The Angels Hit Rock Bottom

The Angels won 89 games last year despite starting Mike Trout in the minors. After they promoted at the end of April, they played .580 baseball the rest of the way. Over the winter, they added Josh Hamilton, but more importantly, they added the Houston Astros to the AL West. 19 games against the Astros was supposed to give the western contenders a significant advantage, as they could pencil in 12 or 13 easy wins against a team that wasn’t even trying to compete.

Whoops. The Astros just swept the Angels — in Anaheim — and have now beaten LA’s other expensive disappointment in seven of their first 10 match-ups. In fact, the Astros may end up being the primary reason that the Angels miss the playoffs.

Here’s the Astros record against the AL contenders they’ve played:

Oakland: 0-9
Boston: 0-4
Detroit: 1-6
Texas: 1-5
New York: 1-2
Cleveland: 1-2

Against the other six teams making a playoff run this year, the Astros have four wins and 28 losses. That is a .125 winning percentage. Against the Angels, they are 7-3. The Astros have won a third of their game against the Angels, who have only represented 17% of their schedule.

And, unfortunately for Jerry DiPoto and Mike Scioscia, there isn’t really an identifiable fix to their problems. During their early struggles, their pitching was atrocious, and it seemed like their lack of arms was their biggest problem. Now, though, Jered Weaver is back, Joe Blanton has stopped giving up six home runs per game, and the rotation actually looks okay, if still not exactly fantastic. Instead, their four game sweep came because their vaunted offense got shut down by the worst pitching staff that a Major League team has assembled in over a decade.

Going into the weekend, the average hitter going up against Houston’s pitchers had posted a .370 wOBA. For reference, Ryan Braun has a .374 wOBA this year, while Robinson Cano is at .368. That’s the kind of production that hitters have had against Houston’s pitching staff.

The Angels put up a .270 wOBA against the Astros this weekend. For that same reference, Brian Dozier has a .269 wOBA this year, while Pete Kozma is at .276. The Angels offense spent the weekend hitting like a backup shortstop against a bunch of pitchers who belong in Triple-A.

So, now, a little more than a third of the way through the season, the Angels are 25-33, and they’re 25-33 because Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have combined for 484 plate appearances and +0.0 WAR. Sure, that’s not the only reason — the pitching really was horrendous for a long while, and they have been hit by a bunch of injuries to key role players — but this team was built to score a bunch of runs with Pujols and Hamilton in the middle of the order. Pujols has a 93 wRC+, Hamilton’s at 81. Pujols has been approximately as effective at the plate as J.B. Shuck while Hamilton has hit in the same range as Erick Aybar.

These guys are going to hit better. The Angels are better than they’ve played. But, if (when?) they fall short of the playoffs again despite a strong improvement in the second half, they may very well point to this weekends sweep as the difference between playing in the wild card game and sitting at home watching.

With 104 games to go, the Angels need to win between 65 and 70 of their remaining games to have a realistic shot at taking one of the two wild card spots. At the low end, that’s a .625 clip, which translates into a 101 win pace over a full season. At the high end, that’s a .673 winning percentage and a 109 win pace. It’s easier to win more than 60% of your games in four months than in six months, but that is still an extremely high bar to clear.

Last year, exactly one team won more than 62.5% of their remaining games after this same spot in the season. Because the season started a little later, the comparable date in 2012 was June 7th. The Oakland A’s were 26-32 at this point last year, and they went on a 68-36 run to finish the season, ending up with 94 wins and the AL West division title. If the Angels could replicate that .654 run over the rest of their games, they’d end up with 93 wins and have a pretty good shot at one of the two wild card spots, and maybe even the division if Texas fell apart.

But, again, one team did that last year. The next best winning percentage was the Reds, at .623. Winning at that pace would get the Angels to 90 wins, which could very well be on the outside looking in given the strong competition for the wild card spots this year.

Right now, our rest of season forecast calls for the Angels to be the fifth best team in baseball over the next four months and still finish just 82-80. The projections think Pujols and Hamilton will start to hit, and they see improvements from the likes of Aybar, Callaspo, and the pitching. But, for the second straight year, it may very well be too little too late.

It’s not impossible for the Angels to dig out of the hole they’ve dug themselves. They are just 7 1/2 games out of the wild card lead with four months to play. The teams they are chasing have flaws too. But those teams didn’t fall flat on their face when handed a home series against the Astros.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.