First-half trouble signals change for Angels

Trout among bright spots, but club found itself in unfamiliar territory at break

First-half trouble signals change for Angels

The Angels' sputtering first half finished with back-to-back difficult losses in Baltimore, the first featuring a game-tying balk by their setup man and the second ending with their closer prematurely walking off the mound, trainer by his side. They entered the All-Star break with a 37-52 record and 16 1/2 games separating them from first place in the American League West, making the wrong kind of franchise history.

It marked the first time since 1999 -- the year before Mike Scioscia became manager -- that the Angels finished the first half in last place in their division.

Because of their thin farm system and the general lack of latitude in their budget, the Angels entered this season with very little margin for error. They weren't built to sustain an inordinate amount of injuries. But they used the disabled list 17 times and were forced to deploy 43 players. Two starting pitchers sustained tears in their ulnar collateral ligaments, another never pitched because of shoulder injuries and another still hasn't returned from a Tommy John surgery he underwent 23 months ago.

So, the Angels' first half probably went as you might expect.

The Angels' bright spots must be narrowed down to the individual. Mike Trout (5.5 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, first among Major League position players) was arguably the game's best player again. Yunel Escobar (.317/.365/.413) hit well; C.J. Cron (1.092 OPS over his past 20 games) got red-hot before fracturing his left hand; Kole Calhoun (2.2 fWAR) was solid on both sides of the ball; Andrelton Simmons (11 Defensive Runs Saved) shined defensively; Nick Tropeano (3.12 ERA) and Cam Bedrosian (1.09 ERA) seemingly came into their own; and Matt Shoemaker went on an historic run (49 consecutive strikeouts without a walk).

Simmons' superb barehander

The rotation went wrong. Terribly wrong. Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney each tore their UCL, with Heaney undergoing Tommy John surgery and Richards trying desperately to avoid the same procedure. Tyler Skaggs was supposed to be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery in August 2014 by this May, but he is still working his way back. Then there's C.J. Wilson, who will undergo shoulder surgery this week and will end his season without throwing a single pitch. There's also Jered Weaver, who posted a 5.27 ERA with a mid-80s fastball, and Tim Lincecum, who was signed out of desperation and gave up 18 runs in 23 2/3 innings.

That the Angels may have to rebuild -- or, at least, retool. The shaky first half, and the injuries that came with it, indicate that it could be difficult for them to be serious contenders until 2018, at the earliest. After this season, they'll still be paying the Rangers for almost the entirety of Josh Hamilton's salary, will still owe Albert Pujols $140 million over the next five years, will still lack any semblance of depth in their farm system and will not get much help from an uninspiring crop of free agents. On top of all that, their rotation could be without Richards and Heaney -- their top two starters when the year began -- for the entire season.

Trout's fWAR was nearly three times better than the second-place Calhoun and more than five times better than that of everybody else on his team. He batted .322/.425/.567, with 18 home runs, 58 RBIs and 15 stolen bases, four more than he had all of last season. If not for the Angels' record, Trout would probably be the favorite for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

Tropeano was the Angels' most consistent starting pitcher, even though he didn't even have a place in the rotation when the season began. The 25-year-old right-hander struggled at times with his pitch efficiency, but he continually kept his team in the game, giving up three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 12 starts.

Tropeano's strong start

Deolis Guerra, a towering right-handed reliever selected in the Rule 5 Draft, posted a 2.73 ERA in 26 1/3 innings, issuing only one walk and striking out 18 batters. The 27-year-old worked on quickening his delivery when he didn't crack the Opening Day roster. It ultimately played up his stuff and allowed him to carve out a role in the Angels' bullpen.

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.