ANAHEIM -- The Angels spent the 2011 season in search of an identity. At the end, they came to the disappointing realization they finished out of first place for the second year in a row, leaving a sour taste in their mouths as they digested a Texas runaway in the American League West.
Overall, the pitching and defense were capable and at times spectacular. But the offense once again was substandard, especially deficient in getting runners on base and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.
This was a team that was constantly adapting and adjusting on the fly, from replacing their best hitter (Kendrys Morales) for the second season in a row to finding a new closer (Fernando Rodney not meeting expectations) to replacing one injured starter (Joel Pineiro) and another (Scott Kazmir, one start and out).
There were veterans who didn't meet expectations offensively (Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter) in relation to past performances, and those who didn't measure up with the bat (catchers Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson). In each case, however, there were substantial contributions, from defense to leadership.
Through all the ups and downs, the Angels managed to stay in contention for the postseason through 160 games. It wasn't always easy to see how or why, but they refused to buckle and kept the heat on Texas in the AL West and then the Red Sox and Rays in the three-team AL Wild Card chase.
Clearly unhappy with an 86-win season, owner Arte Moreno would stun the baseball world by landing first baseman Albert Pujols, widely acclaimed as the game's best player, in free agency, along with C.J. Wilson, the Texas ace, and respected setup man LaTroy Hawkins. The new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, also acquired veteran catcher Chris Iannetta from Colorado.
Here are the five biggest story lines that played out in the 2011 season:
Dominant starting pitching
Here was the team's heartbeat. The Angels led the AL in team ERA largely on the strong, durable right arms of starters Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Weaver, the AL All-Star Game starter in Arizona, delivered a career-high 18 wins, ranking among the AL leaders in ERA (2.41), strikeouts (198) and innings (235 2/3). He showed his toughness in working on three days' rest for the first time in his career.
Haren was one of the few in the game on a level with Weaver, matching a career high with 16 wins. Haren, with his pinpoint control and mental toughness, had a career-best 238 1/3 innings, with a 3.17 ERA.
Santana, with minimal run support, picked up 11 wins while fashioning a 3.38 ERA in 228 2/3 innings. Santana produced the season's single-game highlight with the ninth no-hitter in franchise history on July 27 in Cleveland.
The kids ride to the rescue
Only Peter Bourjos among the organization's fine collection of young talent was expected to play a prominent role. The center fielder delivered handsomely with brilliant defense and solid offense, batting .271 with 26 doubles, an AL-high 11 triples and 12 homers.
Mark Trumbo was penciled down as a role player off the bench, expected to spell Morales at first base and play some outfield. Trumbo emerged as the organization's choice for team MVP with his power (29 homers, 87 RBIs), clutch hitting and solid defense. He was runner-up to Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson in the AL Rookie of the Year Award balloting.
Jordan Walden, in just his second season as a reliever, thought he would be setting up for Rodney. Walden became an All-Star, setting a rookie club record for saves with 32. While he let 10 get away, he made strides toward becoming a shut-down closer.
With quality gloves at every position, the Angels backed their sturdy pitching with consistently superb defense, featuring Rawlings Gold Glove winner Erick Aybar at shortstop and the game's best outfield, according to "The Fielding Bible."
Bourjos, Hunter and Wells -- three natural center fielders -- combined to save more runs (42) than any trio in the Majors. The infield -- Trumbo at first, Howard Kendrick at second, Aybar at short and Alberto Callaspo at third -- was also as consistently good as any in the game according to most analytics. Maicer Izturis provided superb support.
Even though they struggled to hit consistently, Mathis, Wilson and young Hank Conger were praised by manager Mike Scioscia for their overall defensive abilities behind the plate.
Morales' absence stings
The Angels' most dangerous offensive weapon, Morales, missed the entire season when his left ankle needed a second surgery following his May 2010 fractured leg in a home-plate celebration.
While Trumbo filled the void remarkably well, Morales' power production from the left side was missed all season in the heart of the order.
Abreu managed to get on base, steal bases and produce clutch hits, but he didn't provide the consistent production of seasons past.
Making matters worse, Wells, acquired in a big offseason swap with Toronto, fell far short of his standard offensive numbers. Hunter struggled early before finishing strong, helping fuel the late-season charge.
Texas was on the verge of completing a four-game sweep at Angel Stadium and essentially burying the Angels when Trumbo delivered the biggest blow of the season. His two-run walk-off homer against newly acquired reliever Mike Adams on Aug. 18 lifted the team's sagging spirits and proved to be the most memorable moment of the season.
Trailing by six games in the AL West instead of eight after the victory, the club went on six-game winning streak to get back in the race -- and stayed there deep into September.
An All-Star for the first time with a career-high 18 homers, Kendrick played left field and first base as well as his natural second-base role, symbolic of the club's do-whatever-it-takes mindset.
Jerome Williams, at 29, was the surprise of the season. After early-career success with the Giants, he'd seemingly disappeared from the Major League scene. A Minor League free agent signed in June after starting the season in an independent league in Pennsylvania, Williams emerged to deliver vitally solid work down the stretch and serve notice that he plans to be a rotation plus in seasons ahead.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.