Los Angeles Angels
Not too long ago, when you thought of the Angels, you thought of Mike Trout and ... who else did they have, again? Was Pujols still there? Some pitcher, Garrett somebody? No?
Those days are over. Now when the Angels are mentioned the guy you think of immediately is Shohei Ohtani. The 23-year-old Japanese sensation, who put up a 42-15 win-loss record and a .286 batting average in five seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan, spurned the M's (and several other clubs) in favor of the Halos over the winter, much to our disappointment, and has begun his Major League career in stunning fashion. As a pitcher, Ohtani has made four starts thus far; he beat Oakland twice, including a 7-inning effort on April 8 in which he allowed all of one hit, but in two starts since then has been hampered by blisters in his pitching hand that led to a quick exit against Boston and a mediocre outing in Houston. With the bat, he's exceeded expectations, hitting over .300 with four homers in the first few weeks. Manager Mike Scioscia hasn't been playing Ohtani as he typically would a regular pitcher or hitter; instead, he has Ohtani starting on the mound every sixth day and batting in the lineup as the DH two or three times a week between pitching starts.
The Angels aren't a one-man show, though. Other notables on the club are Trout (of course), the perennial MVP candidate with the unreal on-base ability and solid pop in the bat that make him the best player in the game today; future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, who, though getting on in years can still impress with the longball every now and then and is at this writing just five hits shy of 3,000 for his career; and Andrelton Simmons, one of the best shortstops around.
Where the Halos may fall short is with pitching. Other than Ohtani, none of their starters strikes fear in anyone's heart, though Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have both impressed here and there. Second-year closer Keynan Middleton seems like the real deal, and setup man José Alvarez has been outstanding in an otherwise lackluster bullpen.
Players to Watch
Shohei Ohtani: An unimpressive spring training left some wondering if Ohtani would even make the big-league club to start the year, but he's quieted all doubters with solid performances both on the mound and in the batter's box in April.
Zack Cozart: Once a Mariner trade target, Cozart never found his way to Seattle but this year has found himself in the AL West, signing as a free agent with the Angels after seven years as a Cincinnati Red. Last year was the first of his career in which he lived up to his offensive promise, delivering a .297/.385/.548 line and his first All-Star selection.
Tyler Skaggs: For his career, Skaggs has been a workmanlike back-end starting pitcher, but so far in 2018 he's outperformed his history. It's likely an anomaly, but should he maintain his sub-3.00 ERA, Skaggs could be a real difference-maker for the Angels this year.
Mike Scioscia: The longest-tenured manager in the big leagues, Scoscia has helmed the Angels since 2000, making the playoffs seven times. The two-time AL Manager of the Year is in the final year of his contract, and it remains to be seen if this is the end of the Scoscia era in Orange County or not; with the Halos off to a hot start, his job prospects seem pretty solid whether or not he's offered an extension from the Angels.
Luis Valbuena: Valbuena played 18 games with the M's in 2008 before finding himself in the middle of one of the most complicated trades the Mariners have ever made. Valbuena as dealt to the Cleveland Indians in a three-team deal that involved 12 players shuffling between the M's, the Indians, and the New York Mets. Since then, he's made a career for himself as a competent journeyman infielder with enough power and defensive versatility to keep him employed as a big-leaguer.
|Los Angeles Angels||(2016 - present)|
|Division Titles:||1979, 1982, 1986, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2014|
Albert Pujols: The batting average may not be where it once was, but Pujols still manages to be around the 100-RBI mark at the end of every reasonably healthy season, and barring injury will likely top 2,000 career RBI sometime this summer.
Shohei Ohtani: It took all of one pitch for Ohtani to record his first Major League hit, as he singled on the first offering he saw from Oakland's Kendall Graveman.
Mike Trout hit nine homers in April, matching an Angels club record held by Albert Pujols (2014) and Brian Downing (1987).
Shohei Ohtani is just the fourth player in history to have 25 pitching strikeouts and four or more home runs in a month. Ferguson Jenkins (1971), Don Drysdale (1958), and Wes Ferrell (1935) are the others.
Garrett Richards: The average velocity on Richards’ fastball since the start of the 2014 season is 95.8mph, tops among all Major Leaguers during that time span.
Ian Kinsler: On April 12th Kinsler hit his 47th career leadoff home run, fourth-most all-time and most among active players. Rickey Henderson (81), Alfonso Soriano (54), and Craig Biggio (53) are the top three.
Martin Maldonado: When Maldonado won Gold Glove honors last year, he became just the third Angels catcher to do so. Bob Boone (1982, 1986-88) and Bengie Molina (2002-03) are the others.
Luis Valbuena has hit 108 home runs in an eleven-year career that began with Seattle in the Mariners’ ill-fated 2008 season, but didn’t hit a single dinger with the M’s. He batted just 54 times with Seattle, all in ’08, batting .245.