After going 80-82 last season, the Los Angeles Angels made some moves. They realized that they needed to surround the best player in the world with some talent. After winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, the Angels are counting on him to be an important part of what they do this year. He will surely be someone to follow and not just for his pitching. It will be interesting to see how the Angels use him at the plate as well on his off days. The signings of Justin Upton and Zack Cozart will bolster the lineup and defense. The addition of Ian Kinsler also helps. The Angels are hoping these improvements can gain them at least a few games in the standings and put them in the playoff discussion.
2018 Los Angeles Angels Season Preview
The Angels are coming into the season with increased expectations, although winning the division is probably not one of them. The Houston Astros are World Series Champs and got better by adding Gerrit Cole and will have Justin Verlander for a whole season. The rest of the division is not so intimidating. The Texas Rangers are a borderline 75-win team. The Oakland Athletics have some young talent but seem to be in a perpetual rebuild. The Seattle Mariners always seem to be on the cusp of doing something but never really get there. A wild card berth is without a doubt within reach for the Angels.
The Additions Will Help
The signing of Upton will give the Angels another power bat in their lineup. There were only four outfielders in all of MLB who had 35 HRs, 100 runs, and 100 RBI in 2017: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Charlie Blackmon, and Upton. While he is a notoriously streaky hitter, he gives the Angels another productive bat who also plays an above average left field. Upton is also durable, as he has played in at least 149 games the past seven seasons.
Cozart was another of the Angels signings this off season. He had a career year in 2017, slashing .297/.385/.548 while hitting 24 HRs. He has played exclusively at shortstop his entire career, but this year he will be moving to third base. While the Angels are moving him because they already have Andrelton Simmons, it is probably a good idea anyway in an effort to keep Cozart healthy. He will be 33-years old in August and has averaged only 99 games a season for the past three years. Cozart should take to third base fine. He is an above average defender at shortstop, so the transition should be somewhat seamless.
Kinsler will be manning the keystone this season. He will be 36-years old in June. The Angels will most likely only have him this season as he will hit the free agent market next year. They are hoping he bounces back after a dismal 2017. Kinsler’s OPS dropped over 100 points from .831 to .725 from 2016 to 2017. He was somewhat unlucky last year as his BABIP(Batting Average on Balls In Play) was only .244 compared to .314 in 2016. According to Fangraphs, he also had a hard hit rate of 37%. Kinsler also adds an above average glove to the mix, along with Cozart and Simmons in the infield. With this trio in hand, the Angels may deploy one of the best defensive infields in the league.
The Pitching Staff
The pitching staff is the real question mark for the Angels this season. While Ohtani was very good in Japan, no one knows how he will do here in the states. Garrett Richards is also a wild card. He has been very good when he has been on the mound pitching to a 29-21 record and a 3.06 ERA over the past 4 seasons. The problem for him has been staying on the mound as he has only made 12 starts in the past two years. Matt Shoemaker is another intriguing pitcher for the Angels. He only made 14 starts last year due to injury. He has a chance, when healthy, to be a solid third starter for the Angels.
The Angels have options and depth going forward. J.C. Ramirez, Parker Bridwell, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Skaggs should all compete for the final two spots in the rotation. They have all shown flashes of good stuff. Bridwell is the most likely to make the rotation after posting a solid 10-3 record with a 3.64 ERA last year. Ramirez pitched well in the beginning of the season, but he fell off a bit as he fatigued later in the year. Heaney and Skaggs will have to prove their health and durability as neither of them have had either throughout their careers.
The bullpen looks like it could be a problem this season. Cam Bedrosian and Blake Parker look like the favorites to close and set up this year. They also signed Jim Johnson as a veteran presence who has closing experience. The rest of the bullpen will be manned by young guys and a few of the starters mentioned like Heaney or Skaggs. The Angels will be in trouble if their rotation breaks down. The bullpen just is not deep enough to carry the team if the starters cannot get past the fifth inning.
What To Expect This Season
The Angels beefed up their lineup and improved an already solid defense. The pitching staff, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, have huge question marks. If Ohtani is the real deal, and Richards and Shoemaker prove healthy and back to form, this team could do some surprising things this year. The bullpen is not deep so the Angels will need things to go their way. If the Angels can be in the mix for a playoff spot come the trading deadline, they may go for it and get a starter and a bullpen piece. They are right there with the talent for a run at the postseason. With the acquisitions they made this off season they realize that the next three years, while they still have Mike Trout, may be their best chance of getting another ring.
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