Let me preface this by saying: the Angels are not making the playoffs. This is not an exercise that I anticipate will not come to fruition, but it’s an interesting mental one because there are a lot of curious questions about the current iteration of the Angels roster, which has its positives and negatives. So if your response at the end of all these words I’ve written is, “The Angels aren’t making the playoffs,” well, then, I leave you with this quote I just googled: “If you want to be happy, be.” – Leo Tolstoy. Be happy! And have a good day!
Assumptions: I am assuming that this game is the 2021 Wild Card Game, which means that players such as Anthony Rendon, Dexter Fowler, and the like out for the season are not available. In a similar fashion, I assume that Patrick Sandoval is not available. I assume that Alex Cobb and Mike Trout are available, although I also craft strategies without them.
I also assume that everyone that is healthy is available for the Wild Card game. For example, Shohei Ohtani doesn’t need to throw a 130-pitch complete game in Game 162 to get us into the playoffs, and thus he is available to pitch on normal rest. I will also assume that something that I think is feasible as of now (such as Ohtani pitching out of the bullpen) is allowed, even if it is not currently practiced.
Anyway, without further ado, here we go. The obvious slots will not be discussed.
This is a somewhat surprising question. When Anthony Rendon went down, third base became an open competition. With none of the infield prospects taking advantage of the availability, the Angels have turned to two individuals: Phil Gosselin and Jack Mayfield, both of whom have been pleasant surprises above expectation.
Gosselin isn’t that adept with the glove, and his UZR numbers back that this year (and last), although he is playing positions he hadn’t played too much in his career before, spending time at third base, first base, and the outfield. He’s nearly an average hitter, checking in at a 94 OPS+ as of Sunday morning, slashing .277/.331/.391. He doesn’t walk or strike out a ton. With his skillset, if he can continue to add versatility, he should be able to hang around the Majors for a few more years, perhaps getting waived and having to find teams midseason. He’s our pick here if we want some more depth in the lineup.
Mayfield is the exact opposite. Although his UZR numbers aren’t great with the Angels, he did put up solid numbers even this year in Seattle at both 3B and SS, and combining his 2021 totals means he’s worth +1.3 defensive runs. His defensive prowess also matches the eye test, as he’s made highlight-reel plays (while also making errors that may drag his numbers down). Mayfield’s bat, although interesting at certain points of the season, is seemingly a black hole right now, although his torrid streak still has him at a .660 OPS for the season. One would not expect him to outhit Gosselin.
Verdict: we want to help our pitchers as much as possible, and pinch hitting is an option later in games (or even as early as the fourth inning if it’s a key situation). I pick Jack Mayfield to start at third base.
If Mike Trout is healthy, this to me is a no-brainer. Trout’s coming off a serious injury, so it should be easy to convince him to move to a corner outfield spot at least for the purposes of this year. Trout can man right, while Brandon Marsh patrols center and Jo Adell occupies left.
If Trout isn’t healthy, the options are Justin Upton and Juan Lagares. As much as we like to joke about the Gold Glove memes, Lagares still seems like a solid defender, although Baseball Reference (positive) and Fangraphs (negative) disagree. However you feel about Lagares’s defense, there can be no question that he is more skilled in the outfield than Justin Upton, the $125 million dollar man who has one year after this all-important Wild Card game on his contract. I theorize that Upton feasts off bad pitchers and is extremely boom-or-bust against the top tier in the league. With the likelihood that the Angels are facing another top playoff team and a top ace, I don’t really want to see Upton anywhere near this game.
Verdict: Lagares starts in right if Trout is not available.
This is the trickiest maneuver of them all. If Patrick Sandoval is healthy, this in a no-brainer in my opinion. I was speaking with Rahul a few weeks ago, before Sandoval had his bad start and was injured and before Shohei Ohtani’s current run, and we opined that Sandoval and Ohtani basically were similar enough in quality that we would start Sandoval to allow Ohtani to DH and remain in the entire game.
Unfortunately, Sandoval is not healthy. And we have decisions to make. The easy one is to let Ohtani start. I think that our goal is to minimize non-Raisel Iglesias innings from the bullpen, and Ohtani routinely goes 6+, even throwing eight in his last start. But it’s too risky. If Ohtani’s pitch count is up and we must pull him after five innings or so, I’m not comfortable leaving him in the outfield for the rest of the game in a must-win situation.
What kills two birds with one stone is allowing Ohtani to come out of the bullpen. The important thing is not to have a defined role for Ohtani. If Ohtani must come in in the fifth or sixth inning or something like that, the batting order may spin such that he hits when he should be warming up. The solution is simple (though perhaps not in practice): as soon as the fourth inning hits, the half-inning after he hits, he goes and throws in the bullpen for as long as he wants, as it might be over two more innings before Ohtani is “needed” in the game again. He would come in whenever he is ready, bridging the gap to Iglesias.
In that case, who do we turn to start the game? Our next best starter, Alex Cobb. If Sandoval is not available, Cobb is the guy. After his early season struggles (some of which were attributable to defense), Cobb has had good outing after good outing, and he is an extension candidate because of the quality of his pitching this year.
Verdict: the ideal situation is for Alex Cobb to go 4-5 innings, Shohei Ohtani to go 3-4 innings, and Raisel Iglesias to get 4-5 outs. Ohtani does not play the outfield. If either Cobb or Ohtani need to be relieved before the next guy is available, the pecking order is as follows: Austin Warren, José Quijada, Andrew Wantz. Bring in Ohtani or Iglesias as soon as able. If we need to go deeper than that, it’s already a loss anyway.
If Cobb is not available, just start Ohtani anyway, using the pecking order listed above. If Trout is not playing, start Justin Upton and move Ohtani to Upton’s spot in the outfield after he finishes pitching if he gets another PA soon. Else, bring in Lagares. If Trout is playing, just take Ohtani out.
The Angels line up like this:
- DH/P Shohei Ohtani
- RF Mike Trout (RF Juan Lagares, move to seventh, Upton if no Cobb)
- 1B Jared Walsh
- C Max Stassi
- CF Brandon Marsh
- LF Jo Adell
- SS José Iglesias
- 3B Jack Mayfield
- 2B David Fletcher
The pitching should proceed like this:
- 1. Alex Cobb
- 2. Shohei Ohtani
- 3. Raisel Iglesias
- 4. Austin Warren
- 5. José Quijada
- 6. Andrew Wantz
- 7. Magic-8 ball it, it doesn’t really matter
Title Image from Angels Twitter