COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Angels' disappointing season ended with a whimper but not before they had a pretty impressive run earlier in September, proving this team already has a lot of the parts to compete for a playoff spot next year.
There's no real shame in having a bad season. There are 19 other teams in the league who also didn't make the playoffs -- including seven other teams in the $100+ million poor allocations of funds club.
A baseball season is a bit like dating in that regardless of what is hoped for at the beginning, it's very unlikely that it will end with the champagne celebration of marriage -- or, in baseball, a championship.
Even if you're dating someone amazing and everything just clicks and it seems like a "championship" is a certainty, there are so many factors that can get in the way. Maybe her bitter friends don't like you. Maybe she has a bit of a wandering eye. Or maybe she refuses to have her ex-boyfriend move out of her apartment because they're "just friends and you're really making too big a deal out of this, Jed."
In baseball, it's even rare for the team with the best regular-season record to win the title. So, if your team didn't make the playoffs and all you can do is figure out who you're rooting against, just know that you're not alone -- and as a matter of fact, you can count yourself among countless millions of disappointed fans of disappointing teams.
As with dating, when things go bad, it's important to remember that there are lots of championships in the sea and as long as you learn from your mistakes, there is always hope in the future -- except for Chicago Cubs fans.
Some Angels fans say that the team has been cursed since it changed its name to "Los Angeles." It's certainly amusing to people who actually live in L.A. to see fans in Orange County forced to root for a city they despise.
Sure, it's disingenuous to call them L.A. -- which is one of the only "L.A." things about them -- but 10 years without a World Series is a bit short to start suspecting supernatural intervention. There are plenty of real-world reasons for the team coming up short.
Here are five reasons the Angels will make the playoffs next year:
1. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton
Despite terrible years by Pujols and Hamilton, the Angels' offense was actually one of the best in the league. Hamilton showed signs of life in the second half, but his power was way down and it seemed like he was trying to justify his contract with every at-bat. Sorry, Josh, there's no such thing as a $15 million home run.
Pujols was shut down after a couple months of slightly above-average production because of a foot injury that's plagued him for a few years going back to St. Louis and is another reason why his contract is the most insane ever in baseball. Assuming his foot gets better and Hamilton returns to some semblance of his former self, this offense is set as is.
2. An Unlucky Season
Whether it's injuries, free agent signings or any of the thousands of game-play possibilities, luck is a huge part of baseball. The say that it's a game of inches (centimeters for those outside the U.S.) because a ball, bat or glove moved an inch (2.54 cm) up, down, left or right can win or lose a game.
Some teams get very lucky for a whole season, like the Pittsburgh Pirates this year or the Baltimore Orioles last year. Well, the Angels had a lot of bad luck this season -- with injuries, bad free agent signings and thousands of in-game plays. These things tend to even out so next year the team should fare better.
3. Division Rivals
The West was the worst division in the AL this year. The Houston Astros are still a couple seasons away from not losing 100 games and the Seattle Mariners seem like they're lost in the wilderness.
That leaves the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers. And with Ron Washington careening the Rangers down the road toward mediocrity, the Angels have a really good shot at racking up wins within the division next year.
4. Improving Pitching
Everything we're talking about here is predicated on the Angels working out their awful pitching situation. They ranked near the bottom in almost every statistical measure. The free agent pitchers they brought in were busts -- including the catastrophic Joe Blanton. The pitcher they traded for, Tommy Hanson, has almost everything you'd want in a top-line starter -- except for a working throwing arm.
The front office has already gutted its farm system so there won't be any trades. But, as I wrote about here, I'm hopeful the team has gotten smarter and will avoid free agents that cost them a draft pick. If the Angels can get either Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco or both, they'd vastly improve the team without compromising their future.
5. Mike Trout
Mike Trout is the best player in the league -- by a lot. He should be the MVP, as I wrote here, though that doesn't mean he will win. Looking over the rest of the team, he may be single-handedly responsible for the team's offense being among the best.
Any team that has the best player in its respective sport has a shot at making the playoffs.
Every first date starts with the hope that it could lead to something more. And maybe, just maybe, it will lead to that fairytale ending. Just as every baseball team starts their season with the hope of reaching the playoffs and making a World Series run.
For the Los Angeles Angels, the hope already has a solid foundation to build on to get them closer to their fairytale ending.
Jed Rigney is a Los Angeles-based award-winning filmmaker who also fancies himself a baseball writer. He is the lead humor columnist at Through The Fence Baseball. You can see him on Twitter @JedRigney.
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- Josh Hamilton
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