The Los Angeles Angels have been one of baseball’s good stories in the early part of this season. They’re narrowly leading a tight three-team race in the AL West with the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. The Angels’ Shohei Otahni has electrified the game with his dual role as starting pitcher & designated hitter. Mike Trout continues to churn out superstar numbers with ease. But the ultimate fate of the Angels will be determined how an uncertain pitching situation plays out.
Los Angeles is fourth in the American League in ERA and the starting roation in particular is exceptionally well-balanced. The five starters range in ERA from 3.07 to 4.08, giving a consistency to manager Mike Scioscia’s day-to-day handling of the bullpen. But none of the starters have a real track record.
Let’s start with the obvious case of Otahni. He’s got a 3.58 ERA in his six starts to go along with some amazing work at the plate (.392 on-base percentage/.652 slugging percentage). It’s still quite logical to wonder if he keep up either of these performances for the long haul, much less both of them. And if one aspect of his game falls by the wayside, which will it be?
Of the other four starters, only Garrett Richards has ever made more than twenty starts in a season and that was back in 2014-15. His last two seasons have been marred by injuries. If Richards stays healthy, his track record suggests he can certainly match, if not improve on his 4.08 ERA. But that same track record suggests even more strongly that he might not make enough trips the mound.
Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney round out the rotation. All are pitching well, with ERAs in the 3s, particularly Skaggs who has a 3.07 ERA in eight starts. But again, none have ever taken on a full workload. Keep in mind that I used 20 starts as a benchmark that they all have never hit, but even that’s generous. A team that’s going to keep pace with the Astros is going to need multiple pitchers making 30 starts. Will the arms hold up?
The same level of uncertainty applies to the closer’s role. Kenyan Middelton has done a nice job here, with a 2.04 ERA, but at age 24 this is only his second year in the major leagues and he’s making an early trip to the disabled list (albeit a minor one and is expected back before May is out).
There’s a lot of good things about these Angels. Trout has a shot at another MVP, Ohtani is a tremendous story, Albert Pujols crossed the 3,000-hit threshold and there’s a number of position players (Kole Calhoun, Ian Kinsler) that are likely to pick up the pace after slow starts and give the offense a continued lift. Above all, it’s nice to see a Mike Scioscia-managed team back and relevant again.
It still comes down to the pitching. The Astros more than proved their mettle last October and are stacked with proven starting pitching. The quartet of Skaggs, Richards, Heaney and Tropeano have potential, no doubt about it. But they all need to put it together in the same season to win the AL West. It’s with good reason that while the Angels are a respected team by the smart money, it’s the Astros that are still the odds-on favorite to bring this division home.