Angels’ collapse: Who’s to blame?

Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan John F. Kennedy told a 1961 press conference in response to the Bay of Pigs, but defeat also has many scapegoats as the Los Angeles Angels can attest after the Royals finished off their stunning three-game sweep Sunday.

The series was the Angels’ very own failure — two extra-inning losses and a one-sided finale — after they won 98 games in the regular season, more than any team in baseball. And the Angels had as many people to blame as the franchise has had names, which is what happens when a team with a $155 million opening-day payroll gets thrashed by one which is $60 million less.

Start with Josh Hamilton, which is only fair because he makes more money than anyone on the Royals. Hamilton went hitless in 13 at-bats for his $17 million and never reached base. Go to C.J. Wilson, who started Sunday and gave up more hits than he got outs; he returned the only lead the Angels had in the series in the time it takes his $16 million paycheck to go through direct deposit.

Howie Kendrick had just two singles. Chris Iannetta homered in his first at-bat and then went 0-for-9 on offense and 0-for-5 on defense trying to throw out Royals base stealers. Fernando Salas came out of the bullpen to throw the Game 1-losing homer and Kevin Jepsen did the same in Game 2, making sluggers of the team which hit a major-league-low 95 home runs. And even Mike Trout wasn’t immune, not so much for his 1-for-12, but for the disparity in defense compared to Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The Angels couldn’t hit the ball over Cain’s head or drop it in front of him, which might have reminded the losers why they once wanted Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in a corner outfield position. Cain raced to dive for bloopers and leap at the wall; Trout lumbered to play fly balls on a bounce.

“Anything happens in the playoffs,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t go in with any badge saying you won the most games, and you’re certainly not going to get any points for that going into the playoffs.”

Scioscia is right, even if the outcome wasn’t for his team. You don’t get a badge, but a target, and when you lose the first game it gets bigger and it begets vulnerability. The best-of-five series, after a six-month season, is abrupt.

The Angels led baseball with 772 runs scored this season, nearly five per game. They scored just six in three games vs. the Royals, two of which gave them four extra innings. Is that the Royals’ pitching (Jason Vargas?)? Or the Angels’ lack of hitting? Or both?

The Royals’ victory will have as many copycats this offseason as victory does fathers. Look for a winter of teams building on speed, defense and bullpens, because it’s cheaper and because it worked for the Royals.

It’s not that easy, of course. If it was, Cain would have been a regular before this season. And all the imitators will forget that the Royals were 48-50 in late July, and dropped two out of three to the Tigers, who were just swept by the Orioles, in their late-September showdown. Nobody was ready to ape the Royals’ success two weeks ago, because they hadn’t had any.

There’s a lot of satisfaction in the Royals’ triumph for fans, casual or otherwise, who think there’s a moral to the playoffs, or should be, because Kansas City has been building while the Angels have been spending. Of course, Royals fans will note the team has been building for 29 years, and not much has been constructed until this one.

Four winters ago, Royals GM Dayton Moore traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers for Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress (back with the Brewers). Two winters later, Odorizzi and Wil Myers went to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis.

Reaction was mixed to both, but let’s stipulate there wasn’t a stadium full of fans in Kansas City applauding.

From Joe Sheehan: “The Royals didn’t break the bank with this (the Greinke) deal. … (They) got low-service-time, low-cost position players who have some potential to become good regulars, though not stars. It’s easy to see all four of these guys as contributors to the 2016 World Champions …”

Maybe Royals GM Dayton Moore saw what Sheehan did, and give him credit for that. But it won’t be as easy to duplicate.

  • Orioles 2, Tigers 1: Two on, one out, bottom of the ninth, down two games to none, and who wouldn’t want Hernan Perez at bat? It was a fitting end for the Tigers, who had some of the game’s biggest stars, made the season’s biggest trade and had their season ended by a utility infielder who spent the summer in Toledo. The double play Perez hit into was his seventh at-bat for Detroit this season.
    Not only did the Tigers have an awful bullpen, they had a lousy bench. And a couple of terrible regulars, too.
    The Tigers were the anti-Royals. They added starting pitching when they needed relievers, traded their starting center fielder, and had a team of a few great players negated by a few undeserving regulars. When manager Brad Ausmus looked down his bench in October, he saw Perez, Bryan Holaday (who couldn’t sacrifice when it might have prolonged the season), Ezequiel Carrera and Don Kelly, who’s some kind of failed fixture in Detroit. That would explain all the looks of dismay on Ausmus.
    The Tigers have won four straight division titles, but have been surpassed by the AL Central runner-up. Now they face a long offseason and can only hope they do better than the last one, when they dealt pitcher Doug Fister for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray. Ray and Krol may yet benefit Detroit, but they didn’t in 2014 and Fister certainly could have, as a starter or an asset.
    Lombardozzi, a utility infielder who was presumably acquired to be in Detroit so Perez wouldn’t be, was dealt before spring training ended for shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who played nine games and was released. It was that kind of season, which is why it’s over.
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