So much for that much-anticipated World Series preview that I eagerly got tickets for this weekend.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a first-place team as late as three weeks ago, have seen their 2022 season go to hell in a handbasket. Last night they dropped their 12th straight game, an anemic 1-0 homecoming loss to the struggling Red Sox and Andy Cohen’s favorite pitcher, Michael Wacha, himself several years removed from his early success with Andy’s beloved Cardinals. While they are still a second place team in their division, they are now two games under .500, an alarming 8.5 games behind the Houston Astros, and, as significantly, dropped 1.5 games behind the BoSox for the third wild card.
The loss all but wasted an encouraging start for reclamation project Noah Syndegaard, who was thoroughly bombed in his return to New York by the Yankees and has struggled mightily in recent weeks, along with his teammates. Mike Trout wasted his own Philadelphia homecoming by continuing a historic nadir of a hitless treak through the entire series with the Phillies, eventually reaching 0-for-26 before getting a hit last night. The Angels bullpen has also been horrific. A 5-0 lead in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon unraveled in the later innings, and ended with closer Rafael Iglesias, off a nine-day layoff, setting the table for a walkoff home run that allowed new Phillies manager Rob Thomson to open his managerial career 3-0.
Joe Maddon has devolved from wily genius to outdated relic in the minds of many Halo Honks, and that’s unfortunate. When your best player stops hitting, when even Shohei Ohtani starts throwing gopher balls, and when the rotation beyond Syndegaard can’t get outs, that’s not on Maddon. Losing 12 in a row is a confluence of unperformance, bad luck and mental funk. Any manager, even Maddon, is not capable of undoing such a combination of negativity. But, inevitably, the manager gets blame for this.
In Philadelphia, the Angels saw first-hand the example of such blaming, as Joe Girardi’s managerial career there came to an end just before they took the field this past Friday night. Girardi was not the genius who assembled a slew of lumbering slow outfielders with a proclivity for the longball who can’t field or run well, nor did he foresee the health of one of his otherwise healthier field options, Bryce Harper, being hampered by a lingering injury that has reduced him to a DH role for most of this series. But Girardi took the fall anyway.
As for Maddon, all that awaits him this weekend is the best team in the National League, the second best team in all baseball (and the city of New York), and a resilient offense that couldn’t even get slowed down last night in San Diego, a city the Mets historically have had trouble in. Eduardo Escobar had only the 11th cycle in the team’s 60 year history as they opened their series with the Padres with an 11-5 shellacking.
The series will culminate with a primetime (well, 7:08 pm Eastern) showdown between Syndegaard and his former team. By then it’s possible the Angels could be looking history square in the eye, as last night’s listless performance suggests their turnaround isn’t imminent. And the drumroll on Maddon isn’t a good one.
In fact, it’s been lousy news for any Anaheim fan. Last week, owner Arte Moreno announced he is walking away from a planned purchase of Angel Stadium from the city, frustrated by a city council that is currently under investigation. The Angels sought to buy the stadium and land to develop the area around it in a multipurpose fashion similar to what has unfolded in other cities such as Atlanta, where the Braves moved from downtown to a suburban location surrounded by a slew of expensive restaurants and bars that a captive post-game audience can generate. Anyone who has attended a game in Anaheim can attest to the fact that the surrounding existing choices are woefully inadequate. Reportedly, the city of Long Beach is prepared to offer the Angels such a development, using waterfront area adjacent to the current outdated arena as a carrot to attract the team.
Several years ago, the Angels reduced Anaheim to a secondary position in their name, with Moreno always having wanderlust to have a more prominent location within the market. Certainly his economic upside is significant. The recent political shenanigans may finally have given him the out he needed to pursue it. The timing of this underperformance by the team is horrible. Someone will be blamed, just like in Philadelphia. It shouldn’t be Maddon. But it sure won’t be Moreno.
So I’m selfishly hoping the Angels grab a couple of wins against Boston before my Mets come to town, just to take some pressure off the powderkeg that’s ready to boil over. I like Maddon and I actually like Angel Stadium. Neither deserves to go away prematurely.