Hey have you heard that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim which is on the West Coast of the United States in North America are 9-15 and in last place in the AL West? Who could have seen this coming for everyone’s favorite World Series pick? Well, no sane observer of baseball would have picked the Angels to finish in last place (they won’t), but I was among the few to predict that they wouldn’t make the playoffs. So while it’s still really early, allow me a moment to gloat, and explain why things aren’t going to get any better in Orange County.
1. The Angels lineup is atrocious
Ok, Albert Pujols will likely hit a homer at some point, and he definitely won’t post a Chone Figgins-esque .547 OPS for the rest of the season. Still, there are a few reasons to believe that Pujols may never again be the same caliber player he was with the Cardinals. The first factor is his age. Pujols is listed as 32 years old — which the history of Dominican imports suggests is a sketchy figure to begin with (my guess is he’s closer to 34) — which means that for all intents and purposes, his prime as a player is over. A normal aging curve wouldn’t have Pujols dropping off the cliff he has this year, but it wouldn’t have him getting better either. Add to that the fact that Pujols is moving to the tougher league and from a hitters park in St. Louis to a more pitcher friendly environment in Anaheim and the days of Albert Pujols, superstar may be at an end. I don’t put much stock into psychological factors, because I can’t read players’ minds, but the sniping between Pujols, his teammates, and hitting coach isn’t encouraging either.
As for the rest of the Angels lineup, it’s pretty bad. Mark Trumbo has made significant strides in his approach this year and is actually a productive hitter now, but he doesn’t have a position because he was pretty awful at third base and the Angels already have four outfielders. Kendrys Morales was once a beast, but he’s missed two full seasons after a horrific leg injury so it’s going to take some time for him to be productive again if he ever is. Howie Kendrick is an abover average second baseman, but he doesn’t take walks. Chris Ianetta is an above average offensive catcher, but I’m not sure Mike Sciosca (he of the Jeff Mathis man crush) really appreciates his skill set (drawing walks). As for the rest of the everyday players, they range from average regulars (Alberto Callaspo) to aging, below average former stars (Torii Hunter) to negative value guys who really shouldn’t be playing anymore (Vernon Wells). Calling up Mike Trout is a step in the right direction, but counting on a guy who can’t legally buy alcohol to carry your lineup isn’t a recipe for success.
2. The Angels bullpen is pretty bad too
Former GM Tony Reagins gave set-up man Scott Downs a three year contract last winter. Even though giving relievers contracts longer than two years is generally a bad idea, Downs has probably been the lone bright spot in the Angels bullpen this season. That said, his K rate is way down (very small sample) and he’s got a 100% strand rate and .200 BABIP against, so he might be due for some regression. The rest of the bullpen has been atrocious (ERA in the 5s), not Red Sox bad, but still pretty bad. And unlike the Red Sox, the Angels don’t have the offense to simply bludgeon inferior opponents into submission.
3. The Competition is stiff
Coming into the season there were six teams (Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays) considered legitimate contenders for the two AL wild card spots. Two of those teams will win the AL West and East. Assuming that the Rangers have the West wrapped — again it’s early, but Texas is clearly better than Anaheim by any objective measure — the Angels still have to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and Jays for two spots. All of those teams look better than the Angels. The Yankees rotation is a concern, but they can still thump. The Red Sox rotation actually looks pretty good now (Clay Buchholz as your worst starter is a good problem to have) and although their bullpen could be historically awful, it can really only get better, especially if Mark Melancon’s recent AAA success carries back over to the majors and Andrew Bailey returns in form, also the Sox, unlike the Angels, can score runs. Losing Evan Longoria is huge for the Rays, but they have the depth, and pitching, to survive. The Jays are due for some regression from their pitching — Henderson Alvarez is only striking out 2.5 per nine, making his 3.56 ERA a bit shaky — but their lineup is also good. Furthermore, all these teams are dealing with some serious injuries and therefore can look forward to improvements as they get players back. The Angels for all their underachieving have been the model of health, so no such luck there.
It’s not all bad for the Angels, in fact there are plenty of reasons to believe that they can be a contender. You just might want to revise those World Series prediction.
P.S. For what it’s worth, my World Series pick, the Diamondbacks, are four games out of first and look perfectly mediocre.