What? Am I losing my mind? How in the word could a series the LA Angels lost 1-3 thanks to MiLB level hitting and ineffective starting pitching be impressive? But wait, what if I told you we could look deeper than we currently are?
What if I said not all truth shows itself at face value? If the deepest truth about the LA Angels performances against the A’s hold true we may be seeing a truly, truly competitive squad forming together.
Before we rev up that flowery optimism and self-imposed delusion train we need to realize that the Angels were awful in Oakland, awful in many ways. The hitting looked atrocious, aside from Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout, otherwise no one looked locked in.
Kole Calhoun is the most mid-season ready hitter in the lineup right now which is actually a great start to the Angels season given his drastic need for a bounce-back year. Aside from that the Angels hitters are looking over-matched in many ways.
Andrelton Simmons looks eternally frustrated with himself regarding his wonky swing to start the season. Justin Bour looks more concerned with taking walks than putting up quality swings, Albert Pujols is no better than a replacement level Minor Leaguer at this point and Zack Cozart seems to have completely lost grasp of the concept of timing.
The starting pitching came out about as expected which actually bodes well for the Angels, believe it or not. Trevor Cahill may have given up 4 runs in his 6 inning debut, but did you really expect anything different? Sure it’s not the prettiest start but let’s not pretend anyone expected him to be more than a serviceable, “get you through” type guy.
If the Angels took that victory it’s likely that everyone would have seen Cahill’s start as “good enough to get it done”. That’s because it was good enough to get done it was just difficult to see that past the splendored hopes of Opening Day in tandem with the poor, poor hitting from the Angels.
Unfortunately Felix Pena was the most disappointing as he showed an extremely dominant form in Spring with 25 K’s in 14.2 IP but couldn’t make it past the 3rd inning while allowing 4 runs against the A’s. One small silver lining here, Pena still managed 3 K’s before completely losing his ability in the 3rd. Still plenty of room for him to show what he can really do, and it wasn’t the best start, but you have to believe he can do much better after he showed up almost a brand new pitcher in Spring Training.
It is arguable that Tyler Skaggs was more frustrating as he showed great, great stuff but could not locate to save his life come the 3rd inning. We were expecting a lot from him given his youth, ability, and potential to be so much more than the decent pitcher he’s shown to be. We all want him to have a career year in 2019 and even though his first start was bad that doesn’t write off those same hopes.
Those hopes are still very much in play. Skaggs looked very good leading up to the third; he had batters seeing lopsided counts early on and finished them off, his pace was good for his 2019 debut. His control was still a bit off but it was nothing too damaging, until a Khris Davis HR in the 4th, but after he still seemed to be working solid…. until a familiar tragedy strikes as Skaggs loses all sense of control and presence in the 5th as he fails to finish off a hitter with 2 strikes and 2 outs and proceeds to let the bases run full before being pulled. Disappointing, sure, but what he showed in the first few innings asserts the fact that he has the stuff to have a career year, he just needs to apply it
I don’t really need to go over Matt Harvey and what he did; it may not have been the most overpowering start as we went 6IP with 3 BBs and 1 K for two runs, but what it did show was a pitcher with some dazzle to his presence, something the Angels desperately needed.
Those two runs came off a single mistake pitch to Khris Davis, which isn’t an excuse, just an observation at how strong he looked aside from one pitch. There was also the trouble of Harvey loading the bases with no outs and simultaneously managing his way out by buckling down and producing a K and a double play. Harvey showed high energy, great stuff, and most of all a real gritty and hard-nosed approach.
The Angels could do well with more pitching like that and if other starters can follow Harvey’s lead we’ll be in line for a far more dominant rotation soon. Even if the other pitchers revert to their career averages whilst Harvey has a resurgent year we’ll still have a suitable rotation. A strong Harvey alongside Skaggs and Andrew Heaney offers a very competitive 1-2-3 in the rotation, maybe not as competitive as some would like, but it’s still good enough to offer consistent opportunities for success.
One of the great things about the Oakland series was how phenomenal the bullpen looked, it way more impressive and effective than anyone would have thought. It has a brand new feeling despite being made up of multiple pieces who have been around a year or two. Ty Buttrey is showing himself to be not just a powerfully talented reliever, but a major key for success.
We all want Cody Allen to have a bounce-back, but if he doesn’t the Angels have a very legitimize closing arm in Buttrey. So far he’s pitched in 2.1 IP through 2 games and has recorded 3 K’s along the way. In that short time he’s shown off a powerful repertoire headed by an assertive fastball that hits up to 98mph.
Another bullpen piece, Hansel Robles, had a fantastic breakthrough season in 2018 that saw him post a 2.27 ERA in 36.1 IP with the Angels after being snatched as a waiver pickup from the Mets. With the Mets, in that same exact season, Robles posted a 5.03 ERA in 19.2 IP with the Mets in 2018 before being sent to the waivers and eventually the Angels.
It speaks a lot not only to the talent of Robles, but to the talent of the Angels coaching staff that turned him around in the snap of a finger. Given the Angels have a more progressive, effective coaching staff (especially the pitching coaching) it stands to reason that we will see Robles maintain that production from 2018. He’s already shown the same dominance over his 2 IP in 2019 so far, so to see Robles continue the season as strong as he finished off 2017 is an incredible sign for the future stability of this bullpen.
Noe Ramirez looked to be in line with his more dominant self to open up 2019. He was more in 2017 form, where he held together a 2.77 ERA in 13 IP, and it’s not so much the sample size as it was his ability during that span. Ramirez may have been used a little too heavily last year as he put up a 4.54 ERA in 83.1 IP which can attribute to his low-energy pitching last year, he may have been spread too thin.
Clearly the bullpen is the brightest spot for this team right now, everyone looked effective in some form. Cody Allen may have had a bit of struggle in locating his pitches in his appearance during the Angels lone win, but he fought through it and got the Angels out of the game clean. There still needs to be more evaluation regarding the effectiveness in this bullpen, but the fact is there is a load of talent in the ‘pen with coaching intuitive enough to properly apply it in-game.
The offense was a disappointment of course and these losses shined a light on some drastic flaws in the lineup, but with time the hitting will overcome itself. Whether it’s by players performing closer to career average/mid-season form or whether by rookies finding their way on the roster. The hitting will come around, it always does for some decent measure for the Angels.
Andrelton Simmons won’t be stuck in his head regarding his swing all season long, Trout will get more quality at-bats when/if Bour can perform to his career averages with a mid .200’s BA and a mid-high .400 slugging percentage. The only big worries is the obvious one in Albert Pujols and now the wet-noodle swinging Zack Cozart.
If you really watch Cozart’s at-bats you can see how off his timing is. He isn’t picking up the pitchers rhythm, he isn’t setting up a groove in line with the pitchers energy and moving with him, he’s simply waiting for the ball to leave the pitchers hand before preparing his swing. That’s the problem with Cozart at-bats, he isn’t getting proper timing on the ball and seems to be reaching well in front of pitches to overcompensate for his slow pick-up of his timing.
All-in-all these first four games have shown what improvements need to be made, and while they seem daunting they anything too bad. The Angels aren’t completely stuck on a zero talent team, they have very viable hitters all throughout the lineup. It hurts not having Justin Upton or Shohei Ohtani’s power or presence, but with a properly adjusted trio of Bour/Cozart/Simmons the lineup will be in a very good place to stay competitive, or at least keeps the Angels above water until Upton and Ohtani return. Given that Ohtani is pegged to come back in May the Angels will only have to deal with this lineup as it is for a few more weeks at best. I know it’s not the best situation, but the Angels team is a good baseball team and with great coaching they can absolutely hold themselves over until Ohtani returns to offer serious presence behind Trout.
But on the chances that Cozart or Bour don’t come through there lies the very, very ready prospects in Matt Thaiss, Jose Rojas and Jared Walsh who showed explosive offense ability and innate clutchness in Spring Training. Those are moves that wouldn’t be happening too soon and if those changes were deemed necessary I wouldn’t see it happening until after the first month. That month gives them time to take their confidence/experience won in Spring Training to Triple A and smash them around for a bit to build even more confidence and solidify their mechanics. If Bour fails to get it together past the first month we could very well see Thaiss taking his at-bats, especially as a lefty 1B to compliment Pujols’ RH presence. Of course there’s also the chance that Pujols gets hurt as he has been and completely opens up 1B for Thaiss. A platoon shot to start his MLB career could be the best bet for him to break in and solidify his position as THE Angels first-baseman.
There’s also the issue of Upton being injured for a few months and having Peter Bourjos/Brian Goodwin manning a platoon until he returns. To put it lightly, this platoon is barely effective and extremely underwhelming. They get the job done quite well in the outfield, but the mediocre-to-negative value they offer as hitters will only go so far. Should the duo fail to produce offensively in any tangible way we will be seeing the first young, ready prospect in Walsh make his way to the Majors. Jared Walsh/Peter Bourjos would make a FAR more effective platoon; Walsh can provide strong defense and actual competitive presence in the batters box (29 HR’s and 99 RBI’s with a .895 OPS and .277 AVG in 2018 MiLB season) while Bourjos can be used as a defense first athlete without needing to worry about being majorly productive at the plate. It doesn’t even need to be a platoon really, once Walsh shows he can handle the duties with presence he can hold over LF without a problem and provide pop until Upton comes back.
Given that Walsh also has superb defensive value at 1B having him set up in a lefty/lefty platoon with Thaiss while getting reserve starts in the outfield seems to be the best way to bring the two onto the squad. I know a lefty/lefty platoon is a bit counter-productive to heart of the philosophy, but this is the best way to employ the two youngsters in the same lineup.
There’s also the fact that Tommy La Stella continues to take starting spots from David Fletcher, the defensively dynamic rookie who also carries a tangible impact bat. Fletcher finished the 2018 as the Angels versatile middle-infielder (with a majority of innings at 2B) with 80 games under his belt. Eith the talent he showed there really is no reason he shouldn’t be starting with La Stella backing him up.
Instead of letting the kids play, which is practically the motto of the MLB this year, all we’re seeing is Fletcher and his great potential buried by the powerfully mediocre Tommy La Stella. What’s the point in developing and bringing up prospects if you’re not going to let them play it out? That’s a conversation for a different article, but it does seem the Angels have some trepidation in pulling the trigger on the youth taking over the reigns. It doesn’t even have to do with prospects not being called up, it all starts with David Fletcher having his at-bats and defensive innings eaten up by Tommy La Stella and his below-mediocre production.
I know the Opening Series against the A’s felt atrocious. I know that it seemed the Angels were fielding a below average squad all around. But when you look at the details of the series you can see some very great things already happening with the Angels (bullpen/Harvey/Calhoun).
I know we want to see everyone come out hot at once, but as long as the other hitters trickle in things will be more than fine, they’ll be very competitive. Andrelton Simmons will come back into a confident form, Justin Bour will start putting up quality swings, Zack Cozart will get on top of his timing, Trout will hit even greater with protection from the future returning Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton.
Young teams go through plenty of growing pains, it just takes some time and patience to grow into itself as a fully fledged unit. The team is still trying to come together while squads like the A’s and Astros are able to hit the ground fully running because they’ve been a unit for a while. Give it time for the Angels to reach the same level of unification and you’re going to see great things from this club.
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There is plenty of talent on the way to help the squad in case all else fails and from there the future looks even brighter. From big talents like Walsh/Thaiss/Rojas being MLB ready to Upton and Ohtani coming back from the dead, there is a lot of help coming to this squad that is already far better than they’ve appeared.
Don’t be DEPRESSED, be IMPRESSED. Even when it gets hard to find good things to see you always have to look to latch onto the positives; if you can do that you’ll continue to see the positives stacking up in even the smallest ways, and then soon you too can be delusional-ally optimistic like myself.