The start of our regular season is barely a week away, so I thought I'd give you guys some info on our divisional competition. Because these teams are not the, I know that you're not interested in reading lengthy, super-thorough analysis, so I'll try to keep things reasonably short and simple. We'll start with the , because God damn the Angels.
(note that Morales is going to begin the season on the disabled list)
The Angels, as a team, struggled to hit a year ago, finishing 11th in OPS and tenth in runs scored. However, one must consider that they did that with Morales missing much of the season and Mathis and Brandon Wood combining - literally combining, by addition - for an OPS of .879. There's a good chance things could be a little better this time around.
How much better? Obviously, that depends. Wells was the big offseason addition, and for all the mockery, he isn't a terrible baseball player. He just can't seem to figure out who he is at the plate, as his OPS has swung back and forth by at least 100 points for five consecutive years. Bourjos has upside but looked all kinds of bad in last year's extended trial. Offense from the catcher position will depend on how many games Mathis is allowed to start. Aybar should regress north.
Morales, Hunter, Abreu, Wells - these guys make up a decent core, if one without a true superstar. Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis, meanwhile, are classic Angels hitters who should annoy the hell out of us, and Bourjos will drive us insane if he's able to adjust. There's the talent for this to be something like a league-average lineup if most everything clicks. They'll just need to avoid major injury or age-related decline, because I'm not in love with their depth. This lineup is okay, with downside.
This is going to be a short section in all three rival previews, because by now I think everybody understands the staggering limitations of defensive analysis. As far as the Angels' preview is concerned, this is basically just an opportunity to gush over how awesome Peter Bourjos is. I don't know if he'll adjust at the plate. I pretty much hope he never does. But he might be the best defensive outfielder in baseball. He runs as well as anybody, and he's got good first-step and route-running instincts. UZR suggests that Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter aren't special. I don't know if that's true. Even if it is, though, Bourjos should cover some of their ground. He's amazing and my goodness I wish he were a Mariner.
The infield is all right and features no defensive studs or black holes. I think at this point we have to assume there's something about Jeff Mathis that we just don't understand, and we understand everything about his bat.
Here's something you may not have realized:
Last season, taking parks into account, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez were something like equals. One of them won the Cy Young, while the other finished fifth.
In Weaver and Haren, the Angels feature as good a 1-2 punch as there exists in the American League. Haren will obviously decline some from where he was in the NL, but he's still a phenomenal and durable pitcher for whom many may have forgotten the Angels traded.
Behind them, there's the expected drop-off, but Santana and Pineiro work just fine as #3 and #4 starters. Santana's the power pitcher with an incomplete repertoire, and Pineiro's the contact groundballer who's more effective than you'd think. The weakness lies in Scott Kazmir, who blows, but if he blows too much the Angels could always shift Takahashi into the rotation. The depth behind Takahashi isn't good, but then, few teams ever run that deep with quality starters anyway. This is a good unit.
I still can't help but think of the Angels as that team without any lefty relievers, like they were a few years ago. This offseason they actually spent $23 million to bring in a pair of southpaw free agents. Downs and Takahashi are solid, if something less than dominant, which should help to stabilize a corps with as lousy a closer as Rodney. Jepsen and Walden are your classic power righties who don't throw quite enough strikes. Bullpens are volatile and I don't like to try to predict them given how quickly things can change, but I don't see any reason to think this unit will be really good or really bad. Relievers are strange.
The Angels aren't a strong bet to win the division, but it's easy to see the talent on the roster and it's always possible that enough of it comes together to make things interesting. Having Haren and Morales for (most of) a full season will give them a lift. The Angels will prevent runs. Of that there's little doubt. So the question is whether they'll score enough of their own to hang in the race. They're probably the third-best team in the West, but they're better than the Mariners, and they can't be ignored.