With every passing year, the pressure on the Angels ratchets up just a little more as Mike Trout ages. It’s now common thought that the Angels have basically wasted the career of perhaps the best player of all time, and there’s a breaking point somewhere in the future but getting bigger on the horizon. Either Trout will age out of his Olympus resident numbers, or there will be some sort of break between player and team.
That didn’t help Joe Maddon, and when you lose 12 games in a row after one of the few promising starts the Angels have had the past decade, the pressure becomes unbearable. It was obviously too much for Maddon, as the Angels canned him yesterday.
That doesn’t mean Maddon didn’t earn his walking papers. Maddon has gone from being an actual creative, forward-thinking manager, to one who kind of wants his team to be on autopilot while he’s still thought of as a creative, forward-thinking manager, to a manager who’s only priority is to be thought of as creative and forward thinking. Going to the press about moving Trout to 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 else that he has a big throbbing brain without actually doing anything to benefit his team. That’s where Maddon is now, calling attention to himself for no other reason than wanting the attention instead of using out-of-the-box thinking to win.
Maddon was the perfect guy for his first two years in Chicago, where the uber-relaxed atmosphere he created around a team that was trying to break the longest drought in sports, surrounded by everyone in the city having their brains march right out of their ears in anxiety (including yours truly as, during the Division Series, there was a folding chair on the floor in my apartment that I chucked across the room and then refused to touch). But when the Cubs needed something more, when their players refused to recognize how much they couldn’t hit fastballs but refused to adjust their approach, Maddon was still playing “Joe Cool.” It only got worse from there, both in Chicago and Anaheim.
But… not everything is in a manager’s control. It’s not Maddon’s fault that Trout went 1-for-28 during the losing streak (and now he’s hurt). It’s not on Maddon that Taylor Ward and Anthony Rendon are hurt. It’s not on Maddon that 2021 MVP Shohei Ohtani has been a walk or a strikeout of late and not much else. Or that Jared Walsh has a wOBA of .195. It’s all gone wrong.
Still, there is something about the way the Angels have to build their team thanks to Ohtani being around. As the only team with a six-man rotation, the Angels have to run out basically an extra fifth-starter than other teams. The rotation has been gasoline during the streak as well, with Ohtani, Chase Silseth, and Patrick Sandoval carrying ERAs over 8.00 the past two weeks. And no one is getting out of the fifth. Eight different guys out of the pen have had to throw three innings or more during this streak, and when you get eight deep into a bullpen you’re probably finding guys who were carrying a bindle the day before.
Maddon certainly didn’t use his pen very creatively, as he only has one multiple-inning guy out there in Jaime Barria. Considering that the Angels have to roll with six starters, which means one less reliever than most, they probably need more than that. And that will only get worse when MLB – if MLB — gets around to enforcing the roster limits on pitchers that they were supposed to but keep backing off of thanks to the shortened spring training.
The Angels can’t know how many innings they can get out of Michael Lorenzen or Noah Syndergaard given their histories, and Ohtani has never managed more than 130 innings in a season. That’s a little skewed because of the six-man rotation, but you would think with every pitcher getting an extra day of rest they would be more likely to reach the sixth or seventh. The Angels are 10th in MLB in innings from their starters for the year, but 23rd the past two weeks during this run of confusion and sadness.
And even if Lorenzen and Syndergaard, for the most part, have been good this season, they get less starts. They only have nine apiece when the leading pitchers have 11. Those missing innings from pitchers doing well may not matter as much in an expanded postseason setup, but they do matter. Those starts are going to bottom-of-the-rotation guys, which the Angels have an additional one of thanks to the way they have to set up around Ohtani.
It’s not the major thing that has put the Angels where they are. A combination of injuries, mystifying slumps from players, a lack of a coherent plan for years are mostly to blame. But still, when you’re on a streak like this, you’d like to get your stopper out there. 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 take another whack or two before the Angels can figure out what a team with a six-man rotation and a limited pen by the rules looks like so it can compete. That’ll be interim manager Phil Nevin’s job now.