Angels confident they'll return to postseason

Angels confident they'll return to postseason

ANAHEIM -- One game. In spite of everything that went on last year -- the Josh Hamilton drama, the Jerry Dipoto resignation and the dreadful month of August -- that is all that separated the Angels from a spot in the postseason. One game.

It prompted some lamenting.

"There's something in here that every single guy could've done to improve that one game," Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun said.

"It comes down to every game means something," center fielder Mike Trout added. "Maybe it was one game in April when we were up and we made a mental mistake or we had a chance late in the game. Every game counts."

The Angels' 2015 season began with three months of perpetual mediocrity, which turned into an uplifting run of 17 wins in 20 games, which somehow spilled into a 19-loss August, which then morphed into a resurgent, inspiring final four weeks.

The Angels lost the regular-season finale to the Rangers in Arlington -- one day after arguably the greatest comeback in franchise history -- and finished one game behind the Astros, who just barely held onto the American League's second Wild Card spot.

Billy Eppler, introduced as the general manager on the first day of the Angels' offseason, swung a big trade for shortstop Andrelton Simmons, added a few accent pieces and, at the behest of ownership, stayed away from the big-name left fielder, prompting pundits to cast the Angels aside as mere afterthoughts.

But the Angels are strident in their belief that this group is good enough to return to the postseason.

Speaking toward the end of camp, veteran closer Huston Street expressed confidence that the Angels actually "got better" since the end of 2015. He was told that is not the popular opinion.

Street on staying healthy

"I know," Street said. "But I don't understand that. I think we did." 

Street raved about the acquisitions of third baseman Yunel Escobar, a better defender than the metrics might have indicated, and utility infielder Cliff Pennington, who brings far more experience to the role than former Rule 5 Draft pick Taylor Featherston.

Hector Santiago talked about how the two biggest concerns heading into camp -- left field and second base -- have provided the most encouraging signs, with Daniel Nava apparently back on track at the plate and Johnny Giavotella seemingly improved on defense.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought up "seeing some of our young bullpen emerge," a credit to Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian and Greg Mahle turning in solid springs. And Scioscia said he's most excited about "chemistry from the offense, which really hurt us last year."

The Angels received Major League-worst production from their left fielders, didn't provide their best hitter, Trout, with nearly enough RBI opportunities and ultimately finished 20th in runs scored last year.

Gubicza on Angels' 2016 outlook

"There's absolutely no doubt that we have to swing the bats better," Scioscia said. "That's a given."

Escobar and Nava, who will be the Nos. 1 and 2 hitters on most nights, have been on base more than half the time this spring. Albert Pujols, batting cleanup, has homered a team-leading five times in his return from November foot surgery. And the likes of Calhoun, Simmons, Giavotella, Craig Gentry and C.J. Cron have provided their own indications that this lineup may not be as bad as initially perceived.

The rotation has taken its lumps, with Jered Weaver throwing his fastball 80 mph and C.J. Wilson no longer even playing catch, but the Angels have depth there.

"I just like the brand of baseball we're running out there," Eppler said. "It feels like a pretty good brand of baseball."

Whether that is merely eyewash or a sign of improvement will be tested soon enough. One thing that is almost certain, though, is that the AL West will only be tougher.

"A hundred percent," Santiago said. "Last year, I would say we were the best division in the American League. And I think it just got better."

The Astros are on the rise, the Rangers are healthier, the Mariners are retooled and the A's are relentless. The Angels, with the consensus worst farm system in the game, need to stay healthy. And after failing to produce a winning record in three of the past four Aprils, they would also benefit from a good start.

"We have to go out, we have to play our game and we have to take it one day at a time," Calhoun said. "I know it's as cliché as it can possibly be, but there was probably a game in April that we blew, that we should've won, that was the difference in the season last year. People don't think like that because we have 145 games left. But every one of these games, man, come down to the wire. They can make or break you."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.