AL West preview: Angels ride healthy Trout up AL West stream
For more than years, Angel Stadium has been home to the best all around talent of this generation.
Since 2011, the Angels have done precious little, despite having the name Mike Trout penciled into the lineup 925 times, qualifying for the postseason once and never winning a single playoff game in that stretch. Just how good is Trout? His career 54.1 WAR (wins above replacement) is tops in the franchise’s 57-year history — he’s 26. Major League Baseball’s all-time career WAR leader is Babe Ruth, at 182.5.
Los Angeles (80-82 last season) got a glimpse of life after Trout when the two-time MVP missed nearly 50 with a torn ligament in his left thumb last season. The Angels finished under .500 for the second-consecutive season. Maybe that’s why they dug deep into the trade, free agent and, yes, international market this offseason, beefing up the talent pool around their big fish.
The name that jumps off the page, of course, is Ohtani.
Billed as the Japanese Babe Ruth, Ohtani, 23, comes to the major leagues having hit 22 home runs in his most recent full season (2016) with the Nippon Hamm Fighters in Japan’s Pacific League. He also won 10 games and struck out 174 batters in 140 innings earning a 1.86 ERA. Things have not gone quite as smoothly this spring.
In 32 at-bats, he has done little with the bat — .125/.222/.125 slash with zero homers and just one RBI — and even less on the mound, going 0-1 with a 27.00 ERA in two outings — allowing nine hits, including three homers, and eight earned runs in 2-2/3 innings.
Things could very well pan out in the long run for Los Angeles on its investment, but it appears returns will be slim this season.
Luckily for the Angels, and unluckily for their competition, Kinsler and Cozart bring a reputation for production in this league. Kinsler’s career .273/.342/.447 slash comes with a 162-game average of 23 bombs and 22 steals along with 111 runs and 81 RBIs means he will fit nicely in front of Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Cozart is a plus defender at shortstop, so his move to third makes the left side of the Angel infield — which includes perennial Gold Glove contender Andrelton Simmons at short — as solid as it comes. And his bat (.254/.305/.411 slash and 18 homers per 162) will fit nicely into the bottom of the lineup.
Los Angeles plans to go with a six-man rotation out of the gate, an excellent idea for a franchise that has suffered as much injury in the rotation as any other in recent memory.
Of the returning starters who made 10 or more starts for the Angels last season, only Parker Bridwell finished 2017 with an ERA below 4.15 (3.64) — Alex Meyer finished at 3.74 ERA but will begin the season on the 60-day disable list. Still, as a team, they finished No. 6 in the AL (4.38) in starter ERA. This means that the No. 1 priority for the Mike Scioscia and the LA coaching staff will be keeping Garrett Richards — 2.28 ERA but just six starts — healthy to guide Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramírez into the top five in AL staff ERAs.
An improved rotation and a mid-season bullpen addition or two, coupled with the healthy return of Trout may not make the Angels a World Series favorite. But it certainly makes them a postseason contender. The problem, as it is with the rest of the AL West, is that catching the Astros seems almost impossible right now, so it will be the Wild Card race for Trout and company.
Projected record: 89-73