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Gene Wojciechowski

Introducing the Former Champions

September 13, 1987|Gene Wojciechowski

As they say at Anaheim Stadium . . .

Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, introducing your American League West Division Champion Cal--i--forn--ia An--gels (but not for long).

Ten reasons why a new introduction must be found in time for Opening Day '88:

1) URBANO AND THE GANG

Whatever happened to that fun bunch of guys known as the Angel starting rotation: Mike Witt, Kirk McCaskill, John Candelaria, Don Sutton and Urbano Lugo? Geez, they seemed like such nice boys. And talented, too.

Then Witt was stricken with a persistent case of bursitis in the arm, McCaskill had elbow surgery, Candelaria was beset by personal problems, Sutton was checked for scuffing utensils and Lugo was dispatched to the minor leagues, never to be seen again.

The Angels improvised. They imported Jack Lazorko from Edmonton, obtained Jerry Reuss for free and asked Willie Fraser to leave the bullpen. A noble effort, but not exactly the rotation Manager Gene Mauch had in mind at season's beginning. In essence, Witt and Sutton are asked to lug this team along.

It didn't work, of course. Witt has won 15 games the hard way, with guile and pain. His earned run average, 3.84, is exactly a run higher than last season's.

Sutton has pitched better than a 9-11 record indicates, but a poor start (2-5) hampered him and the Angels.

McCaskill began his season with two victories, including a shutout in the Kingdome, which happens about every autumnal equinox. Yessiree, this was going to be McCaskill's year.

Elbow surgery in late April put an end to that sort of talk. Since his return July 11, McCaskill is 2-6 and frustrated.

Candelaria missed about 11 starts because of personal difficulties, which included two driving-under-the-influence arrests. He was 4-1 when the Angels placed him on the disabled list in May. He returned briefly in June, long enough to go 1-2, and then was returned to the DL for about three weeks. He has been back since Aug. 5, but his repeated absences had taken their toll.

And Urbano, we hardly knew you. Maybe it's best that way, what with five starts, an 0-2 record and a 9.32 ERA.

2) GARY AND MARK: GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Here's what was supposed to happen: Gary Pettis and Mark McLemore, speedsters both, would bat at the bottom of the order, steal about 125 bases and make easy RBI targets for the strongest leadoff man in the league, Brian Downing.

Here's what happened: In April, Pettis and McLemore reached base often and Downing hit .352 and collected 22 RBIs.

Now? Zilch.

At last look, Pettis was hitting .202 and McLemore was at .230. Between them, they have 45 stolen bases. After brief, largely meaningless stays in the minors, they are back . . . on the bench. Pettis is now considered a defensive replacement. McLemore has been replaced at second by the hot-hitting Johnny Ray.

3) MAY 22-31: UNHAPPY TRAILS

This was the stretch that staggered the Angels. It began in New York with a four-game series against the Yankees. The Angels would have taken a split; they left the Bronx with four consecutive losses.

A day later, they begin a series against the Baltimore Orioles in Anaheim. Two more losses.

The Toronto Blue Jays arrive in time to win three straight.

Before they ventured to New York, the Angels were only 2 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West. After the Blue Jays left town, the Angels were 7 1/2 games out. And three days later, the Angels occupied seventh place in the dismal division, their lowest standing since August, 1980.

4) NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT

The Angels could have done without the Orioles, Yankees and Detroit Tigers this season. They finished with a combined 9-27 record against the three teams.

5) NUMBERS TO REMEMBER, OR IS IT FORGET?

Mauch knew his team was going to have to scratch for runs. But beg? The Angels are hitting .249 as a team, last in the league.

6) WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Remember the Doug DeCinces of 1986? Twenty-six home runs, 96 RBIs, a strong candidate for team MVP? In August--his special month--DeCinces batted .337 and had 9 homers and 25 RBIs.

This season has been equally memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. August came and went, and nothing happened. Since June, he has seven home runs. He is hitting .214 with runners in scoring position. If the drought continues, DeCinces risks finishing with the lowest batting average of his Angel career (.238).

DeCinces isn't alone, of course. But the Angels could have used his bat and his usual August performance.

7) THE AMERICAN LEAGUE WORST

The Angels play in a division that allows you to lose 7 of 10 games (as the Angels did in late August) and gain ground in the division. They started with a team record of 60-59 on Aug. 18, and 10 days later, were 63-66 . . . and gained two games on the division leaders.

Whatever happens, the Angels were given their chances. They traveled to Seattle in early August only a half-game out of first. They limped out of the Kingdome 3 1/2 games out after 15-4, 14-0 and 5-3 losses.

8) THE DEVON WHITE FATIGUE FACTOR

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