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Fear Thy ALDS Opponent: Kansas City

September 16th, 2014

James Shields is tough, but no other Royal starter inspires the same fear.

 

The Angels will now officially participate in the postseason for the first time under Jerry Dipoto’s leadership and hopefully clinch the AL West in a day or so. With a four-game lead over Balitmore and only 12 games to go, it also appears likely the Angels will earn homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Locked into the #2 slot, Baltimore’s ALDS opponent is limited to the AL Central winner. But with all the Wild Card ramifications, there are four clubs the Angels could realistically play in the first round.

Over the course of the next few days, I’ll take a look at those four clubs to see which I least want to play in the postseason. Picking postseason series is meaningless, of course — the worst team in baseball could beat the best in a best-of-five series and nobody would be surprised. Even if I may prefer certain opponents, that hardly means I’m comfortable facing any of these teams.

For the sake of brevity and realism, I’m leaving out the Indians, Blue Jays, and Yankees from this exercise. Their playoff odds on Baseball Prospectus aren’t quite 0% yet, but it would take a minor miracle for any of these teams to reach the ALDS. Let’s start with the team I most want to face, then work our way up the perceived difficulty ladder. Today, the Royals.

Angels Sweep Texas (Again), on Brink of Division Title

September 12th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 9, Rangers 3  | Game 2: Angels 8, Rangers 1 | Game 3: Angels 7, Rangers 3

Runs Scored = 24
Runs Allowed = 7

YTD Record: 91-55 | 1st in AL West | Magic Number: 7

Up Next: Friday vs. Astros

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The Angels swept Texas in their third and final trip to Arlington this summer, improving their record in the former house-of-horrors to 9-1, the lone loss courtesy of Huston Street’s first Angel blown save last month. All the wood has been knocked on and all the jinxes have been unjinxed, so it feels safe to finally say the AL West race is over. With 16 games remaining, the Halos lead the hard-luck A’s by 10 games and the Mariners by 11. My favorite quirk of the Angels’ eight-game win streak and general dominance the last several weeks: the A’s have not gained a game on the Angels since August 25, when they defeated Seattle and the Halos lost to Miami. I’d say we should be more worried about Seattle than Oakland because they have more remaining games against the Angels, but even if Seattle won all seven games they would still need to make up four games in the standings in the Angels’ other nine games.

Baseball Prospectus and even the less bullish FanGraphs both give the Angels a 100% chance to win the division. That’s, like, the highest percentage or something. With the magic number sitting at seven, the chances are pretty good the Angels will clinch the division sometime over the 10-game homestand that begins tonight, especially when three of those games come against Houston and three are against this Ranger team the club just pounded. The last remaining playoff race to pay attention to for the Angels is the race for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs (thanks American League All-Stars!). Entering Friday, the Angels lead the Orioles for that honor by 4-1/2 games. On the Franchise Milestone front, the Angels can set the team record for wins at 101 if they finish 10-6.

Angels Bring Back Dipoto for (At Least) One More Year

September 8th, 2014
Everything has broken right for Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno in 2014.

Everything has broken right for Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno in 2014.

 

Amidst a stretch in which the Angels took control of the AL West, word came out Friday afternoon that the Halos exercised GM Jerry Dipoto’s contract for 2015. The club also holds an option for 2016 and presumably a decision on that will be made next year.

Dipoto replaced Tony Reagins following the latter’s removal in 2011. Almost instantly, Dipoto made a mark as the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to massive free agent contracts in December 2011. Perhaps unfairly, Dipoto’s Angel tenure will likely always be associated with Pujols and Josh Hamilton, two risky signings widely thought to have been Arte Moreno’s making.

Even though the 2012 Angels won 89 games, they missed the postseason and failed to live up to the World Series hype. The 2013 Angels won only 78 games, and there were murmurs Dipoto and/or Mike Scioscia could get the boot. Presumably, Moreno took the patient approach and it has worked out in 2014 — Baseball Prospectus projects the Angels have a 20.4% chance of winning the World Series, the highest in baseball.

Even if we assume the Pujols and Hamilton contracts were Moreno moves, Dipoto rightly deserved blame for the ancillary players brought in his first two seasons. Bullpen arms like Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins, Sean Burnett, and Ryan Madson were all disasters for different reasons. Trading Jordan Walden for Tommy Hanson felt like a decent idea, but backfired almost immediately. Paying Joe Blanton actual American currency was a thing that happened.

However, Dipoto has had the hot hand of late. Trading Mark Trumbo for two viable starting pitchers was a master stroke. So was unloading Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli. It appears he traded Alberto Callaspo at just the right time, netting a useful bench player in Grant Green. Nobody knew who Cory Rasmus was when the Angels acquired him last year for Scott Downs, but he has been a very effective long relief man out of the bullpen. I, and many Angel fans, hated trading Peter Bourjos (and Randall Grichuk) for David Freese and Fernando Salas; the Cardinals may very well win that trade, but Freese has admirably filled a black hole on the roster and Salas has even become a very solid middle-innings relief arm. If the point was to win in 2014, then the Freese trade worked out.

Like anything with sports, much of Dipoto’s 2014 success can be attributed to good fortune. He inherited Mike Trout when he took the job. Garrett Richards developed into a legitimate ace before his injury. Kole Calhoun was a projected fourth outfielder that turned into one of the best right fielders in baseball. The lowly regarded Matt Shoemaker has become the rotation’s savior. The bullpen, a disaster in 2012 and 2013, now has a case as the American League’s deepest and best; Dipoto deserves credit for building it back up, but relief pitchers are prone to high year-to-year variance. Nobody expected this type of season from Kevin Jepsen. But, if we criticize general managers when everything falls apart — whether by bad luck or poor design — then we should also credit them when a team succeeds.

It remains to be seen if Dipoto is actually a good GM. Sean Newcomb was his first first-round pick, so now begins the process of trying to rebuild a farm system lacking in talent. It should be noted Dipoto bears a large chunk of responsibility for that lack of talent, thanks to trades for Zack Greinke, Freese, Joe Thatcher, and Huston Street. The lack of young organizational talent could bite the Angels as soon as next year: the entire infield is on the wrong side of 30 and other big-money players like Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and CJ Wilson are declining. This could be the last year in a while the Angels are legitimate pennant contenders.

But if the Angels win the World Series this year nobody will care about future or the farm system, at least not right away. And I think it’s fair to assume Dipoto’s 2016 option would be picked up sometime before ring-sizing.

Spoiled Salami: The 2014 Angels’ Bases Loaded Struggles

August 29th, 2014

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For my money, the best moment of the season so far came on June 8, when, trailing 5-1, Mike Trout took a Chris Sale pitch deep to even a game the Angels eventually won. A late-inning, game-tying grand slam is always great, but the moment was heightened because a) It was Trout, b) Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he threw a great pitch that Trout hit anyway, and c) Hawk Harrelson was so sad!

 

 

Those bases loaded victories have been rare for the 2014 Angels. The Angels defeated Oakland last night in spite of their continued ineptitude with the bases loaded. In the bottom of the ninth the Angels wasted a golden chance to end the game, sending the top of the order to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, needing only one run to end the game. Promptly, Calhoun popped up and Mike Trout grounded out, ending the threat. On the night, the Halos were 0-for-3 with the sacks loaded, nothing new for a team that is now batting 20-for-100 with ducks on all the ponds, an easy-to-calculate .200. Considering the low batting average, the club has a relatively decent .275 OBP in these situations thanks to 12 walks and a hit-by-pitch. The slugging percentage is even more pitiful than the batting average, though — the Halos rank sixth overall in MLB slugging at a .407 clip, but with the bases loaded the slugging drops to .260. That’s what happens when you have four extra-base hits (three doubles and one grand slam) with the bases juiced in 120 plate appearances. If you weren’t counting, that’s a .535 OPS. The worst OPS for any individual qualified player this year is Zack Cozart’s .586. So basically, whenever the bases are loaded, the Angels are sending a worse Zack Cozart to the plate.

Angels Fry Fish, Hold Onto First Place

August 28th, 2014

Game 1: Marlins 7, Angels 1 | Game 2: Angels 8, Marlins 2| Game 3: Angels 6, Marlins 1

Runs Scored = 15
Runs Allowed = 10

YTD Record: 79-53 | 1st in AL West

Up Next: Thursday vs. Athletics

MarlinsSeries1

The Angels took two of three from the visiting Miami Marlins to cap the season 12-8 in interleague play and maintain a one game division lead over Oakland. Sandwiched between two critical series against the A’s, the Marlins were easy to overlook for fans and maybe even the players. But the Angels did what they’ve done all season: beat up lesser teams. Miami teed off on Triple-A pitching Monday night, but the Angels responded by winning the last two games of the series by a combined score of 14-3. An encouraging sign for the Halos is they have now scored at least six runs in three of the past four games, and all three games were started by quality pitchers. Prior to Sunday’s 9-4 win in Oakland, the Halos had scored 6+ runs only three other games in August. Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Erick Aybar are busting out of recent slumps just in time for a critical four-game set against Oakland this weekend.

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