ANAHEIM -- The 2020 season has taken on a different shape because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Angels’ goal of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014 remains.
The season will look different with 60 games, including 40 against American League West opponents and 20 versus National League West opponents. The Angels open the year in Oakland on Friday, and their home opener is set for Tuesday against the Mariners. The club went 30-46 against the AL West and 4-0 vs. the NL West last year en route to a 72-90 record that was their worst since 1999.
But the Angels believe they can turn it around this year, and the shortened season should help them with the way their roster is constructed. Here’s a few key things to look out for this season.
What needs to go right?
Pitching has been the issue for the Angels in recent years, but they received a boost with the season being pushed back four months, as Ohtani is now fully ready for two-way status and right-hander Griffin Canning is also healthy after an elbow injury in Spring Training. The Angels will need both of them to remain healthy, along with veterans such as Andrew Heaney, Bundy and Teheran. Teheran is going to get a late start to the year after contracting COVID-19 last month, but he will give the Angels much-needed rotation depth once he returns.
The offense figures to be the strength of the club with a heart of the order that includes Trout, Rendon and Ohtani as well as other key players such as Justin Upton, David Fletcher, Tommy La Stella, Andrelton Simmons and Albert Pujols. The Angels will lean heavily on their bullpen, but it should work to their advantage with a shortened season, as they won’t have to worry as much about burnout. So the key will be getting just enough starting pitching, riding their bullpen hard and counting on the offense to be one of the best in the Majors.
Can the Angels simply slug their way to the postseason? The club figures to score plenty of runs with the addition of Rendon as well as a return to full health for players such as Simmons, Upton, La Stella and Ohtani, who dealt with injuries last year. They could have their share of high-scoring games this season and they also need to reverse the script from last year, when they went 21-30 in blowouts, per Baseball-Reference. The Angels don’t figure to strike out much this season and should be able to use their contact-orientated lineup to wear down other club’s starting pitchers.
Prospect to watch
Jo Adell, ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, is the club’s highest ranked prospect since Trout and could make his Major League debut this season, although he isn't expected to make the Opening Day roster. Adell was one of the club’s best hitters in Summer Camp but also made a few gaffes defensively in right field. Adell, 21, still has a few things to work on but possesses game-changing power and could force his way into the lineup.
On the schedule
The Angels have a critical stretch of 18 straight games without a day off beginning with a three-game series against the rival Dodgers on Aug. 14. The Angels played the Dodgers well last year, winning all four games against them, and they play them six times this year, including three games at Angel Stadium from Aug. 14-16 and three games to finish the regular season at Dodger Stadium from Sept. 25-27. The Angels also play three games in Oakland and four in Houston during that stretch of 18 straight days without an off-day.
Team MVP will be: Mike Trout
It’s hard to argue against Trout, who has won the AL MVP award three times, including last year. Trout has been the most consistently great player in the Majors since his rookie season in 2012, as he also has four second-place finishes in the balloting for AL MVP, with his worst result a fourth-place finish in ’17. Trout rarely slumps for long and it’s hard to imagine him not being among the game’s best players yet again, even in a shortened season. Ohtani and Rendon have a shot as well but it’s almost impossible to top Trout.
Team Cy Young will be: Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani is set to start on Sundays, which will give him 10 starts on the mound and 33 appearances as designated hitter if he stays healthy and on schedule. Ohtani has the best stuff on the staff and has a chance to make a huge impact as a pitcher in his return from Tommy John surgery. Ohtani made 10 starts as a rookie in 2018, posting a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings, and if he can come close to replicating those numbers, it’ll be a huge boost to the rotation. Heaney also has a chance and Bundy is a wild card, but Ohtani’s incredible stuff is difficult to ignore.
Led by the offense and the 1-2 punch of Trout and Rendon, the Angels bounce back from their forgettable 2019 campaign and reach the postseason for just the second time since Trout’s debut in 2011. Upton and Simmons also play pivotal roles now that they are healthy, while Ohtani again wows as a two-way player.