Earlier, our roundtable of experts gave us perspective on the Angels' first half. Now, they talk about how -- and where -- this team will finish.
Which player will have the biggest effect on the team's second half?
Evan Brunell, Fire Brand of the American League: It's always going to start and end with pitching when talking about a team's chances to play in October. The Angels have two quality pitchers ... and then not much. Dan Haren's successful return from injury and return to past performance will be crucial to Los Angeles' October hopes.
Alex Convery, Fire Brand of the American League: It's hard to pick anyone but Mike Trout here. The kid has a legitimate shot to win both the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards if he keeps the pace he's on now. Only two other players have done that in baseball history (and one was Ichiro, who wasn't a true rookie). If he continues to play this way, he can single-handedly carry the Halos to the postseason.
Matthias Koster, MopUpDuty.com: Since June 1, Albert Pujols has posted a .311/.401/.549 line. If he can maintain this level of production he should be able to offset any potential regression from Trumbo and Trout.
Brenden Lowery, It's Pronounced Lajaway: Player TBD. When you look at the Angels' roster, you know what you are getting out of each player. I don't see anyone on the roster who is going to push them over the Rangers; therefore, I feel as though they will need to go outside the organization to find that.
Anna McDonald, SweetSpot contributor: Albert Pujols. The pitching staff, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have carried this team, but if we are talking about getting to the postseason Pujols has to hit closer to his career numbers. The good news? When Pujols was struggling he told everyone not to worry, by the end of the season his numbers would be there. Angels fans, welcome to life with Albert Pujols. If there is one thing we know about Pujols it is that he always keeps his word.
What's the biggest problem this team has to overcome?
Brunell: How to manage keeping the lineup as-is once Wells returns. Wells can't return to a starting spot, but how will that go over with him?
Convery: Inconsistency from the back half of the rotation. If Dan Haren and Ervin Santana can get it together, then this team becomes truly elite. I would also worry that it's going to be almost impossible for Trout and Mark Trumbo to keep hitting like they did in the first half, but if the pitching can improve, then it should level the inevitable regression of the two big bats.
Koster: Stability and production from the back end of the rotation.
Lowery: I think the 13 second-half meetings between the Angels and the Rangers will not be the biggest "problem," but will definitely be the most difficult thing the Angels will have to overcome in the second half. I would say in order to win the division they will have to come out of those 13 meetings around 9-4 or 8-5.
McDonald: Besides keeping the pitching staff healthy and the offense going? Intentional walks to Albert Pujols. Oddly, even batting .268 Pujols has the second-most intentional walks in the American League. If Pujols is to have a big impact in the second half he needs to be able to swing the bat in high-leverage situations. Teams taking the bat away from Pujols became a huge problem in 2010 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
What trade or move would you make to better equip this team?
Brunell: It's probably impossible for the team to trade Wells (along with significant salary coverage), so the second-best move the Angels could make is to bring in another hitter. The Angels do have a lot to look forward to in terms of bounce-backs by Pujols, Howie Kendrick and even Erick Aybar, but right now this is a team with three legitimate performers and not much else. Adding a threat at the plate at, say, third base, would go a long way.
Convery: You can never have too much starting pitching. The Angels don't need Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels, but someone like Ryan Dempster or Brandon McCarthy would certainly help solidify the back end of Anaheim's rotation. Another reliever certainly wouldn't hurt either.
Koster: Unload Vernon Wells' contract. OK, that's not going to happen. With Chris Iannetta returning, the Angels in a sense make a late-season pickup. Otherwise I don't see the club making an impact move down the stretch.
Lowery: I honestly think a deal for a front-line starting pitcher would go a long way toward winning the pennant. Bring in either Matt Garza or Zack Greinke, making sure that whoever it is signs a multiyear deal before the deal goes through. A top three of Weaver, Wilson and Garza/Greinke could spell trouble for the Rangers.
McDonald: With so many teams in the mix for a playoff spot and the Angels' current payroll the right trade -- without giving up too much -- would be very difficult. This pitching staff can get through a few injuries. More than anything, the Angels should add a second batting coach. Only a handful of teams in MLB use a two hitting coach model but those clubs are seeing extremely positive results with their offense. With a huge mix of hitting talent the Angels are a perfect candidate.
Who is their biggest competition in the division?
Brunell: The Rangers are the biggest competition by virtue of really being the only competition. The Angels are in a great position to take a wild card simply by being a quality team in a division with only two contenders.
Convery: The Mariners. The curse of Chone Figgins begins now. Just kidding. I think we all know that the biggest threat to Anaheim resides in the Dallas Fort-Worth area. And what a threat the Texas Rangers are.
Koster: Without a doubt the Texas Rangers.
Lowery: Texas Rangers
McDonald: The Texas Rangers. Obviously. However, no one should assume the Athletics will make life easy for the Angels; at the All-Star break Oakland's 3.42 ERA is the lowest in the American League.
Will this team make the playoffs?
Brunell: Yes, the Angels should sail into the playoffs with one of the wild-card spots very easily at a minimum.
Convery: Yes. If they don't catch Texas, which definitely isn't out of the question, they'll claim one of the two wild-card spots. They're not going to keep playing at the pace they set in June, but if they can stay consistent, then the wild card should be a lock. Twenty-two games against the Mariners and A's certainly doesn't hurt.
Koster: Yes, either as AL West champions or as winners of the first-place AL wild card.
Lowery: Of course. I do not see any teams pushing the Angels out of a wild-card spot if they do not win the division.
McDonald: Yes. This team is talented enough in pitching, hitting and fielding. Also, again, welcome to life with Albert Pujols. Statistically speaking, the odds of getting to the playoffs with Pujols on your team are very good; 11 years in MLB with seven years of playing in the playoffs and two World Series rings. Forget the aging player's drop in production and all that rot, we're talking about Pujols. He has defied every negative thing ever said about him. The next 10 years will be a great time to be an Angels fan.