Angels: Young but dangerous With little expected, they're winning lot

April 16, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

If the Orioles were hoping that the California Angels would provide a refreshing break in a difficult early-season schedule, the three-game series that begins tonight at Camden Yards may turn out to be an education.

The Angels are young. They are rebuilding. They are a consensus choice to finish last in the American League West. But they have proven that they do not plan on being anybody's pushover.

There were no preseason expectations to weigh them down when they opened the season, which may explain why they seem so light on their feet. The departure of starting pitcher Jim Abbott and bullpen stopper Bryan Harvey further decimated a club that lost Wally Joyner and Dave Winfield the year before, but the Angels are playing like they have nothing to lose.

What a contrast to the struggling Orioles, who entered the season as one of the favorites in the AL East only to lose six of their first eight games. The Angels have won five of seven to keep millions of Southern California skeptics at bay, but manager Buck Rodgers isn't about to jump to any conclusions.

"We've only played a few games," Rodgers said. "It's too early to gauge a trend. When we get through 40 to 60 games, we'll see who's getting out of the gate.

"We're happy with the way we've played so far. We've been in every game. We've been competitive."

They have been more than that. Rodgers has had trouble piecing together his starting rotation, but the Angels have gotten good production throughout the youthful batting order. The Milwaukee Brewers can attest to that following a rain-shortened two-game series in which the Angels scored 24 runs.

Rookie first baseman J. T. Snow, who figured to feel some heat as the only major-league holdover from the unpopular deal that sent Abbott to the New York Yankees, has quickly endeared himself to Angels fans with a quick bat and a smooth defensive style that is reminiscent of Joyner. He's batting .348 with a home run and five RBI.

"I know there's extra pressure on me because of the trade and the fact that the two other guys who came over in the trade are in Vancouver," Snow said recently. "I just want to show people what I've got and I'll let everybody make their own judgments."

Second-year outfielder Chad Curtis is batting .333. Catcher John Orton is 5-for-9 after a three-hit performance Wednesday. Third baseman Damien Easley is hitting .304.

Who are these guys and how are they doing it?

"It's almost like we've got the same attitude we had when I was in Columbus," Snow said, "that we're going to come out and kick some butt. I think some guys in here are starting to believe in us now. People kept talking about how we're a young team -- wondering how we'd react and how we'd adjust to different pitchers. Well, we don't worry about it. We just go out there and have fun and let it happen."

/# The Angels have been criticized

for their lack of a consistent organizational game plan, but the club dismissed quick-fix veterans Von Hayes and Hubie Brooks after last year's 72-90 finish and steered toward the future. The signing of free-agent designated hitter Chili Davis appeared to be another organizational inconsistency, but he was brought in to provide leadership on a team that will need some clubhouse experience.

Rodgers couldn't have enjoyed losing pitchers the caliber of Abbott and Harvey -- both of whom were let go for economic reasons -- but he likes the chemistry the club's off-season maneuvering created.

"I really do," he said. "We liked this team in spring training. We liked the look in their eyes and the way they went about their business."

This cannot come as good news to the Orioles, who could use an easy weekend after what they went through in Texas and Seattle.

Perhaps the law of averages come to bear on both teams, but the Angels are defying gravity in the AL West and who's to say that they can't keep it up for a while.

"It's going to be difficult because we're asking an awful lot from them," Rodgers said. "Each player will be responsible for a certain amount of offense, but the biggest difference is that they are not going to have veterans to hide behind."

They also want a chance to create their own identity.

"Hey, Harvey and Abbott were two of the best pitchers and the best persons I've ever been around," shortstop Gary DiSarcina said recently, "but they are gone now. It's just like when Edmonton traded [Wayne] Gretzky. The game goes on.

"It's a sense of everybody against us and us against the world type of thing. The only way to convince people is to show that we can play."

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

The California Angels have undergone a tremendous turnover during the past three years. Here's a partial list of who has come and who has gone.

1992-93 off-season

Obtained .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Given up

Torey Lovullo.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Jim Abbott

J. T. Snow .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. .. .. Bryan Harvey

Russ Springer .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Junior Felix

Gerald Nielsen.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Lee Stevens

Kelly Gruber .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Luis Sojo

Chili Davis .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Rob Ducey

Scott Sanderson .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Scott Bailes

Bert Blyleven

1991-92 off-season

Obtained.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Given up

Tim Fortugno.. .. .. .. .. .. Wally Joyner

Von Hayes .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Dave Winfield

Charlie Crim .. .. .. .. .. Kirk McCaskill

Hubie Brooks.. .. .. .. .. .. Mike Fetters

Don Robinson .. .. .. .. .. Dave Gallagher

Dave Johnson .. .. .. . .. ..Dick Schofield*

Julio Valera.. .. .. .. .. .. Lance Parrish*

Jack Howell

. Dante Bichette

*In-season transactions

1990-91 off-season

Obtained .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Given up

Dave Gallagher .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Devon White

Junior Felix.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Willie Fraser

Luis Sojo .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. David Martinez

Floyd Bannister .. .. .. .. .. . . Chili Davis

Fred Manrique

Jeff Robinson

Gary Gaetti

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