Never satisfied, Angels gave it their all

Never satisfied, Angels gave it their all

Never satisfied, Angels gave it their all
ANAHEIM -- There is no such thing as overachievement, John Wooden, the late philosopher, liked to tell us. In basketball as in life, the UCLA legend would add, there are only varying levels of achievement in relation to potential.

The Angels of 2011 would have met the approval of Wooden, a gentleman much admired by their manager, Mike Scioscia.

This was a team that was constantly adapting and adjusting on the fly, from replacing its best hitter (Kendrys Morales) for the second season in a row to finding a new closer (Fernando Rodney not meeting expectations) to replacing one injured starter (Joel Pineiro) and another (Scott Kazmir, one start and out).

There were veterans who didn't meet expectations offensively (Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu, most prominently) in relation to past performances, and those who simply didn't measure up with the bat (catchers Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson). In each case, however, there were substantial contributions from defense to leadership.

Through all the changes and ups and downs, the Angels pitched and defended superbly and persevered, remaining in contention for the postseason through 160 games. It wasn't always easy to see how or why, but they refused to buckle and kept the heat on Texas in the American League West and then the Red Sox and Rays in the three-team AL Wild Card chase.

Only center fielder Peter Bourjos among the organization's fine collection of young talent was expected to play a prominent role.

Mark Trumbo was penciled down as a role player off the bench, spelling Morales at first base, playing some outfield and getting a feel for the big time. Trumbo emerged as the organization's choice for team MVP with his power, clutch hitting and solid defense.

Jordan Walden was going to ease into his new life as a relief pitcher, perhaps setting up for Rodney. Walden became an All-Star, setting a rookie club record for saves with 32. While he let 10 get away, he made strides toward becoming a shut-down closer.

Torii Hunter, rebounding from a poor start, finished like gangbusters to lead the offense along with All-Star Howard Kendrick, who almost doubled his previous career home run high for a season.

Kendrick played left field and first base as well as his natural second base role, symbolic of the club's do-whatever-it-takes mind-set.

The heart of the club, start to finish, was the big three in the rotation: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. They were as good as it gets.

Record: 86-76

Defining moment: Texas was on the verge of completing a four-game sweep at Angel Stadium and essentially burying the Angels when Trumbo delivered the biggest blow of the season on Aug. 18. His two-run, walk-off homer against newly acquired reliever Mike Adams lifted the team's sagging spirits and proved to be the most memorable moment of the season. Trailing now by six games in the AL West instead of eight, the club went on six-game winning streak to get back in the race -- and stayed there deep into September.

What went right: Weaver kept getting better, joining Haren and Santana in a big three that was the equal of any in the AL. Weaver, the All-Star Game starter in Arizona, delivered a superlative season as leader of the rotation, ranking among the AL leaders in ERA, strikeouts, innings, lowest opponents' batting average and WHIP. Weaver showed his toughness in working on three days' rest for the first time in his career. Haren was one of the few in the game on a level with Weaver. Haren, with his pinpoint control and mental toughness, and Santana were durable and effective. Santana produced the ninth no-hitter in franchise history on July 27 in Cleveland. Walden became a force as the rookie closer, and Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi were solid in setup roles along with Bobby Cassevah. Trumbo and Bourjos became productive two-way players, and Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo provided consistency in the infield offensively as well as defensively. Hunter was a consistent presence in the heart of the order along with Trumbo, and Wells came alive down the stretch. The defense was first rate, notably in the heart of the diamond, starting with high-quality catching.

What went wrong: The offense, overall, fell apart for stretches, frustrating the starters. With better run support, Weaver, Haren and Santana all were capable of winning 20 games. Abreu managed to get on base, steal bases and produce clutch hits, but he didn't provide the consistent production of seasons past. Wells, acquired in a big offseason swap with Toronto, fell well short of his standard offensive numbers. Hunter struggled early on before finishing strong, helping fuel the late-season charge. The catchers struggled to contribute offensively. Rodney was yanked in the opening week as closer and never got the job back, fighting his command and disappearing altogether for long stretches. Apart from late-season sensation Jerome Williams, the fourth and fifth starters struggled to produce consistently solid work. But the promise is there with Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards.

Biggest surprise: Williams, at 29, seemingly had disappeared from the Major League scene. A Minor League free agent signed in June after starting the season in an independent league in Pennsylvania, Williams emerged to deliver vitally solid work down the stretch and serve notice that he plans to be a rotation plus in seasons ahead.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.