ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Mike Scioscia sat in the Los Angeles Angels dugout before Wednesday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics, leaning on an equipment box and sipping on a cup of water. As he watched his team take the field for batting practice, he was asked about the Angels’ schedule for next season, which had been released earlier in the day.
“I didn’t get a chance to see it,” Scioscia said. “I’m thinking about the schedule tonight.”
When he was asked what he thought about the Angels starting next season against the Cincinnati Reds and becoming the first teams to open with an interleague matchup, Scioscia simply stared into the distance and asked, “What time’s tonight game?”
It’s certainly an understandable stance for a manager to take before a game, but perhaps for the first time in Scioscia’s 13 years with the Angels there’s some uncertainty about his future with the team. Indeed, will he be the Angels' manager when the team takes the field in Cincinnati on April 1?
It’s not an uncertainty that has been raised by Scioscia or the team (not yet, anyway), but if the Angels don’t make the postseason it will be the third straight season they have failed to do so. It will be a record drought for Scioscia, who led the Angels to six playoff berths in eight seasons from 2002 to 2009, starting with the franchise’s first World Series win 10 years ago.
After Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to Oakland, however, it appears more likely the Angels will finish the season just short of the playoffs. With just 19 games left to play, they are now 8.5 games back in the American League West and 3.5 games back in the wild-card race.
This has been one of Scioscia’s more trying years as the Angels manager. It began with a 6-14 start to the season before Mike Trout was called up. A strong run, powered by Trout, was then followed by the Angels going 14-22 after the All-Star break. And most recently a six-game winning streak was followed up by a three-game losing skid at the hands of their division rivals in Oakland, who have long since passed them in their pursuit of the Texas Rangers. And now three more losses to the A’s in Anaheim.
“There’s definitely a lot of frustration that we’ve dealt with,” Scioscia said. “But I think we’ve done a great job and the players have done a great job of digging themselves out of a tough hole early. I think they’ve made a great push here in the pennant race to hopefully reach our first goal, and we have to finish this off. All that frustration is behind us and we’ll look at it in retrospect and see how it ends. But right now, by guys playing better, there’s a lot of confidence in this group and that’s what we need moving forward.”
There’s no question the current Angels are nothing like the team Scioscia took over 13 years ago when it comes to payroll and expectations. Back then the Anaheim Angels were treated like a small-market team and hadn’t been to the postseason in 15 years.
After signing a reported 20-year, $3 billion television contract with Fox Sports last year and using some of that new income to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to deals this offseason worth about $330 million over 10 years, the Angels are now in the same ballpark as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox when it comes to payroll and expectations.
Scioscia, however, doesn’t believe the team’s ballooning salaries should change the way he manages the team.
“I couldn’t even tell you what guys make, to be honest with you,” Scioscia said. “It’s not my department and it doesn’t affect anything that we do.”
It might not necessarily be his department, but the expectations of his “department” have certainly risen along with the payroll of the employees he manages. Suddenly that 10-year contract Scioscia signed three years ago that was supposed to keep him in Anaheim through the 2018 season doesn’t seem so ironclad.
The problem might not necessarily be Scioscia, who currently is the longest tenured manager in baseball and the only manager to lead his team to the postseason in six of his first 10 seasons. He is still managing the team the same way he did when they were having sustained success.
“I definitely feel our philosophy here has not changed one bit,” Scioscia said. “I think we conduct everything from our fundamentals to how we go about playing the game with that philosophy in mind, and that has not changed one bit.”
Sometimes, however, a manager’s philosophy, regardless of its success and longevity, can fall on deaf ears after a certain time and complacency can set in.
Scioscia doesn’t believe that has happened with the Angels. But if they miss out on the playoffs for a third straight season under his watch -- what with their heightened payroll and expectations -- that will be question the organization will have to answer before next Opening Day.