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These Angels have lost their swagger

The aggressive, resourceful team we've seen most of the last decade has become passive and meek.

July 29, 2010|Bill Dwyre

There has been a serious identity theft in Anaheim.

The major league baseball team known as the Angels has disappeared. Almost overnight.

Poof. Gone.

The former go-from-first-to-third Angels now seldom get to first. The team that loved the thrill and threat of a suicide squeeze doesn't get anybody to third base often enough these days to even think about it.

The swagger has turned into a bunch of once-feared hitters making the walk to the plate and, a minute or so later, making a quiet walk back. Each at-bat used to be a battle. That was their persona: Make the opposing pitcher throw and throw until you have taken all his bad ones, fouled off several of his good ones, and then completed the torture by slapping a base hit off his kneecap.

No longer. These have become the passive Angels. Get behind in the count, 0-2, and then have the base umpire signal that you are out on a check swing. And it's not as if they are facing Cy Young night after night. They are just making a lot of guys with 4.55 earned-run averages look like it.

If the meek are still to inherit the earth, then expect these Angels to be coming into lots of real estate soon.

Last season, their young future star, Nick Adenhart, pitched a beauty and hours later died in a terrible auto accident. Still, in the postseason, there were the Angels, battling the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

This season, they lost their power-hitting first baseman, Kendry Morales, to the freakiest of accidents in that home plate celebration. The next day, Howie Kendrick finished the game the same way Morales had, with a walk-off home run. These weren't players, they were rubber balls. They always bounced back. Some how, some way.

That's why what has happened recently is so inexplicable.

In June, they went on a long trip and fattened up. Nothing bothered these guys. Different city, different pitcher to torture. Then came July and the current impersonators. In June, the Angels were 18-9. With two games left in July, they are 8-16.

Remember that day last season when the Angels' lineup on the scoreboard showed every player hitting .300 or above? This season, Torii Hunter had a sniff of .300 a few weeks ago but has slipped, and now you will find no Angels, as in zero, batting .300. It's one thing to be a close-knit team, but everybody slumping together?

This needs the perspective of expectations and recent history. The Angels will enter their next game with a .500 record, 52-52. They'd be thrilled with that in Phoenix, Baltimore or Pittsburgh. But this is the franchise that won the World Series in 2002 and has been back to the playoffs in five of the seven seasons since. Right now, you'd have to project that to five of eight.

It may be time for Manager Mike Scioscia to start yelling and throwing stuff around the clubhouse. That's certainly not his style, but this certainly is a team in need of a shock treatment. Maybe they can rent Lou Piniella for a day.

If it is not too late, the first day of the rest of their baseball lives for the Angels begins Friday night at the Big A, and the setup for the beginnings of a late-season resurrection is perfect.

The team in town is the Texas Rangers, the divisional leader now by a wide margin and the divisional rival that has historically faded as the Angels prepared for the postseason. That seems unlikely this season, or, as Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson said recently, "We are better, 100%."

In the past, the Angels would have laughed that off. Now, it is almost as if they have collectively nodded. The Angels have 10 games left with the Rangers, including the three starting Friday night and seven more in the last two weeks of the season. They are now at the point where they need to win them all, just to get close.

They are certainly at the point where a repeat scenario from Wednesday's game, almost symbolic of current tepid play, must be avoided.

The Angels had a 3-3 tie with Boston going into the eighth inning. Then the Red Sox got a grand slam from Marco Scutaro. He is Boston's shortstop and leadoff hitter.

In the eighth, the Angels could counter with the top of their order. A 7-3 deficit was once a doable challenge for this team, not an unclimbable mountain. Erick Aybar, the Angels shortstop and leadoff hitter, would be the rally-starter.

He took a called third strike.

Last season, when the Angels slumped a bit in May, team leader Hunter said they needed to get cranking immediately, that he hated it when people said there was plenty of time.

People aren't saying that now.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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