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Angels Surprised Many, but They Still Need Some Pitching

Baseball: Offense matched up to any team's, but young hurlers need to improve for team to have a real chance next season.

October 02, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Young pitchers Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn, Seth Etherton, Matt Wise and Scott Schoeneweis showed promise for an Angel team that finished 82-80 and 9 1/2 games out in the American League West, and all appear capable of pitching in the big leagues.

But when compared to Oakland's young pitchers--Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder--and Seattle's young pitchers--Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche and John Halama--the Angel kids don't measure up.

Hudson, a Cy Young Award candidate, has the ability to dominate, Zito and Mulder are two of the game's best young left-handers, and Garcia, Halama and Meche are more polished and consistent than their Angel counterparts.

Ortiz has great stuff but has been erratic. Washburn, Etherton and Wise missed much of 2000 because of injuries, and Schoeneweis went 3-10 after a 4-0 start. Unless the Angels can close that pitching gap in the next year or two, they will have trouble winning the division regardless of how prolific their offense is.

"The A's have some great young pitching, some stoppers, and Seattle has good arms," first baseman Mo Vaughn said. "For us to get to that next level, we need one or two veteran pitchers to take the pressure off the young guys.

"This game is built on experience. The more you play in key games, the better you're going to get.

"The A's and Mariner pitchers are getting that now, and the more they do it, the better they'll be."

The Angels made significant strides in 2000, rebounding from turmoil-filled 1999 to form a cohesive group that remained within striking distance of the division title all summer.

But the Angels never really threatened to win the West, and if they want to conquer a division left fielder Darin Erstad believes will be "one of the best in baseball for years to come," they must improve in several areas.

"Obviously, you want to add pieces," Erstad said. "But we've taken steps in the right direction."

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Angels were lethal offensively, smashing a franchise record 236 homers, and Erstad had an MVP-caliber season, batting .355 with 25 homers, 39 doubles, a major league-leading 240 hits, a franchise-record 121 runs, 100 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.

Third baseman Troy Glaus led the league with 47 home runs and had 102 RBIs, and though he struck out 163 times, he drew 112 walks and scored 120 runs. Center fielder Garret Anderson had a breakthrough year with a career-high 35 homers and 117 RBIs while batting .286.

Though Vaughn had a subpar average (.272) and led the league with 181 strikeouts, he hit 36 homers and had 117 RBIs. Tim Salmon was too streaky but ended with solid numbers: .280, 34 homers, 107 runs, 104 walks, 97 RBIs.

Bengie Molina emerged as a solid catcher, skillfully handling a wide array of pitchers, hitting .281 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs and staying healthy all season.

The bullpen, even with closer Troy Percival's arm problems and erratic performance, was outstanding, combining for a 3.93 earned-run average that was second best in the league.

Set-up man Shigetoshi Hasegawa was the team's most valuable pitcher, going 10-6 with a 3.57 ERA and nine saves in 66 appearances, and Al Levine, Mike Fyhrie and Mark Petkovsek shined.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Injuries to Tim Belcher and Ken Hill, and Kent Bottenfield's struggles prevented those right-handers from providing much veteran leadership to the young rotation.

Ortiz, Etherton, Washburn, Wise and Schoeneweis had their moments, but starters did not pitch well enough or long enough on a consistent basis.

Bottenfield was the biggest disappointment. The Angels traded center fielder Jim Edmonds to St. Louis for Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy, and while Edmonds had a monster season, Bottenfield went 7-8 with a 5.71 ERA before being traded to Philadelphia for Ron Gant in July. That was another bust: Gant hit .232 with six homers and 16 RBIs in Anaheim.

The Angels got little production from shortstops Kevin Stocker and Benji Gil, who were decent defensively but combined to hit .229 with eight homers and 47 RBIs.

Infield defense was a problem, as Glaus, Stocker, Gil, Kennedy and Vaughn combined for 103 errors.

Vaughn hit an anemic .202 against left-handers.

Though the Angels ranked second in home runs, they were only seventh in runs, because of their 236 homers, 147 came with the bases empty.

WHAT NOW?

With Hill released, Bottenfield traded and the team declining to pick up Belcher's $5.1-million option, the Angels will lop off about $13 million from their $55-million payroll, so they have the money to pursue a front-line free-agent pitcher.

But the market is thin, with Mike Hampton, Mike Mussina and Darren Dreifort topping a short list, so the Angels may have to trade for pitching.

Their two biggest chips may be Salmon, who is entering the final year of a four-year, $22.5-million contract, and Vaughn, who is entering the third year of a six-year, $80-million contract.

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