Monday, October 6, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

My favorite time of the year is the fall. I love the holidays in the fall. I got married in the fall. And of course, there’s the Fall Classic.

Growing up in Orange County, I loved going to Knott’s Berry Farm. My favorite ride there was (and still is) the Log Ride. 

During Knott’s Scary Farm, the park reinvents itself into a horror theme—perfect for Halloween. While the fall as a season is generally a warm and welcoming time, there has always been an undertone of the morbid and macabre as the plants from spring wither and die.

The first time I went to Knott’s Scary Farm, I went on the Log Ride with a good friend. I remember seeing how they had changed the opening setting from the lumberjacks sawing logs of wood to miscreants sawing up bodies. One lumberjack had even been made to appear as if he’d walked right into a buzzsaw.

When I got off that ride, I joked with my friend about that scene saying “How often does a person walk right into a buzzsaw?”

He said “Sometimes that just happens.”*

As I watched the Angels play their final game of 2014 season, I was once again reminded of that discussion from so many years ago. They walked right into a buzzsaw. Sometimes that just happens. While the Angels may have been the better team across the entire season, when it came to the playoffs, the Royals outplayed them.

I’m not going to get into the pointing the blame game—the failure to win hangs on many. There’s the entire offseason to analyze and debate that. And I am sure that it will be analyzed and debated by all the important figures in the organization to determine what corrective steps need to be taken. 

Prior to the start of the season, I filled out my predictions for the upcoming season. My best guess for the season was that the Angels would win 92 games. I wasn’t so bold as to predict that they would win the A. L. West. So, in that regard the team outperformed my expectations. 

However, in that same article, I my fearless prediction was that “The Angels make the playoffs and get past the first round.” As we all know, the second part of the prediction didn’t happen. So, not all of my expectations were met in 2014.

Am I upset that the Angels were one-and-done? Yes and no. As a fan, of course I’m frustrated that the Angels were swept. They were a better team than that. By all rights, getting swept by the Royals was an embarrassment. The team played as if they did not belong in the post-season, even though they had earned the right to be there. So, more than anything, I feel cheated out of seeing the best the team could do.

At the same time, though, I am willing to look at the bigger picture. The Angels won 98 games in 2014. That’s more than any other team in baseball. Garrett Richards will be back next year, and Shoemaker will get a full season in the rotation. Weaver showed that he still has the stuff to be a big-game pitcher. The revamped bullpen will be here for an entire season, so several of the early season losses will be turned into victories. Mike Trout will most likely be an MVP this year and will only continue to get better. 

Even if the Angels make no major moves during the 2014-2015 offseason (which I doubt will happen—both Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto will work to make this team better during the offseason), the 2015 Angels project to be odds-on favorites for winning the American League West. 

Let that sink in again: the Angels project to be the odds-on favorites to win the American League West in 2015. That’s before they make any moves during the offseason to improve the team. While 2015 might not be a walk in the park, I’d still put my money on the Angels to make it back to the post season next year over any other team in the A. L. West. I’d much rather be a fan of our team than any of our divisional rivals. We have far fewer questions than any of them have.

When Arte Moreno spoke at the Spring Training Fanfest a few years ago, he outlined his annual objective for the organization. From top to bottom, everyone within the Angels knows that his objective is to win a World Series each and every year. He’s not happy when the team doesn’t bring home a trophy.

While winning a championship every year is his objective, his goal, is slightly different. Rationally, he knows that winning the World Series every year is an impossibility. So, his long term goal for the organization is to raise the level of play each year so that making post season is not an aberration. It is the norm.

In that context, the 2014 Angels were an important step in the right direction. After a long postseason hiatus, the team dominated throughout the season. Of the 20 teams the Angels played, only 5 managed a winning record against them. Of those 5 teams, 4 of them played 6 games or fewer, so there is the problem of small sample sizes. Only 1, Seattle, boasted a solid winning record (12-7) against the Angels. Ironically, it was Seattle who started and ended the season with a sweep of the Angels when the Angels played some of the worst baseball.

I’d like to think of the 2014 Angels like I did when I first saw the house I bought (it was a used house). While the paint and tile needed fixing, the structure and foundation were solid. It had good support and bones. With minor tweaks here and there, it has become a much better house. 

While the burn and hurt of the early postseason departure for the 2014 still stings, it is also tempered by the knowledge that the 2015 team will be back to compete on the same stage. I had a lot of fun at the ballpark this year and got to take my sons to their first postseason game in their lifetimes that they were old enough to attend. They are already counting down the days until the 2015 season begins and already talking about how many games they’d like to attend in next year’s playoffs. 

As a parent, I know enough to never question the innocence of my boys. Just as they are counting down the days until next year, so am I.

*For those of you who doubt the possibility of running into a buzzsaw, may I remind you of this from “The Running Man”. Sometimes you just run into a Buzzsaw.

Love to hear what you think!

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