Last July a writer for Sports Illustrated made a surprising World Series prediction, perhaps under extreme duress “during the stress of these times,” that inspired in me an afternoon of wistful pipe dreams. He saw the Angels beating the Dodgers in seven games as a conclusion worthy of “the spirit of a chaotic season.” He concluded that this was the least he could hope for in this disastrous year.
This is why I never make predictions like this; the awakening can be very rude.
Including this season, the Dodgers have won their division eight straight times, have not won fewer than 91 games (prior to this abbreviated season), and have made two losing World Series appearances. 2017 was the season during which it appeared everything was clicking for them and they still claim, probably justifiably, that the Astros cheated them out of the championship. This year they are the best team in baseball.
This postseason will be about pitching depth, both starters and relievers. There will be no days off between games which means starters will be expected to go deeper into contests before managers call on their bullpens. The Dodgers are deep in both departments and the versatility of their players in the field gives manager Roberts a lot of options for keeping his best bats in the lineup
If this Dodger dynasty finally wins the October Classic, as many favor them to, it will be a little bit of a shame. The truncated season would leave an asterisk on the championship for a team, organization, and pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) that deserve better.
The Angels, on the other hand, will not be going anywhere near the playoffs. This will be their fifth straight losing season and their struggle to attain mediocrity will continue next year. They have not won a playoff game since 2009. They lost their one playoff series since then, in 2014, when they surrendered to the Royals in three straight games. That was the one opportunity that the baseball world has had to see Mike Trout in post-season play.
Angel manager Joe Maddon has treated this shortened pandemic season much like an exhibition season. He has gotten a long enough look at top prospect Jo Adell to see that he’s probably at least two seasons away from being ready for the big time. He has seen that the Angel pitching problems cannot be solved within the organization, whose scouting and development efforts are being seriously questioned now.
Moreno, Scioscia, and ex-general manager Dipoto left Maddon an organization with a gutted farm system, virtually devoid of starting pitching, and in significant debt to Albert Pujols. Pujols was, without question, the greatest hitter of the first 11 years of this century. After joining the Angels his production absolutely fell off the table, at first into average territory and gradually into the sub-par zone. The Angels’ signing of Pujols has become widely viewed as the worst free agent signing in history. It economically hamstrung the organization during the prime years of the best hitter of his generation, Mike Trout.
Incredibly, Maddon has a lineup including two bona fide MVP candidates in Trout and Rendon and can do very little with them. Comparisons between the careers of Trout and Ted Williams, another best hitter of his era while playing on a perennial loser, are being made now. That the game is poorer for not having this once in a generation player appear in more than one short postseason series is widely being accepted as a sad inevitability.
I’ve made enough foolish baseball predictions to know that predictions are for fools. And the tournament-like structure of the postseason this year makes a Cinderella team very possible. But I will make an observation about the remainder of this regular season and another about the drama to follow. If the Angels win their last ten games and finish at .500 I will eat my Mike Trout hat, fish head and all. And I’m pretty certain that the Dodgers are going to be a very exciting team to watch during this postseason.
Jerry Howard’s “Baseball Notes” are posted on Fridays during baseball season.