Angels had high expectations, but underachieved
Major offseason acquisitions were unable to vault club into postseason
ANAHEIM -- Jered Weaver has been here long enough to remember the good times, when the Angels pitched really well, went first-to-third and won a lot, without the need for much star power and despite hardly being talked about in the offseason.
On Monday, the ace right-hander stared at a grim reality -- a fourth consecutive year without meaningful games in October, despite back-to-back Decembers featuring major free-agent acquisitions.
"We had some good years, and now we're going through some down years," Weaver said as he winded down his eighth season in an Angels uniform. "It's going to happen. It's part of baseball, and it's part of maturing as a team and maturing as individuals, as well. You can't hang your head. You always have to look toward next year, and try to do the things that you need to improve and make yourself better."
Next year is now, while 10 other teams get primed for the postseason, because the Angels dug themselves yet another early hole they couldn't crawl out of. In 2012, they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, began the season 18-25, catapulted themselves back in the race and ultimately came up short. This year, they added Josh Hamilton, lost 27 of their first 42 and never strung together consistent baseball until the very end, when it had long been considered too late.
Now, it's general manager Jerry Dipoto and skipper Mike Scioscia whose jobs may be on the line, as the Angels venture into an offseason that will be crucial with regards to getting back on track.
At least they'll go into it knowing they finished the season playing really good baseball.
"I guess it'll make us feel better to move forward and finish strong, but I think it highlights instead of masking any issues," said Scioscia, who oversaw five American League West titles and a World Series championship from 2002-09. "It highlights some things we have to take a look at. And one of them is really getting pitching depth. Because as it's evolved with guys throwing the ball well, you can see the effect it has on our team."
The Angels tried to counter a patchwork starting rotation with a potent lineup and a deeper bullpen, but that's hard to do when Pujols and Hamilton don't perform, or Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson hardly contribute, or Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson struggle, or when the farm system is so barren, or when you're slow coming out of the gate.
"Next year," Mike Trout said, "we can't come out tight. We have to play loose. I think maybe you can say we were thinking about trying to do too much early, and trying not to get in that hole again. But there's a lot of things you can blame it on."
With that in mind, here's a categorical look at the Angels' 2013 season.
Record: 78-84, third in AL West
Defining moment: It was a Friday night in Oakland on July 26, and the Angels were down four to the A's in the ninth. Pujols dug into the box, ripped a two-run single down the left-field line, hollered toward the mound at exuberant closer Grant Balfour -- and then he was gone. Pujols' quest to play through plantar fasciitis was over. He partially tore the plantar fascia on his left foot as he gimped toward first base, and shortly after that, his season was pronounced finished after 99 games. The Angels were already 11 games out of first place and five games below .500 by that point, but that signaled the end of the season -- with two months still remaining.
What went right: On a team that fell well short of expectations, Trout somehow exceeded them. Coming off a historic rookie season, the 22-year-old outfielder only got better and once again put himself in the thick of the AL Most Valuable Player Award debate -- an award that only seems like a long shot because of his team's place in the standings. There was also Wilson, who was one of the AL's most consistent starting pitchers; Mark Trumbo, who set career highs in homers and RBIs; Ernesto Frieri, who once again ranked among baseball's best closers; Michael Kohn, who recovered nicely from Tommy John surgery; and Dane De La Rosa and J.B. Shuck, two unheralded signings who put together solid rookie seasons. But the best sign of all was how the Angels strung together victories over the last 5 1/2 weeks, particularly with the young Garrett Richards establishing himself in the rotation.
What went wrong: For a team with this much talent and a high payroll, to navigate through a season in this manner, a lot has to go wrong. It was Weaver (broken left elbow) and Jason Vargas (blood clot) missing a combined 18 or so starts because of fluky injuries. It was Hanson (acquired from the Braves for Jordan Walden ) and Blanton (signed to a two-year, $15 million contract) spending the last two months exiled from the rotation. It was Madson (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Burnett (torn flexor tendon) making a combined 13 appearances. And, of course, it was the two high-priced superstars in Pujols (plantar fasciitis) and Hamilton performing well below expectations. That's a lot of things to go wrong in one season, particularly for a team that had the worst-ranked farm system in baseball and thus very little depth beyond the 25 players who opened the season.
Biggest surprise: You might have noticed there was no parentheses next to Hamilton's name above. That's because the slugger had no real excuse to cling to as he struggled mightily through his first season with the Angels. He just struggled, and the baseball world scratched its collective head. Sure, there were theories. Maybe the offseason juicing diet sapped his power. Maybe it was too hard for him to adjust to a new environment, considering how important the word "environment" is for a guy like Hamilton. Maybe the pressure of living up to a $125 million contract became too much. Maybe -- and this is the scary one -- this is who he is now, considering his rough second half in 2012. The Angels, at least, can take some solace in how much better Hamilton looked at the plate over the last seven weeks.
Hitter of the Year: Trout was easily the best hitter on the Angels, and you could argue that he was the best all-around player in all of baseball. Again. Everyone wondered how he could possibly follow up a historic rookie season, and all he did was improve, topping 100 runs, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, 100 walks and 30 steals while easily leading the Majors in Wins Above Replacement for a second straight year.
Pitcher of the Year: Wilson was the one constant in an Angels rotation that was in a flux all year. The veteran left-hander -- coming off offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow -- made every turn through the order, topped 200 innings for a fourth straight year, set a new career high in wins, led the Angels in strikeouts and was one of the AL's best starting pitchers by the end of it.
Rookie of the Year: Think about how Shuck's offseason began last year. He had just been released by the Astros, a team that would predictably finish with the Majors' worst record, and was without a job before ever getting an extended look in the big leagues. The Angels signed him to a Minor League contract, Shuck joined a long list of left-handed-hitting outfielders vying for a backup role in Spring Training, and from there, the scrappy slap hitter kept producing. He won a job, got lots of playing time with Peter Bourjos limited to 55 games and put up consistent numbers the entire season, immersing himself into the AL Rookie of the Year Award discussion.