Struggling Angels have talent to win Lack of offense has been problem

July 16, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If this is the year that the California Angels unseat the three-time AL West champion Oakland Athletics, they are taking a very low-key approach to the whole thing.

The Minnesota Twins recently rode a 15-game winning streak to the top of the standings. The Texas Rangers made their presence known with a 14-game win string. The Angels have not won more than five straight at any time this year, and they just lost seven in a row to fall back into the middle of the pack.

The pitching and defense have been solid, but the offensive lineup -- which was supposed to be the club's calling card -- went from inconsistent the first three months of the season to inconsequential the past 10 days.

"The only difference between the last week and the whole year," said first baseman Wally Joyner, "is that we used to have one or two people carrying us through and this week, we didn't have anybody."

Joyner has been one of the few constants, batting .320 to rank among the top hitters in the league. Dave Winfield also has been a big producer, but the Angels still haven't really heard from designated hitter Dave Parker.

"We aren't hitting on all cylinders yet," Joyner said. "That's what everybody is looking forward to. Hopefully, in the near future, we'll all be clicking together."

The Angels have come a long way on the strength of a rejuvenated pitching staff. Left-hander Mark Langston, who pitches against the Baltimore Orioles tonight, rebounded from a frustrating 10-17 performance in 1990 to win 12 games in the first half and earn a place on the All-Star team. Chuck Finley also is on pace to win 20 or more games this season. Even Jim Abbott, who struggled at the outset and seemed destined for the minor leagues, has bounced back to make a major contribution.

The Langston turnaround has been the most pleasant development for the Angels front office, which signed him to a five-year, $16 million contract before the 1990 season and soon had reason to regret it. Now he is living up to the advance billing -- not to mention the paycheck.

"He's modified his delivery somewhat, and who knows what was going through his head last year trying to live up to all those expectations," manager Doug Rader said, "but it's more a case of him getting off to a reasonably good start and starting to expect to do well."

Abbott, who went right from college to the major leagues in 1989, has won seven of his last 10 decisions to prove that he belongs at the major-league level.

"It really wasn't a matter of vindication," Abbott said, "but it's hard to hear that people think you belong in the minor leagues, especially when you're at a low point. But [pitching coach] Marcel Lachemann stayed very close to me and Doug was behind me and the team really stood up for me. I felt better about proving them right than for proving anyone else wrong."

The Angels would like to prove everyone wrong. The club took a flyer on Winfield, who has come back from a serious back injury to re-establish himself as one of baseball's most dangerous hitters. The front office also made what amounted to a new-look free-agent trade, signing third baseman Gary Gaetti and allowing outfielder Chili Davis to go to the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins have gotten the best of the deal so far. They are on top of the standings and Davis has been one of the league's

most productive hitters, but the Angels appear to have more of what it takes to be a division champion.

"We've been through some rough times lately," said catcher Lance Parrish, "but we're still in contention and we still have a good chance and we still think we're capable of winning this thing.

"We've had a tough week, but we're capable of putting something together and pulling away from everyone. We still haven't had a stretch where we have won a lot of games in a row. If you look at this ballclub, you see it's not impossible. Maybe we're preparing ourselves to peak at the right time."

The clubhouse is stocked with proven winners. Winfield has been there before. So has Parrish. Parker. Gaetti. They know what to do. The question is, will they be able to do it.

"We've got some real pros," Rader said. "The reason why that week was bearable was that you knew that at no time did they ever lose faith in themselves. That is never a cause for concern. They are resilient. They are strong people.

"Normally, you've got to ward off the panic. That's energy you don't have to expend."

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