Around the same time last season, the Angels were tied for first place in the American League West with an 18-10 record and a 11/2 game lead over the Houston Astros.
A year later, and despite all the struggles the Angels endured in the first month of the 2023 season, they are once again poised to claim first place in their division despite ending their five-game winning streak.
Ahead of Saturday’s 10-1 loss to Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium, manager Phil Nevin highlighted the team’s recent consistency and games that have gone in the Angels’ favor as reasons for the team’s progress. Other factors, like the strength of the bullpen and the team’s overall struggle, says Patrick Sandoval, also played a big role — although Saturday’s game ended in a blowout that threw positional player Brett Phillips after a hard ninth-inning top from Tucker Davidson forced hill.
But what makes this season’s progress more sustainable, and what all of these answers have in common, is the depth of the team. The players General Manager Perry Minasian was looking for in the off-season and even those who have improved in the minor league system have bolstered the Angels.
“The deep,” three-time American League Most Valuable Player Mike Trout said ahead of Saturday’s game. “We’re not taking anything away from the guys we had last year. When guys need days off to keep everyone fresh I think that was key and it paid off [this season].”
Right fielder Taylor Ward added: “The most important thing for us to stay where we are is health.”
Take, for example, the games the Angels played without two of their starting position players.
Before Saturday, third baseman Anthony Rendon had sat out nine games to either rest or serve a suspension. The Angels went 6-3 in his absence, with Gio Urshela, a natural third baseman, and Luis Rengifo playing the position.
Trout sat out three games on scheduled rest days, with Phillips and Rengifo filling in, and the Angels won all three.
The addition of Zach Neto a few weeks into the season as a daily shortstop also strengthened the infield, Nevin said.
“It prevents Gio from being flung across the field as little as possible… same goes for [Brandon] Drury,” Nevin said. “So I think it just solidifies what we can do out there.”
The early injuries and ailments didn’t derail the Angels’ season.
Max Stassi (family emergency/hip strain) started the season on the injured list, but Logan O’Hoppe filled the role of primary catcher with ease and delivered an important big bat. After O’Hoppe underwent surgery for a torn labrum on April 25, the Angels called Chad Wallach to share catching duties with Matt Thaiss.
Both have held their own in this position, but also made their contribution offensively and in key moments. Wallach, for example, hit an RBI double in Friday’s win that changed the momentum.
Jose Quijada and Austin Warren will not line up again this season as they require surgery from Tommy John. Chase Silseth was called up by Triple A on April 26 to help fill out the bullpen after Warren went down. Chris Devenski also competed for Quijada on April 29. The Bullpen also recently lost Aaron Loup, who was transferred to the IL on Friday with a thigh strain.
On Saturday, the bullpen had the third-best ERA (2.85) in the majors.
“It’s not just one guy, it’s a different guy stepping up every night,” Trout said. “It’s a group effort from lineup to bullpen. It was fun to be there.”