After a bitterly disappointing 2016 season featuring injury after injury to one pitcher after another and a fourth-place finish 14 games under .500 despite a potent offense and sparkling defense, it unfortunately looks like 2017 may well end with a similar finish for the LA Angels,
And that likelihood is due, again, to the status of the team’s pitching staff. Last season, they lost the now retired C.J. Wilson with a shoulder ailment, and three starters went down with torn elbow ligaments, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano. Heaney and Tropeano each underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2017 season. Richards, whose tear was less severe, underwent stem cell therapy and has made a seemingly miraculous recovery, which could result in less surgery and more conservative
treatment for many injured pitchers in the coming years. Richards had a solid spring, and if he can stay healthy, should resume his prior status at the top of the Angels’ rotation.
Joining Richards in the rotation are the inconsistent Matt Shoemaker and still top prospect Tyler Skaggs, who made his return from elbow surgery in the second half of 2016. Those three should form the basis of a decent rotation, were it not for the fact that that is basically all the team has, period. Filling out the rotation as the season starts are two journeymen retreads who have never seen much success as major league starters, Jesse Chavez, and opening day starter Ricky Nolasco.
The 34-year-old Nolasco compiled some nice won-lost records a decade ago with Miami, going 15-8, 13-9 and 14-9 from 2008 through 2010, but those numbers are deceiving. Over that three-year period, Nolasco’ ERA was 4.80. Since then, his record has been 66-77,including last season’s 8-14 mark, splitting time between the Twins and the Angels. Chavez, 33, has split time over his nine year career starting and relieving, and he has a 26-40 won-lost record, 4.54 ERA and 1.38 WHIP to show for it. He pitched only in relief last year, toiling for both the Blue Jays and Dodgers, and last started in 2015 while in Oakland, going 7-15. He has never had a season with a won-lost received over .500.
There are a couple of new additions to the bullpen for 2017, but the Angels will start the season without closer Huston Street, who starts the season on the DL, but who is expected back before the end of April. Given Street’s poor 2016, fill-in closer Cam Bedrosian, who had a spectacular spring, might well keep the job after Street’s return. The erratic pen has some new additions, with veterans Yusmeiro Petit and former starter Bud Norris, plus 31-year-old Blake Parker, who has pitched 90 major league innings over the past five seasons, joining unspectacular holdovers Jose Alvarez, Andrew Bailey and J.C. Ramirez.
All-in-all, the Angels’ staff scares no one, and if the team is to improve upon last year’s fourth place finish, that is where the improvement has to come from.
As far as the everyday lineup is concerned, the Angels go into the season with one real
question mark, left field. I’ve written over and over about the giant abyss that has been left field for this team, and how attempt after attempt to go cheap in finding a solution has backfired, including what was done this past off season in obtaining Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere to man the spot. Revere had an excellent spring, not so for Maybin, and I will reiterate that they have the guy who Mike Sciascia should stick in the lineup in left and just leave him there, Jefry Marte. The 25-year-old Marte who has played primarily first base and third base, played in left in 27 games last season, and is, if not great, certainly competent, and he can hit, and hit with power. At least platoon him with the lefty hitting Revere, and leave Maybin on the bench.
Nothing need be said about baseball’s greatest player, Mike Trout, in center field, and the solid Kole Calhoun in right.
The Angels’ infield is also solid offensively and defensively, with Yunel Escobar returning after a great first year in Anaheim over which he hit .304, the spectacular Andrelton Simmons, one of the game’s finest defensively who had the highest batting average of his career since becoming a regular in 2013 and with veteran newcomer and Orange County native Danny Espinosa taking over at second and bringing low expectations as to BA but excellent power for a middle infielder. At first base is righty-hitting C.J. Cron, who will be there everyday, at least to start the season. Despite having his best season last year, the plan apparently was a semi-platoon with Cron and newly acquired veteran lefty hitting first baseman-third baseman Luis Valbuena, who also figured to spell Escobar at third. However, a strained hamstring has landed Valbuena on the DL for the first few weeks of the season, so until then, the job is Cron’s, period. Calhoun and the switch-hitting Escobar
are the only lefties in the regular lineup and that additional power that Valbuena could bring against right handed pitching will be sorely needed.
Behind the place, another veteran newcomer, Martin Maldonado, will be the starter, unless Carlos Perez can really bounce back to his 2015 form, following his disappointing 2016. Maldonado is not much of a hitter either, and I’d just as soon see the much younger Perez get the playing time and see how well he can develop.
As far as Albert Pujols and the DH spot is concerned, coming off off-season surgery, Albert is feeling the best he has in years, and killed the ball in his limited spring appearances (3 HR, 14 RBI, .356 BA, 1.053 OPS in only 45 at bats). Even with his foot problems last season, he hit 31 homers and drove in 119, while bating .268. If he can improve on those numbers, maybe there will be hope for the team in 2017.
With two great teams in the AL West, Houston and Texas, and with what may well be a vastly improved Mariners team in Seattle, the Angels will be hard pressed to move up anytime soon, at least until the likes of Heaney and Tropeano return, and the rest of the pitching staff develops a semblance of health and consistency. Likely finish, fourth place, again.