Slow start too much for Halos to overcome in '12
Angels unable to recover despite Trout's emergence as MVP candidate
ANAHEIM -- Imagine you knew all this going into the Angels' much-hyped 2012 season:
Mike Trout would put together one of the greatest campaigns in baseball history.
Albert Pujols would have a pretty standard year.
Jered Weaver would once again be a Cy Young contender.
Kendrys Morales, after missing nearly two full seasons, would be healthy and productive.
Torii Hunter, at age 37, would have one of his finest years ever.
Zack Greinke would be added before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
And hardly any major injuries would occur.
Where would you have had the Angels by October? Atop the American League West, perhaps? Or, at the very least, as a lock for one of those two Wild Card spots?
How about neither?
That's the reality of 2012, which finished with a third consecutive postseason absence despite some great individual performances and a few stretches of collective greatness. In the end, the Angels -- sporting an Opening Day payroll of $155 million with Pujols and C.J. Wilson on board -- were climbing uphill for most of the year and in desperate need of outside help down the stretch.
"With the ballclub we have, we should not be in that position," Hunter said. "It's as simple as that."
Perhaps how you start a season does matter.
The Angels kept preaching the opposite in April, when the bullpen posted a 5.08 ERA and the offense -- with Pujols still homerless and Trout still in Triple-A -- averaged 3.5 runs per game, prompting the dismissal of hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. The Angels lost 14 of their first 20 games, and by May 21, they were seven games below .500 and eight games back in the AL West.
They never fully recovered.
"We set ourselves back early in the year and never quite got to a position we wanted to be," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and we paid a price for it."
But they sure fought back -- a couple of times.
When Trout took over the leadoff spot and Ernesto Frieri took over the ninth, the Angels regained their footing, sporting baseball's best record in the seven weeks leading into the All-Star break.
When they fell back once more, starting the second half 14-22 due to woeful pitching struggles, they answered by sporting a 27-12 record from Aug. 21 to the end of the season.
But it would be too little, too late.
The Rangers' lead was too big, the A's and Orioles too resurgent. And on Monday -- the day they were mathematically eliminated -- the Angels were left to ponder a season that started slowly, ended disappointingly and, through it all, was just too streaky.
"You can call this season a roller coaster," Pujols said. "There were great moments and bad moments. Up and down. We were out there fighting and trying to do the best we could every day. But the Orioles and A's, they got hot, and that happens in this game."
Now that it's over, here's a look at the highs, lows and in-betweens that shaped 2012 in Anaheim:
Record: 89-73, third in AL West
Defining moment: Aug. 1 at Rangers Ballpark. The Angels, up six at one point, blew a one-run lead in the ninth, then a three-run lead in the 10th, providing a snapshot of the bullpen troubles that would ail them all year. Had the Angels won that night, they would've taken the first three on the road against the Rangers, moving to two games back of the AL West to represent their shortest deficit in nearly four months. Instead, they lost. And after that, they spiraled again, losing 12 of their next 17 to require yet another season-saving run.
What went right: Trout was simply amazing. He became the first player ever to combine 30 homers with 45 steals and 125 runs in one season, finished close to a batting title, broke all sorts of records and may be named the youngest MVP in history. ... Weaver once again put himself in the forefront of the Cy Young discussion, throwing a no-hitter, winning 20 games for the first time and finishing with the third-lowest ERA in the AL. ... Pujols bounced back, finishing with 30 homers, 105 RBIs, 50 doubles and a .285 batting average despite a horrific first four weeks. ... The offense in general finished third in the AL in runs, behind only the Rangers and Yankees. ... Frieri was untouchable in the first half, striking out 45 batters and giving up no runs in his first 26 1/3 innings after coming over from the Padres. ... Morales had an inspirational bounce-back year, with an OPS near .800 and no major injuries after missing nearly two full seasons with two ankle surgeries. ... Hunter hit .300 for the first time in his career, could win his first Gold Glove as a right fielder and practically carried the Angels in September.
What went wrong: There was Pujols in April, when he batted .217 with no homers as the offense sputtered behind him. There was the star-studded rotation early in the second half, which posted a 5.50 ERA in the first 36 games. And all year long, there was a thin bullpen that blew an AL-leading 22 saves and greatly hindered momentum. ... For the most part, the Angels navigated through the 2012 season without many major injuries, but the loss of catcher Chris Iannetta for nearly three months, due to wrist surgery and a forearm strain, hurt. ... Dan Haren (12-13, 4.33 ERA) and Ervin Santana (9-13, 5.16 ERA) struggled mightily until the very end, and Wilson had a rough second half (4-5, 5.54 ERA) while pitching with bone spurs in his elbow. ... Mark Trumbo lit it up in the first half, batting .306 with 22 homers. But in mid-July, he began a 57-game stretch that saw him post a .192/.243/.280 slash line, dropping him from fourth to eighth in the lineup.
Biggest surprise: With all due respect to Morales, a legitimate AL Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and Frieri, who came out of nowhere to temporarily save the bullpen, it's got to be Trout. Yes, most figured he'd be good, perhaps great. But nobody expected him to accomplish what he did in his age-20 season.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.