The LA Angels just finished a particularly brutal road trip to finish their away schedule in a disappointing year. The Halos went 1-5 in Oakland and Houston, dropping their final five by a combined 58-13 score, including a historic 21-3 stomping by the A’s Friday night, leading the mound to be re-named the Hill of Hell. As one Angels online community writer put it: “We all deserve a break.” The disastrous road trip left Los Angeles 75-81 on the year. One more loss, and manager Mike Scioscia oversees the third consecutive losing season.
The writing’s on the wall for Scioscia. After 19 seasons and one World Series Championship for the Angels, it appears the organization will move on from Scioscia after this season. They’ve already begun re-shuffling their internal coaching structures and affiliates to clear the way for a new manager, and need to reload for the final two years of Mike Trout’s contract. Who could replace Scioscia is anyone’s guess at this point. The Angels could promote an analytical guy from somewhere within the organization, they can poach a star manager from somewhere else… at this point it seems like the LA front office is open to anything.
But speaking of Trout, the Best Player in the Game is at the end of yet another astonishing season. The two-time Most Valuable Player in the American League had arguably his best season yet, with a week to go. Adding to his 38 home runs and 24 steals—his third 20-20 season in a row, Trout posted a .460 on-base percentage (career high), slugged .636 (career high), and remained one of the top defensive center fielders in the game. He’s better than ever, and with two years left on his current contract for LA, the championship window for the Angels is right now.
Throughout Trout’s career, the Angels have struggled to put winning pieces alongside their world-beating star. They attempted to pair Trout with an aging Albert Pujols, who hasn’t delivered as an Angel after a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis. They haven’t produced talent anywhere close to Trout from their farm system. You’d think that the Angels would try to draft and develop after handing out albatross contracts to Pujols and others, but their biggest chance to rise in the AL West next year might be another dip into free agency.
Despite three-straight losing seasons (if the Angels drop one more game this week), LA is a prime free agent destination. Last offseason, they lured two-way star Shohei Ohtani to Los Angeles despite strong plays from several competing teams and markets. But next year, LA’s season and future could turn on landing the best free agent to hit the market since Alex Rodriguez: Bryce Harper. The lack of a contract extension and a number of dugout blow-ups, not to mention a disappointing season all around in Washington DC, likely means that the star outfielder will be playing for a new team in 2019.
Harper sported his worst batting average and on-base percentage since 2016 this season, but he’s still slashing .245/.391/.495 in 153 games in 2018. Despite the concerns about his attitude and not really helping win much in Washington, he’ll be the most sought-after free agent in MLB in some time. All teams would be interested in signing him but I’m sure the big-market teams—Boston, both New York teams, the Dodgers, and the Angels, will be in the running for his services this winter. If the Angels can somehow rise above the Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers—all quality teams building super-teams—they can create the MLB version of the Golden State Warriors with a Trout and Harper outfield. Take heart, Angels fans. Even after another lost season and an offseason of changes and transition, you can still be back in the playoff picture next season.
Rest of the West
As of this writing, before any Monday action has taken place, the Houston Astros’ magic number for taking the division yet again is down to three. Their final seven games are against the dregs of the AL East, taking on the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada for three games, then off to Baltimore for the final four games. Against these teams, which are looking ahead to next year and the MLB Draft, Houston should take an opportunity to rest players and get a head start on setting their postseason rotation. They have the type of starting rotation that will take them far in October, especially if Charlie Morton avoids another shoulder injury (he was removed from Sunday’s start with the dreaded and always-murky ‘shoulder discomfort’ designation). Lance McCullers will try to get some innings in on his way back from injury in the final week out of the bullpen.
One more win for the Oakland A’s on the final week of their incredible, improbable season, and they set the record for most wins ever for a team ranked last in MLB in payroll. I know we already have one movie (excellent, by the way) about the A’s and their penchant for beating richer, better-endowed teams, but this season deserves another. Bob Melvin’s squad is destined to celebrate their Wild Card matchup with the Yankees during their trip to Seattle, just as a final knife-twist for Mariners fans like me.
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