With each passing year, the pressure on the Angels increases a little more as Mike Trout gets older. It’s now commonplace to think that the Angels have essentially ruined the career of the greatest player of all time, and there’s a breaking point somewhere in the future but growing on the horizon. Either Trout will age out of his Olympus resident numbers or there will be some sort of hiatus between player and team.
That hasn’t helped Joe Maddon, and when you lose 12 straight after one of the Angels’ few promising starts in the past decade, the pressure becomes unbearable. It was obviously too much for Maddon, because the angels boxed it yesterday.
That’s not to say Maddon didn’t earn his walking papers. Maddon has gone from being a true creative and forward-thinking manager, to one who wants his team to be on autopilot when he is still seen as a creative and forward-thinking manager, to a manager whose only priority is to be thought of as creative and avant-garde. Going to the press to move Trout into left field before going to Trout himself, or walking Corey Seager with the bases loaded were moves by a manager who wants to make it clear above all that he has a big brain throbbing without doing anything to benefit his team. This is where Maddon is now, drawing attention to himself for no reason other than wanting attention instead of using original thought to win.
Maddon was the perfect guy for his first two years in Chicago, where the super relaxed atmosphere he created around a team trying to break the sport’s longest drought, surrounded by everyone in town having their brains popping out of their ears in anxiety (including yours truly because during the Division series there was a folding chair on the floor of my apartment which I threw across the room and then refused to touch). But when the Cubs needed something more, when their players refused to recognize how they couldn’t hit fastballs but refused to adjust their approach, Maddon always played “Joe Cool.” It only got worse from there, both in Chicago and Anaheim.
But… not everything is under the control of a manager. It’s not Maddon’s fault that Trout went 1 for 28 during the losing streak (and now he’s injured). It’s not on Maddon that Taylor Ward and Anthony Rendon are injured. It’s not on Maddon that 2021 MVP Shohei Ohtani has been a walk or takedown lately and not much else. Or that Jared Walsh has a wOBA of 0.195. Everything went wrong.
Still, there’s something about the way the Angels have to build their team thanks to Ohtani’s presence. As the only team with a six-man rotation, the Angels are essentially missing an extra fifth starter than other teams. Rotation was also of the essence during the streak, with Ohtani, Chase Silseth and Patrick Sandoval carrying ERAs of over 8.00 over the past two weeks. And no one comes out of the fifth. Eight different guys out of the bullpen must have pitched three or more innings in that streak, and when you get eight of them deep in a bullpen, you’re probably finding guys who wore a bindle the night before.
Maddon certainly hasn’t used his pen very creatively, as he only has one multi-inning player in Jaime Barria. Considering the Angels have to roll with six starters, which means one less reliever than most, they probably need more than that. And it’s only going to get worse when MLB — if MLB — gets to enforce the pitching roster limits they were supposed to but keep backing away thanks to shortened spring training.
The Angels can’t figure out how many innings they can get out of Michael Lorenzen or Noah Syndergaard given their backgrounds, and Ohtani has never hit more than 130 innings in a season. It’s a bit skewed because of the six-man rotation, but you’d think that every pitcher given an extra day of rest would be more likely to hit sixth or seventh. The Angels are 10th in MLB in innings since their starters for the year, but 23rd in the past two weeks during this series of confusion and sadness.
And while Lorenzen and Syndergaard have, for the most part, been good this season, they’re getting fewer starts. They only have nine each when the best pitchers have 11. Missing innings from successful pitchers may not matter as much in an expanded postseason setup, but they do matter. Those starts go to guys at the bottom of the rotation, which the Angels have more thanks to how they have to settle around Ohtani.
It’s not the main thing that put the angels where they are. A combination of injuries, mystifying player falls, a lack of a consistent plan for years are mostly to blame. But still, when you’re on a sequence like this, you’d like to get your cork out. If the Angels have a stopper, they have to wait an extra day to see him on the mound and if the slide continues, it’s another six games before they can try again. It may still be a hit or two before the Angels can figure out what a team looks like with a six-man rotation and a limited bullpen under the rules to be able to compete. That will now be the job of interim manager Phil Nevin.