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Angels 2021 Postseason rooting guide and preview

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The Angels missed the postseason (again), but baseball goes on. The 2021 playoffs should be entertaining, regardless, and feature several key things to watch for.

Nationals Park Media Tour Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Although the Angels had a disappointing 2021 campaign, postseason baseball is still an exciting time for fans everywhere. This year’s playoffs is chock-full of World Series contenders, former Angels, future Hall-of-Famers and plenty of rich storylines.

In this preview, we’ll go over matchups, players to watch, how teams tie back to the Angels and our overall playoff thoughts.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Wild Card Play-In Game: Wednesday Oct. 6 at 5:10 p.m. at Dodger Stadium

St. Louis Cardinals

How they got here: The most unlikely team to make the playoffs, the Cardinals caught fire late in the season to throw themselves into the Wild Card conversation. Winners of a franchise record 17 straight games, St. Louis made the most of their September schedule and jumped Cincinnati and San Diego to clinch a postseason berth on Sept. 28. Expectations are always lofty for the 11-time World Series champions but for awhile it seemed that the Cardinals were going to come up short. The team dealt with injuries, had rough stretches, including a 14-22 record from June to the All-Star Break, and, at one point, were almost a statistical certainty to miss the postseason. Nevertheless, the Cardinals found their winning ways and are entering the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in baseball.

Player to watch: St. Louis’ big acquisition last offseason was third baseman Nolan Arenado in a trade with the Colorado Rockies. He had a nice season, hitting .255 with 34 HRs and 105 RBIs and is entering postseason play still green (only 21 at-bats with a .190 BA and 1 HR). It’s wild to think that the Cardinals also have someone who can match Arenado’s production in Paul Goldschmidt. The 34-year-old first baseman is in his third season with the Cards and had a great regular season. He hit .294 with 31 HRs, 99 RBIs, stole 12 bases and had a .879 OPS. He’s also delivered in the postseason, hitting .280 with 8 HRs for 16 RBIs and a .971 OPS in 82 at-bats. Calling a guy a “machine” in St. Louis is likely frowned upon these days, but Goldschmidt is as close as you can get to automatic.

Former Angel: Luis García

Reason to root for them: This is the first obstacle between you and hearing your coworkers, friends and family members who are Dodgers fans brag for another year about how great their team is and how yours isn’t. The Cardinals fit the mold of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. If they pull off the win, you don’t have to be alone in your misery.

Reason not to root for them: No NL team has had more success than the Cardinals and their 11 championships. St. Louis is a Goliath in its own right and if rooting against dynasties is your thing, it would probably leave a bad taste in your mouth to openly root for a team that has a previous record of dominance.

Los Angeles Dodgers

How they got here: Having the most talented roster in all of baseball is a good start. It’s really hard to find weaknesses in this franchise from top to bottom. They persevered through injuries with a next-man-up mentality, all while boasting multiple Cy Young candidates. The already deep club got deeper at the trade deadline by acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals. The Dodgers are throwing out a lineup that includes Mookie Betts, Turner, Corey Seager, a reinvigorated AJ Pollock and have a bench that would start for several other teams. So yeah, they’re going to win a lot of games as exemplified by the 106 wins they earned this season. The Dodgers have deep pockets and a deep farm system. The combination of the two have resulted in, usually, NL West dominance. Unfortunately for L.A., San Francisco was just slightly better and thus, they are stuck in the play-in game.

Player to watch: Purposefully withheld from the list of stars and great ballplayers mentioned above, Justin Turner is a guy who always falls under the radar just because of the names he’s surrounded by. A Long Beach native and College World Series winner at Cal State Fullerton, Turner is beloved by the L.A. fanbase and for good reason. He has a knack for finding himself in high pressure moments and delivers often. In 268 postseason at-bats, Turner is hitting .295 with 12 HRs, 41 RBIs and .899 a OPS. Turner may not be the most flashy player on the Dodgers, but he’s incredibly vital to their success.

Former Angel: Albert Pujols

Reason to root for them: Maybe you don’t take rivalries seriously. Maybe the Dodgers are your NL team. Maybe your mom is a die-hard Dodgers fan and you just want to see her happy. Maybe Albert Pujols signed your kid’s baseball once or you just want to see him succeed. The Dodgers are a respectable franchise with likeable players, so it is easy to root for them in theory. However, the ugliness that does rear its head between the Angels and Dodgers makes liking both teams difficult. If you can get past that, you’re better than most.

Reason to root against them: They’re the Dodgers and their “tío” Albert trends on your timeline every day because he’s visibly having more fun in Dodger Blue. Apparently the Angels are paying for him to get hits and be everyone’s best friend for LAD, in case a Dodger fan has yet to rub that in your face yet. If you want a quiet offseason where the memory of Albert Pujols can hopefully fade away, don’t root for L.A. If you want your neighbors, coworkers and friends that put you down for rooting for the other L.A. team (yes, we know. The Angels play in Anaheim. We don’t like being called “LA” either. Stop talking about it every five seconds) to leave you alone for a few months, you’ll root for whoever is playing the Dodgers. You’re probably all-too-familiar with this kind of thinking, so we don’t have to preach to you.

San Francisco Giants vs. NL Wild Card Winner

Game 1: Friday Oct. 8 at 6:37 p.m. at Oracle Park

Game 2: Saturday Oct. 9 at 6:07 p.m. at Oracle Park

Game 3: Monday Oct. 11 at Wild Card winner TBD

Game 4: Tuesday Oct. 12 if necessary at Wild Card winner TBD

Game 5: Thursday Oct. 14 if necessary at Oracle Park TBD

San Francisco Giants

How they got here: It’s safe to say the Giants are ahead of schedule. While the Cardinals are the most surprising team in the playoffs, nobody expected San Francisco to be this good before the season started. Slated to finish behind San Diego and Los Angeles, the Giants ended the Dodger’s eight-year division dominance by winning 107 games, the most in a single season in their 138-year history. Projected to win 75 games by PECOTA projections, the Giants shattered their given ceiling and claimed the best record in baseball, giving them home-field advantage for the entire postseason. San Francisco has a nice well of depth, platoons effectively, is reliable on the mound and hits bombs at the plate. The Giants ended the regular season finishing second in MLB in team ERA (3.24) and WHIP (1.15), first in the NL in home runs hit (241) and first in the NL in OPS (.769). It didn’t take long to realize this team was for real and that they would be major players in October.

Player to watch: In an unbiased article, the correct answer is probably Brandon Crawford. One of the most underrated players in baseball, Crawford leads the Giants in batting average (.298), RBIs (90), runs scored (79), OBP (.373), SLG (.522), OPS (.895), hits (144), doubles (30), and walks (tied with Buster Posey at 56). However, since we cover the Angels here, we’re going to have to lean towards upcoming free agent pitcher and potential Angels target Kevin Gausman. The 30-year-old RHP went 14-6 during the regular season with a 2.81 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 192 innings pitched. If we’re looking at performances that impact the Angels and Angels fans, Gausman is the guy to scout for the Giants this postseason.

Former Angels: José Álvarez, Tyler Chatwood, Scott Kazmir, Tommy La Stella, Tony Watson, José Quintana (DFA’d before the season ended)

Reason to root for them: The Giants were defeated by the Angels in the 2002 World Series, so there only warm memories to be had this century. As an added bonus, the Dodgers and Giants fanbases have a strong dislike for one another so this is another case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. San Francisco has a likeable roster with guys like Buster Posey, Kris Bryant and Tommy La Stella, so rooting for them wouldn’t feel that dirty. Also, if they win, quite a few former Angels would get World Series rings, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Reason to root against them: They’re sort of a state rival, although that’s hardly a strong enough argument when the A’s and Dodgers are far and away bigger rivals. The Giants did have a dynasty not too long ago, so them winning could be considered more of the same. Maybe you haven’t forgiven Scott Kazmir for his disastrous tenure with the Angels and don’t want him to sniff a World Series ring. (He’s on the 10-day IL with a hamstring injury and may never pitch in the Majors again, fwiw)

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Atlanta Braves

Game 1: Friday Oct. 8 at 1:37 p.m. PDT at American Family Field

Game 2: Saturday Oct. 9 at 2:07 p.m. PDT at American Family Field

Game 3: Monday Oct. 11 TBD at Truist Park

Game 4: Tuesday Oct. 12 if necessary at Truist Park TBD

Game 5: Thursday Oct. 14 if necessary at American Family Field TBD

Milwaukee Brewers

How they got here: The Brewers cruised their way to the NL Central crown this year, and they did so mainly on the backs of their incredible pitching staff. They feature what is perhaps the best rotation in all of baseball, and on top of that, they have one of the best bullpens in the game led by certified relief ace Josh Hader. Their lineup isn’t the most fearsome group out there, but they play very good defense to compensate for that, and guys like Avisail Garcia and midseason acquisition Willy Adames have quietly had very impressive seasons at the plate.

Player to watch: The player to watch for the Brewers is not one individual player, but rather the three-headed monster of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta that forms the top of their rotation. Each one of them ranks in the top 10 in ERA in the league among pitchers with at least 140 innings pitched (Burnes is first, Woodruff fourth, Peralta seventh), and they all rack up strikeouts with the best of them on top of that. People like to say that pitching wins championships, and if that is truly the case, the Brewers could do a lot worse than these guys in their hunt for their first ever World Series title.

Former Angels: Hunter Strickland

Reason to root for them: The Angels haven’t had a good pitching staff in a very long time, so if you desire a change of pace in that regard and want to support a team that can pitch with the very best of them, the Brewers are probably your best bet. You can make an argument that they have the best group of arms left standing, a far cry from the bottom of the barrel staffs that we have gotten accustomed to over the years.

Reason to root against them: On the other hand, if you like the more high-scoring style that the Angels have brought to the table recently, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere. Milwaukee ranked in the bottom half in the league in runs scored, home runs and slugging percentage, and low-scoring games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Atlanta Braves

How they got here: The Braves won the NL East for the fourth straight season in 2021, but their road to doing it was a lot more turbulent this time around. For starters, the injury bug hit them very hard this year, with their best player in Ronald Acuna Jr. going down with a torn ACL in June and one of their best pitchers in Mike Soroka re-tearing his Achilles before he even returned from his initial injury. Combine that with the domestic violence leave that slugger Marcell Ozuna has been on for most of the year, and you had a team that sputtered greatly during the middle portion of the season. Their playoff odds fell as low as 7.7 percent on July 28, but they went for it at the deadline anyway, acquiring Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Richard Rodriguez in hopes of salvaging their season. These moves proved to be strokes of genius, as a rejuvenated lineup became the catalyst to what was a 36-19 stretch to end the year. They got hot at exactly the right time, and now they’ll try to carry it over into their upcoming series against the Brewers.

Player to watch: When you think of the Braves lineup, Austin Riley probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind, but their young third baseman has probably been their best hitter for most of this season. Riley showed flashes in both 2019 and 2020, but 2021 was finally the year that he broke out, as he posted an outstanding .303/.367/.531 slashline with a team-high 33 home runs in 160 games. He was a stabilizing force for a group that was in a state of turmoil for a good portion of the year, and with a good performance this month, he might be able to put his name solidly on the national map.

Former Angels: Jesse Chavez, Joc Pederson*

Reason to root for them: The Braves showed a lot of resiliency throughout adversity this year, and stories like that are easy to support. They could’ve punted on this season after finding themselves with a losing record at the trade deadline, but they chose to believe in the group that they had, and that in itself is very commendable.

Reason to root against them: Like the Braves, the Angels struggled with injuries all year as well, so you might want to find a team that doesn’t bring to mind the painful memories of the 2021 season. None of that is Atlanta’s fault, of course, but seeing a team persevere despite the injury bug might lead to some sour grapes.

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

Wild Card Play-In-Game: Tuesday Oct. 5 (today) at 5:08 p.m. PDT at Fenway Park

Boston Red Sox

How they got here: A lot of people weren’t high on the Red Sox’ postseason chances this year after their very underwhelming 2020 season, but they managed to defy the odds and punch their ticket to the dance as the first AL Wild card team on the last day of the season. Their success came largely on the back of their very dangerous lineup, with the fearsome trio of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez leading a unit that finished top five in runs scored, batting average, OPS, and a host of other stats. Boston’s pitching was a pleasant surprise as well, as a group that was supposed to be their Achilles’ heel this year actually managed to hold their own for most of the season.

Player to watch: For much of 2021, the Boston’s offense has gone as Rafael Devers has gone. After a good but not great showing last season, Devers has came back with a vengeance this year, mashing a team-high 38 home runs while posting an excellent .279/.352/.538 slashline and playing all but six of the team’s games. He’s been the guy that the Red Sox lineup has centered around all year, and with an equally strong playoff showing, he has the chance to firmly establish himself as one of the game’s best hitters at the ripe young age of 24.

Former Angels: Garrett Richards, Hansel Robles, José Iglesias

Reason to root for them: The Red Sox are tied for the highest amount of former Angels on their team (active roster), so if you want to support a team with a lot of old Halos on it that isn’t the Astros, they’re your pick.

Reason to root against them: This one should be obvious. Boston was responsible for a lot of playoff heartbreak for Angels fans back in the mid-2000s, and those wounds don’t heal very easily.

New York Yankees

How they got here: Many people tabbed the Yankees as World Series contenders before the season started, and although they’ve perhaps had more ups and downs than the average team left in the race, they still managed to finish with a very strong 92-70 record and lock up the last AL Wild Card spot. Perhaps the best unit on the Yankees has been their bullpen, which ranks in the top 5 in the league in ERA, Wins Above Replacement, and strikeouts per nine innings. Their lineup, despite not quite being the world beaters that they were over the last few years, is also an intimidating group filled with guys such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton that you really do not want to pitch to in big spots.

Player to watch: Although it’s still been a Cy Young-caliber season for Gerrit Cole, the way that he’s gotten there has been quite the rollercoaster. For the first two months of the season, Cole looked better than he ever had, posting a sterling 1.78 ERA with 97 strikeouts across 11 starts in the months of April and May. Once June —the month that MLB famously started cracking down on foreign substance use for pitchers—rolled around, however, Cole’s performance started to dip, as his ERA over the next two months rose all the way up to 4.68. It looked like he was starting to round back into form in August and early September after those struggles, but a recent hamstring strain has left him less than 100 percent, and his numbers has gone back on the downswing as a result. The talent that Cole possesses is undeniable, but he’ll need to the dominant Gerrit Cole that we’re all used to once again if the Yankees want to make it past the Wild Card Game and beyond.

Former Angel: Andrew Heaney

Reason to root for them: I’m not even going to try to convince you with this one.

Reason to root against them: Yeah

Tampa Bay Rays vs. AL Wild Card Winner

Game 1: Thursday Oct. 7 at 5:07 p.m. PDT at Tropicana Field

Game 2: Friday Oct. 8 at 4:02 p.m. PDT at Tropicana Field

Game 3: Sunday Oct. 10 at 1:07 p.m. PDT at Wild Card winner

Game 4: Monday Oct. 11 if necessary at Wild Card winner TBD

Game 5: Wednesday Oct. 13 if necessary at Tropicana Field TBD

Tampa Bay Rays

How they got here: Every year it seems like people sleep on the Rays thanks to their status as a small market team, but here they are at the top of the American League come October once again. Their unorthodox methods to team building last offseason worked wonders this offseason, as they ranked near the top of the league in nearly every facet of the game this year. Offense? They scored the second most runs in all of baseball while ranking within the top 10 in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Pitching? They had the lowest team ERA in the AL even despite losing their ace Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John surgery in mid-June. Defense? They ranked fourth in the majors in defensive runs saved and had four players in the top 50 of Statcast’s Outs Above Average. The Rays are the definition of a well-oiled machine, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them make a run to the World Series for a second straight year.

Player to watch: It’s always interesting to see how young players react to their first ever postseason, and the Rays feature perhaps one of the brightest young talents in the league in rookie sensation Wander Franco. Franco had been a mainstay at the top of prospect lists for a while heading into the 2021 season, and he finally made his long-awaited MLB debut back in late June, hitting a home run in just his third career at-bat. It took him a bit to adjust to the big leagues, but over the last few months, he started to figure things out an an increasingly rapid rate. Franco ended up finishing the year with a very solid .288/.347/.463 slash line, and he even tied a major-league record for the longest on-base streak for a player 20 years old or younger when he reached base in a whopping 43 games in a row. He’s started to really blossom lately, and this October could prove to be his official coming out party.

Former Angel: Ji-Man Choi

Reason to root for them: Tampa Bay is perhaps the perfect mix of David and Goliath left in the field right now. They’re David in the sense that they continue to succeed despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league and playing in the brutal AL East, but Goliath in the sense that they are still have the third-best odds to win the entire thing. If you want the best of both worlds, you’ll want to hop on the Rays’ bandwagon.

Reason to root against them: If you like name-brand talent on the team you root for, the Rays are not for you. Their most famous player is probably Randy Arozarena by virtue of his historic playoff run last year, but once you get past him, the list of players you would recognize out on the street might start to get a little small. Also, the Rays beat up on the Angels pretty badly this year, going 6-1 with a +25 run differential against them.

Chicago White Sox vs. Houston Astros

Game 1: Thursday Oct. 7 at 1:07 p.m. PDT at Minute Maid Park

Game 2: Friday Oct. 8 at 11:07 a.m. PDT at Minute Maid Park

Game 3: Sunday Oct. 10 at 5:07 p.m. PDT at Guaranteed Rate Field

Game 4: Monday Oct. 11 if necessary at Guaranteed Rate Field TBD

Game 5: Wednesday Oct. 13 if necessary at Minute Maid Park TBD

Chicago White Sox

How they got here: Chicago’s South Side team looked great for much of the season and come out as a legitimate World Series contender. It hasn’t been easy for the White Sox, as injuries have plagued them, especially at the bookends of the season, but they weathered the storm in light division and took care of business when it mattered most. Chicago is formidable on offense, coming in the top five in the AL in several key stats. They have good plate discipline, put traffic on the bases and have some scary hitters in the lineup. However, it’s their pitching that has really stood out. The White Sox are second in the AL in team ERA (3.73), WHIP (1.20) and BAA (.229). They also threw four complete game during the regular season, the most in the AL. A well-rounded team, Chicago finds many different ways to win.

Player to watch: Last year’s AL MVP has largely flown under the radar this year, but José Abreu is still a star player. He finished the 2021 season hitting .261 with 30 HRs, 117 RBIs and an OPS of .831. An RBI machine, Abreu will need to be at his very best if the White Sox are to get past the Astros. A runner-up player to watch is LHP Carlos Rodón. Rodón had an awesome year, going 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 132.2 innings pitched, but was limited towards the end of the season due to injury. The White Sox are going to limit him to one start this series, and undoubtedly the team’s destiny may hinge on that performance. Can he be as reliable as he was before the injury? How deep into a game can he go? Will he even be available? There are some interesting storylines to follow regarding Rodón.

Former Angels: Tony La Russa (executive), Brian Goodwin

Reason to root for them: Despite having past success, we understand what it’s like to live in the shadow of a team that shares the same city in its name. The White Sox and Angels typically have some parallels: misused budgets, talk of the town during the offseason where they often do the wrong thing, rotations and lineups can’t stay healthy. Ok, ok, that’s enough PTSD. In all seriousness though, if you take the Rays out of the equation, you’re left pulling for the Yankees, Red Sox, or Astros in the American League. That’s really all that has to be said.

Reason to root against them: 2005 still stings and A.J. Pierzynski is still a villain in Anaheim. Also, La Russa isn’t exactly the most likeable manager...

Houston Astros

How they got here: Playing the Angels—a team that couldn’t beat division rivals—certainly helped. The Astros had the most talented roster in the AL West and their record demonstrated that. They finished 95-67 and five games up on second-place Seattle. The Astros were really, really good on offense this season. They led MLB in team batting average (.267), RBIs (834), runs scored (863), OBP (.339) and total hits (1496). They don’t, and never did, need trash cans and buzzers to mash at the plate. On the mound, their pitchers dominated as well, leading the AL in BAA (.228). A team that always seems to turn it on when the playoffs roll around, Houston is surely a threat to win the World Series this year.

Player to watch: Surprisingly, we’re not going to go with Altuve, Bregman or Correa even though the latter may be a target of the Angels during the offseason. Angels-killer Kyle Tucker was named AL Player of the Month for September and sometimes it’s the lesser-known guys who end up becoming postseason heroes. Tucker was on fire to close out the regular season. In his last 104 at-bats, he hit eight home runs, collected 19 RBIs, walked 17 times, had a batting average of .346 and a .692 SLG. A .279 postseason hitter in 61 at-bats, Tucker will have the opportunity to become a nationally recognized player at only 24-years-old.

Former Angels: Jason Castro, Zack Greinke, Martín Maldonado

Reason to root for them: They’re facing the Dodgers in the World Series and you just can’t bring yourself to root for L.A. That’s pretty much it.

Reason to root against them: Bang, bang.