Better Know A Rival: LAnaheim

Status: Division favorite

Projected Offense:

C: Napoli
1B: Morales
2B: Kendrick
SS: Aybar
3B: Figgins
LF: Abreu
CF: Hunter
RF: Guerrero
DH: Rivera

This is a better unit than many seem to be giving it credit for. Not that there are any people projecting the Angels' run production to be pathetic, mind you, but the common thinking is somewhere along the lines of "they won't be that big of a threat," where in reality this lineup is, on paper, a fair bit above average.

The addition of Abreu went a long way towards addressing the Angels' biggest deficiency - a lack of OBP. It's still not a strength, but teaming Abreu with Vlad will help this lineup sustain some innings, which is something they needed to take care of after losing Mark Teixeira. Outside of those two, you've got a mixed bag of tools. You've got some guys who like to attack the pitcher and put the ball in play, and you've got some other guys who're content to wait a little more and swing a little harder. It's a diverse lineup, and a reasonably talented one, one that could potentially make a lot of noise if Howie Kendrick finally makes the leap and Mike Napoli gets a lot of time. I wonder how many people realize that Napoli is a lifetime .248/.362/.493 bat as a catcher. That's good for a lifetime wOBA of .365, and even if you think his true talent lies somewhere a little lower, that's a hell of a player. That's the guy we wanted to have in Jeff Clement.

That said, it's also a lineup that carries a lot of risk. Napoli's never been able to stay in the lineup that long, and Jeff Mathis isn't much of an offensive alternative. Kendrick's always getting hurt and needs to prove his durability if he wants people to stop calling him fragile. Vlad and Abreu are a combined 68 69, with the former possessing a body that seems to be held together with glue and a dream. And Kendry Morales, though young and able, has yet to impress. The lineup is long on talent but short on guarantees, and while Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood offer decent depth in the infield, a problem with Napoli or one of the big two would deal a big blow.

The Angels are going to score runs. The lineup simply has too much ability to suck. But just how many runs they score is going to depend on the aforementioned risks. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and suggests that, once again, the biggest factor is going to be Vlad. If they can get him to stave off decline for one more season then they'll be doing all right, but if his wOBA drops by another 20 points or his body comes apart, they're going to need some other guys to pick up the slack.

Projected Pitching Staff:

SP: Lackey
SP: Santana
SP: Escobar
SP: Weaver
SP: Saunders

RP: Arredondo
RP: Shields
CL: Fuentes

On the surface, it's an excellent staff. The bullpen's pretty good, and, judging by tRA, even the worst of the five starters projects to be league-average, if not a little better. Just eyeballing things, this was pretty clearly intended to be the team's big strength.

But there's a problem, and you should all already know what it is. That front three of Lackey, Santana, and Escobar? All out at the start of the season. Escobar has made a somewhat miraculously fast recovery from a major shoulder operation, but he's still going to miss some turns, and neither of the other two are doing as well. Right now Lackey's looking to return in late April or early May, but that's still just an estimate, and Santana's likely gone for at least six or eight weeks. That's a big deal, considering that, when healthy, all three are among the most effective starters in baseball. There's not a team in the league that could have this kind of trouble and shake it off like it's nothing.

So the outlook of the pitching staff rather obviously comes down to how much time those three starters are going to be able to spend on the mound. If they're all able to meet their current timetables, then the Angels will only be out a combined 3-4 months' worth of starts, which, ehh, it's not the worst thing ever. But should there be further complications, then it might be time to panic, since none of Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, or Nick Adenhart appear capable of sustaining success in a big league rotation. Angel fans need to be crossing their fingers damn hard that everyone's able to come back in game shape. Otherwise their team is just going to be pulled down closer and closer to the rest of the division.

Brian Fuentes is going to own Griffey so bad.

Defense:

The infield is solid. None of the four (excluding catcher) is a liability, and the unit is probably led by Erick Aybar, one of them nifty little shortstops that makes difficult plays look routine. The outfield is where it gets nasty. Abreu and Guerrero offer very little in the way of range in the corners, and Hunter's glove isn't quite what people think it is. Reggie Willits would make for a neat defensive replacement in certain high-leverage situations, but with Juan Rivera and Gary Matthews Jr. also hanging around, he's not likely to get much of a chance, and neither of those two depth guys in front of him bring much defense to the table. A conservative estimate would have this outfield group costing the Angels about 30 runs over the course of the season, and there's the potential for things to be even worse. Did you know that Jered Weaver is one of the most extreme flyball pitchers in the league?

Overall:

Even with the injuries to the pitching staff, the Angels are still the favorite to win the AL West. They're running a little low on breathing room, but with Justin Duchscherer going under the knife and Brandon Morrow switching to the bullpen, they're not the only team in the division who's lost a little immediate upside. The Angels are out in front of the pack. Just don't expect them to run away with things the way they did a year ago. In terms of true talent, this is a mid-80s win roster, and pulling another 100 out of their ass is just incredibly unlikely. It's a roster that's littered with both talent and risk, and just because they're in the lead now doesn't mean they're going to stay there. Things can change in a hurry. Angel fans will be able to go to bed tonight confident that their team has the best shot of anyone in the division of seeing the playoffs, but if one or two more screws come loose, this thing could get real messy real fast.

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