As is the nature of Major League Baseball, the 2012 season for the Los Angeles Angels was a long and winding road. After heading into the season as the consensus new power house in the American League West, not even the addition of Albert Pujols and the emergence of a once-in-a-lifetime talent of uber-rookie Mike Trout were enough to propel the Halos to the postseason. At the end of 162 games, the Angels are going home as third-place also-rans. We take a look back at the just-wrapped season and what went right -- and wrong -- for what many people believed would be Southern California's premiere team in 2012.
It's a bit strange now to look back on the beginning of the season, but to be honest, the Angels didn't see nearly as many shake-ups or changes to the game plan as many other teams over the course of the year. The Dodgers, of course, shook things up with a flurry of big deals in July and August. The Toronto Blue Jays were decimated by injuries to both the pitching staff and cornerstones like Jose Bautista. The eventual winners of the AL West, the Oakland Athletics, touted Manny Ramirez as their second-biggest offseason signing -- and he was released without playing in a regular-season game.
The Angels made moves over the course of the season, to be sure. The biggest and most important move was to call up Mike Trout from Triple-A, who promptly went berserk on the league and racked up one of the greatest seasons of all time -- not just for a 20-year-old, but for any player. His historical season and emergence as the greatest overall player in the American League -- by quite a wide margin -- will likely not be enough to net him the MVP award. That octagonal plaque now seems destined to go to Miguel Cabrera, leaving Trout with the unanimous Rookie of the Year honors as a consolation prize. This, of course, is a remarkable analogue for the 2012 Angels season; a year filled with nothing but consolation prizes.
There was a lot that went right this year beyond Trout, of course. Mark Trumbo had a monster first half. After a sluggish start, Albert Pujols looked pretty much like Albert Pujols. Jered Weaver pitched a no-hitter and is solidly in the mix to be considered for the Cy Young Award. There was a minimum of Vernon Wells playing time and he didn't ruin everything when he got his starts. Bobby Abreu was sent out to pasture. Torii Hunter went on a monster tear of clutch hits down the home stretch. Offensively, the season was everything Angels fans could have wanted it to be and more.
The problem with the season boiled down to pitching, most notably with the bullpen -- as we've discussed before. C.J. Wilson wasn't quite the dominant No. 2 the Halos hoped for; Dan Haren stubbornly attempted to pitch through an injury and finished up with a season that was terribly underwhelming to say the least; Ervin Santana was up to his old tricks and Jerome Williams pitched himself out of the rotation (although he did prove to be one of the more reliable arms in the bullpen over the course of the year, particularly as a long reliever when a starter flamed out). Zack Greinke was quite good after coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline, but may have been just a rental.
But that horrible, accursed bullpen. Those wretched pitching decisions made by Mike Scioscia, who in fairness had to play the cards he had been dealt -- which were pretty lousy. When general manager Jerry Dipoto and his team sit down to fix this team in the offseason, the bullpen needs to be job number one. This team generates a lot of offense (when they're not on one of their team-wide slumps that seemed to happen once a week or so), but they simply cannot win ballgames if relievers like LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen are handed the ball with a two-run lead and surrender five. This happened with alarming, infuriating regularity throughout the season and can ill afford to go into 2013 with a crop of relievers as shaky as we saw over the course of 2012.
It seems likely that Scioscia will return as the manager in 2013 and perhaps beyond, but if he can't produce significantly better results next season, the writing is on the wall. The Angels were victims of a lot of bad luck over the course of the season, but clearly some bad decisions were made along the way as well. Any friction between Scioscia and the new front office -- real or perceived -- will only be magnified if the Angels remain stagnant.
There is plenty to look forward to next season, of course. Another year of Pujols in his prime. A full year of Mike Trout. Hoping that Trumbo can even out and continue his production for a full season. Torii coming back for (hopefully) one more year to be that clutch player that fans fell in love with all over again in the final two months of the season. There is talk that Haren's option will be declined in order to free up money to pursue a long-term contract for Greinke. Locking up Greinke would immediately make the rotation stronger and could slot Wilson -- who should rebound to something closer to what the Angels thought they were getting -- in nicely as the No. 3 guy.
Perhaps the best news for the Angels is that there is a sea change in the American League West, as demonstrated by the rise of the A's and the wilting down the stretch of the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers. A flurry of strong second-half play by the Seattle Mariners also raised plenty of eyebrows. And the division will welcome the Houston Astros in 2013 as it expands to five teams. The field -- which in 2012 was expected to be a two-horse race between the Angels and Rangers -- will be wide open. While the competition will be tougher for the Halos, it will also be tougher across the board. The division looks to be anyone's for the taking next year. With enough strengthening of the pitching in the offseason, the Angels should be good enough to capture the crown in 2013.
Of course, that's what we said before this season, too. Keep your heads up, Angels fans. If nothing else, we'll be watching Mike Trout obliterate the competition for a very, very long time to come. That's the best consolation prize that anyone could have asked for.