, at 36, has 10 homers, 42 RBIs and some doubts about his desire to play next year.
Gary Pettis has given the Angels hope that the lessons learned last winter from Harry (the Hat) Walker will ultimately pay significant dividends, but Pettis sets the table, he doesn't clear it. Neither do Bob Boone nor Dick Schofield. Boone is hitting .239 and has 46 RBIs, and Schofield is hitting .209 with 36 RBIs. Rod Carew, who will be 40 on Oct. 1 and a free agent when the season ends, is at .279 and climbing, with 34 RBIs.
The Angels obviously have missed third baseman Doug DeCinces. They are 53-35 in games he has started and 20-27 in games he has not. DeCinces, 35, has now returned to the lineup, but his status--this year and next--remains clouded by his chronic back condition.
The Angels, of course, are still alive in '85. Mauch's mirrors have cracked some but may hold together. He would prefer listening for the crack of a bat. It would seem to be imperative for next year.
Add Angels: A few reporters have suggested that it is time for Mauch to discard the percentages and go with a regular lineup that would include Jackson and Jones. It's Jackson's time of the year, of course, but it has been Mauch's year all year.
The Angels, picked no better than fourth by most observers, are a factor because Mauch has involved his entire roster. In fact, his right-handed hitting platoon has a higher winning percentage than the left-handed, which includes Jackson and Jones. Through Thursday, the right-handers were 23-14 for a .621 winning percentage, and the left-handers were 55-48 for .534.
Dan Quisenberry has eight losses this season, his career high. He has blown 11 of 45 save opportunities. He has been booed in Kansas City for the first time in his career.
Still, he rolls on. He has an earned-run average of 2.29, an average of 1.2 walks per nine innings, 7 wins and 34 saves. He again leads the league in saves, bidding for his fourth straight title.
"He gives up hits, he gives up runs, he gets beat occasionally, but he never gets discouraged," Kansas City Manager Dick Howser said in Anaheim the other night.
"I don't want to get on our fans, but when he was booed at home earlier this year, that was bull.
"If we didn't have Quiz, we wouldn't be alive. We wouldn't be in the race.
"I have to feel he's the best because he keeps doing it for us. He's good for 40 saves a year. How many bullpens have a total of 40 saves?"
Quisenberry had 44 saves last year. Only the Detroit Tigers' bullpen, with 51, had more. Quisenberry's 33 saves are more than the entire relief corps at Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Seattle and Texas.
Did the Royals gain a psychological edge on the Angels by winning two of three in Anaheim?
"I never saw Freud play baseball," Mauch said.