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6 ways for the Angels to make the playoffs

May 23, 2018

Boy howdy, the Angels are fun, right? They're the definitive late-night MLB.TV team, the one you turn on just to watch, even if you have no rooting interest. How can you not enjoy the Halos? They have Michael Trout, the best player of his generation, a guy who somehow has

Boy howdy, the Angels are fun, right? They're the definitive late-night MLB.TV team, the one you turn on just to watch, even if you have no rooting interest. How can you not enjoy the Halos? They have Michael Trout, the best player of his generation, a guy who somehow has already put together a Hall of Fame career even though he's only 26 years old. They have Shohei Ohtani, the most revolutionary talent the game has seen in nearly 100 years, a guy who is somehow the guy you don't dare look away from both on the mound and at the plate. They have Andrelton Simmons, maybe the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith who has improved his hitting to the point that he's one of the best 10 players in the sport. And they have Jose Pujols, one of baseball's greatest players of the past 50 years on the downside of his career, compiling milestones and keeping the unceasing respect of everyone who's ever played with or against him.
How do you not have a blast with that team? That team is a nightly advertisement for baseball. That's a team you never forget. Shoot, even the weather's always perfect out there.
Except for one little tiny detail. When you look at the current American League standings, you see the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Indians and the Astros all set for the playoffs, the four teams you expect to see. But that fifth team, that one supposedly earmarked for the thrilling, giddily watchable Angels ... it's not the Angels. It's the Mariners, the same Mariners who just lost Robinson Cano for 80 games, who are missing Dee Gordon and Nelson Cruz, who might have lost Mitch Haniger for a while after a pitch hit his left wrist Wednesday night ... the Mariners are in the Halos' rightful spot. And it's not just them: The A's, of all teams, are only one game behind them. The glorious, spectacular, can't-miss Angels are one game out of fourth place.
The Angels have generated so much excitement that we've barely noticed they're not, as of this second, an actual playoff team. This should be a little concerning because, all told, everything has sort of gone right for the Halos so far. They've had no major injuries. The Ohtani experiment has been a smashing success. Their six-man rotation  is somehow still intact. Justin Upton is smashing homers. Trout is somehow better than he has ever been. It has been a dream.
And yet ... they're still not a playoff team. Considering how much the Angels have invested in this season, that has to be alarming, because their luck can only get worse from here. Almost a third of the way through the season, let's take a look at why the Halos are still outside the playoffs, and what they might do to get back there. Because remember: Mike Trout is still looking for his first postseason win ... and he has only two years left in Anaheim after this one.
1. The offense is as boom and bust as ever.
Trout is amazing. Simmons has made huge steps forward. Upton is entirely all you could hope for. But, as has been the case pretty much every year of Trout's career, he has little to no help elsewhere. Ian Kinsler hasn't been near the boost the Angels were hoping for; he's 36 and is starting to look cooked. Zack Cozart is down near 100 points in OBP from his 2017 All-Star season. Kole Calhoun has completely fallen off a cliff; he's hitting .160 with one homer in 152 at-bats. Albert Pujols is ... well, Pujols has put together a Hall of Fame career. And for all the Ohtani love, his inherent limitations, the fact that he can only play three times a week, leaves the lineup gasping for runs anytime he's not in it. Every year you've looked at the Halos and thought, "man, Trout needs more help." This year is no different.
How to fix: Calhoun can't possibly be this bad all year, but if Kinsler and Cozart -- the two guys supposed to bring the outside help -- can't get it going, there might not be much left in the Minors to trade for a bat. Unless they want to push Ohtani into the lineup more often. Also ... maybe Jefry Marte should be in the lineup a bit more?
2. The rotation is ... fine.
Honestly, the biggest worry you had about the Angels this year was whether their rickety rotation could stay intact, but so far so good. Garrett Richards is healthy and effective, Tyler Skaggs has been excellent and even 21-year-old Jaime Barria has been solid when they've needed that sixth starter. And Ohtani has been Ohtani, albeit only once a week. But this is probably the absolute peak of this rotation, right? Ohtani gems every Sunday and everybody else just trying to stay healthy and slightly above average. That's enough if you've got a powerhouse offense, but the Halos don't have that either. The worry here is that you've gotten the most out of your rotation that you could possibly expect and you're still behind the Mariners (and way behind the Astros). Because the odds are the second two-thirds of this season are going to be a lot harder on the rotation than the first third was.

How to fix: It seems strange to say that a team with six starters probably needs to get one more, with a higher upside ... but it probably does. Of course, every team in baseball wants that, and have a lot more to trade than the Angels do.
3. The bullpen is YIKES.
The Angels didn't do much with their bullpen this offseason, mainly because they were so busy everywhere else. But the seams have certain shown so far, with the team blowing leads in every direction and losing closers seemingly every week. Keynan Middleton seemed to finally lock down the job until Tommy John surgery knocked him out for the year. Jim Johnson looks old; Cam Bedrosian looks like he's never going to become the guy we all thought; everybody else looks hurt. The Halos' bullpen has taken all the injury hits the rotation has avoided. There's hope in flamethrowing Justin Anderson, as well Noe Ramirez and Richard Parker, but this thing is springing leaks everywhere.
How to fix: Increasing Anderson's role seems prudent, and Mike Scioscia may have to do it even if he doesn't want to. But the Angels need quantity relievers at this point. They need to buy in bulk.
4. The Mariners are currently hot.
A week ago, after Cano's suspension, you were panicked about the Mariners. Now they've won four in a row and, hey, are only two games behind the Astros all of a sudden. Seattle doesn't look sustainable, all told, and not just because of all the injuries and suspensions. The club's run differential looks like one of a .500 team, and its rotation is James Paxton and a bunch of spit and gristle. It is worth noting that if the Mariners had lost four in a row rather than winning four in a row, this column might not exist.
How to fix: Just wait.
5. Ohtani can't play every day.
This is the thing about the usage of Ohtani, right?  The Angels might use him perfectly but they still have to give him multiple days off a week. That's smart and prudent and ideal and ... still not quite enough for the Halos. What is perfect for Ohtani, frankly, is not necessarily what's perfect for the Angels. You've got one of the most otherwordly talents in baseball sitting on your bench three days a week. When every game counts, and your team doesn't have much margin for error anyway ... it adds up. Even if it is the right thing to do.

How to fix: When do the Angels get antsy and start to push Ohtani a bit? If they're still out of the playoffs in August? September? When does discipline give way to desperation?
6. Trout occasionally makes outs.
It's hard to believe it, but he does. How to fix: Trout needs to stop making outs.

Will Leitch is a columnist for