The main reason why the Los Angeles Angels have missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons is a lack of quality pitching. But last year fell apart following a rash of injuries to the starting lineup. With Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon missing the bulk of the season, not even an MVP campaign from two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani could lift the Angels above a 77-85 record.
Pitching is still a question mark for LA going into 2022. But health permitting, the Halos boast one of the top lineups in the American League and MLB as a whole. With a solid mix of proven stars and intriguing youngsters, the Angels have the potential to hit their way into the postseason.
Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani make up one of MLB’s most fearsome duos
1. Shohei Ohtani (DH), 2. Mike Trout (CF), 3. Anthony Rendon (3B)
When your closest comp is Babe Ruth, you know you’re special. Ohtani’s 2021 MVP season will go down as one of the greatest in baseball history, as the 27-year-old slugged 46 home runs while punching out 156 batters with a 3.18 ERA on the bump. We could go on and on about Shohei, but just know that his place atop the Angels’ lineup is secure for at least two more seasons. After that, LA has to figure out a way to pay him what he’s worth.
With Ohtani grabbing headlines, it’s easy to forget about Trout. The 30-year-old is still considered by many to be the game’s top player, but a lingering calf injury robbed him of all but 36 games last season. Multiple injuries have prevented the three-time MVP from playing more than 140 games since 2016, but there’s no reason to think he can’t hit 40 home runs, drive in over 100 runs, and be all-around excellent this season (assuming he stays healthy).
In Dec. 2019, the Angels gave a seven-year, $245 million contract to Rendon. Following a decent 2020, the 31-year-old was hampered by multiple injuries, including a hip condition that held him to just 58 contests. Rendon, like Trout, is another All-Star who is capable of big numbers when healthy, evident by a 2019 season in which he hit .319 with a 1.010 OPS and a league-leading 126 RBI.
On paper, LA’s combination of Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon is easily one of the best trios to start any lineup. The health of all three will make or break the team’s lofty plans to contend.
The middle of the Angels’ batting order offers intriguing upside
4. Jared Walsh (1B), 5. Max Stassi (C), 6. Brandon Marsh (LF)
Besides Ohtani, Walsh was LA’s greatest bright spot in 2021. A former two-way player himself, the 28-year-old slashed .277/.340/.509 with 29 home runs and 98 RBI and earned an All-Star nod in his third big league season. The left-handed Walsh absolutely tortures righties (.994 OPS) but struggles against lefties (.565 OPS), so we might see manager Joe Maddon move him down the order against lefties or swap him out altogether.
Through his first seven seasons, Stassi offered very little promise at the dish. But once he joined the Angels in the middle of 2019, he became more than a glove-first catcher. Over the last two seasons, the 31-year-old slugged 20 home runs in 424 plate appearances. Although his average leaves a little to be desired, a 15-homer, 15-double campaign should be expected from LA’s possible five-hitter.
The Angels have two young outfielders who should lock up spots in the Opening Day lineup. The first is Marsh, LA’s second-round pick from 2016. The 24-year-old made his debut last season, hitting .254 with 12 doubles. He strikes out too much to be considered a viable leadoff candidate right now (90 K’s in 260 PA,) but his hard contact rate and impressive speed make him someone to monitor throughout the season.
Marsh’s playing time comes at the expense of Justin Upton. Although the veteran is long-removed from being the four-time All-Star he once was, Maddon could still deploy the 34-year-old against lefties and on days when the inconsistent Marsh simply needs a break.
LA’s middle infield has some question marks
7. Jo Adell (RF), 8. Matt Duffy (2B), 9. David Fletcher (SS)
Adell, the other young outfielder potentially roaming LA’s outfield, was once a top-10 prospect in baseball. But an underwhelming debut in 2020 followed by a mixed ’21 has caused people to forget about the 2017 first-round pick. However, Adell is still just 22 years old. And after hitting a pair of monster home runs this spring, it’s clear that he possesses enough power to make the Halos’ lineup even deeper.
The Angels possess a glut of options for one of their two middle infield spots. Duffy, Tyler Wade, and Luis Rengifo are three players who are fighting to earn the majority of at-bats at second or short in 2022. For now, we’ll go with the veteran Duffy. The 31-year-old hit .287 with the Chicago Cubs in 2021 and is a career .283 hitter. He has the ability to play all over the diamond, but he remains the favorite to start at 2B.
Finally, LA’s nine-hitter was also its primary leadoff man last season. 87 of Fletcher’s 157 games started with him at the one-spot, although he also had 46 starts batting ninth. The Angels are hoping the 27-year-old can move over from 2B to SS and hit more like his 2020 campaign (120 OPS+) than 2021 (71 OPS+). The scrappy hitter will be a mainstay in Maddon’s lineup regardless. However, “where” will be the main question.
Even with Trout and Ohtani, the Angels are going to be fighting for a Wild Card spot. But there are enough high-caliber hitters in this lineup to keep them competitive over the course of a 162-game season.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.