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Despite depth, lineup's struggles linger

Despite depth, lineup's struggles linger

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Despite depth, lineup's struggles linger
ANAHEIM -- Scroll through the list of position players on the Angels' roster, and you see so much pop, so much prestige -- so much promise.

And yet, through 16 games and only four wins, so much of it remained untapped.

It all starts with Albert Pujols, the $240 million first baseman who's batting .246 and has yet to go deep in 65 at-bats, easily representing his longest homerless streak to start a season.

But it isn't just him. The Angels are tied for ninth in the American League in runs, are tied with the Mariners for last in homers, are batting .250 with runners in scoring position, have a combined .699 OPS from their cleanup hitters -- Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter -- and have seen almost every position player face varying degrees of struggles.

Meanwhile, manager Mike Scioscia has trotted out 14 different lineups combinations in hopes of trying to find some sort of fit -- and none has really worked out just yet.

"For a century, they said if you want to play more, play better," Scioscia said. "I think any player that obviously is contributing and playing well, they're going to find more playing time. I don't think our goal is to keep everyone happy. Our goal is to keep guys productive and find roles, and that's what we need to search for."

The Angels spent Monday's off-day flying to Florida for their Tuesday game against the Rays. That begins a six-game road trip on which they'll look to make up ground on the red-hot Rangers, who already hold a seven-game game advantage over the Halos in the AL West.

Through the Angels' first four series, the rotation has had its struggles and the bullpen has blown some games, but it's the offense -- an offense that added two middle-of-the-order bats with the Pujols signing and the Morales comeback -- that has yet to get on any type of roll.

Do the Angels just have too much depth there? Is that even possible?

"Right now, I don't think it's a bad thing that we have a lot of depth," said general manager Jerry Dipoto, whose club travels to Cleveland after the Tampa Bay series. "At some point, that's going to be a benefit to us, either from a performance perspective on the field or what it allows us to do as an organization.

"I don't know too many people that have ever complained about having too much depth, and at some point, it will thin itself out and work itself out."

But so far, it hasn't.

So far, as an assortment of guys have filtered in and out of the lineup, the Angels have found very little offensive continuity or consistency. In winning only one set of back-to-back games and suffering two three-game losing streaks, they've had just three innings in which they've batted around and three games in which they've scored a run in four different frames.

"It's just a matter of everyone else fitting into our roles and being consistent," left fielder Vernon Wells said. "We haven't been consistent out there, so we can't ask for [Scioscia] to be consistent with the lineup unless we do our part. He's always been a guy who tinkers with the lineup and tries to find out what works best. But this has the potential of being the most complete lineup that he's had, so it's just a matter of us doing our parts."

But is it harder for players to get on a roll if a lot of them aren't getting the consistent at-bats they're used to? And will Scioscia eventually have to roll out an "everyday nine," as they say?

This, at least, seems to be the feel-it-out portion of the season, with Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis, Bobby Abreu and Mark Trumbo -- and, to some extent, Wells and Peter Bourjos -- basically fighting for at-bats as Scioscia tries to find groupings that work beyond the consistent top three of Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Pujols.

The most interesting dilemma revolves around Trumbo, who gives the offense a necessary presence with his big right-handed bat but has made three errors in four starts at his experimental position of third base and has a hard time fitting in elsewhere.

"I mean, I have to be flexible, wherever it's at," said Trumbo, who ranks 10th on the team in plate appearances but may start getting more time at the outfield corners. "I guess I enjoy the fact that they feel comfortable to give me a chance at different positions. It's up to me to do the best I can to make the plays I need to make."

The wild card in all of this is Mike Trout.

In case you hadn't noticed, the 20-year-old, five-tool, blue-chip prospect has been lighting it up in Triple-A, with a .400/.463/.600 slash line through 18 games -- granted in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

The Angels aren't calling Trout up yet -- because he's still really young and because there's nowhere for him to play -- but the clamoring has already begun from the outside.

"I don't want it to be on a matter of need," Dipoto said. "I want it to be when Mike is ready to take an everyday position on our club. Whether that's sooner rather than later, I can't tell you.

"We know what Mike can deliver. When we get to the point where we feel like there's an everyday position for him to impact the club, that's when he'll be here."

If the Angels' offense doesn't improve, that may have to happen sooner than anticipated.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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