As a California native and longtime Angels’ fan who is going to New York for college, I’ve been keeping tabs on both my hometown team and my new team, the New York Mets. Both teams have had bad luck this season: their lineups are riddled with injuries to key players, their rotations have had trouble beyond their number one guy, and their bullpens have had stretches where they have underperformed. Yet, two-thirds of the way through the major league season, the Angels find themselves at 63-40, one game behind the league-leading Dodgers, while the Mets are 50-54. Before we delve into why the Angels are doing so much better, let’s take a look at the hurdles these teams have had to face.
Three players, Beltràn, Delgado, and Reyes have provided much of the Mets’ offense the past few years, and are instrumental to their success. With them out, their other big star, David Wright, has struggled (.322, 7HR 51RBI) relative to what we know he can do. The pitching has been atrocious.
The three players listed are also the heart of the Angels’ lineup, and have missed much of the last month. Vlad has 25+ HR’s and 100+ RBI’s the last 9 years running, Hunter was the club’s HR leader when he got hurt, and Rivera’s on pace to hit over 20 HR’s. Since winning it all in 2002, the Angels have only had 2 seasons (not counting last year with Teixeira coming in mid-summer) where they have had 2 players with over 20 HR’s. The Angels are not known for their offense, and these injuries left them with what we though were a bunch of singles hitters. Outside of one ace (Weaver at the beginning, now Lackey as Weaver struggles) the Angels have had suspect pitching.
The Mets have a greater number of injuries than do the Angels, but in terms of key players in key positions, they’ve both been struck hard, either by injury or ineffectiveness. The Angels’ Ervin Santana has been a mess, as has the Mets’ Oliver Perèz. But the Angels have coped, thrived really, since their key players went down, and the Mets have been, well, the Mets. The Angels’ ability to play through rough patches makes the Mets’ injury excuse a moot point, and exposes organizational problems that go beyond injuries.
With Hunter, Guerrero, and, until recently, Rivera, on the DL, the Angels’ fielded a lineup of C Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis, 1B Kendry Morales, 2B Howie Kendrick, SS Erick Aybar, 3B Chone Figgins, RF Bobby Abreu, CF Gary Matthews Jr, LF Robb Quinlan/ Juan Rivera (now starting). Outside of Abreu and maybe Matthews, 90% of the country doesn’t know these names. Abreu is past his prime and Matthews almost didn’t make the team. In their last series against the Twins, Anaheim scored 35 runs in three games, taking the sweep. The offense and power has come from everywhere: Napoli (.293, 16 HR 43 RBI), Morales (.299 23/69), Kendrick (.273 6/37), Aybar (.309, 3/39), Figgins (.313 3/36), Rivera (.316 18/60), Matthews (.245 2/35), (.322 8/73). This is without Hunter (.305 17/65) and Vlad (.290 4/21, capable of much more).
Compare that to the Mets, whose lineup without Delgado, Beltràn, and Reyes shapes up like this: C Brian Schneider (.206 3/22) and Omir Santos (.263 6/28), 1B Daniel Murphy (.248 6/35), 2B Luis Castillo (.297 0/25), SS Alex Cora (.254 0/14), 3B Wright (.322 7/51), LF Jeff Franceour (.260 9/54), CF Angel Pagan (.288 1/12) and Jeremy Reed (.257 0/7), RF Gary Sheffield (.283 10/36). The offensive numbers are sub par, and, going based on the MLB.com depth charts, the players I have listed above on the Angels are clearly outperforming those on the Mets.
The pitching staff is no different, outside of Johan and K-Rod the Mets have very little in the way of quality arms, and the Angels, despite injuries and inefficiency, have winning pitchers and a closer who has brought it all together as the year has progressed in Brian Fuentes. I won’t bore you with those numbers here, but they favor the Angels as well.
The Mets have suffered more injuries than the Angels and should not be playing better than them given all that’s happened, but they shouldn’t be this bad. The Angels are playing well because they have talent deep in the organization. Napoli, Kendrick, Morales, Aybar, Rivera, pitchers Sean O’Sullivan, Kevin Jepsen, Matt Palmer, Brandon Loux. All of these guys have come up from the minor league system. Adenhart who had legitimate big league stuff came up from the Angels’ farm system. Look at the players who the Mets called up? Exactly. There is some ability, but it is not anywhere near what the Angels have.
This is a long piece, I know, and my point will be brief. Given all the evidence I have provided, as well as plenty that I have not, the Mets problem is not that everyone has gotten injured, it’s that they are top heavy. Their organization is not deep enough to survive injuries, and therefore, their struggles are magnified. Major league success goes beyond the major league ball club. The Angels and the Mets are proving that in very different ways.