It’s September, and that means the playoff races are heating up in Major League Baseball. However, not everyone makes it to the promised land. Tom Wright tells us what went right and what went wrong in the elimination of the Los Angeles Angels.
That seventh inning will haunt Mike Scioscia for a while. Everything was in place for the Angels – the Astros were losing, the Angels had the top of the order due up in the 8th, and the Rangers’ bullpen was snakebitten from a calamitous game the day before. Sure, Cole Hamels was dealing, but he couldn’t last forever, and if he started to falter, Trout and Pujols were fully capable of making him pay.
Then, from the bullpen came Cam Bedrosian. Cam Bedrosian? 23-years-old, 5.40 ERA, over 5 walks per nine innings? That Cam Bedrosian? Well, the bullpen was pretty taxed from the game the day before, and besides, there was a platoon advantage. So in came Cam. The young tyro wasted little time issuing a walk to Chris Gimenez, and Delino DeShields bunted for a single, and that was the end of the afternoon for Bedrosian. Next in from the pen was Cesar Ramos, who is fantastic at keeping the ball in the park but not so great with inherited runners in a one-run game (he had the highest WHIP of anyone in the bullpen not named Cam). Sure enough, he walked Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, and the Rangers led by 2. Next was Mike Morin and his 6.37 ERA, and he promptly gave up two singles, a double, and a sac fly… and just like that, the Angels season was over.
Now, it’s always easy to blame the manager for what goes wrong in a single game, and indeed, many will probably do so. But the problem was as much a lack of options as it was a managerial oversight by Scioscia. The issue really started when the Angels put themselves in the hole to begin with; when a team has to play every game as though it’s an elimination game, they’ll eventually run out of arms. In all honestly, Scioscia should be lauded for getting the most that he could out of the team that he had – the Angels have actually been outscored by 14 runs this year, and they only came as close to the playoffs as they did because of an amazing 35-17 record in one-run games.
If the Angels should be blamed for something, it’s the fact that they’ve wasted yet another incredible year from Mike Trout. For the entire year, the Angels lineup went only four or five deep, depending on whether David Freese was healthy. The bench is not good – everyone who spent some time as a bench player this season had an OBP below .300. (For the non-OBP inclined, that’s awful.) The rotation has three decent starters and two terrible ones, and the starter who was supposed to be the ace (judging from the size of his contract) has contributed little more than league-average innings, DL time and Head and Shoulders commercials. The Angels farm system is terrible, which meant that at the trade deadline, the Angles had no good trade chips and had to go shopping in the discount aisle; instead of looking for difference-makers, they were forced to settle for low-probability gambles like David DeJesus, David Murphy and Shane Victorino.
The problem that the Angels have is the problem that happens when you give out all of your big contracts at the same time – at some point, you’re paying for a whole bunch of players’ decline phases simultaneously. Right now (and for next year), the Angels are paying an awful lot of money to C.J. Wilson, Erick Aybar, Jered Weaver and Albert Pujols, all of whom are on the back nine of their respective careers. None of these players has been a complete disaster for the Angels (that designation is reserved for the guy they’re currently paying to play for the Rangers), but combined, the Back Nine Crew and Mr. Hamilton will cost the Angels $107 million next year. The Angels certainly have deep pockets, but that level of spending on declining players is going to hurt any team. This issue is exacerbated by the weak farm – there aren’t many players expected to graduate to the bigs in the next couple of years, and there is little in the way of trade chips that would allow the Angels to land a big star. Of course, there’s a whole lot of money coming off of the books after next year, but this isn’t 2004 anymore – the free agent market has been decimated by the fact that teams actually have money and can extend their own stars.
So can the Angels compete next year? Of course they can. For starters, they’ve got a shiny new GM (Billy Eppler) who can bring some exciting new approaches and a farm system and whatever else it is that he’s supposed to be doing. More saliently, though, this is the same talented team that won 98 games last year and only lost early in the postseason because Royals’ skipper Ned Yost apparently swallowed a horseshoe in late-September. The Angels are still the team of Mike Scioscia, the manager who was so underrated that he became overrated and then became so overrated that he’s probably now underrated again. They’re still the team of Albert Pujols, who isn’t the Pujols of old but can still hit the ball out of the Angels’ gigantic park with regularity. Most importantly, they’re still the team of Mike Trout – and a team with Mike Trout always has a chance…
The Angels last won the World Series in 2002.
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