Entering the season, it was more than evident the outcome of this 2017 squad would hinge upon the health of the starting rotation, more so than ever before. Despite escaping Spring Training relatively unscathed, one by one the dominoes started to fall, the story reading all too familiar.
First Huston Street with a lat issue, then Luis Valbuena with the hamstring. On the third game of the season, Garrett Richards and his well-documented stem-cell operated elbow was A-OK, but something was off in the biceps of his throwing hand and he was promptly removed in the fifth inning. Andrew Bailey, Cam Bedrosian, Mike Morin, Tyler Skaggs, MIKE TROUT, Albert Pujols, Yunel Escobar, C.J. Cron, and Alex Meyer all at one point joined him in the hellscape that has become the Angels’ disabled list. Oh yeah, and did I mention that’s on top of last year’s holdovers Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano?
After Richards and Skaggs went down, there was more than just reason to write the season off and enjoy the nightly enthrallment of Trout with zero expectations. It turns out there no longer is that reason, at least to that extent. Consider the following:
1) J.C. Ramirez, a previously mediocre career middle reliever claimed off the worst bullpen in baseball (the Reds), has taken well to the starting experiment and has easily been the Angels’ best starting pitcher. He has a 3.38 ERA and a 3.92 FIP in 61.1 innings.
2) In the absence of Bedrosian, Bailey, and Street, an unlikely quartet emerged as a necessary strength: Blake Parker, Bud Norris, David Hernandez, and Yusmeiro Petit have ERAs of 2.82, 2.92, 2.35, and 3, respectively. Blake Parker leads the team in pitching WAR by Fangraphs’ calculations, and of the seven highest Angels pitching fWAR totals, four of them are of this quartet. The other three consist of the aforementioned JC Ramirez, Bedrosian, and Skaggs.
3) Catcher Martin Maldonado is tied for the most defensive runs saved (7) of all AL catchers, and is fourth in that category league-wide. He has also held his own with the bat, slashing .265/.331/.379.
4) Andrelton Simmons is doing Simba things, picking up where he left off with the bat last season. Cameron Maybin is also doing the same after a slow start. The two have a .341 and .369 OBP, respectively. Yes please!
5) Also, that Trout guy is pretty good. At this point, he’s just toying with the opposing pitcher’s emotions.
In terms of performance though, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. Several Angels players have made it their mission to play the world’s smallest violin.
1) When Kole Calhoun is going good, he gets on base and provides the team with a table-setting option. His at-bats are now difficult to watch, as he is striking out more, hitting for less power, and not getting on base. His past body of work indicates he should improve and provide another bat to deepen the lineup as was expected.
2) Danny Espinosa, Luis Valbuena, C.J. Cron, Jefry Marte, Ben Revere. ‘Nuff said. I’m willing to give Pujols a pass due to the injuries, but he too hasn’t been as good as he was last year. They all should improve, but then again, that’s what we’ve been saying for a month now (aside from Valbuena, since he was injured).
3) For the most part, the pitching has been solid. Guerra and Alvarez have not, gifting far too many dingers to opposing hitters.
And after all that, this team is treading water at .500. They have played uninspired baseball when they lose, their defense hasn’t been nearly as good as advertised, and they are on pace to break a club record in HRs given up. The season should be over, preparing to find out who to keep and who to sell off just like last year. And yet, here they are at 26-26.
Cam Bedrosian and Huston Street should return soon. The starting situation is not ideal, but both Doug Fister and Tyler Skaggs should be ready to start within 4-6 weeks. It is difficult to be encouraged on the Garrett Richards front, but he is due back in August. On the contrary, Andrew Heaney is optimistic he can return for the later part of the schedule. Escobar will be back soon and the trio of Valbuena/Kole/Pujols should improve to around last year’s norms, surrounding Trout with a deeper, more competent lineup.
This is a .500 team now. With reinforcements and the trademark Scioscia second-half push, they should end the year better than that.