Mike Scioscia has managed the Angels long enough to make you believe his players stopped listening to him, what, like a decade ago?
Only his voice never has been clearer, his influence never more calming, and what he’s doing now is arguably the best work he’s done in his 18 seasons in Anaheim.
A cursory glance at the roster should tell you the Angels have no business playing baseball in October, but here they are, suddenly in the thick of the playoff race, a half-game out of the second American League wild-card spot after a 5-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night at Angel Stadium.
The Angels don’t have much of an offense or much of a starting rotation, but Scioscia is somehow making it work.
Manager of the year?
Mike Trout believes Scioscia has a case.
“He’s doing an unbelievable job,” Trout said Monday. “He should be up there.”
Scioscia has won the award twice before, in 2002 and 2009. But if not him, who? The American League teams with records better than the Angels were supposed to be where they are.
“He’s been able to hold the dam that’s had a lot of leaks,” general manager Billy Eppler said.
The lineup the Angels fielded in their series opener against the Rangers included only two players above the league average offensively, as measured by OPS+.
Cameron Maybin, the team’s leadoff hitter, entered Monday batting .236. His on-base percentage was only .335.
It’s bad enough the Angels’ designated hitter is Albert Pujols, who ranked as the least valuable player in the American League, according to both FanGraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s calculations of wins above replacement. Pujols doubles as the team’s No. 3 hitter.
The Angels started the week third from the bottom in the AL in runs per game.
Lacking the financial luxuries of their blue-clad neighbors up Interstate 5, the Angels have been forced to be creative, with Eppler building a roster around defense and relief pitching, then praying Scioscia can do something with it.
And Scioscia has.
“He’s been able to jumble a lot of roster transition that we’ve experienced over the course of this season and keep an open mind about the players coming in the door,” Eppler said.
Their rotation has been decimated by injuries, with Garrett Richards and Nick Tropeano pitching a combined 42/3 innings this season. Matt Shoemaker has been sidelined for two months. The team’s leader in innings pitched, JC Ramirez, landed on the disabled list Monday with a strained elbow.
The Angels’ most dependable starter has been Parker Bridwell, who was purchased from the Baltimore Orioles in the first month of the season.
Scioscia had to adapt.
If he had his choice, his late-inning relievers would have set roles, as they did in the franchise’s glory days. Before the game Monday, Scioscia recalled some of the late-inning combinations of the past.
Francisco Rodriguez in eighth and Troy Percival in the ninth. Scot Shields in the eighth and Rodriguez in the ninth.
“Life’s a lot easier and the manager looks a lot smarter when you have those guys down there,” Scioscia said.
He couldn’t recreate that this year. So in the week leading up to the start of the regular season, he gathered his relievers and explained how they would navigate the season.
“He told us he was going to move pieces around and there were no set roles,” Cam Bedrosian said. “He’s was pretty clear in what he was thinking this year.”
Four relievers have divided the team’s past seven saves: Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, Yusmeiro Petit and Bud Norris.
“If you have the legitimate ninth-inning closer …” Scioscia started. “There aren’t as many out there as you guys might anticipate. If you don’t have that guy, you’re going to try to match up, you’re going to try to use guys where they’re best served. I don’t think we have the quote-unquote traditional closer.
“We’ve had to match up because of where the talent level is.”
It’s worked. And if Scioscia can get it to work for 37 more games, the Angels will be playing later in the year than anyone expected.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez