When we came up with this "four horsemen" series, it was really just meant as a clever framing device to talk about the four key players on each team and kept with out incremental counting gimmick (two weaknesses, three questions, you get it). However, with the Angels, the reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse is remarkably apt and not because the franchise is one the precipice of doom and destruction.
Mike Trout assumes the mantle of War, or more accurately, WAR. After two straight 10+ WAR seasons, it is just to perfect a metaphor. Plain and simple, Mike Trout is the best player in the known universe and probably unknown universe as well. For all the struggles the Angels have had in their quest to return to the post-season, there is little question that they would even be remotely relevant if not for Trout. Even those who might be inclined to write off the Halos in the AL West race can't because as long as the best player alive is on the roster, they always have a chance.
That, in turn, puts a lot of pressure on the young man. The fate of the franchise rests pretty squarely on his shoulders. While many are hoping for bouncebacks seasons from some of the veterans on the roster, everyone knows the team will only go as far as Trout will take them. That only further raises his already lofty expectations.
Many expected him to regress from his 10 win season in 2012, but since he went and pulled off the same magic trick in 2013, that is now his new normal. In fact, there are even those who think he could be even better. 11+ WAR? 12+ WAR? All of the WAR? With what we've seen from Trout so far, can we really rule anything out?
For the Angels, the pious Albert Pujols has become a representation of Pestilence. His crippling contract in failure to live up to it has spread like an infectious disease throughout the organization. The Angels are now so badly stretched financially that Mark Mulder actually had a good chance at being in their Opening Day rotation before he got hurt. There is even some, probably unfounded, concern among fans that the team just plain can't afford to give Mike Trout the rich extension he so clearly deserves.
On the field, Pujols has been hampered by poor health and is sucking the life out of what could be a top five offense otherwise. His injury-ravaged 2013 has Pujols looking even older than everyone jokes he is. But his reputation as a one of the best players ever kept him entrenched in the middle of the order until his body mercifully quit on him. Quite simply, Pujols MUST be better for the Halo offense to come close to realizing its potential. No matter how good Mike Trout is at the top of the order, the offense is never going to take off with a giant sinkhole in the heart of the order.
Pujols doesn't even have to be MVP-caliber again. Trout is around to carry that burden now, but performing at 4-win production seems like a pretty fair expectation, especially since Pujols now claims he is as healthy as a horse(man). Even if we assume that he is 100% recovered and will stay that way, there is still serious concern over his quickly eroding plate discipline, a development that caused his 2012 Angel debut to be a relative disappointment.
The Angels' farm system is a steaming pile of garbage, especially on the pitcher side. That has left the Halos in a desperate search of quality young pitching to fill out the rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. You could even say they are going through a young pitching Famine. (See what I did there?)
In Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, the Halos actually have three young arms that they can roll with, but their roles and expectations are fairly murky. Richards though is the one that has the surest lock on a rotation spot, despite getting yanked in and out of the rotation most of the last two-plus years. Because of that, he gets to saddle up as the horsemen here. Of course, if he doesn't pitch close to the way he did the final two months of 2013, then he could find himself getting bucked off and back to the bullpen. That would leave the Angels in a real bind as they have virtually no rotation depth aside from Joe Blanton (who they don't want anymore) and Triple-A veteran Matt Shoemaker behind Santiago and Skaggs.
Last but not least, Death. This season, he will be portrayed by Jered Weaver. The dirty little secret in Anaheim is that Weaver may be washed up. Those who have been paying attention to Weaver know that his velocity has been steadily creeping towards Jamie Moyer levels the last few years. Those paying even closer attention know that Weaver has been quietly dealing with what is being called bicep tendinitis, but really it is just arm pain in bad places. Because of it, he has had to alter his delivery.
At some point, the pain and the reduced velocity is all going to catch up with him. It could be in five years or three years but it could very well be this year. If that happens and Weaver can't stay healthy or pitches well below expectations, the Halos are pretty much boned. Their rotation is suspect to begin with, so if their staff leader starts pitching like a #4 starter and/or ends up on the DL, there playoff hopes are as good as dead.