The good news is that the Angels finally were able to ride the greatness of Mike Trout to a postseason berth and that Trout will surely take him the first of what should have been three AL MVPs. The bad news is that their league-best 98 wins only silenced their critics for a short time as the lasting memory of this Angels team will be them flaming out against the Royals in the ALDS.
Preseason Prediction: Let’s be honest, as long as the Michael Nelson Trout is on the roster, the Angels should always at least be interesting. Their 78-win 2013 season was pretty much as bad as things were ever going to get for the Halos. So very much went wrong that year. At a minimum, they should be in for a dead cat bounce in 2014. What they will probably get is better production from Albert Pujols, but maybe not All-Star level production. Josh Hamilton figure to be at least a little bit better as well. Really though, it is the rotation that can’t help but be better. The unholy trio of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams combined for a 5.39 ERA over 58 starts in 2013. The Angels could try and field a backend of the rotation that bad and would have a hard time replicating it. On that alone, the Angels figure to improve by a few wins.
In the end, the Angels should be better, but probably not better enough to emerge from the increasingly competitive AL: West. 86 wins and an outside shot at the second Wild Card is right about where the Halos should land. (Garrett Wilson, February 19th)
What Went Right: The easy answer is Trout since he is going to be likely win the AL MVP in a landslide, but he actually had a down season by his standards. 7.8 WAR, Mike? Are you even trying, bro? What really went right for the Angels was just about everything on offense. Of the 11 players to log 250+ plate appearances for the Halos, 10 of them had a wRC+ of 101 or better. A bounceback year for Albert Pujols, breakout yer for Kole Calhoun and a sneaky good year from Chris Iannetta were all big parts of that balanced offensive attack. It is no wonder they had the top offense in baseball.
But it wasn’t just the offense carrying the Angels. Despite the pitching being a massive question mark entering the season, it turned out alright. Garrett Richards’ emergence as a bona fide ace was something nobody saw coming. Nor did anyone see his horrific season-ending knee injury coming. Tyler Skaggs also looked like he was going to be a nice young rotation piece before he blew his elbow out. Even with those injuries though, GM Jerry Dipoto only got the staff to click when he re-made his entire bullpen on the fly and turned the team’s Achilles heel into a genuine strength by the end of the year.
What Went Wrong: It looked like everything was coming up Angels in 2014 right until the final two months of the season when they suddenly lost Richards and Skaggs to season-ending injuries. Because of those injuries, it became harder and harder for the Halos to survive an abysmal season for C.J. Wilson. Other than that, the continued disappointment of Josh Hamilton was really the only other bummer for the Halos.
Most Surprising Player: Matt Shoemaker. Nobody had any idea who he was until a few months ago. In fact, MLB scouts seemed to be actively trying to avoid him. He went undrafted out of college and appeared on virtually no top prospect lists ever at anytime depite good numbers throughout his minor league career. Had he just become a reliable #4 starter, it would’ve been a shock. But by the end of the year, Shoemaker had a 3.04 ERA and a 124/24 K/BB ratio in 136 innings. That’s frontline starter material right there from a guy nobody had ever heard of before. Factor in that luxuriant beard of his and Shoemaker could be on his way to stardom.
Most Disappointing Player: Again, a few to choose from, but that’s not a good thing. Josh Hamilton had another down season where he was riddled by injuries, but that’s almost expected at this point. The real shocking disappointment was the miserable season turned in by C.J. Wilson. His 4.51 ERA was the worst of his career and, honestly, suggests that he was better than he really was. It was also the first time since his move to the rotation that he failed to reach 200 innings as he finished with 175.2, not mention his worst K%, BB% and HR/9 rates of his career as a starter. For the Angels, that was a huge blow as the one thing that they had to count on coming into the season was Wilson’s reliability. To make matters worse, there is still no real explanation for his struggles, so he is a huge question mark going into 2015.
The Future: As embarrassing as their ALDS exit was, the Halos are in good shape for 2015. With the Rangers headed for a rebuild, the A’s considering a total makeover and the Astros still at least a year away from contending, the sledding in the AL West figures to be much easier next season. However, the Halos are pretty much stuck having to run things back.
Thanks to all their spending the last few years, they will be right up against the luxury tax threshold unless they trim some fat. That’s going to make it hard for them to add any big pieces, though they may not really need any. Garrett Richards is expected to be ready by Opening Day and their only pending free agents are Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher and John McDonald. They’ll probably look to round out the rotation with a reliable veteran, but it should be the same team otherwise, just a little bit older. That could be a bit of a problem for guys like Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton though. Still, there isn’t any reason to think they won’t contend in 2015.