By: Cory Vest
Ah, the sights and sounds are back. The smack of a glove, the crack of a bat. The smells of hot dogs and cracker jacks. Manicured and groomed in preparation, are baseball fields across the nation. No longer is it near, yes, you guessed it, baseball is finally here.
Am I in the wrong spot for the poetry slam?
Let’s talk baseball, Angel baseball to be more specific. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are hoping to improve upon a number of aspects from last year, the most obvious would be their record. The Angels finished the season second to last, or to make it sound a little better, fourth in the AL West with a record of 74-88. Since 2010, the Halos have missed the playoffs in six out of seven seasons. That is a tough pill to swallow considering the Angels made the playoffs in six out of eight seasons between 2002, the year they won the World Series, and 2009.
A main concern from last year was the Angels’ pitching staff. As a team, the Angels had a dismal 4.28 ERA. The 4.28 placed them 21st in the league in that category. Opponents hit a generous .269 against the Angels in the 2016 campaign, that ranked 27th in the league. If you need a reminder, there are 30 teams in the MLB. The closers for the Angels were able to muster up a measly 29 saves on the season, leaving them 28th overall as a team. It is hard to win games when you have little support on the mound.
Unfortunately for the Angels, there does not seem to be a whole lot of hope for major improvement. This year the starting rotation will read as follows, with each pitcher’s 2016 record and ERA listed in parenthesis: Ricky Nolasco (8-14/4.42), Matt Shoemaker (9-13/3.88), Garrett Richards (1-3/2.34), Tyler Skaggs (3-4/4.17), and Jesse Chavez (2-2/4.43). Not the most daunting of numbers. Notice not a single pitcher in the rotation boasted a winning record.
Now, being an Angel’s fan, I’d like to find a positive spin to all of this. Unfortunately, the most I can come up with is Richards’ return from injury. His 2.34 was the most impressive of the bunch, granted it’s from a smaller sample size, but he has potential to be the team’s ace. Richards missed the majority of the 2016 season after he tore a ligament in his elbow. In 2014, Richards posted a 13-4 record with a 2.61 ERA. In 2015, Richards went 15-12 and had a 3.65 ERA. When scanning through the careers of the others in the starting rotation, it is hard to get too excited. Nolasco has the most experience of the bunch and with those years of experience are scattered seasons of success, but the praise pretty much stops there. When the Angels acquired him last season he had a respectable enough, 3.21 ERA under his belt. Shoemaker is consistent as his ERA hovers around 3.75 on his career. Both Richards and Shoemaker are returning from injury, Richards the torn elbow ligament, and Shoemaker missed the latter half of the season after taking a line drive to the head. Neither pitcher was overly impressive during spring training but both showed signs of being capable of success.
The bullpen has potential, but again there are questions. JC Ramirez showed the ability to handle multiple innings of relief with a strong July and nice close to last season. Yusmero Petit is capable of working more than one inning as well. Petit had a good month of May but had a tendency of giving up runs in bunches. The Angels will rely on the arms of Andrew Bailey, who had strong months in June and July last year, Jose Alvarez, a lefty who does respectable work, and Bud Norris, a veteran who can help when needed, to make ends meet by pitching an inning here and there. Norris proved worthy of a roster spot after a solid spring training. Norris pitched 13.1 innings, holding opponents to a .163 batting average and had a 2.70 ERA. Until the staff can prove worthy of staying consistent, it might be hard to rely on solid outings.
So, what do you need to make up for spotty pitching? A good set of gloves behind you is a decent start. The Angels sport an appealing outfield led by MVP center fielder Mike Trout. Trout is a human highlight reel making spectacular catches look easy. Kole Calhoun occupies right field for the Halos, the Gold Glove winner has a strong arm and does a great job complimenting the skill of Trout. The Angels are hoping to fill the void they had at left field last year with Cameron Mayben. Mayben is used to playing center, but will be expected to transition to left. His speed allows him to cover a good deal of ground and should round out the outfield nicely.
The infield is stout as well with a duo up the middle that are among the best in the league. Newly acquired Danny Espinosa, a former shortstop with the Nationals, will find himself playing second base, while Andrelton Simmons will be at the shortstop position. Both are stellar defenders who have made a decent name for themselves with their glove and defensive play. Holding down the corners will be Yunel Escobar at third and C.J. Cron at first. Neither is anything to write home about and are the weakest spots in the defensive line up. Behind the plate is the strong-armed Martin Maldonado. The catcher acquired from the Brewers, should do a great job of keeping runners honest and gunning down those that dare to run on him. Maldonado is also known for his ability to frame pitches and does a nice job of dealing with pitchers. Mike Scioscia believes it could be the best defensive team the Angels have had in a very long while.
A pitcher’s best friend is also a great offense. The Angels line-up has the possibility to produce power, again led by Trout. Designated hitter Albert Pujols proved he still has pop, hitting 31 bombs last year. Pujols also added 119 RBIs while hitting a decent .268. Cron and Calhoun can go deep as well, with 16 and 18 home runs respectively. Espinosa had a career high in dingers last year with 24. Espinosa had a career high 72 RBIs as well. Espinosa’s power was the only thing working for him however, as he batted .209 and tallied a whopping 174 strikeouts. Cron and Calhoun also bring a good average to the table with Cron hitting a career high .333 last year while Calhoun averaged .271 at the plate. Speaking of respectable averages, Simmons hit .281 last season while Escobar proudly displayed a .304 batting average. Escobar’s .304 was no fluke as he has a career average of .283. Mayben proved that he could hit for average as well, sporting a .315 batting average with Detroit. The .315 mark was pretty impressive considering he’s a career .259 hitter.
All in all, the Angels are a stout defensive team who lack a true number one on the mound. The pitching staff will have to prove themselves throughout the season and will most likely have to lean heavily on the talent they have behind them. With pitching being a question mark, the Halos will most likely have to participate slug fests with stronger offensive teams. While the line-up has the capability of playing both small ball and reaping the benefits of the long ball, players will have to prove they can cut it at the plate. With Espinosa’s feast or famine like performance offensively, he can prove to be detrimental in situations. Maldonado is close to being an automatic out. If Mayben can produce similar numbers to last season, Pujols can continue to provide power and bring home runs, Cron can stay consistent, and the rest of the Angels hitters can pull their weight, then they can certainly produce runs.
My prediction is that the Angels improve from last year, but not by much. They will do enough to remain in games but a poor pitching staff and bullpen will lead to costly runs and leads being relinquished. There may be a slight possibility the Angels are in the wild card race as the season draws to an end, but they will unfortunately come up shy, adding to their miserable drought. Expect the Halos’ record to hover around .500 on the season.