LOS ANGELES – Even when the Angels have been at their best, they give off the aura of a team that’s a year away.
The talent is in the process of busting out: Jordan Walden, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Hank Conger – and, at some mysterious point, Mike Trout. These guys are on the cusp of establishing themselves in key roles, at the highest level. But being on the cusp isn’t the same thing as having arrived. In fact, those two stages can be miles apart.
It’s at that moment, teetering between the future and the present, that the Angels’ fortunes rock, back and forth.
An umpire, Tom Hallion, may have robbed the Angels of a series sweep that would have pulled them to within one game of first place on Sunday. Replays seemed to indicate that catcher Jeff Mathis blocked Dee Gordon from reaching the plate with the tying run in the Dodgers’ 3-2 win.
Still, the fact remains that Walden walked .205-hitting Juan Uribe and .170-hitting Dioner Navarro to create a mess that never should have been.
That prompted a more-experienced teammate to offer Walden a little advice.
“Sometimes, I think he just tries to be a little too fine,” Jered Weaver said. “Obviously, with a 97-to-100-mph fastball, you just kind of let it eat, especially in a big park like this. I think he just tries to be too fine, but most of the time he’s been lights out for us.”
There’s no reason Walden won’t be a dominant closer, probably soon, maybe by the end of this season. His fastball is among the most electric in baseball, his slider not far behind. But the pattern in his five blown saves is stark. It involves a leadoff man reaching base, typically by a walk. Walden was missing Mathis’ targets by a foot at times Sunday. Of his first 14 pitches, nine were balls. That’s not the way closers succeed, no matter how hard they throw.
Afterward, he admitted, “I didn’t know where it was going today.”
Walden, 23, had been on a roll before he blew his last two save chances. Like a lot of these young players, he’s giving clear glimpses of future stardom. You don’t really worry about his future. What you wonder about is the team’s present.
It’s the same story with Trumbo, a first baseman who looks like a lock to one day hit 40 home runs in the majors. It’s a similar story with Bourjos and Conger, though their flaws have been more evident over these first few months. Trout is widely regarded as a future major-league star, too athletic to fail. He could be at Triple-A within a week and with the Angels within a few months.
But unless all these players have learning curves that bend more sharply than most peoples’, 2011 seems like an ambitious target for the arrival.