Let’s see. The Phillies dumped manager Joe Girardi last Friday morning. They went on a prompt five-game winning streak under interim Rob Thomson that began with three straight against the Angels. The Angels went from there to a 1-0 loss against the resurgent (we think) Red Sox and padded their losing streak to twelve.
It meant the Angels becoming the first team in Show history to go from ten games above .500 at 27-17 to a twelve-game losing streak. It also meant manager Joe Maddon, in the final year of a three-year deal, didn’t live long enough to finish the third year beyond which the Angels hadn’t even begun talking extension or new deal.
That’s what two straight sub-.500 season finishes plus the incumbent morass does even to a three-time Manager of the Year. The Angels executed Maddon Tuesday. Third base coach Phil Nevin, formerly a twelve-year corner infielder who spent one season as an Angel before becoming a longtime coach, was handed the job on an interim basis.
“Maddon appeared to have few answers” to the Angels’ sudden twelve-game cratering after such a staggering season’s start, writes The Athletic‘s Andy McCullough.
He praised the effort of his group, though his praise grew fainter in the wake of so many defeats. Maddon never found the footing he held in prior stops in Tampa Bay and Chicago. He was hailed as a pioneer with the Rays and adored for ending a curse with the Cubs. With the Angels, though, he was just another ineffective skipper unable to get a team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani into the postseason. It wasn’t really his fault; the team lacked pitching depth and has been hurt by injuries. Even so, he wasn’t able to stop the skid, so the team stopped relying on him. It might not make a difference. It still shouldn’t come as a shock.
Once serving long-term as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach with the Angels, Maddon says he’d like to manage again. He won’t lack for those taking a deep look at the Angels and concluding he’s become the sacrificial lamb for a continuing failure above and beyond even still-freshman general manager Perry Minasian. Another Athletic writer, Marc Carig, has isolated the point:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: what about the owner’s role in all of this? Arte Moreno has spent a ton of money on the big league roster in an effort to make his team a contender. That’s awesome. It’s what all of the owners should be doing. But Moreno has yet to find the right formula for building a winning culture . . . Front office turnover and, now, the firing of manager Joe Maddon shows that Moreno doesn’t seem to be any closer to building a sustainable winner. All managers know that being fired is part of the deal. This remains true even though skippers no longer occupy the same lofty perches that they once did within organizations. In this case, the Angels dismissed a manager with a World Series championship on his résumé in addition to a lengthy history with the organization. But all that experience wasn’t going to negate a dearth of arms and a banged up roster. Those issues could have only been overcome with depth, and that kind of thing falls outside of a modern manager’s purview.
There may also have been an increasing sense that Maddon was prone humanly enough to egregious mistakes but bent over in prayer at once hoping his players would bail him out. He got away with it the day he walked Corey Seager of the Rangers with the bases loaded and the Angels down; his Angels overcame a wider deficit to win at the eleventh hour. He still looked foolish for doing so.
More than all that: Maddon may have written his own execution order before last winter’s owners’ lockout ended, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney: The Angels’ administration had an idea on how to keep Trout healthier, and Maddon—whether inadvertently or carelessly—killed the idea in the proverbial crib.
The Angels wanted to talk Trout into moving from his longtime center field roost to one of the less-demanding corner outfield positions. They planned to talk to him about it once the lockout ended. The idea made sense. Trout’s past three seasons have been injury marred or injury-ended, and though he’s been a better than plus defender in center field (55 defensive runs above his league average) in his twelve-season career, those injuries have taken their toll. He’s also played 124 games in left field during his career and he’s been worth seven defensive run above league average for them.
The bad news, Olney writes: “Maddon changed the trajectory—telling reporters about it before anyone in the organization said anything to Trout. When Trout balked at the suggestion—he learned about it on Twitter, he said—that possibility was scrapped for 2022 out of respect for Trout, a future Hall of Famer.” If Trout heard it from the team first, the story might be different.
Did the Angels—who already declined to talk contract extension with Maddon—decide the manager simply couldn’t be trusted any longer to know how to mind his players’ health? Did they decide he couldn’t be trusted to keep certain key decisions from leaking before they’d had the chance to present them to the affected parties? Did they decide both? Will it mean Maddon may not get another chance to manage again too soon?
The injuries weren’t Maddon’s doing, of course. Neither was the lack of pitching depth, the Angels’ most constant and wounding flaw for just about as long as Trout’s been an Angel. But if the organisation came to see Maddon as even a tiny degree untrustworthy coming into the season, seeing him looking lost for ways to help the team snap that losing streak probably sealed the un-deal.
Nevin was the Yankees’ third base coach until after last fall’s American League wild card game. He took an inferno of heat for sending Aaron Judge on his way home, trying to score a tying run all the way from first on a ball that banged off the top of Boston’s Green Monster. Nevin misjudged a strong throw in to Red Sox cutoff man Xander Bogaerts, who fired a strike home so perfectly the diving Judge was out by two feet.
The Yankees ended up going home for the winter very early. Nevin ended up with a pink slip and a not too slow hiring to do the same job for the Angels. Now’s he’s the manager. Minasian says Nevin will hold the bridge for the rest of the season.
Tuesday night, Nevin watched his new Angels charges take a game to the tenth inning after blowing lead in the seventh inning or later for the sixth time during their now thirteen-game losing streak, a franchise record.
Trout continued coming out of his horrid slump and opened the night’s proceedings with a first-inning, two-run homer, but then had to leave with left groin tightness after he doubled in the third. The morning after, Trout said he felt something like a cramp leaving the batter’s box on the double but “a little achy” when he pulled up to second.
He came out for pinch runner Jo Adell, who came home on Max Stassi’s ground rule double to snap an early three-all tie, then doubled Luis Rengifo home to make it 5-3, Angels in the fifth. But the Red Sox made it 5-4 with a sixth-inning RBI single and tied it with an RBI infield hit—Trevor Story’s grounder bounding off Angel reliever Ryan Tepera’s glove—in the seventh. Making the sixth time in a now thirteen-game losing streak that the Angels let a lead disappear in the seventh or after.
Christian Vásquez sent what proved the winning run home when he drove tenth-inning-opening free cookie-on-second runner Story home with a single through the hole at second, and the Angels had nothing to say in the bottom of the tenth against Red Sox reliever Matt Strahm.
Trout and Shohei Ohtani said the morning after it was up to the players to re-horse themselves. Nevin said after the 6-5 loss that whatever else went wrong for the Angels during the franchise-record losing streak, morale wasn’t part of it. “I’m not worried about morale at all,” the new skipper told reporters. “You saw the effort from everyone. We had good at-bats. I thought there was a lot of great things. It was just a game where we ended up on the wrong side.”
From 27-17 after beating the Rangers on 24 May to 27-30 as of Wednesday morning, the Angels can’t afford to continue staying on the wrong side. It’s helped cost them one skipper this season already.