If there's a master plan for the universe, you probably can't ask for more than to watch the season decided by the very last game. That's the thrill of the postseason, right? It's the only way to guarantee that your final moment is a memorable one, even something so mundane as a ground ball to second base. This year, the Angels played the last game that mattered to the 2015 regular season. They were the last team eliminated, and while nine remain who have yet to feel that sting, at least we had an interesting September. Someone out there is going to get sent home after sitting in an noncompetitive playoff berth for a month.
For perspective, here are the eight playoff teams not from the AL West, the dates on which their postseason probability finally exceeded 90%, and the number of games remaining at that time:
Date Team #Left ---- ---- ---- 6/4 STL 108 7/18 KCR 73 8/11 TOR 48 8/14 PIT 49 8/14 NYY 48 8/22 CHC 41 8/31 LAD 32 9/8 NYM 24
This is why that when it comes to wild cards, more isn't necessarily better. Even with four of them, there was still only one interesting outcome after mid-August: Texas. Seriously, this was one of the dullest conclusions to the regular season I can ever remember-—for nearly everyone but the Angels.
To me, that seemed more like an unexpected gift than a genuine disappointment. The playoff probabilities make it pretty clear that the season ended on July 27. After peaking at 89%, the Angels took a one-game lead into Houston…and then got swept. After the Dodgers swept them again, the Angels had tumbled five games in less than a week. A miserable 10-19 record in August gave them one chance in ten to reach the postseason by August 31, the same day they fell a game under .500.
While this team was never really "good," August was a total fucking sinkhole. The lineup hit .221 / .281 / .344 in 1064 PA, which wouldn't threaten a backup catcher. The rotation allowed 104 runs in 156 innings and the bullpen was not much better. Their lowest of lows must have been August 21–23, when Toronto outscored them 35 to 10 during a weekend series at home. That team had no business in October. They even got outscored on the season, 675 runs to 661 runs. Although we might debate the meaning of Pythagoras (and this was certainly a rough year for the old bastard), I think we can all agree that "good" teams just do not get outscored. Against teams over .500, they went 38-48.
So in the end, perhaps the Angels got more than they deserved, even if it was less than they realized. On Sunday, only one outcome in four would have forced the tiebreaker that could have earned them a spot in a glorified play-in game, with the short end of a short series as its final reward. That's a lot of must-win games against teams that are better than you. I wasn't betting on it, and neither did I fall asleep sobbing into my pillow. Like life itself, the season ended the best way it could have: quickly, nobly, and postponed as long as possible.
This is actually rather remarkable for a team that never impressed anyone outside the marketing department. According to fWAR, the Angels were 18th in the league on offense, 19th in both pitching and fielding. The temptation is to call them more than the sum of their parts, but there's nothing to see here besides the few shiny pieces. Only two players did better than 2.5 WAR—Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun—and only four more earned at least 1.5 WAR: David Freese, Albert Pujols, Garrett Richards, and Andrew Heaney. This year the story you can see in the numbers is the same one you feel in your heart.
Of course, we've become so spoiled by Mike Trout that the only thing that would still surprise us would be something more than Mike Trout. Unfortunately, not being Mike Trout is the one thing Mike Trout is not very good at. That five-run comeback was pretty cool too. But then what? Six more years of Albert Pujols? The Jeff Weaver formerly known as Jered? I suppose Johnny Giavotella and Carlos Perez were not awful, which does point the season's one pleasant surprise. Although they didn't get to do it much, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano both pitched like they already owned the place. Jerry DiPoto may yet leave his left-handed legacy on the Angels' rotation, especially with Tyler Skaggs still waiting for another shot.
Yeah…about that. Where the team really succeeded was in making the season about the game on the field, in spite of every effort from the front office to make it all about them. Even before it started, MorenoCorp had already horrified us with the Hamilton Affair. Then Jerry DiPoto quit, because by all accounts, Mike Scioscia is a petty tyrant. To anyone still in doubt about it, July 1 made it abundantly clear. The Angels are not a middling franchise because they have bad players and bad contracts; they are all of those things because they have bad owners.
Wealth is not a democracy, and getting angry with a billionaire is like shouting at a mountain. You can't tell a trillion-ton pile of rocks and dirt to get the hell out of the way. Perhaps the mountain still has feelings though, and if so, then Arte Moreno should be embarrassed by his monument to incompetence. This year he pissed on the league, pissed on the players, pissed on the fans, and cried to half a dozen municipalities about how the City of Anaheim wouldn't buy him a toilet. Supposedly this billboard billionaire earned his fortune swinging sweetheart deals with glad-handing public officials, so the mounting fiasco and estrangement certainly questions his genius.
From now on, it will be hard not to laugh or cringe whenever MorenoCorp's founder and CEO shows up in his red polo, the kind of ersatz everyday-look that says, "we put the F-U-N in private equity fund." Although I can't change teams, I don't owe my loyalty to him either. Remember: the guy really wanted the Diamondbacks.
Thus the universe continues. Stars live and stars die, but the dollar abides, and the most we can ask is that it occasionally buy us some distraction from its existence. This year was not such a bad exchange; it was more than I thought I had paid for. The future, as always, is murky at best. Maybe Billy Eppler signals a clean break with the past, or maybe not. Maybe Mike Scioscia has finally burned his organizational heat-shield, or maybe not. Those are questions for someone above my paygrade. I'll just be watching either way.