Inbox: What to make of Angels' April?
Beat reporter Alden Gonzalez answers questions from fans
ANAHEIM -- The schedule marches on, and the 162-game grind leaves little room for fulfillment before it's all over.
So while the Angels are above .500 for the first time since Opening Day 2013 and have completed only their second winning April in the last six years, there's no celebrating a 14-13 record.
"I'm happy with the fact that we can wake up on May 1 with a winning record," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "but we certainly don't feel like we just won the World Series. This is a good baseball team, and I think they believe they're better than the record these last couple years and it's time for them to go out and prove it. We're a game over .500; I don't think anybody's in there pouring champagne over their heads. We have five months left, and we have to go play."
The Halos, at the very least, can take Thursday off, before six straight home games against the Rangers and Yankees to begin what they hope is an even better May.
Before then, I took the liberty of answering some of your questions.
What do you take away from April?
-- Justin S., Orange, Calif.
Three numbers stick out ...
Plus-40: That's the Angels' run differential, after being minus-28 last April. Obviously, that's because they've had a lot of blowout wins and a lot of close losses. But over the course of a season, the run-differential standings tend to run almost parallel to the winning-percentage standings. Consider: Over the last five years, each of the 44 playoff teams had a positive run differential. In all five of those years, each of the top three run-differential teams made the playoffs. In 2013, the top six made it, and the top two met in the World Series. In 2010, the eight playoff teams were made up of the top eight run-differential teams. The Halos currently rank second in run differential, trailing only the A's. If they can keep up that rate, chances are they'll be in the playoffs. Obviously, though, keeping it up is a major challenge in itself.
3.46: That's the starting-rotation ERA, after being 5.26 last April. Yes, the Angels have hit a ton of home runs -- an American League-leading 38, to be exact -- but starting pitching is the first-, second- and third-most important reason why they finished April with a winning record. C.J. Wilson has been his usual self, Jered Weaver is starting to turn the corner, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have been fantastic, and I expect Hector Santiago to be better. That's a very good sign from a department that was perceived as the Halos' biggest question mark heading into the season.
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46.2: That's the Angels' inherited-runners-scoring percentage, which is the third highest in the Majors. It points to their biggest issue of the first month -- consistency out of the middle relievers -- and is a big reason why they've won only two of the nine games that have been decided by one run. That's the area that will have to get shored up in order for the Halos' record to jibe with their run differential.
Do you think it is more likely that Joe Smith will be the closer the rest of the year or that Ernesto Frieri wins his job back?
I certainly wouldn't dismiss the idea of Smith taking the job and running with it. That wouldn't necessarily be a reflection on Frieri, either. Frieri has shown an ability to bounce back well in the past, with the most prevalent example coming last year, when he gave up 12 runs in a 4 2/3-inning stretch from July 23 to Aug. 6, got demoted, then posted a 1.66 ERA in 19 outings the rest of the way.
A similar resurgence can take place this year, but who's to say that can't happen in the eighth inning?
Unlike last year, the Angels have a very capable reliever who can step in and handle the ninth on an everyday basis. Smith came into the year with only three saves in 439 career appearances. But from 2011-13, he had a 2.42 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. And while Frieri has always struggled with the home run ball, Smith is one of the best at inducing ground balls. As he said recently, "The way I look at it, it's going to take three singles to score a run off me."
In short, Smith is good. And if he continues to show he can handle the ninth inning, there's no reason why manager Mike Scioscia can't have Frieri -- when he regains his confidence and fastball command -- setting up while Smith closes.
How much bullpen help is available to the Angels? Besides Mike Morin, is there someone we might see from the Minors? And do you see the Angels getting involved with someone like Joel Hanrahan?
-- Chris P., Fountain Valley, Calif.
I don't sense that the Angels are all that interested in Hanrahan, because he's coming back from Tommy John surgery, because Dane De La Rosa and Sean Burnett are also rehabbing, and because his type -- lots of strikeouts, but also lots and lots of walks -- is something they already have in abundance.
However, I wouldn't be surprised to see R.J. Alvarez or Cam Bedrosian in the Major Leagues before the end of the year -- perhaps even before the All-Star break. Alvarez (ranked seventh in the Halos' system by MLB.com) and Bedrosian (13th) are both 22 and new to Double-A. But they both have mid- to high-90s fastballs with command of a breaking ball.
Here's another guy to keep an eye on: Brandon Sisk. He's the left-handed reliever who was a throw-in from the Royals when they absorbed almost all of Ervin Santana's 2013 salary two offseasons ago. Sisk missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he's back now, posting a 2.89 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in his first 9 1/3 innings at Double-A Arkansas.
When can we expect De La Rosa and Burnett back?
-- Jason M., Mission Viejo, Calif.
Now that is a tough question. They're both moving in the right direction, but a return is not imminent for either of them and there is still no real timeline. De La Rosa (right s/c joint irritation) and Burnett (recovery from August elbow surgery) are currently in Arizona rehabbing, and both are expected to pitch in an extended spring game on Friday. The Angels have been encouraged by seeing more velocity out of De La Rosa recently, and Burnett has had back-to-back solid outings while throwing at full intensity. But they each have their respective hurdles to overcome.
Do you think Howie Kendrick could/should stay in the leadoff spot long term?
Kole Calhoun should, and will, lead off when he returns from a sprained right ankle. And until he does -- at some time around mid to late May -- the leadoff spot is going to be a bit of a revolving door. Scioscia has already gone through four different leadoff hitters since Calhoun went down on April 15, and Kendrick has hit there the last two games, with two hits, two walks, two steals and two runs scored. The most important thing about that spot, by far, is to get on base for Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. If Kendrick continues to do that, he should stay there. If he gets cold, the next hot bat should step in.
Do you think David Freese can get it together?
-- Gaby A., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Freese is finally starting to show signs of that. He has five hits in his last three games, raising his batting average by 38 points to .193, and is starting to consistently drive the ball to right-center field like he does when he's right. Postgame on Wednesday, I asked Scioscia how close Freese is to looking like his old self at the plate. His response: "It's the closest we've seen. His last 25 at-bats have been what you would envision. He's more comfortable, he's more confident. That's going to be a big part of what we need to do."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.