What Has to Go Right for the Angels to Win the A.L. West?

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Updated: February 4, 2017

The Angels have mostly struggled the past two years, suffering through one of their worst seasons last year and creating a lot of doubt in fans. This offseason, however, can generally be considered a big success for GM Billy Eppler and company, and hope has returned! Do the Angels actually have the makings of a division, winner, though? We’ll take a look at what has to go right for the Angels, (and wrong for the rest of the division,) for the Angels to reclaim their rightful spot as A.L. West champions!

Health – The Angels injury problems last season were well documented, as four-fifths of their optimal starting rotation spent time on the D.L. It wasn’t just the rotation that was victimized, however, as C.J. Cron, Andrelton Simmons, Geovany Soto, and Yunel Escobar all missed various amounts of time. After slogging through an injury-riddled season with the likes of Tim Lincecum, Jhoulys Chacin, and Brett Oberholtzer occupying spots in their rotation, maintaining some semblance of health is the most important thing the Halos need this season.

Pitching – On top of staying healthy, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Ricky Nolasco, and Matt Shoemaker need to put it all together and make big impacts in the rotation for the Angels to truly contend. Jesse Chavez and Alex Meyer need to carve out consistent roles, whether it be in the rotation or the bullpen. Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, and Huston Street need to stay healthy and lock down the back-end of games. The young relievers J.C. Ramirez, Deolis Guerra, Mike Morin, and Greg Mahle need to step up and fill in the bullpen holes. The Angels need every member of the staff, from the rotation on down through the bullpen, to step up, stay healthy, and pitch to their potential for the Angels to challenge for the A.L. West Crown.

Contributing Newcomers – Having the best player in the world on your team can cover a lot of holes, and that’s exactly what Mike Trout did last season. His MVP season helped pull the Angels’ offense up to about a league average mark despite receiving absolutely nothing from left field, second base, and catcher for most of the season before Jett Bandy arrived, on top of the aforementioned injuries to several top contributors. GM Billy Eppler did well to fill those line up holes by trading for second baseman Danny Espinosa and left fielder Cameron Maybin, as well as lengthening his bench and providing more lineup versatility for Mike Scioscia with outfielder Ben Revere and utility infielder Luis Valbuena, and if those players are able to contribute anything even close to league average production, this offense will take a big step forward.

Lineup Consistency – On top of potential boosts from the newcomers, the Angels will need players like Escobar, Simmons, and Albert Pujols to at least maintain their level of production from last season, when healthy. Escobar will need to continue to get on base, Pujols needs to hit for power and drive in runs, and Simmons needs to bat around .270 with a little pop at the bottom of the order. We know Trout will put up his MVP numbers, but if those players can just continue to do what they do on top of production from the new additions, the offense will be just fine.

Continued Development – Despite injuries, C.J. Cron showed some serious development in plate discipline and his ability to get on base, and if he can continue to make those improvements over the course of a full season, he will be a major threat in the middle of the lineup. Kole Calhoun also boosted his on-base percentage and batting average, and if he continues to round out his game he will force his way into the discussion as one of the best all-around outfielders in baseball. Carlos Perez struggled offensively last season, to say the least, and if he can put last year behind him and build more upon his promising rookie season, it will be another huge boost. Bedrosian emerged to put up one of the best pure stat lines of any reliever in baseball last season despite finishing the year on the D.L., and if he can continue to pitch like that out of our bullpen he could become one of the best relievers we’ve had in years. Now that Skaggs has had his first full, normal offseason, expectations will be high for him, and he’ll have every chance to prove he’s the number two or three pitcher we’ve always thought he could be. If these young players can step up to join Trout as franchise cornerstones, the Angels will make a big leap towards contention.

Defense, Defense, Defense – The Angels have the makings of what looks like a top-five defense, and the pitching staff can use all the help it can get. The Angels have arguably the best defensive player in all of baseball in Simmons, another slick fielder as his double play partner at second base in Espinosa, a gold-glove caliber outfield with Revere/Maybin, Trout, and Calhoun, two highly regarded catchers in Perez and new addition Martin Maldonado, and two utility infielders with plus gloves at multiple positions in Valbuena and Cliff Pennington. The Angels will field a strong defense every night, and will need that defense to step up.

A Little Help – The Angels will need the Texas Rangers to come back to earth in one run games where they posted the best record ever last season, going 36-11. We know that those types of things are unsustainable, and so expect the Rangers to fall off a bit (or a lot) there. The Angels will need the development of the Houston Astros‘ young superstars to slow down; with players like Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Lance McCullers ready to take the leap, the Angels will need them to struggle a bit. The Angels will need Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez to begin to show their age and hold the Seattle Mariners back, and the Angels will need the Oakland A’s to just be themselves and not be good, again. If some or all of those things happen, then the Angels will have a lot less of a mountain to climb.

The Bottom Line – It seems like a lot needs to go right for the Angels to contend for the division crown, and it’s because that’s the truth; the Angels are going to have to have a lot go right for them to have a chance. The good news is, all of those things are certainly possible, and some are even likely to happen. The Angels are not necessarily as far away from contending as last season’s record may suggest. Remember that their run differential of -10 from last season is more indicative of a .500 team and not a cellar dweller, which is amazing considering how much went wrong for the Angels all year long. Obviously, the most important thing is health, particularly in the pitching staff. If Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs pitch all year long to their potential, the Angels will contend. You can probably rely on a step back or two for the Rangers, although you can certainly expect a step or two forward for the Astros. The reality of where the Angels will end up is most likely somewhere in the middle of contending for the division and being in the basement; I believe the Angels will contend for the wild card all season, and will certainly hold their own against the Rangers and Astros, but picturing them at the top of the division may be a long shot at this point. After last season, though, I think most Angel fans will gladly take that.

 

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