ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There is a huge rock formation behind center field at newly remodeled Edison International Field. The only thing missing from this Disney tableau is the runaway mine train, but the newly remodeled Anaheim Angels have made up for that with a wild ride through the early weeks of the 1998 season.
The Angels have one of the best young offensive teams in baseball, but they have struggled through a tough April schedule and enter a three-game series against the Orioles tonight still looking to turn that offensive potential into production.
It didn't happen over the weekend. The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays came in for four games and left with three victories -- the last two by a combined score of 14-1. The Angels, who are averaging just 4.1 runs per game, have lost six of their last eight games and can't help but wonder when the cloud cover is going to lift.
"We've got big problems right now, no doubt about it," said manager Terry Collins. "It gets so frustrating because you know that you're better than you're playing. Every mistake is capitalized on. If you make a bad pitch, it doesn't get popped up, it gets hit in the gap.
"Hopefully, this is the only bad stretch we'll have. We just can't get anything going. I wish I could point to one guy, but we're all in this together."
The Devil Rays pushed them two games under .500 (7-9) with a 6-0 victory yesterday and another solid combined pitching performance. Tampa Bay, now 10-6 and only a half-game out of first place in the AL East, obviously is not your average first-year franchise, but it has reached the point where the Angels don't know whether to tip their hats to the mound or trip over each other lining up for early batting practice.
"We are going to break out," said veteran slugger Cecil Fielder, who is batting .185 and waiting to break out himself. "On paper, everything looks great. It just hasn't happened yet. When it does, everything will be all right."
The crowd of 34,580 finally lost patience when the Devil Rays broke the game open with three runs in the fifth, letting loose with a torrent of boos that reflected the heightened expectations the club carried out of spring training.
"Everybody's trying to do a little bit too much too early," said Fielder. "That's what happens when you scuffle a little bit. That goes for both the pitchers and the hitters. You're trying to force the action instead of letting it happen."
Offensive production was not supposed to be a problem. The addition of Fielder rounded out a lineup that already included young sluggers Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, Darin Erstad and Garret Anderson. The only question was whether the club would get enough good pitching to take advantage of the offensive largess.
So far, the three veteran pitchers at the heart of the starting rotation -- Chuck Finley, Ken Hill and Jack McDowell -- have been very productive, but they have gotten little help from second-year starter Jason Dickson (0-3, 11.77) and left-hander Allen Watson (0-2, 11.08).
The Orioles will see all three top starters during the series at "The Big-E," beginning tonight with Hill, who is 2-1 with a 2.50 ERA. McDowell, who has come back from a severe elbow injury to pitch into the seventh inning in each of his three 1998 starts, will go tomorrow; and Chuck Finley, who has been one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball so far (3-0, 0.56 ERA) will pitch the series finale on Wednesday.
Health always seems to be an issue in Anaheim. The Angels were very competitive last year until season-ending injuries to Finley and catcher Todd Greene undermined their stretch drive, and there already have been a couple of scares during the early weeks of 1998.
Center fielder Edmonds became the latest casualty when he sprained his right wrist attempting a diving catch on Saturday night. The Angels lost shortstop Gary DiSarcina for a few games earlier this month and still are awaiting the return of Greene and infielder Randy Velarde from surgery.
"Hopefully, our center fielder will be OK in a day or so," Collins said. "If we're going to win, we're going to need him.
"You saw last year, when our guys started to go down. It's tough to get it done."
Pub Date: 4/20/98