The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Are the LA Angels primed to break out this year?

The Los Angeles Angels have had the best player in the majors, Mike Trout, since 2012.  The problem is, he has been the only significant force on the team since he joined them.  Since the Angels have been a contender for only one season during his seven-year career, Trout has had little opportunity to demonstrate his abilities in the post-season.

In a relatively quiet off-season, the Angels have been one of the most active and successful teams in solidifying their team for 2018, and that may change the Angels’, as well as Trout’s, fortunes in the future.

The Angels did win a division title in 2014, but it was somewhat of an anomaly since their previous title was in 2009.  Their second-place finish last year, even though they wound up under .500 and 21 games behind the Astros, was indeed encouraging.

Now that the Angels have acquired international star Shohei Ohtani from Japan, this single move positions them to become more relevant in the American League West Division, where the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros have led the pack for the past three years.

Ohtani’s popularity in Japan came about because he excelled as both a pitcher and a hitter at the same time.  Many question whether that’s a practical situation the Major League Baseball.  The closest to that situation recently has been a good-hitting pitcher (for example, the Giants Madison Bumgarner) who is occasionally used as a pinch-hitter on days he’s not scheduled to pitch.  Babe Ruth is really the only former big-league player to regularly play as a pitcher and position player in the same season—and that was nearly 100 years ago.

Most assuredly, the Angels were primarily interested in Ohtani as a pitcher, since their starting rotation has been decimated over the past couple of years due to injury.  But he will also get some chances to be used as an occasional designated hitter, too, if for no reason other than keeping his novel appeal high with fans.

But the Angels didn’t stop with just wooing Ohtani to Anaheim.  They were pro-active in re-signing free agent Justin Upton, whom they picked up late last year from Detroit.  The well-traveled outfielder still puts up big offensive numbers.  The Angels also bolstered its infield with free-agent acquisitions Ian Kinsler and Zack Cosart.  Cosart, who will likely play third base, reinvented himself offensively last season with Cincinnati, adopting a new approach at the plate that upped his power numbers.

The Angels were one of the best defensive teams in the league in 2017, featuring Andrelton Simmons the best-fielding shortstop in the league who led all AL players in Defensive WAR (4.2) last year; and Kole Calhoun with the highest range factor in the league for right-fielders.

37-year-old Albert Pujols delivered 100 RBI’s for the 14th time in his career, as he has transitioned from playing first base to primarily being the DH.

Trout’s performance since he came into the league has been nothing short of extra-terrestrial.  He was first or second in the MVP voting in his first five full seasons (winning in 2014 and 2015).  He had to settle for fourth-place in the voting last season, as he missed over a fourth of the games due to injury.

Pitching is the biggest open question for the Angels in the upcoming season.  Ohtani is expected to bring some stability to the starting rotation of the Angels, which has been plagued with injuries over the past few years.  One would think former major-league pitcher Tommy John was playing for the Angels, given the number of references to “Tommy John surgery” associated with their pitching staff.

Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are coming off this surgery, having missed all of 2017.  Tyler Skaggs missed the 2015 season due to the surgery and has been able to start only 26 games during the past two seasons.  Their No. 1 starter, Garrett Richards, last pitched 60+ innings in 2016 and opted to have a newer biometrics surgery instead of Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.  Richards is expected to be ready for 2018.

Matt Shoemaker required emergency brain surgery late in the 2016 season after being hit in the head by a batted ball and made only 14 starts in 2017, although he pitched well.  J. C. Ramirez will be coming off UCL surgery he had late in 2017.

Newcomer Parker Bridwell was the lone bright spot for the Angels rotation last season, as he finished with a 10-3 record and 3.64 ERA.

With an indefinite list of healthy starting pitchers for 2018, besides Ohtani and Bridwell, the Angels are likely to make some additional acquisitions before the season begins.  Now that Josh Hamilton’s expensive long-term contract is no longer on the Angels’ books, there is room to invest in some contingency pitchers.

The Angels had only a +1 run differential in 2017.  They’ll have to improve that considerably to be relevant next season.  However, even with an Angels’ improvement, the Houston Astros remain a formidable team after winning the World Series.  Their roster will largely be intact from last season.  Seattle has been on the verge of becoming a contending team, but always seems to have a breakdown, whether it’s due to injuries or just under-performance.

It should be an exciting year for Angels fans.  Ohtani will bring a lot of attention and expectations to a team that has struggled to break into the next level.  But this just may be the year.

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