Angels turn to long ball, lead the majors in home runs

The hallmark of a Mike Scioscia team has always been small ball. Steal, hit and run, take the extra base.

The long ball? That was fine for batting practice but it wasn't something the Angels looked for after the national anthem.

Times and tactics have apparently changed though, because after slugging five home runs Sunday in a 14-2 victory over the New York Mets, the Angels lead the majors with 20 home runs. And they haven't even had a sacrifice bunt yet.

BOX SCORE: Angels 14, Mets 2

"It's not just coincidence. But that's not what we really want to try to do, just try to yank home runs all across the ballpark," said catcher Hank Conger, who yanked his first home of the season into the right-field seats against Bartolo Colon (1-2) in the fifth inning.

Conger was actually late to the party since Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Raul Ibanez had hit consecutive first-inning home runs against Colon in a span of 12 pitches. Ian Stewart hit the final home run, his first as an Angel, in the eighth inning.

For Scioscia, the change isn't so much one of philosophy as it is one of personnel. Pujols, for example, hasn't sacrificed since his rookie season. But he has hit 495 home runs.

"Teams are going to change maybe with the ebb and flow of talent. And some talent is going to bring batter's box offensive power," Scioscia said. "We have an element of power in our team. And it's nice to see it emerge."

It's also strange to see it emerge because the Angels have never led the majors in home runs in a season. And they've topped the American League in that department only once, in 1989.

Even Ibanez, who spent most of his 19-year career playing against the Angels, sees the team's newfound power as merely a complement, not a replacement, to the other things it does well.

"We're still going to do all of those other things," he said. "There's still going to be hit and runs and baserunning. Putting the game in motion, I'm sure there's going to be that too.

"I guess it's good if we can hit and run and play all of the other stuff and then hit the ball out of the ballpark."

And the Angels did a lot of that other stuff Sunday. They scored two runs on wild pitches, tripled twice to left field and drew six walks. And they haven't made an error in three games.

"A home run's always great. But scoring from first on a ball in the gap is fun too," said Trout, who leads the Angels in home runs and runs. "We're not trying to hit homers. We're just trying to square balls up and if they go out of the park, they go out of the park.

"It's always good to hit three homers in the first inning."

Yet, there is a danger that the Angels could become too enamored of flexing their muscles.

"You'd like to tell yourself no because each person is different," Conger said when asked whether hitting home runs is contagious. "But when you get momentum and you kind of keep it rolling it does seem like it's very contagious. Like, 'Oh, I want to be the next one to try to put a good swing on the pitch.' "

Scioscia isn't worried. Because if the Angels stop hitting, he says they'll just start running again.

"Maybe we don't have as much team speed as a group. But we have some guys that can really run the bases and move around when we need it," he said. "So it's a nice blend.

"We're more than just a team that's going to slug. But we definitely have slugging percentage on this team. And home run potential."

Twitter: @kbaxter11

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World