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Look up, the standings are friendly

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It’s a long journey ahead, but it’s not treacherous.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Angels
Kinsler’s resurgence, among others, will play a role in the Angels’ playoff chances this year.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A group of talking heads sit around a table. Voices can be heard rising above the chaos, the words becoming clear, one by one.

“The Yankees!”

“The Astros!”

“The Red Sox!”

“The Indians!”

“The Mariners!”

Then they repeat. On and on, the names circling one another, almost as if they are part of some inner cult that cannot be entered.

Of course, to some, these are the five American League teams which will make it to postseason baseball. And to those pundits, the standings show clear separation from the “top” of the league and the nonexistent middle-dwellers, the ones who aren’t really good but who you can count on to beat the Hector Santiagos of the world. Nowadays, the Los Angeles Angels, probably the poster child for the middle-dwellers, sit at 6 games back of the Mariners entering Friday. To catch them means only taking 2 games a month, in July, August, and September, and considering the two teams do battle thirteen more times this season, that’s easily doable.

Now, this isn’t intended to be one of those articles you read and gain some profound insight about baseball, the ones that my esteemed colleagues write every single day. Nor is it attempting to share uncommon knowledge newly released to the world. It’s simply supposed to instigate a discussion and allow you, as an individual reader, to look inward and question why you’re truly watching baseball. To root for wins in 2019 and 2020 maybe feel good at the surface, letting you punish yourself for this misery that has been 2018, 2017, 2016, and perhaps even 2015, but...we’re not even out of the race yet. So why not just wish for wins?

Look, it’s a winding road up the hill so the Angels don’t get bashed with article after article telling us that we’re wasting Mike Trout. And there are flaws: starting pitching in injury shambles, bullpen picked out of a hat, countless hitters not producing.

Yet there’s something comforting, perhaps maddeningly so, but still comforting, in the way this Angels team is playing. It’s familiar. It’s the stars and no help, like when Arte Moreno promised Jered Weaver and Dan Haren he would get hitting in 2011. It’s the inconsistency. And it’s the feeling that if all cylinders were to fire, just at the right time, this team would be among the best.

Everyone Else (but the Mariners)

It may seem a bit, well, narrow-minded to think we can hone in on the Mariners, laugh at them, pray that they’ll fall down to Earth (when we know they really are going to), and know that it’s all going to be okay...when there are nine other teams in the American League that are not included in the “Cult 5” and the Angels. But looking up and down the potential contenders, only seven American League teams are above .500, and Oakland is the only other non-Angels team in single-digit game striking distance of the wild card, and they’re so confident about their season’s outcome that they’ve started playing Jed Lowrie at third base to increase his attractiveness to suitors. In short, there are six teams gunning for the playoffs, and five will make it.

The Angels

By now, you know that we have the greatest manager of all time at the helm. Mike Scioscia. The steady, guiding hand need to bring us back to the promised land.

But actually, by know you know that we have a player who could be having the greatest season of all time. A quick glance at Baseball Reference shows the rest of the team doing rather abysmally, but there are many bright spots. Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton are having very solid offensive seasons. In perhaps a timeshare in right field, Chris Young has compiled a .954 OPS over the past 14 days, and Kole Calhoun has homered in two straight after revamping his swing to prevent him from opening up too soon. Ian Kinsler, much maligned leadoff hitter, has stopped popping out so dang much, is seeing some of his hard-hit contact actually fall for hits, and has a .928 OPS in the last month. Jose Miguel Fernandez looks to be a solid hitter, and we can only hope Luis Valbuena will become phased out by the presence of David Fletcher.

On the pitching side, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Jaime Barria have put together some solid starts in June, just leaving that hope that trifecta can put together consistent quality starts and shorten the bullpen.

There simply aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to describe the level of ineptitude of nor the feelings inspired by the Angels bullpen in 2018. Arms dying by the wayside. Relievers nibbling until they walk guys. With no options, they serve meatballs to hitters who crush them out of the park.

There’s simply no solution to the horrific problem. The Angels aren’t trading for Brad Hand. Other arms are inconsistent enough that they aren’t worth dealing valuable prospects. The solution is simple and easy:

  1. Starters go longer.
  2. Reinforcements arrive from AAA.

It’s that basic. By limiting the innings the bullpen needs to throw to 2-3 innings a game, Scioscia can simply rotate Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez, Noe Ramirez, and Justin Anderson. Trustworthy ones, ones who would normally be in a major league pen, although perhaps not in such high-leverage situations. The Akeel Morrises of the world can and should only pitch mop-up.

Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez, erstwhile studs in the minors, can come up and dominate. There are projections for these kinds of things, too.

It’s that simple. It’s that easy. And it’s going to happen.

The Mariners

They’re ready for a roll in the mud. Over there at Lookout Landing, they want a fight. And while I can wax poetic about how “it’s not a real rivalry until they prove they’re worthy” or some other false statements, the truth is that the Mariners have demonstrated they’re ready to grease up the elbows. Dig deeper, and you find that their house of wins stands on some faulty foundation.

A quick bit of research reveals that the Mariners do have their flaws. 23-11 in one-run games, with a Pythagorean record of...oh look, 40-35, our record! Most of their regulars are OPS’ing over .750, even the unexpected ones (Denard Span, Ryon Healy?!?). Three starters have a H/9 over 9.0 at Safeco, of all places, and of the two that aren’t, the non-Paxton one is 33-year-old “wunderkind” Wade LeBlanc, whose amazing numbers are almost certainly not sustainable. Edwin Diaz is a one-man wrecking crew in the bullpen, but the other names are not of the household variety, and they can be beaten.

They’re good, alright? Probably better than we are, top-to-bottom. But they’re not worldbeaters, and there’s a lot of room for margin-for-error.

The Magic

Also known as the baseball gods, they tend to dictate that outcomes of Major League Baseball are beautiful yet cruel at the same time. There’s beauty in GULF. Or the Mariners winning 116 games and then not making the playoffs for another eternity. And there’s incredible beauty in the greatest player having the greatest season, also known to mortals as Mike Trout, going toe-to-toe in a one-game, winner-take-all setting, and ultimately just crushing that ace pitcher to bits.

So don’t fret, Angel fans. The opportunity is there, the tools are there, and the path is wide open.

Because we’re fans, we’re watching baseball, and we might as well root for the good guys. There’s beauty in that. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the Show.

Poll

Are the Angels making the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Yes
    (232 votes)
  • 37%
    No
    (139 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now