Mar 25, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Big Question: After two years of disappointments, do the Angels have a shot?
There has been no bigger disappointment in baseball over the past two years than the Angels. After signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson before the 2012 season and after signing Josh Hamilton a year ago, the Angels missed the playoffs both years. By a wide margin last season. And while Wilson has been solid, the two biggest bats on the market in those two seasons have been busts. Apart from promoting Mike Trout and watching him dominate baseball and apart from nearly single-handedly scaring teams away from long-term contracts for big sluggers, the Angels haven’t done anything of significance over the past two seasons.
But there is at least some reason to hope this year. It’s only modest reason, and it’s based more on unscientific things like the law of averages than anything truly tangible, but at the very least it’s too early for Angels fans to throw in the towel.
Simply put: it’s really hard to imagine Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton putting up two more dreadful seasons between them. Pujols was famously hampered by injuries last year and is supposedly healthy again. Hamilton was less famously aggravated by injuries. While it’s entirely possible that each of them has hit a Dale-Murphy-in-1989 kind of wall, it would be maddeningly improbable for a future Hall of Famer and a recent MVP to both do so at once. It could happen, but for me to believe it will require me seeing it. And if they do bounce back — even part of the way back, to respectability if not dominance — the Angels offense should be in fantastic shape.
Mike Trout is the best all-around player in the game and should continue to be so for a long time. While they lost Mark Trumbo‘s homers, they also lost his nearly unprecedented out-making abilities. David Freese fell off a bit last year, but is capable of solid contributions. Kole Calhoun hit well in 58 games last season and has a nice minor league track record. Raul Ibanez can’t be expected to go on forever, but he had a fantastic season in 2013 and should contribute as well. The upshot: the Angels were third on-base percentage, fifth in slugging and sixth in runs in the American League last season with Pujols and Hamilton doing close to nothing for them. It’s not hard to imagine the offense being among the best in the league with even a reasonable rebound from those two and expected contributions from the rest of the lineup.
So many ifs, obviously. And the “they look good on paper” thing hasn’t worked out too well for the Angels in a while. But the Angels could very easily have a playoff-caliber offense. And that’s reason to hope.
What else is going on?
- Obviously offense isn’t everything. What really sunk the Angels last year was the pitching. The Trumbo trade did a lot to address that, bringing in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, who should help bolster the back end of the rotation, which was hideous last season. Neither should light the world on fire — and while Skaggs has some upside, we pretty much know what Santiago is — but after the Joe Blanton experience in 2013, Mike Scioscia will probably welcome modest expectations reasonably-met.
- The top end of the rotation is nominally OK with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson — they’re big stars and at times have been among the best starters in baseball — but Weaver’s diminished velocity and some late-season forearm issues have to be cause for concern.He’s lost a good four miles per hour off his heater since he came up and has become more hittable. While there’s no reason to panic, if he declines more quickly than expected, all bets are off for the rotation.
- The bullpen sucked eggs last year too, but it should be improved. Bringing in setup man Joe Smith from Cleveland is a big help. And, while Sean Burnett and Dane De La Rosa will likely start the season on the disabled list, their presence for most of the season will represent a big improvement over last year. More generally, Jerry Dipoto brought in a ton of organizational bullpen depth via minor league signings that, unlike last year, won’t require him to repurpose starting pitchers and generally scramble if and when the relievers who start the season in Anaheim falter.
- Hot seat watch: It’s been a long time since a major league manager did less with more than Mike Scioscia has done over the past two seasons and not paid for it with his job. Not that the Angels’ problems have been his fault — who bet on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton forgetting how to hit? — but managers do usually pay for such struggles. If the Angels limp out to a slow start for a third straight year, it’s going to be hard for Scioscia to avoid the hot seat. In his favor, though, are the lack of 2012 or 2013-size expectations.
Prediction: They could surprise and, for once, exceed expectations. But with the Rangers and A’s as stocked as they are, it’ll be hard to see the Angels finishing above Third place, American League West.
Sep 17, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
His worst career slump remains 0-for-32 in 2004.
Sep 17, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Carlos Beltran has been excused from the Yankees to deal with a private family matter, according to MLB.com beat reporter Bryan Hoch, with manager Joe Girardi saying Wednesday afternoon that the veteran will be given “as much time as he needs.”
Sep 17, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Sep 17, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT
Watch as Matt Duffy smacks this pinch-hit two-run single in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday at Arizona’s Chase Field to put the Giants ahead of the Diamondbacks for good …
Sep 17, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Raburn parlayed a very productive season in a part-time role with the Indians last year into a two-year deal, but he hit just .200 with four homers and a .547 OPS in 74 games.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT
After playing fewer than 100 games in each of the previous four years Navarro has had a solid season as Toronto’s primary catcher, hitting .282 with 12 homers and a .734 OPS in 131 games at age 30.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
As first reported by Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM, the Cardinals have cleared right-hander Michael Wacha to return to the starting rotation this Saturday evening against the visiting Reds.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
Perkins had a 2.44 ERA with just two homers allowed and a 64/9 K/BB ratio in his first 55 innings, but in his last eight appearances he’s given up 10 runs–including five homers–in 6.1 innings for a 14.21 ERA and .429 opponents’ batting average.
Sep 17, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Stanton, who hit .288 with a league-leading 37 homers and a league-leading .950 OPS before the injury, will end up missing the final 17 games of the season.
Sep 17, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
Forget it, Jake. It’s Colorado.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT
After a solid first half Teixeira has batted .179 with 43 strikeouts in 42 games since the All-Star break.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Still not as bad as his golf swing.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:53 PM EDT
Good to see MLB make the smart call and suspend Stroman for headhunting.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
The Nationals starters are getting a breather today.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Altuve is on pace for the most hits in a season since …
Sep 17, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Pedants of the World Unite!
Sep 17, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
This year he hit .264 with nine homers and a .767 OPS in 99 games, including 47 starts at catcher.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
He’ll mash lefties (hopefully) and play some first base.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Despite playing for five different teams and in general not being particularly valuable Delmon Young is headed to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
When the Giants acquired Jake Peavy from the Red Sox in late July expectations were minimal.
- Michael Wacha cleared to return Saturday vs. Reds 0
- Marlins officially shut down Giancarlo Stanton for the season 4
- Umpire Joe West suspended for one game for his part in the Jonathan Papelbon incident 53
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 83
- Jose Altuve breaks Craig Biggio’s franchise record, tallying his 211th hit of the season 12
- Orioles beat Blue Jays to clinch AL East title 38
- Tanner Roark dominates as Nationals clinch NL East 22
- Masahiro Tanaka to pitch on Sunday 11
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (88)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (83)