Angels, Dodgers, Padres

Angels’ Untapped Offense Key to Playoff Push

Entering Tuesday, the Angels find themselves five games out of a playoff spot, and if they want any chance of making the dance, it’s going to require their offense to reach its potential.

At its core, baseball is simple. The more runs you score, the better the chances at picking up wins. But it’s combined with pitching when your likelihood at victory is at its peak. But for the 2019 Angels, their success has come solely on the backs of their bats. And unless the front office significantly addresses the team’s 4.90 ERA the Halos are going to have to continue to win in spite of their pitching.

Their 7-3 record since the All-Star Break has put them above .500, and it’s a hot stretch primarily due to their offense. They’ve scored 63 runs during this ten-game span while allowing 45.

At 52-49, this will need to be the formula if Anaheim has any hopes of ending their four-year playoff drought. Fortunately for the Angels, as formidable as they have been at the plate, they haven’t even hit their full capability yet. And it’s this growth that could push them over the hump and make winning more consistent.

Mike Trout is once again reminding us why he’s regarded as baseball’s best player, slashing .300/.448/.664 with 32 home runs in 94 games. Backing him up is Japanese phenom, Shohei Ohtani, who’s picked up right where he left off after winning the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year award.

The 25-year-old is living up to the hype, hitting .297/.353/.530 with 14 home runs in 63 games. And there’s Kole Calhoun who’s doing what he does best: pedestrian on-base skills, hit for power (21 home runs), and elite defense in right field.

It’s the other guys in the lineup who aren’t playing up to par, yet the Angels’ offense is 11th in runs scored (just over five runs/game), sixth in wRC+, and eighth in wOBA while striking out less than any other team.

Take first baseman, Justin Bour for example. He’s hitting a measly .183/.269/.387 with eight home runs in 45 games. But any baseball fan familiar with him will tell you that he’s a much better hitter than this.

From 2016 to 2017, the veteran appeared in 198 games (750 plate appearances) and slashed .279/.359/.510 with 40 home runs. That’s a 33-homer pace per 162 games.

2017, in particular, was his breakout season, albeit interrupted by injury. He had a 143 OPS+ (100 is average) with 25 home runs in 108 games. And during a down season in 2018, he had a 108 OPS+ with 20 home runs, showing just how dangerous he can be with the bat when running on all gears.

Then there’s the 39-year-old Albert Pujols, whose MVP years are clearly behind him, and the Angels are just hoping to get average production out of him. Luckily for them, he’s been a slight bit better than average in 2019.

He’s currently riding a hot streak over his last 26 plate appearances, posting a .444 on-base and .800 slugging percentage with two home runs. And over his past 15 games, the veteran has a .831 OPS.

That second number doesn’t sound like a hot stretch, but considering Pujols’ .700 OPS last year, and .672 mark the year before, it is. But the future Hall-of-Famer doesn’t need to start getting on base nearly 40% of the time while slugging over .500; the Angels just need him to continue what he’s been doing recently and not be an easy out.

Then there’s the biggest X-factor of them all: Justin Upton. The 31-year-old has been limited to just 23 games this season, but his bat can go a long way to giving the Angels perhaps the best 2-3-4 lineup combination in MLB, with Trout and Ohtani. However, Upton needs to shake off his struggles before we can even think about putting the trio in that conversation.

The veteran outfielder is hitting just .250/.333/.429 in his 96 plate appearances, but like Bour, those familiar with him know he can be exponentially better.

It was just last year when Upton hit 30 home runs in 145 games. And in 2017 he hit 35 bombs with a .901 OPS. And back during his days in Arizona, he had one season with a .899 OPS and 26 homers, and another with a .898 OPS and 31 homers.

Simply put, the outfielder is a proven bat with elite potential that can serve as another dangerous cog in the heart of the order, while Bour would be a quality option to plug into the five or six-hole if he can find any semblance of himself from the past few years. And if Pujols continues with his 102 OPS+, it adds valuable length to the lineup.

Granted, it’s a lot of ‘IFs’; but it was just a couple of years ago when these guys (not Pujols) were raking, so it’s not hard to see them return to form, considering Upton and Bour are still in their primes. Even 75% of their potential would be a significant plus.

And this doesn’t take into account the pleasant surprises Brian Goodwin and David Fletcher have been with the bat, nor the absence of All-Star Tommy La Stella.

Add them in, plus Bour’s ability, Pujols’ respectability, and Justin Upton’s All-Star potential, and the Angels could have a formidable lineup spearheaded by Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani that could make up for their lackluster pitching on most nights and help challenge for a postseason spot.

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Featured Image via Flick/Smashdown Sports News

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