Maybe what the Angels need right now is a group hug.
They’ll get a one tonight at 10 p.m. ET when the Angels play their long-awaited home opener against the Oakland A’s at Angel Stadium. And maybe no one needs a hug more than Josh Hamilton.
The Angels’ newest millionaire endured a rough weekend in Texas, where Rangers fans who once cheered him as one of their own jeered him relentlessly. And Hamilton didn’t disappoint, going hitless in his first two games with four strikeouts before a 3-for-5 Sunday lifted his batting average from .050 to a still-dreadful .160.
But Hamilton is finally coming to his new home, where Angels fans are sure to embrace him in his first official Anaheim appearance but where expectations are high.
They’re not just high for Hamilton, whose offseason addition again makes the Angels the favorites to win the American League West and perhaps the World Series. With a sizable payroll and some of the biggest hitters in the game, the Angels remain in a win-now mode.
And on Tuesday, the team got some bad news ahead of the home opener that ace Jered Weaver will miss at least four weeks with a a non-displaced radial head fracture in his left elbow (non-throwing). Weaver has has been placed on the 15-day disabled list.
So why the slow start? Just like a year ago, when they lost four of their first six games (and finished 8-15 in April), the Angels are 2-4. Last season, players and manager Mike Scioscia chastised skeptics, saying it was a long season and there was plenty of time to recover. But it turned out to be a sign that the team was in for a long season.
No one can use that same excuse this time, not after 2012’s results. This time, the Angels have been slow to evolve offensively, and pitching is going to remain a concern throughout the summer. But three of their four losses have been by one run, so they’re clearly not that far from being in a better place.
They’ll have a chance to measure themselves this week, facing the team that stole the AL West from the Rangers at the end of last season. The Angels played the A’s evenly last season, going 9-10, including a three-game sweep in early September.
Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who threw six innings last week against the Cincinnati Reds, will start for the Angels against Jarrod Parker. Wilson gave up five hits and three runs in a game the Angels lost in the bottom of the ninth inning, but he showed in stretches last season that he can be a strong, effective starter.
Parker was just 1-3 in four starts last season against the Angels, but he gave up more than two earned runs only once and had a 2.60 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.
Winning teams rely on strong pitching, and even with their robust offense of Hamilton, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo, it’s pitching that will have to carry them if they hope to end their three-year drought of missing the playoffs.
But they also know that Hamilton, who last season hit a career-high 43 home runs and drove in 128 for the Rangers, will be a big part of their success.
As bad as it was, he needs to put his first week behind him. His slow start prompted him to tell USA Today, “It’s not just being here in Texas. I’d suck anywhere right now.”
No one expects that to happen when he settles into his new home. The Angels, and their fans, are hoping to see big numbers as quickly as possible.
But first, a hug from the fans will be a much-needed welcome home.