2014 playoff team preview: Los Angeles Angels
SI.com is previewing all 10 playoff teams as they begin their chase for a World Series title. You can find each team's individual capsule here.
Regular-Season Record/Finish: 98-64, first in AL West
How They Got Here: Entering play on Aug. 16, the Angels had the second-best record in baseball but had not spent a day even tied for first place in their division. That changed later that day when they beat the Rangers to catch Oakland atop the AL West. Los Angeles was in first place every day for the rest of the season, and had it all to itself every day but three.
The Angels went 27-15 down the stretch, tying with the Orioles for the best record in the AL, and they blew open the race by going 15-2 over one three-week stretch to go from tied for first to 11 games in front. They coasted from there, and while they fell short of matching the team record of 100 victories, they still were two games better than any other team in the majors, and two games better than their Pythagorean record.
Why They’ll Win: In a run-starved environment, the Angels are the closest thing the majors have to an offensive juggernaut. L.A. led the bigs in scoring with 773 runs and topped the AL with 1,464 hits, finishing third in batting average and fourth in home runs. Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, should finally win his first AL MVP award thanks to his .287/.377/.561 slash line plus 36 home runs and 111 RBI. Albert Pujols had his best season yet in Anaheim, hitting 28 home runs and driving in 105 runs.
Jered Weaver is a legitimate ace and joins C.J. Wilson in giving the Angels a pair of postseason-tested starters atop the rotation. The same is true of closer Huston Street, who stabilized the back of the bullpen after arriving in a midseason trade from San Diego and finished the year with 41 saves and a 1.37 ERA.
Thanks largely to Trout, who was named the game's MVP, the AL's All-Star Game victory ensured that the Angels will have home field advantage throughout the postseason. That's very good news for a team that had the majors' best home record at 52-29.
Why They Won't: The Angels' pitching staff was not as impressive as the team's 98-64 record might suggest. And with Garrett Richards out for the season with a knee injury and Weaver only available twice at most in a best-of-five, someone else will have to step up to ensure Los Angeles makes it out of the first round. Wilson finished 13-10 with a 4.51 ERA and was wildly inconsistent. He pitched seven innings, giving up just one hit and no runs, the night that L.A. clinched the AL West on Sept. 17, then followed it up in his next outing by allowing six runs and not surviving the first inning. His final regular-season start was a six-inning, four-hit gem in Seattle.
Perhaps more importantly, Matt Shoemaker has not pitched since Sept. 15 because of a rib cage injury. He seems to have passed a bullpen session test and should be available for the Division Series, but whether he'll be the same pitcher who went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA remains to be seen.
Similarly, Josh Hamilton played in just one of L.A.'s final 22 games while also battling a rib injury. Hamilton struggled all year, batting .263 with just 10 home runs and a .745 OPS. As productive as the Angels' offense was all year, Trout was the only player to finish with an OPS above .800, meaning they might be more susceptible to the same offensive droughts that have been a hallmark throughout the majors the past few years.
Lastly, there is the fact that Los Angeles went just 10-9 against Oakland and 3-3 against Kansas City, the two potential opponents in the Division Series. In fact, the Angels were an even .500 (19-19) against the other AL postseason entrants, so their road to their first World Series since 2002 will be anything but smooth.