MLB: Checking in with the Angels, Dodgers, and Padres
The Angels, Dodgers, and Padres all headed into the 2020 MLB season with different reasons to be optimistic. Three weeks in, however, and they are realizing whether good or bad, not everything is going as planned.
With the addition of star-free agent Anthony Rendon and the healthy returns of precocious Japanese talent, Shohei Ohtani plus All-Star second baseman, Tommy La Stella, Anaheims’s offense was going to be that much stronger and scarier to make up for last year’s pitching deficiencies. Speaking of which, the Angels also planned for Ohtani to serve as a massive boost for a pitching staff that couldn’t have gotten any worse from 2019.
The Dodgers improved a 106-win squad from a year ago by trading for Mookie Betts, David Price (opted out of the 2020 MLB season), and Brusdar Graterol. But at the same time, it was reasonable to be hesitant on their bullpen until proven otherwise.
And the Padres were the ballclub that not many exactly knew what to expect from. But if you’ve followed them enough, you knew things were only looking up. A top farm system littered with top-100 prospects. Promising young talent at the major league-level already turning themselves into long-term building pieces. All this blended perfectly with established veterans like Manny Machado, Tommy Pham, Eric Hosmer, etc.
It’s what you envision in a proper rebuild. The perfect balance of exciting youth and veteran presence with the pieces to still improve—all on top of a bullpen unit that was expected to be among the best in the National League.
But things haven’t necessarily gone as expected, as has been the case largely throughout MLB.
Inherently, baseball is already a sport full of its unexplainable and unpredictable flukes. And the volatility was only enhanced with the COVID-19 pandemic, which ultimately led to the shortened, 60-game season.
We’ve already had two massive outbreaks among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, which led to significant schedule reshuffling.
It’s the third week of August, and the Baltimore Orioles and these same Marlins are in legitimate playoff contention due to the abbreviated season. And after an abysmal 2019, the Colorado Rockies are contenders for a National League playoff spot on the back of one of MLB’s best pitching staffs (yes, you read that correctly).
Unheralded players like Donovan Solano, Mike Yastrzemski, and JaCoby Jones are showing the game’s struggling top-shelf stars such as Christian Yelich, Kris Bryant, Gleyber Torres, Rafael Devers, Javier Baez, and Eugenio Suarez how they should be hitting.
So maybe the season hasn’t gone as you envisioned. Or perhaps, this kind of craziness is exactly what you foresaw.
Granted, we are only 20-25 games in for most teams, and in a regular MLB season, this kind of wackiness will be canceled out by the typical 162-game sample size. But players and organizations don’t have that luxury in 2020.
As of Tuesday morning, the Angels (8-15) have played just 23 games and already find themselves eight games back of first place in their own division with just 37 games left, en-route to what looks like another 4th-place finish in the AL West under new manager, Joe Maddon.
Shohei Ohtani was supposed to help with that. The Angels planned on him serving as their ace every Sunday to bolster their pitching staff, not struggle, and then shut down after two starts. The team ERA sits at 4.82 as of Tuesday morning.
The biggest disappointment, however, has to be the underwhelming offense that ranks as a middle-of-the-pack unit. Struggles from Ohtani, Justin Upton (six hits in 60 at-bats), Luis Rengifo, and Albert Pujols hinder the team’s potential to win games in which the pitching staff has cost them.
Well, at least they signed Anthony Rendon, right? Oh wait, but he’s only hitting .238 on the season, so must be struggling, right? Well, the free-agent acquisition has been a curious case, to say the least. One that fits in with 2020’s weirdness.
In addition to such a low average, the 30-year-old boasts an impressive .435 on-base and .571 slugging to go along with six home runs in 85 plate appearances. And if you’ve been following him recently, the hard hits are finally dropping in, so he should be back to his standard .300/.400/.500 line before it’s too late.
And on the nice end of surprises, Max Stassi and Jason Castro have combined to provide above-average production from behind-the-plate, while Brain Goodwin continues to be productive. Oh, and to the surprise of some, uber-prospect Joe Adell made his MLB debut this month. But speaking of wonders, how about Dylan Bundy?
The Angels took a flier on the right-handed starter, and so far, so good for the once elite prospect. In four starts, Bundy has thrown 28.2 innings with a 1.57 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 0.63 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts, showing what made him such a highly-regarded youngster years ago. Sadly, he alone can’t make up for Shohei Ohtani’s injury or the rest of the Angels’ collective ERA above 6.00.
About 30 miles north of them are the crosstown Dodgers, who are trending in the exact opposite direction of the Angels.
Los Angeles are winners of six-straight, which has put them atop the National League at 17-7. Their +62 run differential is the best in baseball, thanks to MLB’s top offense backing up a 2.71 team ERA.
But the scariest part might be the fact that the Dodgers are doing this damage without Cody Bellinger (.582 OPS), Walker Buehler (5.21 ERA and 5 HR in four starts), Max Muncy (.687 OPS), or Joc Pederson (.565 OPS).
Mookie Betts has been better than advertised. Corey Seager is back to his healthy 2016-2017 levels. Clayton Kershaw looks revitalized with his increased fastball velocity. A.J. Pollock is a new man and Chris Taylor has been doing work.
Dodgers’ rookie Dustin May wasn’t even supposed to be in the rotation to start the season but he’s now the favorite for National League Rookie of the Year. Julio Urías has a 2.53 ERA through his first four starts and hasn’t even found his groove yet.
But perhaps most importantly (and surprisingly), is how the Dodgers’ bullpen has transformed into the best in MLB. Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol have been welcomed additions for Los Angeles as Kenley Jansen continues to rebound from a disappointing 2019.
And about two hours south of both these teams are the up-and-coming Padres. After being lost in a wasteland for years, San Diego finally has a plan to compete.
Like the Angels, the Padres hired a new manager, yet they find themselves fourth in their respective division. But unlike the Halos, the Friars are 12-12, and in pole position to collect a postseason berth.
But San Diego is doing this with a bullpen, which was perceived as a preseason strength, being a colossal mess. They can thank the offense and starting pitching for picking them up.
No one has ever associated the Padres with ‘scoring runs’; it’s long been the opposite. But led by burgeoning superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. (11 home runs, 1.109 OPS), they’re putting up 5.04 runs/game (9th in MLB), have slugged 40 home runs (3rd), and have collected 349 total bases (4th). And they are getting contributions across the board.
Trent Grisham is acclimating himself well to his new ballclub, with a .376 on-base and .458 slugging to go along with good defense in center field. Rookie, Jake Cronenworth, has come out of nowhere and continues to hit while making plays at whichever defensive position the Padres put him at.
And to the shock of many, Will Myers and Eric Hosmer are having mid-career resurgences. Myers has a .969 OPS with five homers while Hosmer’s posted a .945 OPS with four homers.
On the starting pitching side of things, Dinelson Lamet (1.59 ERA in 5 starts), Zach Davies (3.25 ERA in 5 starts), and Garret Richards (3.45 ERA in 5 starts) are holding it down while ace Chris Paddack continues to struggle with consistency. Highly-touted prospect, Luis Patiño made his major league debut for the Padres out of the bullpen last week, which only makes you wonder whether San Diego will be calling up MLB’s best pitching prospect, in MacKenzie Gore.
Things are bound to change as the season goes on, but with such a short season, it’s unlikely that all the kinks will be worked out. Will the Dodgers continue to be a juggernaut without firing all cylinders? Will they even reach their true potential, or will their struggling stars continue to be just that?
Can the Angels’ offense reach its potential and help lead a playoff push? How about San Diego? Is the Padres’ offense legit? Can their starting pitching hold up while the bullpen tries to fall into place?
Questions, questions, and questions. The Angels, Dodgers, and Padres still face a brush of uncertainty, as does MLB as a whole. And if 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that there’s no sure answer.
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