Nothing is over yet. Nothing is decided. The Los Angeles Angels still have a solid shot at overtaking either the Oakland Athletics or the Baltimore Orioles for a Wild Card berth, which means that they may very well be involved in a one-game play-in to head to the American League Division Series.
But there's a very real chance that the Angels will miss out on the postseason altogether, or will be knocked off in that one-game play-in. At the beginning of the season -- if you can remember back that far -- the American League West was predicted to be a two-team horse race between the Angels and the Texas Rangers. The Angels acquired Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. sThey upgraded from Jeff Mathis to Chris Iannetta, which is sort of like trading for in-his-prime Mike Piazza (when you adjust for Mathis). They were among the favorites to win the AL pennant. And that was a team that didn't even have Mike Trout as they broke camp to start the season.
A few months later, here the Halos are, a few games behind the A's in the division and in the Wild Card race. If the Angels miss the playoffs altogether, the 2012 season will be viewed as an unbelievable disappointment. Los Angeles would have to make a very deep playoff run at this point for the season to not be viewed, at least in some measure, as a failure.
There will be plenty of finger-pointing in the offseason if the Angels don't go all the way. But who exactly is to blame for this year? We take a look at who the scapegoats could be this year and how fair it would be to blame each of them. We'll start from the top.
The Front Office
Angels brass should definitely not be blamed for the failures of the season. Jerry Dipoto went out and got the best player on the free agent market in Pujols and the perceived best pitcher on the free agent market in Wilson. He also managed a tremendous upgrade at catcher with Iannetta for practically nothing. If that wasn't enough, the Angels also had enough sense to:
- Call up Mike Trout and turn him loose on the league
- Fire hitting coach Mickey Hatcher during the first extended team-wide slump of the season
- Find Ernesto Frieri on the scrap heap and turn him into a lights-out closer for a time
- Bolster the starting rotation by acquiring Zack Greinke at the trade deadline
All things considered, Dipoto and his team made pretty much every move you could have wanted. Pretty much. We'll get to their biggest oversight in due time, but imagine the 2012 Angels team without Pujols, Wilson, Frieri, Greinke and Iannetta. It's not a happy thought.
At the beginning of the season, Albert Pujols went into perhaps the longest slump of his career. It certainly looked terrifying for a while there. But he turned things around, as analysts predicted he would. When all is said and done, Pujols will have more or less replicated the output that would be expected when looking at the 2010 and 2011 editions of the perennial All-Star.
We obviously don't need to say anything about Mike Trout.
Torii Hunter has exceeded expectations, especially down the stretch. The infield consisting of Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar have done pretty much everything you would expect them to. Iannetta went down with an unfortunate injury for the better part of two months but has been a boon as backstop (especially considering who he replaced). Kendrys Morales returned from missing two full years and has not missed a step, hitting for power from both sides of the plate and chipping in clutch hits time and again.
The biggest disappointment offensively has been Mark Trumbo, but even that performance included an absolutely stellar first half and 30 home runs. He's fallen off a cliff in the second half (to the point where even the production of Vernon Wells has been an improvement), but he will likely return to form if given the opportunity to work through this rough stretch -- even if fans have to wait until next season to see him turn it around.
The lineup has not been the problem. The 2012 Angels have had an unfortunate tendency to let every bat go cold at the same time and to pile on run after run in games that are already blowouts, but taken as a whole over the season, they've done about as well as could be expected -- although Trout has clearly been the catalyst to their offensive success.
The Starting Rotation
For a period of time in the middle of the season that was much longer than was comfortable, the only starter that fans felt comfortable with on the mound was Jered Weaver. The staff ace remained borderline invincible throughout the season, but there were several weeks where it seemed as though the Angels were only going to win one out of every five starts. That simply wasn't going to cut it.
Jerome Williams has unfortunately faded and dealt with some health issues, but has proved valuable as a long reliever in a pinch. Dan Haren has been miles better since admitting to pitching through a back injury and allowing himself a stint on the DL. Ervin Santana weathered a brutal first half and has been quite consistent over the past couple of months. C.J. Wilson has faltered more than the team wanted at times, but has been perfectly serviceable. And Greinke has been great since coming to the team, but has often been a hard-luck loser when he hasn't picked up a "W" in a game.
Overall, the rotation has had plenty of struggles and in most statistics is right around the middle or the top of the bottom third when compared to the rest of MLB. The starters -- apart from Weaver, of course -- certainly deserve a share of the blame. Overall, however, they were for all intents and purposes an average rotation. Considering how unpredictable Haren and Santana can be and considering the fifth starter was in flux for a time, that's pretty much all you can hope for.
Mike Scioscia will get plenty of blame for the way the season turns out and indeed, has been in the hot seat -- at least in the press -- pretty much from the beginning, when the team was dropping home series against the Kansas City Royals and Pujols was going nearly a month without getting a home run.
Scioscia's particular managerial style has always had its detractors. There were things he got right this year, like sticking with Trumbo in the early half and giving him opportunities to work through his slump late in the season. But the Angels skipper has faltered in managing the pitching staff time and again throughout the year. He's pulled pitchers too early, left them in too late and turned the mess that was the 2012 bullpen into a full-blown garbage fire of a fiasco. Mike Scioscia will rightfully take plenty of blame if the Halos miss out on October baseball, but there's another component here that was the true Achilles' heel of the team.
Time and again, the Angels bullpen coughed up a late lead or allowed teams to worm their way back into things when games should have been well out of hand. Going into the season, it appeared that the bullpen would be the weak link -- they picked up Jason Isringhausen, for god's sakes -- but no one expected it to be this horrific.
Dipoto and crew admittedly did not have a lot of options to bolster the bullpen in the offseason, but failing to build a stronger staff of relief arms can -- and should -- be viewed as the biggest oversight of the front office. While the Angels fielded a very potent offense, LaTroy Hawkins has taught Los Angeles fans that literally no lead is safe.
Even Frieri, who seemed like the one true automatic arm in the bullpen, finally succumbed to his propensity to allow fly balls. Further, to allow those fly balls to keep traveling over the fence and result in home runs. While Scioscia has mismanaged his pitchers, no major league bullpen should be this bad.
If the Angels miss out on the playoffs, the majority of the blame should be on the horrendous bullpen and the management (or mismanagement) thereof. I have a distinct feeling that Dipoto will be shopping for relievers during the offseason. Wish him luck. The 2013 Angels may very well end up with someone like Chris Perez. The sad thing is that even Perez would be an improvement at this point.