The Los Angeles Angels roller coaster ride of a season ends in Texas with questions abounding for 2016.
By David Rice
The Los Angeles Angels gave it everything they had over the past month to climb back into the playoff race going 20-11 to finish at 85-77. Unfortunately for the Halos they finished one game short of qualifying for a one game playoff for the final wildcard spot. Along the way there were many peaks and valleys to the season and a handful of games that I’m sure the Angels would like to have back any one of which could have been the difference in the Angels making the playoffs this season. One of the most recent heartbreakers was last Wednesday’s 8-7 loss that saw the Angels give up seven unearned runs blowing a 5-3 lead by giving up five runs in the 7th and 8th innings. Still the Angels would rally to within 8-7 and had the tying run on third and the winning run on first as Colin Cowgill grounded out to end the game. Two weeks ago the Angels blew a 3-0 lead vs. Houston in the 9th inning after Huston Street was within one strike of closing the game out. Not to mention a 10-19 August which saw the Angels go from first place in the AL West to 7 games out of first and 4.5 games behind Houston in the wildcard race.
In the season’s final act the Angels battled Texas toe-to-toe winning two of the first three games in the series to remain one game behind Houston for the final wildcard spot. The Angels were down 3-2 through 6 innings, but the Angels bullpen blew up with six runs in the 7th inning that ended any hope of a comeback as the Angels fell 9-2. On Friday, the Angels staved off elimination by staging a 9th inning rally with Mike Trout leading off with a triple and then scoring on an Albert Pujols single and Joe Smith made it stand up with a perfect 9th inning. However, that was nothing compared to Saturday’s game which was definitely one for the ages. The Angels jumped out to a 5-1 lead heading to the bottom of the 5th inning, proceeded to give up nine runs over the next four innings to fall behind 10-6 going to the 9th inning. What a 9th inning that turned out to be as the Angels started out with back-to-back home runs by Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun to get within 10-8. Then Albert Pujols had a pop-fly double to right which was followed by five straight singles the final two by Carlos Perez and then “Mr. Clutch” Johnny Giavotella that gave the Angels an 11-10 lead and again Joe Smith would make it stand-up. Unfortunately the previous two day’s magic could not be duplicated Sunday despite a great effort by Garrett Richards giving up three runs in six innings keeping the Angels in the game against Cole Hamels of the Rangers. Albert Pujols staked the Angels to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with his 40th home run of the season, which was the first time Pujols has topped the 40 home run mark in four seasons with the Angels. It also was the first time in Angels club history that the team has had two players hit 40 or more home runs, as Mike Trout hit 41 home runs this season.
In the end it was a tired Angels bullpen that did the team in. The fight that the Angels showed in the final 31 games was admirable and hopefully will carry over into next season, but the question will be who will the Angels decide to keep and who will they let walk away via free agency. The biggest question will be if the Amngels decide to resign David Freese who was a key cog down the stretch for the team as they started their inspired play when Freese returned from the DL on September 1st. Overall the Angels were 40-14 with Freese in the line-up and 10-21 without since July 1st. Other key players that the Angels will have to make decisions on will be catcher Chris Ianetta who has been solid over his three years with the team despite having a career low .185 average this season. However, with the emergence of Carlos Perez in the last six weeks of the season, Ianetta is expendable. Fernando Salas and Cesar Ramos who have played key roles in the Angels bullpen this season are also free agents. The three left fielders the Angels acquired at the trade deadline Shane Victorino, David Dejesus, and David Murphy future with the Angels is also questionable. Victorino is a free agent and will most likely not be resigned for 2016. Dejesus who batted under .200 after the Angels acquired him has a club option which the Angels will most likely not renew. The final question is with David Murphy who also has a club option for 2016 for 7 million dollars. The Angels will most likely pick up Murphy’s option as well as he played a key role done the stretch for the team.
The first two major questions for the 2016 have been answered in the last two days as the team announced Yankees’ assistant General Manager Billy Eppler will be the 12th GM in Angels history. It was also announced Monday that manager Mike Scioscia will return for his 17th season as the Angels manager ending speculation that he may opt out of his contract. Besides all the free agent decisions Eppler and Scioscia must decide how they are going to upgrade an offense which was in the bottom third of the majors in batting average and runs scored. They also must make some decisions as to who will be counted on for the starting rotation., and will the team pursue any free agent talent in either area or try to fill the voids from within the organization. The bullpen was solid throughout most of the season despite a few late game collapses in the final month of the season. Will the team part with any top prospects to use as trade bait to fill some of the voids from 2015? We will soon find out as this off-season may be as unpredictable as the 2015 was for the Los Angeles Angels. Ove the next few weeks we will look in depth to what the Angels most pressing needs are for 2016. Stay tuned as this could be an even rockier ride than the last two months of the 2016 season.
Albert Pujols fought hard until the end battling a foot injury, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports