The first quarter of their season was a disaster, but with a recent eight-game winning streak, the Angels have started to show signs of life. On Wednesday night, they'll get a significant boost via the return of staff ace Jered Weaver, who will face the Dodgers as the Freeway Series shifts from Los Angeles to Anaheim.
Weaver has pitched in just two games this season, first on Opening Day against the Reds and then again six days later against the Rangers. While diving out of the way of a Mitch Moreland line drive up the middle in the sixth inning of that game in Texas, he fractured his left (non-pitching) elbow, or more accurately the head of his radius. The injury was supposed to sideline him four to six weeks, but it's been more than seven since then; he's returning to the rotation without the benefit of a minor league rehab assignment.
The Angels wound up losing that game against the Rangers, dropping their record to 2-4 and kicking off a five-game losing streak. They were 11-22 by May 8, by which point questions about manager Mike Scioscia's job security had been raised, and they had fallen to a season-worst 12 games below .500 at 15-27 through May 17 — a 104-loss pace — before kicking off their eight-game winning streak against the White Sox, Mariners and Royals. With a pair of losses ot the Dodgers in Anaheim on Monday and Tuesday, they're now 23-29, nine games behind the Rangers in the AL West and 6 1/2 back in the wild-card hunt.
With Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams both starting the year outside the rotation, the Angels appeared to have enough depth to cover for Weaver's absence, but Tommy Hanson has been limited to five starts due to an extended absence related to the sudden death of his stepbrother; he just returned to the team on Tuesday and has yet to start again. Williams, C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas have all maintained ERAs below 4.00 (as did Hanson), but Richards and Joe Blanton have both been knocked around, and on the whole, the unit ranks 11th in the league in ERA (4.57) and 12th in strikeout rate (6.3 per nine), though they're a more respectable seventh in quality start rate (54 percent).
If that were the only area where the Angels had underperformed, they might be around .500, but their bullpen has the league's third-highest ERA (4.21) and second-highest rate of allowing inherited runners to score (38 percent). They're just 16-6 when leading after six innings, about two and a half wins below expectations given the AL average winning percentage of .846.
With Weaver and Hanson returning, the Angels should be a stronger team going forward, though it remains to be seen how the rest of the rotation shakes out. Scioscia has said that Williams will make one more start, though it's Blanton, with a 5.94 ERA, a mediocre strikeout rate (5.8 per nine), a typically awful homer rate (1.3 per nine) and a searing .386 batting average on balls in play, who merits a trip to the bullpen. As I noted earlier this week, teams that lag below .500 around the 50-game mark rarely make the playoffs. The addition of a second wild card increases the Angels' chances; the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds puts them at 21 percent, in part because their -10 run differential suggests that they're not as bad as their won-loss record indicates. The return of their ace can only help, and for all of the ways they've disappointed this season, Los Angeles isn't out of it yet.