While the 'Rally Monkey" is left to slumber for the winter—missing the opportunity to reunite a World Series effort 10-years later—the Angels' hopeful are forced into a spectator role, watching the San Francisco Giants replay a stolen destiny.
Undoubtedly, following high-end acquisitions in the free-agent market, the Angels looked like the dominant team in the AL West at the beginning of the season, leaving many to believe the road to a World Series title would begin on the West Coast. Oddly enough, they were exactly right in their prediction; they just missed on the area.
Will it be different in 2013? Anything is possible in the AL West.
The Angels finished 89-73 in 2012, ending the season second in runs (41 behind the Texas Rangers) and fist in batting average (.274). Just remember, the division added the Houston Astros—not a team like the Yankees—and the questions surrounding the Texas Rangers organization, plus the pressure on the youth for the A's, makes the Angels' chances look solid.
It all comes down to this: The individual players on the team have to perform like the $150 million-plus payroll—and fans for that matter—expect them to.
True, baseball is a team sport—at least until the second contract—but sometimes, it's necessary to point out specific areas, understanding that any little improvement equates to a collective success.
Free-agency enigmas aside, let's take a look at the players who are the most important for the Angels' success in 2013.
It's worth recognizing players with this job duty, collectively, because the entire bullpen is the most important position for the Angels in 2013—a major responsibility to carry, especially when considering how awful they were this season.
The bullpen combined for 19 blown leads after replacing the starter in 2012, losing 20 games in total. If they were able to slim down four or five mid-inning meltdowns, the playoff picture would have been different, closing the five-game divisional race or erasing the four games back in the Wild Card.
When compared to the rest of the AL West bullpens, the Angels' third-place finish is put into better perspective. The Rangers bullpen blew seven leads, losing 14 games total. The A's bullpen blew 14 leads, losing 14 games total. The Mariners blew 15 leads, losing 25 total.
The idea is simple: The teams with the top relievers made the playoffs. The teams in the bottom half did not. All the runs, big names and starting pitching mean nothing when the game is let go in the end.
If the Angels are to regain dominance in the West, then the bullpen needs to improve. Assuming that the aged wonder(less) LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen do not return, it will be up to solid reliever Ernesto Frieri, Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs to burden the workload
Don't be surprised to see the Angels organization go shopping on the free agent-wire for relief help, too—it's that important in 2013.
Pujols put up solid numbers last season (.285, 30 home runs and 105 RBI.), but a media-hyped struggle in April and May, plus career lows in OBP (.343) and SLG (.516), overshadowed every part of the impressive second half he constructed.
However, don't mistake one season of statistical anomalies for a trend. Albert Pujols is still a feared hitter, and he remains the most important offensive piece to the Angels' puzzle in 2013—one that needs to be solved in April, not September.
Next April is a difficult month for the Angels. After opening with the playoff-experienced Cincinnati Reds, they quickly go into the division against the Rangers, followed by the A's and ending with the World Series-bound Detroit Tigers.
How Albert Pujols performs during that stretch will have everything to do with their success or failure. His ability to start in midseason form, or not, will determine how teams pitch the other hitters in the lineup.
Mark Trumbo was the opposite of Pujols in 2012, beginning the year hot and continuing to progress up the All-Star break, only to drop off in the second half.
Following his raw-power display launching balls into the Kansas City night—on a nationally-televised stage—Trumbo caught the same swing bug Josh Hamilton endured after his 2008 Home Run Derby spectacle.
He went from a .300 average all the way to .265, reaching only 32 home runs and 95 RBI—numbers that he looked to surpass easily coming into July—finishing the season in an unexpected slump.
Blame the Home Run Derby?
The slump did start towards the end of July, but it's not an exact science. However, I would bet you don't see Trumbo signing up for the event in the future, focusing more on the team goals as opposed to State Farm t-shirts.
Regardless, Mark Trumbo is still a great young talent, and much like Pujols, it's shocking to see what he can do with mistakes over the plate—and sometimes near it.
If Trumbo can provide offense more consistently, then he will be the protection Pujols needs, possibly seeing the same pitches he destroyed in first half of last year.
How amazing is Mike Trout?
Think of it this way: The Triple Crown was needed in order to keep the AL MVP Award from him; with that in mind, he will still get a large amount of votes by the writers.
In times of the bigger-faster-stronger athletes, Trout is redefining the leadoff spot, providing real power—without the benefit of a short porch—average and sheer speed on the bases.
His defense is Jim Edmond-like, perhaps even better, and he more than makes up for a weaker left field, covering the ground Trumbo can not.
People worry about "sophomore slumps," but they forget 2012 was basically his second season with the Angels.
Yes, teams will scout him differently in 2013, but that is nothing new for great hitters. If he continues to adapt, understanding the weaknesses in his swing (if there is one), then the top half of the Angels lineup will be really scary.
Teams will have to either respect Trout, Trumbo or Pujols; the player chosen will be the question all season long and the headache for opposing pitchers.
Wilson's first year with the club wasn't the most overwhelming, unlike the expectations when he signed with the Angels in the offseason, but he managed 13 wins and 10 losses; five leads were blown by the bullpen during his starts, making his record appear worse than he actually pitched.
The Angels will still need him to improve next season, bolstering the second spot in the rotation behind Jered Weaver, providing the lefty-righty mix up front.
But is Wilson healthy?
According to a story on MLB.com by Alden Gonzalez, Wilson was set to undergo arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to clean out his left elbow of bone spurs.
Although the procedure is not major and he is expected to be ready by spring training, nothing involving a pitcher's arm should ever be taken lightly.
Without him in the rotation and healthy, the Angels will have a difficult climb. As free agency looms around the starting staff, Mike Scioscia can't afford to have one more arm go missing in 2013.
After all, the next player on the list can't be expected to carry the staff alone.
Ah, Jered Weaver. He is the pitcher that can drive the baseball world insane.
His across-the-body throwing style is one of the first things a pitching coach tries to correct at the early stages of fundamentals, yet Weaver gets the job done successfully.
With a lanky, 6'10" body frame and funky delivery, he racked up 20 wins on the year, including a no-hitter on May 2, 2012 against the Minnesota Twins—one of the most sentimental nights I can remember in Southern California sports: Weaver's performance coinciding on the same weekend Junior Seau took his own life.
The Angels staff finished seventh in the AL in ERA (4.02), and with the exception of Irvin Santana's questionable 5.16, the rest of the starters were good—averaging around 4.00. The problem is the uncertainty surrounding what starters will be left over for 2013.
Weaver will have to continue his domination as an ace next season, setting the pace for the rest of the rotation. More importantly, he will have to understand the rotation may be a work in progress, so keeping his cool under the pressure is absolutely paramount.
The catchers, much like the pitching staff they handle, are a big question in 2013 for the Angels.
Losing Bobby Wilson to the Blue Jays, leaving John Hester and unproven Hank Conger from Triple-A as backup for the Angels, exposed a minor hole. However, all the questions and worry can be erased if Chris Ianetta plays well—it will give the Angels organization options on the market, too.
Ianetta hit .240 over 79 games in 2012, including nine home runs and 26 RBI. If he improves at all offensively, then the possibility of trading Hank Conger, a switch-hitting prospect with a decent arm, to get a proven backup on the market becomes a possibility.
Remember, a backup catcher just needs keep the ship afloat, not steer it toward playoff stardom. The position is one of the more overrated in the MLB, but it's still an aspect of the game.
If Ianetta steps up, then the process will be less cumbersome, substantially lowering any sweat issues in the front office—assuming he succeeds.
If the team is smart in the free-agency market—understanding Zack Greinke, Irvin Santana and Dan Haren all can't be in Angels uniforms next year—they will make one important move first: getting Torii Hunter back in right field for 2013.
According to MLBtraderumors.com, the Angels offered Hunter a one-year deal, but it's uncertain that will work (a pay decrease from the $18 million he was making previously). If disaster is going to be averted before the season begins, renegotiating with Hunter quickly will help.
He will be 37 next season, making a multi-year deal risky, but the Angels don't have better options below him, and remember, he performed well last year (.313, 16 home runs, 92 RBI).
So, wouldn't it make sense to see if he can do it again?
He is still the veteran voice and leader in the clubhouse—not to mention a fan favorite—and his skills have not diminished into his later years like other players—Hunter at 36 is not Alex Rodriguez at 36.
Until Hunter begins to show signs of decline completely, the Angels need him on the roster.