So, you thought we were a playoff team.
And rightfully so! Following a two game mini sweep of the Dodgers, to complete the season sweep, the Angels sat at 54-49 with serious wild card aspirations ahead of the trade deadline. This had many Angels fans on social media, clamoring for general manager Billy Eppler to make a big move to bring in a marquee starting pitcher. With pitchers like Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Boyd, and Noah Syndergaard all rumored to be available, it appeared that the Angels were going to capitalize on the momentum of sweeping the best team in baseball and make a push in August. Right?
After sweeping the two worst teams in baseball, the Angels pushed their winning streak to 11 games and brought their record to a season high 61-49. Just kidding! The Angels lost 3 of 4 to the Orioles and 2 of 3 to the Tigers, the two worst teams in baseball by winning percentage.
The Tigers entered their 3 game set with a .294 winning percentage and left it with a .307. The games following the first game against the Orioles, a 16 inning affair that saw the Angels use 10 pitchers, were weighed down by the lack of fresh arms in the bullpen, and the pitching staff as a whole has struggled to keep runs from crossing the plate. In fact, the Angels have allowed at least 7 runs to score 10 times in their last 14 games, including Friday’s 16 run disaster. The lone bright spots during that stretch were Griffin Canning‘s start against the Tigers (6 IP, 0 ER, 7 K) and the debut of #11 prospect Patrick Sandoval against the Reds (5 IP, 2 ER, 8 K). Which brings me to my next point: don’t panic!
Don’t panic is, admittedly, probably the worst thing I could advise in a stretch of losing 12 out of 14 games, and also 8 in a row. This would be a perfect time to fire the whole coaching staff, bring in a new front office, and let the new leadership take over. Except, we just did that last offseason. And there are plenty of positives to take out of this season, with the offense being the biggest.
Heading into play on Friday, August 9, the Angels ranked 7th in all of baseball in team wRC+, 10th in OBP, 8th in BB%, and 29th in K%. Jeremy Reed, Shawn Wooten, and Paul Sorrento have done a phenomenal job at finding and making adjustments among the Angels hitters, most notably with Tommy La Stella and Kole Calhoun. La Stella, someone who many saw as just a bench player at the beginning of the season, has transformed himself into a fan favorite, and a fan favorite who OPS’d .848 with a 127 wRC+ before a foul ball off his shin forced him on the injured list. Calhoun, following the worst offensive season of his career, his now putting up a very respectable 106 wRC+ and is one off from his career high in homers of 26.
Looking forward to next year, the hitting staff led by Reed will have a chance to work with a lineup that could consist of Mike Trout, Jo Adell, Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, Matt Thaiss, Andrelton Simmons, Tommy La Stella, and Luis Rengifo, with David Fletcher getting 3-4 starts a week. If that lineup doesn’t get you excited, I seriously don’t know what will. You might notice that there’s an omission of a catcher here, and all I’m going to say is that Yasmani Grandal was only signed to a one year deal during the past offseason. Even if we don’t get Grandal, Max Stassi appears to be a welcome addition to the Angels roster after what they experienced in the first half with Jonathan Lucroy. Stassi is renowned for his defensive ability, something that Lucroy was very much not at this stage of his career.
Although the pitching has been lackluster, to put it incredibly mildly, there’s reason to believe it will improve next year. For one, it would be impressive for the pitching staff to be worse than it has this year. The team ERA of 4.98 entering Friday is, not good. One reason for the numerous blowups the bullpen has experienced this year has just been overuse. The starting rotation as a whole has not done its job of getting through 5-7 innings on a consistent basis this year, and as a result, the entirety of the bullpen is taxed far more than it should be in the early stages of August. Taylor Cole and Ty Buttrey have both pitched better than their ERAs indicate. Before two outings of 1.1 innings and 9 earned runs ballooned his ERA over 5, Taylor Cole had pitched to a 2.94 ERA, and he has still yet to allow a home run on the year. After pitching to an ERA of 1.29 and 1.26 in the first two months, Buttrey then put up numbers of 5.23 and 7.94 in the following months. While his usage wasn’t any different from April and May, his overall usage on the season rivals any season he’s pitched in his life, and Brad Ausmus has had a bad habit of using him 3 days in a row.
Moving to the rotation, the name everybody is talking about is Gerrit Cole, and it’s not hard to see why. Cole, who leads the majors in strikeouts with 226, has also pitched to a 2.87 ERA this year, and is the dream addition to head the Angels rotation next year. Cole would be a perfect pair with the Angels other explosive right handed arm. While Angels nation dreams of bringing the OC native back home, there are plenty of quality arms available on the free agent market next year. These arms include, but are not limited to, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler, Cole Hamels, and Jake Odorizzi. Most of those names don’t have as much star power as Gerrit Cole, but they would all be great additions to solidify the middle and back end of a rotation that desperately needs depth.
As previously mentioned, the Angels will certainly be adding an explosive right handed arm to their rotation in 2020. Shohei Ohtani will be due back on the mound next year, and his presence will help to solidify a staff that has dealt with an abhorrent amount of injuries over the past two seasons. With promising young arms Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez, and Patrick Sandoval all developing this year, and Andrew Heaney, Felix Pena, and Dillon Peters all remaining in the fold, the Angels pitching staff next season might have depth we haven’t seen the likes of in years.
I’m pretty sure I’ve been telling myself for years now that the Angels pitching depth is going to be a strength, (in fact, I wrote my first article with Diamond Digest on that topic last season), but I truly believe Billy is going to get the goat off his back and make a big splash in the starting pitching market this offseason. While Billy is an easy person to blame, since he is the person who makes roster decisions, he’s done an incredible job of building the farm back up after Tony Reagins and Jerry Dipoto collectively dismantled it. While Billy might have been able to make a big splash in the offseason, or trade away the future for a chance at the wild card game, he’s stayed the course in fixing the Angels internally. Promoting the preservation of the farm is leading the Angels down a path of self-sustaining success in the future, a future that hopefully involves less 10 year contracts for a player above the age of 40 who is clearly in decline, and pairing said contract with another $200M in total to only two other players that don’t allow you to sign the pieces you need in any given offseason.
We’re being tested in 2019. We’ve been teased with flashes of greatness, and been brutally beaten back down into the dirt almost every time. Billy has something cooking, and it’s going to be worth it to stick with this team until the plan unfolds. 2022 is the 20 year anniversary of the Angels only World Series win, and what better way to celebrate than with your second?