What's going on with the Angels?
After making the playoffs in six out of eight seasons from 2002 to 2009, the Angels have been in a rut lately with no postseason appearances in the past four years. Even though the club has the best young player in the game and vast financial resources, it's still stuck behind the Rangers and A's in the AL West pecking order.
The Angels' relative futility is reminiscent of the post-2006 Mets except that this Los Angeles team is not going to be selling off pieces anytime soon. Mike Trout has just been signed to a long-term deal, though it could have been longer, and the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton contracts aren't going away anytime soon.
Pujols is signed through 2021 and is coming off the worst season of his career in which he was limited to 99 games and hit just .258/.330/.437, while Hamilton similarly just finished the worst season of his major league career. Hamilton made fans optimistic with a torrid start to the season, but now he's on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Can the Angels turn things around? With talents like Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton, the offense can still be a monster, but a shallow pitching rotation and the recent performance of the two aging sluggers will make the playoffs a stiff challenge in 2014.
Who are these guys?
Kole Calhoun is a bit old to be considered a top prospect, but he could very well be the next rising star that the Angels need to counterbalance the elderly parts of their lineup. Calhoun is 26 years old, but he's torn up minor league pitching at every level he's hit at. Last season at Triple-A, he was a master of plate discipline with 32 strikeouts and 32 walks to go with a ridiculous .354/.431/.617 line in 274 plate appearances. That led to his first significant major league playing time, and he shined there too, posting a .351 wOBA and 1.1 fWAR in 222 plate appearances. Calhoun is now the Angels' everyday right fielder, so get used to seeing him.
J.B. Shuck is a former prospect in the Astros' organization, but he never quite hit for enough power to cut it at a corner outfield spot. The Angels picked him up after the 2012 season and gave him 478 major league plate appearances in 2013. Perhaps they were intrigued by Shuck's ability to walk at least 10 percent of the time at every level in the minors, but last season his walk rate was just 5.6 percent in the bigs. That doesn't go very well with a .336 slugging percentage, and Shuck started 2014 in the minor leagues. He's back following the Hamilton injury, and he's a good bet for playing time in left field because the alternative is Collin Cowgill.
One more thing: Calhoun is from Buckeye, Arizona, and Shuck went to college at Ohio State. You can't make this stuff up.
Who's on the mound?
As a first round sandwich pick in the 2009 draft, Skaggs has always had a ton of potential, but we haven't seen it in the major leagues yet. You know the Angels like him, though, because after trading him away in 2010 as part of the deal for Dan Haren, they got him back this winter in the big Mark Trumbo trade. Last year in Triple-A, Skaggs threw for a 4.59 ERA in 104 innings, but he struck out more than a batter per inning, and his very low strand rate led to a FIP of 3.07. Looking to be a full-time MLB starter this season, Skaggs got off to a great start with eight shutout innings against Houston last week. Gee's start has been a little rockier, with three home runs allowed already in two starts, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a solid three-to-one.
Weaver is off to a rough start this season with eight earned runs allowed in 12 innings, and his strikeout rate isn't what it was in his glory years of 2010 to 2012, but he's still as consistent a starter as they come. He missed a handful of starts last season, but before that he made at least 30 in five straight seasons. Plus, Weaver's ERA hasn't been above 3.30 since 2009. With three years left on his five-year deal, Weaver is one long-term contract that is working out for the Angels. That makes him similar to Niese, who can be a great value for the Mets through 2018 if he keeps pitching up to his potential. He got his season off to a solid start last week when he fell one out short of a quality start versus the Reds.
The Angels took a risk when they signed Wilson to a five-year deal after he had just completed his second season as a full-time starter with Texas. The lefty out of Loyola Marymount doesn't look like he'll ever be as good as he was during that incredible 2011 season when he struck out more than eight batter per nine and walker fewer than three, but he's still been quite useful to the Angels during his two seasons on the west coast. A 3.60 ERA (105 ERA+) is pretty good when spread over 400 innings in two seasons, but the Angels wish he could get his walk rate under control. That's something the Mets don't have to worry about with Bartolo Colon, who has reinvented his career simply by throwing a ton of strikes with his deceptively tough fastball. During his last start, Colon befuddled the Braves with zero walks and six hits allowed in seven innings.
What about some GIFs?
Albert Pujols recorded his 1,500th and 1,501st career RBI on this blast off of Seattle's James Paxton.
The Mets last played the Angels in 2011 during a three-game series at Citi Field. Here is Carlos Beltran reaching the Shea Bridge with a titanic blast.