Recent moves by GM Billy Eppler have turned the Angels infield into a solid lineup of established power and defense to go along with their star-studded outfield. Combine that with their low-offense but quality defense behind the plate, and the Angels can now put on the field a lineup worthy of post season success. But then, seemingly as always, what about on the mound? Talent on the starting staff abounds, but the pervasive question remains, just who is healthy enough to actually take the ball, walk to the mound, and pitch?
On paper, a starting staff chosen from among Garett Richards, Parker Bridwell, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, J.C. Ramirez, Tyler Skaggs, Alex Meyer, Nick Tropeano, and the new kid on the US block, Shohei Ohtani, would be solid and even frightening to others.
But, the reality is always the health issue, and as it stands now, there will be no JC Ramirez in 2018, there will be no Alex Meyer in 2018, and their may or may not be, at some time during 2018, Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano. And, with post-signing reports of that strained ulnar collateral ligament, who knows if there will or will not be a Shohei Ohtani on the mound in 2018?
Normally, one would think that they could start the season with Richards, Bridwell, Skaggs and Heaney in an off-day filled April rotation. But looking at the 2018 schedule before any rainouts, the schedule is not kind to the Angels, with only one single off day over the first two weeks of the season, and with only three for the entire month. So, a fifth starter will be needed from day one, and while that may or may not be Ontani, it may have to come from one of the still untested reurning wounded, or from somewhere else. Heaven forbid if the team feels the need to re-sign either Nicky Nolasco (6-15, 4.92) or Jesse Chavez (7-11, 5.35).
Looking to the bullpen, there are, naturally, similar question marks, beginning with the question that permeated the 2017 season, just who is the closer? Huston Street is gone, so he is no longer lurking in the background as was the case all last year, and by default it could again be Cam Bedrosian who started last season red hot but who then, following returns from a couple of nagging injuries, was spectacularly awful, as was the also now departed Bud Norris, who after a brilliant start in the new to him closer role became a one-man arson squad. By the end of the season, virtually the only dependable relief pitcher the team had was Blake Parker, and it would seem that he should at least start the season as the closer with the hope that his 2.54 ERA and 0.83 WHIP were no flukes. Still as good as those numbers were, he was only successful in eight of 11 save opportunities last season, and that is a below par percentage. Also working against him is the fact that he is a 32-year-old journeyman who recorded exactly three save over parts of four previous major league seasons.
Should Parker not be up to the task, there are two alternatives currently on the roster. First is fireballer Keynan Middleton, whose intriguing heat is a major asset, but whose rookies 2017 season was inconsistent to say the least. At times, he appeared unhitable, but again, his save to blown save percentage, though a small sample, was awful, saving only three out of five opportunities. And then there is veteran Jim Johnson, acquired from the Braves during the off season. Johnson has had some major success as a closer in the past,
recording 50 and 51 saves in back-to-back seasons for Baltimore back in 2012 and 2013, but since he has generally been beyond awful. Remember his 2015 stint with the Dodgers? You know, when he appeared in 23 games, pitching only 18-2/3 innings while allowing 32 hits, 21 earned runs for a 10.13 ERA and 2.04 WHIP and blowing four of five save opportunities. Yea, THAT Jim Johnson. After leaving the Dodgers for the Braves, he performed reasonably well in 2016 with a 2.06 ERA and 20 saves in 23 chances, but last year was another disaster for him, with nine blown saves in 31 chances and a 5.56 ERA.
With an infield now including Zack Cozart at third, Ian Kinsler at second, and a return for most games of Albert Pujols to first base, to go along with the all-around great play of Andrelton Simmons at short, and with an everyday solid lineup of Justin Upton, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun from left to right in the outfield, and with the tremendous defense of Martin Maldonado behind the place, the Angels’ everyday lineup, on paper, is dynamic in just about every aspect of the game. But the 2018 tale will be told through the Angels’ pitching staff.