The answer to the question is that they probably won’t. There appeared to be a chance for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to compete in the American League Western Division in 2014, according to some experts but that chance was downgraded this morning. Now it is goodbye to the possibility of a comeback year for the Angels’ outfielder Josh Hamilton who, up until Tuesday night, was looking like he might have one. The 32-year old was batting .500 after the first week of the season going 12-24 with two home runs and six RBI.
Here is the reason as to why it’s never really a good idea to slide into first base. It’s a no slide zone, seriously. Hamilton slid into first base in the seventh inning on Tuesday injuring his left thumb. He was able to play to continue to play defense but by the ninth inning Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia said that Hamilton could “barely grip a bat.” He was immediately taken to the hospital for x-rays that came up negative.
Scheduled for an MRI Wednesday morning things still didn’t appear to be that bad for Hamilton and the Angels. Unfortunately the MRI results revealed that Hamilton suffered a complete ulnar collateral ligament tear along with a torn capsule which, as it goes for hand injuries, is probably worse than a break. When a pitcher suffers a torn UCL they end up having Tommy John surgery and are out for, at minimum, a year. Hamilton will be out at least 6-8 weeks which will no doubt stop the momentum he had built up during the first week of the season. It is also still inconclusive as to whether or not the tear will require surgery which could make his recovery stretch out even longer. Hamilton will see Dr. Shinn on Friday, according to the Angels, to determine if that is the case.
In the meantime how do the Angels replace Hamilton? Last year with their star slumping the Angels finished at 78-84, a full 18 games behind the A.L. Western Division Champion Oakland Athletics. To recover from last season it was the consensus, by most, that Hamilton and fellow star teammate Albert Pujols would have to produce at the plate as they had in the past, prior to signing with the Angels.
Pujols, 34, had hit above the .300 mark each season of his professional career until signing a mega-contract with the Angels in 2012. Ok, well almost every year. He batted .299 in 2011, with the St. Louis Cardinals but that’s as close as anyone can get to having a great year be even greater. Since the end of the 2011 season, his production has declined consistently and rapidly. In 2012 he batted .285 which dropped down to .258 last season and he is currently batting .219. His number of home runs fell from 37 in 2011 to just 17 in 2013 and his number of walks has decreased at a similar rate.
With Pujols still slumping and Hamilton out for what will be the better part of the season, what will the Angels do to compete in a strong A.L. West? It appears they are looking to J.B. Shuck, one of the Angels’ final and hardest cuts to make at the end of spring training. An almost prophetic Scioscia said at the end of the spring,
“J.B. had a terrific season for us last year, had a great spring training. But if you look at the balance of our team and our bench, J.B. was not going to be getting many at-bats without someone going down right now. And if someone goes down, he’ll have the ability to come back up and play.”
He was right about two things. The first is that unfortunately someone the Angels could not afford to lose went down and the second is that Shuck did have a terrific season with the Angels in 2013. He played in 129 games batting .293 with 39 RBI. Not the power hitter that Hamilton is and Pujols was, Shuck did have 20 doubles, three triples and eight stolen bases finishing 5th in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. The Angels also have Collin Cowgill, who they are currently carrying as their fourth outfielder. They probably chose Cowgill over Shuck so that Shuck would get the at-bats he needed in Triple-A to stay sharp for an emergency of this magnitude. Last season Cowgill hit .231 on the year between time with the New York Mets and the Angels. He is also a year older than Shuck.
The Angels will most likely hold onto Cowgill as their fourth outfielder and put Shuck in right field full-time. Shuck is currently batting .375 for the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees and, if last season’s numbers are any indication, he may just be able to keep it up at the big league level.
While Shuck is a good replacement for Hamilton it is still unlikely that the Angels will be able to compete with the likes of the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics unless Pujols finds his inner youth and their pitching holds up. They currently have a number of injuries to their bullpen and their ace Jared Weaver has gotten knocked around so far this year. Shuck starting in right field probably won’t be the Angels’ only, or even main, issue in trying to win the A.L. West. They have many. Losing Hamilton however, who was off on such a tear, is just another tough blow for the Los Angeles team (that is actually located in Anaheim, CA)..