Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Preseason Preview: Angels

I'm tired as hell and still sick, but gritted out a full-length practice with the softball team today. We held about a half-hour meeting and, much to my surprise, my coach publically upheld me as a "shining example" of commitment, seeing as the only practice I've missed to date was on Monday when I was sick as a dog and even emailed them first to let them know that this would be the case. This being SLC, people can sometimes need a little kick in the butt to stay focused on sports, so it's not an earthshaking honor - you'd think that people are supposed to show up all the time, no exceptions, to what they commit to, but that too can be a bit lackadaisical. It's just that when I made the decision to play on the team, skipping out of practice never even crossed my mind. I may be a nerd who's never missed a class, but at least I am a dedicated nerd, and hey, kudos from the coach are kudos from the coach. What the hell.

That said, let's finish out the last three teams of the AL West - the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners - seeing as the A's were covered in the second preview.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of North America of Earth of the Solar System of the Milky Way of the Universe

better known as the:

1. Bartolo Colon, RHP
2. John Lackey, RHP
3. Ervin Santana, RHP
4. Jered Weaver, RHP
5. Joe Saunders, LHP

1. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP
2. Scot Shields, RHP
3. Kelvim Escobar, RHP
4. Greg Jones, RHP
5. Darren Oliver, LHP
6. Hector Carrasco, RHP
7. Justin Speier, RHP

1B Kendry Morales
2B Howie Kendrick
SS Orlando Cabrera
3B Chone Figgins
RF Vladimir Guerrero
CF Gary Matthews Jr.
LF Garret Anderson
C Jose Molina
DH Juan Rivera

The 500 (okay, 700) Word Rundown
The Angels are usually tabbed as favorites in the AL West, for reasons which I am not quite certain. On the surface, they're constructed in generally the same way as the A's - strong starting staff and bullpen with a suspect offense. The Angels do have a genuine power hitter in Vlad Guerrero, who swings at anything remotely near home plate and usually manages to blast it into the stratosphere, as evidenced by his gaudy .329/33/113 line last year; not bad numbers for a guy who'd swing at a watermelon if he could reach it with his bat. Ex-Yankee Juan Rivera also found a place with the club, putting up .310/23/85, but displayed an unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your perspective) propensity for grounding into rally-killing double plays. Steroidhead Gary Matthews Jr., aside from providing a ready-made scandal when he was accused of purchasing and using the outlawed supplement HGH (human growth hormone), got $55 million and the expectations to repeat a career year (.313/19/79) which may or may not happen. The Angels are also hoping that young infield duo Kendrick and Morales, a pair of highly touted prospects, can find their bats in their second full season in the majors. But no one would term the Anaheim (yes, ANAHEIM) offense a terror a la the White Sox; they don't have a clear advantage over the A's, who sport plenty of offensive talent themselves (think Piazza, Swisher, Chavez, Bradley) but have extreme trouble keeping it in playing shape and out of the trainer's room.

Perhaps the pitching? 2005 AL Cy Young Winner Bartolo Colon (oh God, I just barfed a bit in my mouth) may or may not be ready for the start of the season (if he's not, Kelvim Escobar will likely be shanghaied into first-month rotation duty) and has a tendency to hit extreme aberrations, where he can literally give up 6 runs a game, every game, for three or four weeks before getting the glitch straightened out. John Lackey came within one batter of a perfect game against the A's last year and posted a slightly misleading 13-11/3.56 line with 190 K; he has legit talent and made quite a splash in the Angels' 2002 world championship season as a rookie, pitching the decisive Game 7. But for all that, the brightest spotlight in the Angels' starting five will likely be on Jered Weaver, the younger brother of '06 postseason hero Jeff. Drafted in 2004 out of Cal State-Long Beach, he burst onto the scene with style in his rookie campaign, carving out a 11-2/2.56 record. However, there is that nefarious symptom known as the sophomore slump, and batters seemed to familiarize to Weaver's stuff as the game went on - until the 4th inning, they hit .176, but that number doubled to .276 in the fifth inning, jumped again to .286 in the sixth inning, and hit a spike of .333 by the eighth inning. A large part of the Angels' success may rest on whether or not the junior Weaver, complete with his doppelganger hideous blonde mullet, can replicate his performance.

The Angels, like the A's, also have an excellent bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez is one of the most annoying automatic closers in the game, as much as it pains me to admit; he uses his slider to great effect and is no longer the heir apparent to Troy Percival's throne - he's the king. Scot Shields is also one of the better setup men in the game. But aside from these two, the A's bullpen may actually be stronger. Escobar will most likely switch between rotation and bullpen duty as long as Colon is out of action, Darren Oliver is a journeyman ex-starter hoping to settle with his seventh team in seven years, Greg Jones pitched a total of six innings last year, and Justin Speier spent the last three years with the Blue Jays to moderate success.

The Angels also have a problem with defense; where the A's infield vacuums up groundballs like a machine, their Southern California counterparts can sometimes look downright Keystone Kops out there. In fact, if the A's are completely healthy, they have more than enough talent to take the division. But there are too many question marks and glass men on the Elephants, and although I do hope that it's not the case, the Angels may prove that durability wins the day in the West - if they can get all their cogs, gears, and prospects clicking, they could claim the flag.

Projected Finish: 91-71, AL West Champions (yes, that was painful)