Stress Test

These are the times that try men’s souls.

— Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776

The Angels won 100 games in 2008, a franchise record, yet lost to Boston in the first round of the playoffs. Pundits claimed it was because the Angels had too easy of a season, winning the division by 21 games. They hadn’t been challenged, the pundits declared, therefore they weren’t conditioned for the pressure of the post-season.

No one can make that claim in 2009.

The Angels look like George Washington’s rag-tag Revolutionary Army, huddled at Valley Forge in the darkest days of the rebellion.

John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar began this season on the disabled list. They were soon joined by Dustin Moseley, who earned a job in the starting rotation, and Darren Oliver, who was pushed into the rotation out of the bullpen.

That would be enough to test any team, but the horrific tragedy of Nick Adenhart’s death on April 9 put the business of baseball in perspective. Baseball is entertainment. This was life and death.

And for good measure, power bat Vlad Guerrero has gone on the disabled list with a torn pectoral muscle. It’ll take a month to determine if he’ll even be able to DH later this year.

The Angels’ pitching staff has become a sad parody. No knock on them, but there are four or five guys on the staff right now who really should be in Triple-A.

Most fans understand the circumstances, but as usual there’s always the instant gratification crowd who are currently trashing fan boards with demands that heads roll. They’re only into themselves, ’nuff said.

Let’s put all this into perspective.

The Seattle Mariners’ magic number is 140.

The Angels are currently 6-10. In 2002, when they won the World Series, they started the year 6-14. We saw the same rants online demanding heads roll.

The press has started to chime in with suggestions that the Angels make a quick-fix trade or sign an aging free agent such as Pedro Martinez or Paul Byrd.

Neither alternative really makes much sense, primarily because Lackey and Santana are about three weeks away from returning to the rotation. It would take Martinez, Byrd, or any of those other options at least that long to build up their pitch count to mid-season form. If one of those guys would take a minor league contract deal with a big-league option, I’m all for that, because they provide depth. But they won’t fix the immediate problem.

A trade to add a quality starting pitcher would help, but those kinda guys really aren’t on the market at this time unless you’re willing to overpay. The Angels don’t have that kind of depth right now. Adenhart was a big bargaining chip — according to media reports, many teams inquired about him during the winter — but his loss left a big hole in trade scenarios. Other teams would probably ask for Jordan Walden, but if he goes then the Angels have no real “top prospect” starters within range of the big leagues.

My opinion is that the Angels will emerge from all this tragedy, tested by fire, united by grief, a team not just in name but in spirit. Assuming no more injuries, Lackey and Santana return by mid-May, Escobar not far behind them, the bullpen calms down and pitches to its abilities, and Guerrero can at least DH. I suspect at some point they’ll find a way to get Brandon Wood’s power bat in the lineup.

All they need to do is stay within range, because once they re-arm they’re the best team in this division, hands down.

I’ll close with this passage from The Crisis by Thomas Paine written on December 23,1776.

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

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