2021 Angels Season Preview: Seeking First Playoff Berth Since 2014
Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, 2021 Spring Training
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the full 162-game slate back, the Los Angeles Angels are loaded and ready for another chance at a postseason berth. It has been a six-year drought for the Halos since their last appearance in the playoffs, and 11 seasons since their last postseason win.

However, if all goes right, the 2021 team has the tools to contend in the American League.

Here, we’ll break down everything that’s important to know ahead of the 2021 MLB season, and how the Angels can find success. After going through the offense, starting rotation, and bullpen, we’ll look at the best and worst-case scenarios for the Halos in 2021.

Position Players

Stars: Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, David Fletcher

Returning X-Factors: Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Jared Walsh, Max Stassi

New Additions: Dexter Fowler, Kurt Suzuki, Jose Iglesias, Juan Lagares

The Angels should — once again — be one of the best offensive teams in all of baseball. Led by Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, and more frequent plate appearances by Shohei Ohtani, L.A. should have no problem getting runs on the board.

In the shortened 2020 season — where Trout had the worst MVP voting finish since his rookie year — the Angels were above MLB average in every offensive statistical category. Andrelton Simmons was the only significant loss during the offseason, but the Angels found a near-perfect replacement in Jose Iglesias.

Justin Upton, Dexter Fowler and Albert Pujols each will play huge roles for the Angels, and all three will need to prove they still have something left in the tank after down years in 2020. Upton, Fowler and Pujols all saw career low numbers across the board, but they showed signs of life during Spring Training.

This is especially true of Upton, who said he’s excited and confident after his first full offseason training routine in several years.

FanGraphs is not very hopeful about the output of these three veterans, as first base, left field and right field are the only positions in which the Angels rank outside the top 15 in projected WAR.

Starting Pitchers

Stars: Dylan Bundy, Shohei Ohtani

Returning X-Factors: Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning

New Additions: Alex Cobb, Jose Quintana

Outside of Dylan Bundy, there was almost nothing to be excited about with the Angels’ starting pitchers last year. They ranked second to last in ERA, walked the 10th most batters per nine innings, and were 21st in WAR.

However, there is some reason to be optimistic this season. Angels general manager Perry Minasian and manager Joe Maddon are very confident in a six-man rotation. This year’s crop appears more stable and reliable than last season, especially if Bundy can repeat his performance from last season and Ohtani can stay healthy.

According to FanGraphs, the Angels starting pitchers project to rank 17th in the MLB in positional WAR. This would be a slight improvement from 2020, but all steps up are welcome with the offense’s ability to score.

Bullpen

Stars: Raisel Iglesias, Mike Mayers

Returning X-Factors: Felix Pena, Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, Ty Buttrey, Noe Ramirez

New Additions: Raisel Iglesias, Steve Cishek, Tony Watson, James Hoyt, Junior Guerra, Aaron Slegers, Chris Rodriguez, Alex Claudio

Despite several Angels relief pitchers returning from last year’s team, only one — Mayers — will be on the Opening Day roster. Prized addition Iglesias will be the team’s first true closer in quite some time, and he and Mayers will be supplemented by Claudio, Guerra, Rodriguez, Cishek, Watson, and Slegers.

Cishek and Watson were not even acquired by the Angels until three days before their first game, putting an exclamation mark on Minasian’s total overhaul of a weak spot in 2020. Last season’s unit led the entire MLB in blown saves. Minasian and Maddon are counting on a new-look group to be a point of security for the 2021 team.

FanGraphs projects the Angels bullpen at 15th in the Major Leagues, saying that the strength of this year’s group is significant depth in case of injury.

Best-and-Worst-case scenario for 2021

As is the case with most seasons in recent history, there is a drastic difference between the Angels’ highest potential and their lowest.

At their best, the Angels could be one of the five best offenses in baseball. The six-man rotation proves to be the right call, with Ohtani regaining 2018 form with the help of an extra day off between starts. Bundy is once again at peak performance, and the bullpen — led by Iglesias — provides real support.

The Angels could take advantage of a weak AL West and squeak by the Houston Astros to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2014.

At their worst, the injury bug strikes again, taking away all of the pitching depth that Minasian helped to build in his first offseason with the team. Bundy’s 2020 season begins to look like a fluke and the bullpen once again finds themselves atop the blown saves leaderboard.

In this case, the Angels would likely miss the postseason once again, just as Mike Trout enters his 30’s.

L.A.’s PECOTA projection for 2021 sits at 87-75, netting them second in the AL West and giving them the chance to host the Wild Card Game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

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