TEMPE, Ariz. — I offer you the Los Angeles Angels.
Just in case you are looking for a team to support. Or eyeing a backup plan because you are a little uneasy about your club. Or just because you like baseball.
At this point, enough playoff games have been contested without Mike Trout. And October would be more fun — tons more fun — with Shohei Ohtani pitching. And hitting. And generally stretching the concepts of what one baseball player can do.
Because pretty much every fan outside of Houston is looking for a club to step up and deprive the now most hated team in baseball a fourth straight AL West title.
The Athletics, with their fourth-most-in-the-majors 194 wins the past two years, have the best chance to overtake the Astros in the AL West. And good for an organization that does so much more with less if that occurs. In a world of anyone but the Astros, sure, why not?
But maybe we should do more than root against something. The Angels have enough storylines for which to root. But are they good enough?
They did add Anthony Rendon, whose bat did much to subdue the Astros in last year’s World Series. That deepens a strong two-way positional group that will only become more so if their top prospect, outfielder Jo Adell, quickly fulfills his potential.
The problem is pitching. The closer is Hansel Robles, who actually had a season on par with Seth Lugo last year. But the big issue is not the bullpen.
The Angels fell short on Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler in free agency and Corey Kluber in the trade market. They added Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran, kind of their version of Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, at a time when they needed more in the rotation, especially with Ohtani not due back until mid-May and a once-a-week starter when he does return following Tommy John surgery.
Also their owner, Arte Moreno, turned petulant when the trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers hit complications and pulled out of his end, which would have brought more-than-useful pieces Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling from the Dodgers to lengthen the lineup and pitching staff. The Angels have to outdo the more talented Astros, who might have exclusively righty pitching. The lefty Pederson is a renowned masher of southpaws and the teams play each other 19 times.
So there is one less Angel in the outfield as we see if there could be Angels in October because:
1. Trout has only played three postseason games, all losses, in 2014. “The biggest thing I hear all the time is I have to get to the playoffs,” he said. Amen. The NBA playoffs were a little worse last year without LeBron James and will be this year without Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant. But that is a rarity. “Our Mickey Mantle” — Angels bench coach Mike Gallego’s description — has almost never been in the playoffs. That not only is bad for him, it is bad for a game when one of the best players ever does not get the October stage.
2. New Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway: “Ohtani was throwing 80 percent” in his last bullpen special. “How do you know?” “Because he was throwing 80 mph.” Yep, do the math, that means the norm could be 100 mph. And he is among the majors’ best at exit velocity off his bat. As new manager Joe Maddon said: “It comes out hot from his arm. It comes out hot from his bat.” Maddon said he thought it was possible, considering the talent, that Ohtani could be the best hitter and best pitcher in the majors. Wouldn’t it be great fun to watch him do both in the biggest games?
3. Maddon is attempting to be kind of a one-man pushback against the analytics revolution — so if you are among the throng who thinks the game is smarter and more boring, this is your guy. Maddon plans to hit and run and order steals and manage the game based on what he is seeing rather than off the spreadsheets provided before the game. He likes the advanced information “like it was an app running in the background.” In other words, there when you want it, but not all the time. Oh yeah, Maddon also is an October-worthy quote.
4. Albert Pujols stopped being a good baseball player around 2016. But there is still a little life in his bat and he is among the handful of greatest hitters ever. Wouldn’t it be fun to see him take a meaningful swing or three more before it is all over?
5. Angels third base coach Brian Butterfield has long been regarded as among the game’s best infield instructors. This is what he said about shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who just might be the best defender in the majors: “He has workdays that wow me.” That happens in empty stadiums. How great would it be to see Simmons turn difficult grounders into performance art in October?
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