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Sports Authority

Zuba: Pay attention to the Angels

| Tuesday, September 23, 2014

College football is in full swing. The NFL season is under way. The wacky sideshow of scandal and controversy that comes with college football and the NFL is playing in a theater near you.

Amid it all, MLB is trotting quietly into the end of its regular season with about one week left to play.

I wonder if Bud Selig sits in his commissioner’s office, watching Roger Goodell’s press conferences and thinking, “LOL, remember steroids?”

Not a lot of fanfare is greeting the ballplayers finishing baseball’s marathon of a season, at least not on national sports websites.

Local outlets hopefully are giving successful baseball teams their due, but South Bend is situated closest to the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and that’s … an issue.

If only we were a little closer to Anaheim. Maybe we would have heard a little more about the Los Angeles Angels’ remarkable August and September accomplishments.

The Angels have put together a sterling 96-61 record, the best in baseball. They’ve clinched the AL West and have the likely AL MVP in center fielder Mike Trout as well as the brand names of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Given the names on the Angels’ roster, it was difficult before the season to imagine them not succeeding. Sure, Pujols and Hamilton had underperformed since coming to L.A. on giant contracts, combining for zero All-Star Game appearances. But those are respected names, as are left-hander C.J. Wilson and right-hander Jered Weaver for the pitching staff.

Nothing came easy for this team, however.

The pitching staff has been held together by ice bags, athletic tape and roster moves.

The catalogue:

Wilson missed time for a nagging ankle injury, stumbling to a 4.42 ERA although he has posted a 13-9 record.

Lefty starter Tyler Skaggs went down at the beginning of August with a ligament tear in his elbow and ended his season with Tommy John surgery.

Then righty starter Garrett Richards tore a tendon in his knee on Aug. 20, making for an agonizing scene as he writhed on the ground and his All-Star caliber season was cut short.

And right-handed starter Matt Shoemaker’s recent rib-cage muscle strain likely will keep him from starting until the playoffs begin.

The shaky bullpen had its problems, too. General manager Jerry Dipoto added Joe Thatcher, Jason Grill and Huston Street during the season in order to bolster relieving crew and find a reliable closer.

The uncertainties with the pitching staff meant the Angels couldn’t maintain a constant bench of position players. They would call up rookie first baseman/designated hitter C.J. Cron only to send him down because the team needed to carry an extra pitcher due to injuries.

And for the longest time, the Oakland Athletics refused to give up first place.

This Angels team, with unpredictable production from stars not named Mike Trout and a let’s-hope-this-works, patched-up pitching staff, has clinched the division over the Athletics. The Angels took the AL West lead for good Aug. 26 and have built a secure 9.5-game lead.

The Angels have the fifth-best team batting average in all of baseball at .261 even though Pujols’ and Hamilton’s averages have dipped in the second half.

The Angels are middle-of-the-pack in terms of overall team ERA, ranked 15th in MLB, but they’ve posted the eighth-best team ERA, 3.22, since the All-Star break. Compare that to 3.84 before the break.

It’s astonishing.

This team should be held together by scraggly threads. Instead, in the face of decimating injuries to the pitching staff, the Angels have banded together, not as a serviceable team, but as the one with the league’s best record.

Instead of folding in August and September like any reasonably banged-up team would, the Angels surged ahead.

Chalk it up to manager Mike Scioscia’s leadership. Call it the product of team chemistry. Say it’s the result of resilient talent.

Whatever the explanation, the Angels are succeeding despite it all.

That’s a headline to make a commissioner proud.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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