Los Angeles Angels

Angels 2017: Getting closer to heaven

THERE IS a lot to smile about in the way that Mike Trout swings the bat (Flickr/Keith Allison photo).

There’s a billboard on the Orange (57) Freeway with an image of an Angels’ baseball player and the slogan, “Prove them wrong.”

What a great slogan for the 2017 edition of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After a poor 2016 season, most prognosticators are picking the Halos for no better than fourth in the American League West, exactly where they finished last year.

“They” may be right, but I’m betting that prediction is just an example of groupthink. Unable to see into the future, the easiest thing to do is to look at how things went last year, and assume they will go exactly the same this time.

So here’s a slightly more optimistic look at the Angels for 2017. As P.T. Barnum once said, “On the whole, people are fooled more by believing too little than believing too much.

Pitching. Never be too willing to accept injuries as the reason for a bad season. Every team has players hurt. But the Halos had more than their share of dinged-up pitchers in 2016. If you cross your fingers and light a candle, the Angel starting rotation of Garrett Richards, Ricky Nolasco, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and newcomer Jesse Chavez is solid. In the bullpen, Cam Bedrosian has been literally perfect in spring training, giving the Orange County team a solid closer, followed by Huston Street.

ANGELS STARTERS for 2017 (OC Tribune graphic).

Hitting. The Halos were actually a pretty good hitting team last year, batting .260 overall, which is ninth best in Major League Baseball. But aside from Mike Trout – the best player in baseball – and Albert Pujols – the Angels didn’t have enough long ball, landing 25th in MLB in home runs and were fourth from the bottom in batters left on base. The lineup is pretty solid at the plate, with five regulars hitting above .270 and three – Trout, Yunel Escobar and newcomer Cameron Maybin – each batting above .300. Even a slight improvement in situational hitting should see the team add to its 74 wins of last year.

Defense. There’s room to improve here, too. While not awful, the Halos were 22nd in baseball in 2016, a sore tooth for a team that played a lot of one-run games.

Overall: With last year’s American League MVP (Trout) and future Hall-of-Famer Pujols in the lineup, the Angels have some pop at the plate. String that together with (a lot more) timely singles and the boys from Anaheim can rise back into a positive win-loss situation. This may not be their year to contend for a playoff spot, but once they get Josh Hamilton off their payroll, they will have enough available cash to go after some more free agent talent. This year should be pretty decent, and next year might be great.

Our prediction: Angels finish third in the AL West with 83 wins.

The schedule: The Angels open the season on Monday in Oakland and play four games through Thursday. Their home opener will be on Friday hosting the Seattle Mariners, starting a six-game home stand.

SAGE CAGE ADVICE FOR THE FINAL FOUR

In the second NCAA mens’ basketball team semifinal Saturday, it looked to us that Oregon was a better team. But the Ducks missed a half-dozen three-pointers in the frantic last few minutes and fell just short, losing 77-76 to North Carolina.

The Tarheels, for their part, almost gave it away by missing four late free throws. Both sides were throwing so many bricks during crunch time it almost looked like gamblers had gotten to both sides.

Much is made today of a player’s vertical leap, speed on the transition and ability to go to the hole aggressively. But, as the old coach once said, “There’s only one good play in basketball. Put the ball in the basket.”

If the Ducks were just a tiny bit better at that, they’d be playing Gonzaga for the title Monday night. If the ‘Heels were just a little bit better, they wouldn’t have had to drive their poor coach to the edge of collapse.

Monday Morning Coach is written by Pete Zarustica.

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