2015 MLB Farewells: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This was probably what Josh Hamilton messaged to Arte Moreno after his Texas Rangers clinched the AL West while beating their rivals.

So, maybe Hamilton didn’t taunt his previous employer that exact way, but just missing out in such agonizing fashion, it’s definitely how the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — why can't they just be the Anaheim Angels again, Arte? —  must have felt over the past two days. An incredible bottom-of-the-9th comeback on Saturday was wiped away by a complete-game, 3-hit gem by Cole Hamels, keeping the Halos away from back-to-back postseason appearances for only the third time in franchise history (last from 2007-2009). 2015 was a year of intrigue, for there was still the chance of another run to the World Series but also some rumblings of strife within that may or may not have played roles in the schizophrenic final two+ months of the season.

But, seriously, that dollar bill represented the playoffs in the history books and in the seats at Angel Stadium. They almost had it.

Where It Began

Here’s the thing about the Angels. While they weren’t looked upon as a World Series contender in the exact same way as they had been for the prior two seasons, it seemed as if they just needed one of two things: either one extra contributor who could relieve the heavy hitters or just an insane hot streak at the right time. And how could the Angels not make a run when they have the roster they boasted? Mike Trout is considered by most observers as baseball's best player, which is the reason why in this space, TSFJ pondered who would be considered the best non-Trout players in the game. Albert Pujols may have not been the player he once was for the St. Louis Cardinals, but with the American League having a designated hitter and health permitting, his bat would be in the lineup for a vast majority of the season whether as the DH or at first base. Garrett Richards, who is certainly the third-best pitcher in Southern California behind two pretty good ones in actual Los Angeles, was returning from a gruesome knee injury last summer to settle a solid rotation that featured Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Add some emerging talents in Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron to go along with veterans like David Freese and Erick Aybar, a top-flight closer in Huston Street and one of the baseball's most respected managers in Mike Scioscia, and this is a team that could have won the AL West on cruise control.

Or so we thought.

There was a pretty auspicious start to the 2015 season, as in February reports surfaced that Hamilton, whose story of drug and alcohol troubles and rebirth through baseball and faith is well-chronicled, had relapsed. Moreno, the owner of the Angels, was furious that baseball’s most famous recovering drug addict had slipped — seemingly not because some addicts stumble, but because this was an addict who couldn't hit or field as well as he had during his five seasons with the Rangers. Though Hamilton self-reported his relapse to Major League Baseball, it seemed as if Moreno was hoping that he would be suspended, providing him an out in order to not pay the outfielder (he was not suspended by MLB but was eventually traded back to Texas).

Where It Went Wrong

So, here’s another thing about the Angels. If they won on Sunday, this portion would have been about where it went wrong in a postseason series. Even though other observers would have pointed at some glaring holes in the regular season or not making a move for the right players at the trading deadline, Anaheim would have still been a team that needed the ball to curve the right way into a World Series berth.

But, similar to another team in the division with high expectations in the Seattle Mariners, Anaheim found that it couldn't hit worth a damn early on. The Angels managed to hold steady while chasing the Houston Astros — "the Houston Astros?" asked baseball fans before April — for the AL West lead. Though the batting average was nowhere close to his prime, Pujols was having a renaissance season in terms of power (eventually belting 40 home runs). Trout was Troutin'. Cron and Calhoun were flourishing more often than floundering. Richards found his form, and though both aren't power pitchers, Wilson and Matt Shoemaker were eating innings in the long haul of an unexpected battle for supremacy with the Astros.

Yet, the pitching staff had a tendency to allow the long ball. At season's end, the team let 166 balls leave the yard, and although that only went for 6th in the American League, the starters were on the hook for 119 of them (nearly 2/3s of the entire team). Street allowed seven of those as the closer (he did save 40 games). Counter that with the fact that the team itself hit just 10 more than they allowed, and you saw that this was a team that had to grind out more wins than its talents alone led on. All of that, however, can't ignore significant injuries to both Weaver and Wilson that forced them to look elsewhere at the trade deadline.

And there was still the matter of the front office, where in a power struggle with Scioscia, Jerry Dipoto resigned in early July.

Where It Crashed And Burned

1) Late July and all of August. After the departure of Dipoto, the Angels made moves at the trade deadline in hopes of rejuvenating a stagnant offense (Shane Victorino) and an injury-depleted starting staff (Mat Latos). Yet, those reinforcements weren't enough as the team completely fell apart in the month of August with a 10-19 record. Even worse, from a win against the Minnesota Twins on July 22 through losing a makeup game to Oakland on August 31, the Halos went 11-26.

At Angel Stadium, the team barely kept afloat as it had all season, but from July 23 on, they lost every road series to contenders and pretenders alike. They were swept in Houston, Los Angeles (Dodgers), Chicago (White Sox), Kansas City and Cleveland. Add being swept by the Toronto Blue Jays at home, and there were faint chances for a miracle in Orange County. And what made matters worse was that as the Angels were tripping over themselves, the Texas Rangers hit the turbo button to sprint past not only Anaheim, but Houston as well.

That should have been where the story ended, but then September happened. LAA flipped their August fortunes into a 18-9 record in the final month. They took 2 of 3 games in two series each against both Houston and Oakland, won a crucial tilt against the Rangers at home, and swept the Twins in Minnesota and the Mariners back home. The Angels hustled themselves into the most pivotal series between any two teams in baseball for 2015, a four-game set at Globe Life Park with the Rangers, who had overtaken the Astros for first in the AL West. With Toronto locking down the AL East, the defending AL champions grabbing the Central and the New York Yankees clinching one of the Wild Card spots, the final two positions in the postseason — the second Wild Card spot and the AL West crown — were in play between three teams as the Astros were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks.

2) Game #162. Sunday in Arlington, Texas.

Where They Go From Here

As always, there are some major decisions to be made with these big-spending teams. Similar to Boston or Detroit, where they always feel as if they are one move away, the Angels will never stand pat in any offseason so long as they have some strong pieces in place. Latos may be helped by stability after being on his third team in a year and a half, despite his big contract. Health will be a great asset for the pitching staff that still has some work to do on allowing those home runs. A solution to left field can be of big help to Trout and Calhoun while the continued management of Pujols will be crucial since this team did not have one player plate 100 RBIs (he was pretty close with 98, however).

The front office shakeup may have more to do with the Angels' fortunes than the players currently on the books. As those other teams mentioned, new leadership — or rather, Mike Scioscia himself, who seems to hold all the cards except for actual ownership — have the ability to set whichever course they wish for 2016.

In the meanwhile, they're going to be watching their rivals from the couch like the rest of us. You can see them all now, reaching out for that dollar bill again.

They almost had it.

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