The Angels open the 2020 season on Friday night, and despite a five-year postseason drought there are reasons for optimism in Anaheim.
One of those reasons is obvious. The best player in baseball, Mike Trout, plays for the Angels, and that remains exciting. He’s even favored to win American League MVP this year, which would be his fourth time winning that award.
On the first day of summer camp, Trout expressed concern about playing the season — with a pregnant wife at home and their first child due Aug. 3. But since then, manager Joe Maddon said most of his conversations with Trout have been baseball related rather than a concern over actually playing the season.
On Wednesday, Trout put any such fears to rest, saying, “I’m playing.”
Trout’s greatness on the field is a given, but even that hasn’t meant a winning season for the Angels since 2015. The hope in 2020 lies in the talent around Trout.
The new guy
Anthony Rendon right now is one of the top 10 players in baseball, and has been quietly one of the game’s best players for years. Rendon didn’t make an All-Star team until last season.
He was a highly-regarded draft pick for the Nationals, No. 6 overall in 2011, but was understandably overshadowed for years in Washington by the two No. 1 overall picks that went before him — Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
Best seasons by an Angels 3B
In Washington’s championship run last year, Rendon hit .328/.413/.590, including home runs in both Game 6 and Game 7 of the World Series.
Rendon also feels a big hole for the Angels, whose third basemen were at or near the bottom of the American League in 2019, hitting .243/.306/.345 with 13 home runs. The last four years, Rendon has averaged 26 home runs and 42 doubles, hitting .299/.384/.528. His last three seasons have been six Wins Above Replacement or better, and Rendon’s averaged 5.2 fWAR over the last six years.
In the history of the Angels, they’ve only had three 6+ WAR seasons by a third baseman in 59 years, and only five seasons with 4+ WAR. Rendon will add to that list several times over the course of his seven-year, $245 million contract.
As great as Mike Trout is, and as rock solid as Anthony Rendon will be in the middle of the lineup, there’s nobody in baseball quite like Shohei Ohtani.
For one, he’s the Angels’ third-best hitter. He’ll slot right in the middle of the Angels lineup with Trout and Rendon, a truly formidable heart of the order. Ohtani hit .286/.351/.532 with 40 home runs in 210 games in his first two seasons, a 135 OPS+. He’s the only Angel ever with two years of 120 OPS+ or higher in 100+ games in his first two seasons.
Ohtani also battled a knee injury in 2019 which affected him at the plate, but now is fully healthy.
“I think everybody — not just Angels fans — everybody in baseball wants to see him,” Trout said this week. “Obviously it’s not a full year this year, but a 60-game sprint for him being able to pitch and hit, it’s gonna be pretty awesome.”
Elbow pain cut short Ohtani’s rookie season on the mound, and Tommy John surgery took pitching out of his repertoire in 2019. But now, Ohtani is back on the mound, scheduled to be the Angels’ Sunday starter, with the rest of a six-man rotation working around that schedule.
In his 10 starts on the mound in 2018, Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51 innings, and led Angels starters in ERA, FIP (3.57), ERA+ (127), and strikeout rate (29.9 percent).
Ohtani’s return to the mound is obviously a huge plus for the rotation, as is Griffin Canning’s readiness. With Ohtani still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery during spring training, and Canning sidelined in March with elbow discomfort, both were expected to miss time at the start of the planned season.
But with things shortened to 60 games, and Opening Day delayed four months, those two are healthy and will log a larger percentage of the Angels’ total innings than previously planned, which will only help their chances of reaching the postseason.
Angels starting pitchers last season pitched the fewest innings and had the highest ERA (5.64) in the American League. This year, they added Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran to go with Ohtani, Canning, and opening day starter Andrew Heaney, a group that will likely also see innings from Matt Andriese and Patrick Sandoval as well.
“Our pitching is somewhat maligned, but I think it’s better than it’s been getting credit for,” Maddon said this week.
In the truncated schedule, the Angels are only playing American League West and National League West teams. That happens to include 10 games each against the Astros and A’s, and six games against their interleague Freeway Series rival Dodgers. Let’s take a look at the teams with the most wins in baseball the last two seasons:
Most wins in MLB, 2018-19
|Rank||Team||2018-19 wins||2020 games vs. Angels|
|Rank||Team||2018-19 wins||2020 games vs. Angels|
Seven of those 10 games against the A’s are on the road, though six of 10 against the Astros are in Anaheim.
Maddon is undaunted at playing 26 of his 60 games — nearly half the schedule — against three of the best teams in baseball.
“I’ve always said you have to beat the best to be the best. Opportunities like this benefit our young players,” he said this week. “I love that actually, that we’re playing better teams. I love the fact that our division is considered really good. And I love the idea that our schedule is considered tough. That’s how we’re going to get better, faster.”