Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Hitters: D+. This is a subject area that the Angels were expected to ace, but instead they are bringing up the rear in the class with the second-fewest runs scored in the American League and have been shutout a league-leading eight times. The epic struggles of Albert Pujols are well documented, but several other Halos are having horrible seasons at the plate as well. Erick Aybar has the second-worst OPS in all of baseball (for qualified hitters), nominal starting third baseman Alberto Callaspo has a sub-.600 OPS as does Peter Bourjos, who has fallen so far from grace that he is riding the bench so that Vernon Wells can play everyday. Yes, that Vernon Wells. The only reason that they don't get a big fat F is because last year's AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Mark Trumbo has learned to control the strike zone and developed into a monster, sporting a .370/.427/.640 slash line. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that uber-prospect Mike Trout was called up and immediately began putting up superstar numbers.
Pitchers: C-. The Angels were supposed to have lights out pitching, but that hasn't proven to be the case thus far. Fresh off a no-hitter, Jered Weaver is holding up his end of the bargain and C.J. Wilson has proven to be the one free agent signing the Angels aren't regretting thus far, but Ervin Santana and Dan Haren have gotten off to slow starts, though both seem to be slowly coming around. Oddly enough, the weak link in the rotation was supposed to Jerome Williams, but he has been something of a revelation instead. The real issue for the Halos though has been their bullpen. One could say that their relievers have provided no relief at all since they have combined to blow six saves versus five successful saves, not to mention the second-worst bullpen ERA in the AL. The recent acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and naming Scott Downs as closer seems to have settled things down a bit, but the relief crops remains the team's Achilles heel, which is saying something since the Halos can't score a run to save their lives.
Intangibles: B+. That's something of a pity grade, but if there is one thing you can give the Halos credit for the first quarter of the season it is that their front office clearly isn't going to sit idly by and watch this ship sink. New GM Jerry Dipoto has already released Bobby Abreu, who was becoming a clubhouse cancer, called up Mike Trout, traded for the aforementioned Frieri and fired much-maligned hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. The big concerns that remain here are that Dipoto has already used up all his tricks and that his frantic activity have given some the impression that revered manager Mike Scioscia might be on the hot seat.
Overall: F. The bottom line is that the Angels were a very popular pick to win the World Series but now they are just fighting to try and keep themselves out of the basement of the AL West. Expectations matter, so this final grade is on something of a curve.
Hitters: D. Nobody expected the Oakland lineup to anything more than below average, but they still can't be happy about having the lowest-scoring offense in the American League. Last year's rookie sensation, Jemile Weeks, has gotten off to a rough start yet continues to leadoff despite a .291 OBP. Depth has been an issue for Oakland too as they have had a revolving door at third base ever since Scott Sizemore was lost for the season during the spring. Things are so bad that they claimed Brandon Inge off waivers and then were actually upset when they lost him to an injury. It hasn't been all bad though for the A's. Off-season acquisition Josh Reddick has been a pleasant surprise with 11 homers thus far, though that level of output seems unsustainable for him. And then there is Cuban phenom Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes, who is currently on the disabled list, has shown flashes of his immense potential with some breathtaking homers, but he has also shown a lot of warts, like striking out 29 times through 28 games. Still, Oakland has to be pleased that they might finally have a centerpiece to build their lineup around.
Pitchers: B. The Athletics can't help but produce quality young pitching, can they? With a rotation already fronted by a very effective and very social media savvy Brandon McCarthy and the seemingly ageless inning (and other thing) eater Bartolo Colon, Oakland has once again dipped into their bottomless well of young arms. Soft-tossing Tommy Milone looks like a definite keeper and top prospect Jarrod Parker has shown a great deal of promise in his first five starts. The fifth starter slot has been a quagmire, but considering that they have been playing all season with Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden, the A's have to be pleased with their rotation thus far. However, with Brandon McCarthy being placed on the DL this last weekend, Oakland's depth will be stretched even further and they may not be able to overcome that. While the starters get all the press, Oakland has quietly gotten great production from their bullpen. Grant Balfour lost his grip on the closer role already, but he wasn't exactly awful. Meanwhile, rookies Ryan Cook and Jordan Norberto have been revelations in middle relief, outpitching their veteran mentors Balfour and Brian Fuentes.
Intangibles: D+. Through no fault of the players, there is a pall over the franchise. Earlier this month, Commissioner Bud Selig all but killed the team's long-held plan of relocating to San Jose and then he basically dared the team to move out of the Bay Area altogether. Sadly for Athletics fans, that looks like it will be their fate before long. The team is next to last in attendance despite an overachieving record and several exciting young players on the roster. The front office is still well-run under Billy Beane, but even the fans know that this team has no intention of contending until they can get to a market where they can actually generate some revenue.
Overall: B-. Most experts predicted nothing but doom and gloom for the A's this season, so hovering around .500 for the first quarter of the season has to be considered a victory. If they can keep overachieving for another month or two, they might even be able to call up some reinforcements like Brad Peacock or Derek Norris and maybe even, wait for it, Manny Ramirez to give the team an extra boost to possibly compete for one of the Wild Card spots.
Hitters: D-. The only surprising thing about the Mariners offense is that it isn't last in the league. It really is a wonder how they score any runs as they have nobody on the team with an OPS over .800. Dustin Ackley is experiencing a little bit of a sophomore slump, Ichiro continues to look old, Justin Smoak is cementing his "bust" status and Jesus Montero and his .291 OBP hasn't been anything close to the offensive savior that he was heralded as when the team traded for him. The best news Seattle has gotten all season is that manager Eric Wedge finally pulled the decrepit Chone Figgins from the starting lineup. When your offense is being carried by the likes of John Jaso, Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders, you can't afford to carry an out-machine like Figgins no matter what his salary is. Above all, it says a lot about your lineup when Phil Humber can throw a perfect game against you.
Pitchers: C. As always, the Mariners would be lost without King Felix taking the bump every five days. Hernandez continues to be one of the best pitchers in the league despite his lineup seldom ever providing him with any run support. It helps too that Jason Vargas has emerged and pitched like a solid #2 behind Felix to help ease the loss of Michael Pineda. What is really shocking about the M's rotation though is that they pulled Kevin Millwood off the scrap heap this off-season and have him looking like a serviceable starter once again. It really is amazing what pitching in Safeco Field can do for a guy. In the bullpen, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen have been adequate in the late innings, but the rest of the relief corps has left a lot to be desired.
Intangibles: D. This just seems like a team without a plan. Despite having no shot at contending going into the season, the franchise allowed dozens of at-bats to be wasted on Chone Figgins even though Seattle has multiple young third baseman waiting for a shot behind him. Similarly, the team has held back some of their young pitching prospects to give a rotation spot to the aged Millwood. While Millwood has been a good investment, the team would still be better off trying to develop young talent rather than blocking it with talent in its mid-30's.
Overall: D+. It is hard to be too harsh on the Mariners since they entered the season with exactly zero expectations. At the same time, it has to be disheartening to see so much of their supposed bright young talent like Montero and Ackley struggle so much. For as many years as this franchise has been rebuilding, one would expect some signs of hope to be emerging, but there just isn't much of anything to get excited about in Seattle based on the first quarter of the season.
Hitters: A+. Let's see, they've scored more runs than any other team in the league by a significant margin and Josh Hamilton is channeling Barry Bonds circa 2001. Yeah, I think they are doing OK here. I suppose one could nitpick about the somewhat pedestrian numbers that Nelson Cruz and Michael Young have posted so far, but even that is offset by hot starts from Mitch Moreland, Craig Gentry and Brandon Snyder. It really just isn't fair.
Pitchers: A+. It doesn't get any more fair to the rest of the league either as Texas also boasts the best ERA in the American League. They made a lot of moves within their pitching staff this off-season and they have all worked out better than could be imagined. Neftali Feliz has taken very well to his shift to the rotation while Joe Nathan stepped in at closer and seems to be recapturing his old form. The biggest development, of course, is that Japanese import Yu Darvish has been every bit the ace that Texas was hoping he would be when they ponied up the big bucks to win his negotiating rights. Matt Harrison is literally the only member of the pitching staff who isn't performing at or above expectations.
Intangibles: A. As if there out of this world run differential of +84 didn't tell you already, the Rangers may well have constructed a perfect roster. They've dealt with a few injuries already and haven't missed a beat. They even just lost Neftali Feliz for several weeks with an elbow injury and should be just fine with either Scott Feldman or Alexi Ogando available to fill in for him. The only thing that isn't working for them yet is homefield advantage. After dominating in Arlington last season to the tune of a 52-29 record, Texas has started the season at just 11-9 at home. There is no way that will last long much longer, which has to strike fear into the heart of the rest of the American League.
Overall: A+. If not for the upstart Orioles, they'd have the best record in the AL and even though we are just a quarter of the way through the season, it already looks like the Rangers are going to run away with the division and probably cruise their way to another World Series appearance. All they have to do is stay healthy.
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