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7. Los Angeles Angels (91-71, 793 RS, 687 RA, second in AL West, second wild card)
This is a bit of a flag plant, given the quality of the teams just below them, but for the first time in a long time, the bottom 24 roster spots look like enough to support the top two. Perry Minasian, with limited young talent to trade and an owner not willing to go The Full Cohen, has red-paper-clipped the Angels into a playoff-caliber team. Adds that aren’t exciting on their own -- Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela -- combine to raise the Angels’ floor, to get the Andrew Velasquezes and Jo Adells out of the picture.
As much as what Minasian did, however, it’s what he inherited that has me pushing the Halos into October. Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers, and Jose Suarez were all in the Angels organization when Minasian took the job. All three have had up-and-down paths to the current starting rotation, with Suarez signed back in 2014, Sandoval running a 5.33 ERA in his first two MLB stints, and Detmers going from a major-league no-hitter to a minor-league rotation in a matter of months.
In the second half of 2022, though, the three backed up Shohei Ohtani to help build one of the strongest rotations in baseball: 34 starts, 17 outs a start, a 187/52 K/UIBB, a 24% strikeout rate. That, along with the Ohtani/Mike Trout tandem, is what is driving this projection. The Angels are going to have one of the best rotations in the AL, no mean feat in a league with the Astros, Mariners, and Guardians. With 2022 breakout Tyler Anderson added in free agency, the Angels’ rotation runs five deep. The need to use a six-man rotation (Tucker Davidson or Griffin Canning starts the year as the sixth man) to manage Ohtani stings, and it will be an issue until and unless they make a move in-season. Even with that caveat, the Angels look like a playoff team.
The biggest concern is the bullpen, where the Angels invested a lot in Raisel Iglesias only to trade him away -- correctly -- at last year’s deadline. There isn’t a single relief pitcher on this roster who locks down an inning. It’s a group of pitchers who have all had one- or two-year runs of effectiveness, and little more, with free agents Carlos Estevez and Matt Moore added to the mix, as Iglesias and Ryan Tepera were last year, as Aaron Loup was two years ago. The Angels have Rockies’d this up a bit, with similar results.
Adding to that concern is that we have no real idea about Phil Nevin. The Angels fired Joe Maddon last June and gave the job to Nevin because he was there. The Angels didn’t play a meaningful game the rest of the way, so Nevin went largely unevaluated. Minasian saw enough to keep Nevin, but I don’t think we have a great sense of what he is as a manager, and the Angels don’t have a lot of room to lose games from the dugout. If they miss the playoffs, I suspect Nevin being in over his head will be a big reason why.
The Upside: It all finally comes together, with Shohei Ohtani at the peak of his powers, Mike Trout playing 150 games, and a superior rotation allowing the Angels to not just make the playoffs, but edge out the Astros for the division at 98-64.
The Downside: We saw it last night. Shohei Ohtani’s six shutout innings were backed by a single run, which wasn’t enough when the bullpen allowed two. It’s six months of “Tungsten Arm O’Doyle” jokes ending in a 78-84 season and Ohtani’s free agency.
Random Player Comment: Anthony Rendon was actually a great player in his first season in Anaheim, hitting .286/.418/.497 in 52 (of 60) games, even getting some MVP votes. I completely forgot that, myself, following two seasons of .235/.328/.381 in just 105 games. The Angels can make the playoffs with a middling Rendon; they can get to another level, though, if he finds that 2020 line again.