Playing Pepper 2015: Los Angeles Angels

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Los Angeles Angels
98-64, first in the AL East, lost in the ALDS

It’s rare when a 98-win season leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but after watching Cinderella come in and mop the floor with them, that’s exactly how 2014 ended for the Angels.  It looked like those big money contracts would finally pay off, only to see some squad with about half the payroll rush past them on the path to the World Series.

Can this team shake that off and move deeper into October?  The offseason news about Josh Hamilton isn’t likely to help, but they still are a strong contender out in the West.  Today we talk with Garrett of Monkey With A Halo about their chances.  Follow Garrett on Twitter @monkeywithahalo.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

MWH: I thought the team had a pretty solid offseason precisely because they did what they needed to do and not want fans, pundits and bloggers wanted them to do. Lots of folks wanted them to add another stud pitcher by signing someone like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields. The rotation most certainly needed some help as we saw down the stretch last season when the Halos had to go with a “bullpen day” as their fifth starter the final few weeks. Jerry Dipoto got the depth the team needed, just not in the way the fans wanted him to.

By adding Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, the rotation now has a lot more depth and talent. Heaney isn’t going to be on par with Lester or Scherzer, but he’s highly likely to be an improvement over Hector Santiago and Tropeano gives the team some legit depth to fall back on if injury strikes or if C.J. Wilson can’t remember how to pitch.

Dipoto added depth in other areas too. Matt Joyce helps out at DH and provides some insurance for Josh Hamilton, a policy they already needed to cash in. Losing Howie Kendrick hurt, but the Halos literally have half a dozen guys in camp to compete for time at second base. This time last year Mike Scioscia was just trying to figure out how to cobble together a bullpen. Now he’s almost got too many quality arms to choose from.

So, sure, it wasn’t the sexiest offseason as the Angels literally signed no one but instead made a bunch of trades around the edges. But it was an offseason that bolstered the depth of an already very good roster without adding any significant financial burden in the long-term. Lord knows they’d already done enough of that in the last few years.

C70: Now that Mike Trout has his MVP, what does he do now?

MWH: Um, win MVP again? There really isn’t any reason to think he won’t. Much was made of his increased strikeouts and trouble with the high fastball last year, but even with all that, he was still clearly the best player in baseball. He’s also one of the smartest and hardest working players in baseball. To think that he won’t come in to this season with a better plan of attack for combating pitchers attacking him up in the zone would be foolish. He may not top that gaudy 10+ WAR figures from his first two years in the league, but with the right adjustments he can certainly be better than he was in 2014.

C70: There were signs of life from Albert Pujols last year. What do you expect from him in 2015?

MWH: I expect he’ll be a little bit older and a little bit worse. Even with his legendary status, Albert is now 35 years old (at least). We are beyond the point of thinking that he’s going to keep his body healthy and make some adjustments at the plate and return to the MVP form he displayed back in St. Louis. He’s not Batman anymore. He may not even be Robin at this point. He’s an above average first baseman with a slowly decaying body. The Angels just need to hope he can keep the decay from accelerating because if it does, his production could fall off a cliff.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

MWH: That’s a tough one because this is a pretty old roster, Mike Trout notwithstanding. There just aren’t many guys who have much room left on the developmental curve. However, if there is one guy that I could see taking his game to the next level, it is Mike Morin. He was a big part of helping turnaround the Angels bullpen last year and he will be given a chance to step into a bigger role this year. He already has one of the filthiest changeups in the free world, but he needs to clean up a few things in his approach, especially with facing left-handed hitting. The pieces are there for him to do that and become a highly effective Swiss Army knife type of reliever that can be used in just about any situation and get you the desired result. He just needs to keep building on his experience to be able to put those pieces together. When he does, watch out.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

MWH: 98 wins last year was a bit of an anomaly. That was a good team, but they weren’t THAT good. Talent-wise, this current roster is pretty close to last year’s team though (provided Garrett Richards is able to comeback with few ill effects from his freak knee injury). Factor in a more competitive AL West and I’d say the Halos finish with 92 wins to just edge out the Mariners for first place in the AL West.

C70: What do you like best about being an Angels fan?

MWH: To be honest, it is kind of fun to be a fan of a big market team that isn’t really in a big market. The whole Los Angeles of Anaheim thing was a punchline for awhile, but it has really played out nicely. The Halos are now a team that claims LA as home and reaps all the benefits without having to deal with all the complications. They get 3 million fans per year. They get a ginormous TV contract. They get to maintain a top 5 payroll.

What they don’t get is the same pressures and ridiculousness that follow the “real” LA teams. All the media hysteria that follows the Dodgers apparently doesn’t much care for crossing county lines. Stuff like the Josh Hamilton saga obviously gets a lot of national media attention, but smaller stuff usually is able to fly under the radar whereas it wouldn’t if it were the Dodgers. Arte Moreno probably wishes that the Angels got the same media attention as the Doyers, but as a fan, it is kind of nice that every Albert Pujols quote doesn’t get dissected seven different ways and that columnists don’t vomit out 7,000-word diatribes every time Mike Trout misses a cutoff man.

My thanks to Garrett for his insights on this club.  You gotta at least pay attention to a team with Pujols and David Freese, right?  You could do worse after the Cardinal games than use MLB.tv to watch some Angels baseball this year!

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