After winning 98 games and winning the division in 2014, the Angels regressed last season, winning 85 games and a third-place finish, although they were just three games out of first. The Angels made a trade early int the offseason that was essentially swapping shortstops with the Braves; the Angels sent SS Erick Aybar and a couple of other players in exchange for SS Andrelton Simmons and a minor leaguer. Other notable moves this winter include acquiring 3B Yunel Escobar from the Nationals in a trade for a couple of pitchers and signing free-agent OF Daniel Nava, who is expected to play left field at least part-time this season.
The Angels’ .246 batting average last season was the lowest in the American League, while their 176 home runs tied the AL average. Not surprisingly, OF Mike Trout led the team with a .299 average, 41 home runs and 90 RBI en route to finishing second in AL MVP voting, behind Blue Jays 3B Josh Donaldson. DH Albert Pujols had a resurgence of power, hitting 40 home runs for the first time since 2010 and driving in 95 RBI, but he hit a career-low .244. The only other hitter to pass 20 home runs was OF Kole Calhoun, who hit 26. The pitching staff’s 3.94 ERA was the sixth-best in the AL, although no individual pitcher had a spectacular season. SP Andrew Heaney had the best ERA (3.49) in the starting rotation in his 18 starts. Overall, SP Garrett Richards had the best season out of the starters, posting a 3.65 ERA and striking out 176 in 207.1 innings. Closer Huston Street was 40-for-45 in save opportunities but had 3.18 ERA, which isn’t great for a closer, and had 57 strikeouts in 62.1 innings.
The Angels have many of the same questions in 2016 that they had in 2015, without making any major acquisitions in the offseason. There’s also the question of Pujols, and whether his power resurgence was an anomaly or if its sustainable. At 36, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to hit 40 home runs again an d 25-30 is probably the likely range for his home run total. Outside of Richards, there isn’t really a reliable pitcher in the rotation. Veteran SP C.J. Wilson is experiencing pain in his throwing shoulder and will likely have a lengthy DL stint to begin the season, while SP Jered Weaver is suffering from neck tightness, but reports indicate he is on track to be ready for Opening Day. Heaney is young and expected to have his first full season in the majors, while SP Matt Shoemaker took a step back in performance last year after a good rookie season in 2014. SP Tyler Skaggs is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he is expected to be ready to pitch in games by the end of April of there are no setbacks.
The AL West became a significantly more competitive division last season, with the Rangers and Astros both coming on strong and passing the Angels, sending them back from first place in 2014 to third place last season. With just three games separating the teams in the standings in 2015, it should be another close race this year, but the Rangers and Astros still appear to be the top two teams in the division, so it’ll be difficult for the Angels to get back atop the West.