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MLB: Playoff bound? Why there is little risk attached to the Joe Maddon-Angels partnership

The 2020 Major League Baseball season is yet to get underway thanks to Covid-19. But when it does start up, which is hopefully soon, one team in the Los Angeles Angels will be one of a few big improvers.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Has a quote ever been so applicable in sports than Joe Maddon and his recent adventures?

Rewind to the 2019 Major League Baseball season, the Chicago Cubs featured one of the best rosters in the National League and assuming their key players, none more so than former MVP Kris Bryant, could return to their best, the playoffs was a given.

That turned sour in six months’ time, as the Cubs were nowhere to be found in September baseball, left to rue a season-riddled with underachievement, and an 84-78 record was all they had to garner some form of respect, if any was on offer. Most importantly, it seemed Joe Maddon’s time as manager was up.

Arriving in 2015 Maddon did wonders with the Cubs – turning them into a perennial playoff team and winning their first World Series in over a century. His final year in Chicago, which was seen as a major disappointment, still delivered a record above .500. Aside from his 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays – his first two hit-outs as a full-time manager – Maddon has led his teams to a winning record in 11 of his 12 seasons, achieved 84 or more wins 11 times and made the playoffs eight times.

None of that ultimately mattered to the franchise given the downward trend they had been going on since winning that elusive title in 2016. And fair enough, one way to stop regression on a team is to cut off the problem at or near the top.

Leaders in powerful positions can grow stale in any environment, regardless of how good they are at their craft. Change can be beneficial, for both sides. So Maddon was out and recently retired David Ross took over the Cubbies, continuing the trend of young former players assuming managerial roles in the MLB.

But it is not to say the 66-year-old is no longer good at what he does.

Think about Andy Reid for a second. After 8-8 and 4-12 seasons in 2011 and 2012 as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he went to Kansas City and immediately took them to the postseason. The move paid off in full earlier this year when the Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in 50 years. What about Mike Budenholzer in the NBA? After 43 and 24 win seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, Budenholzer took up a job with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018 and has since amassed a 113-24 record.

It did not take long for one of the game’s most intriguing personalities to find his next job. The Los Angeles Angels have been in desperate need of someone who can lead them to wins consistently. Since Mike Trout’s rookie season in 2012,  they have achieved 84 or more wins just three times while finishing below the mark five times. Sadly, they have been to the playoffs just once.

Mike Trout in 2016 (Julie Fennell)
As the best player in baseball, Mike Trout deserves to be in the playoffs consistently. (Photo / Julie Fennell)

Longtime manager Mike Scioscia overstayed his welcome, and Brad Ausmus made little impression he should remain at the helm beyond 2019, boasting a 72-90 record in his first year in charge. He also unfairly bore the brunt of Maddon’s availability.

Once mutual interest between the Angels and Maddon was established, it seemed inevitable they would join forces. The decision to bring Maddon in can only bring the Halos good – someone who while older the many other managers in the league, has a history of winning, adapting, and great relationships.

Hall of Famer and three-time World Series winning manager Tony La Russa is also on the team now as a senior advisor to baseball operations, offering the new coaching staff an experienced head.

Maddon himself said returning to Southern California, where he spent a good 30 years of his career prior to coaching, brought a great feeling and the Angels were flying under the radar. To some that suggests ‘Oh he’s being positive, that’s nice’. To others, by entertaining the finer detail, it suggests something a lot greater. Playoffs may still be year or two away, but major improvements and promise are on the cards.

So, one team’s *COUGH* *COUGH* I mean man’s trash, is another’s team’s *COUGH* *COUGH* I mean man’s treasure. Angels’ players, staff and fans would kill for consistent 84 or more win seasons.

Returning to familiar surroundings offering a new form of comfort as well as a fresh start, and being given a box of really great toys at your disposal, which includes the best on the market, what manager would not be happy?

Those toys filling out the Halos’ roster are well and truly known. Trout is without a doubt league’s best player and coming off his third American League MVP season, Shohei Ohtani can dominate at the plate and on the mound like no other in today’s game, and Anthony Rendon is a true slugger now with World Series winning experience, and his addition to the 2020 roster gives the Halos one of the best batting lineups in all of baseball. As well as that there is former Cub Tommy La Stella who became a first-time All Star in 2019, Andrelton Simmons is still one of if no the game’s best infielder, and the experiences and class of Albert Pujols which to be fair, has not paid off fully for the Angels since his arrival in 2012. Jo Adell, one of the best prospects in the league, could very well make the trip from Salt Lake and become the starting right fielder.

But years of mediocrity do not wash away just like that, and the area that has been offering a lot of the disappointment is the pitching staff. For too long it has been both unhealthy and unimpressive and in need of a major overhaul. Starters Julio Teherán via free agency and Dylan Bundy via trade were brought in, and both add class and an ability to stay away from the hospital bed. Ohtani is set to pitch this year and can throw some serious smoke when fit. Andrew Heaney is also capable, and Griffin Canning is a highly regarded prospect, but does have an elbow issue that could require surgery.

It feels like a stuck record saying this, but the Angels have some promise at the mound. Maybe 2020 is different than previous years. Who honestly knows.

The team has featured just one All-Star pitcher in the last seven seasons in Hector Santiago in 2015, but still managed 80 or more wins four times in that stretch. An extra 10 W’s can surely be whipped up thanks to some thunderous slugging and blitzing defence, right?

All questions, no answers… yet.

Lachlan Waugh View All

Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.

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