Tired of standing still, Angels take step backwards

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Having struck out all winter, the Angels finally did something to shake up their lineup Friday, only the move was to get rid of one of their best hitters. 

Opinions on Mike Napoli’s defense are certainly mixed, but there aren’t many better offensive catchers.   Since he entered the league in 2006, Napoli has hit .251/.346/.455 with 92 homers in 1,549 at-bats.   Over the last three years, he’s come in at .258/.341/.502.  Only two catchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2008 stack up better when it comes to OPS+:

1. Joe Mauer – 147
2. Brian McCann – 126
3. Napoli – 123
4. Victor Martinez – 117
5. Jorge Posada – 117

And it’s not like the Angels have a whole bunch of expendable offense. They ranked ninth in the AL in runs scored last season. They had five above average hitters last season, counting the 51 games they got from Kendry Morales. They’ll likely have a full season from Morales this year, but now Napoli and Hideki Matsui are gone and the other two productive players, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, are turning 35 and 37, respectively.

Napoli’s departure means one of baseball’s worst hitters — arguably the worst — will move into the starting lineup on a regular basis. It might be merely a temporary promotion for Jeff Mathis, as the team has a decent alternative in Bobby Wilson and a top prospect on the way in Hank Conger, but Mike Scioscia loves his defense and won’t need much convincing to give him 400 at-bats for the first time.

And that’s just not something the Angels can afford at the moment. Morales and Hunter should be good, but probably not great. Abreu is drifting back towards average, and Juan Rivera and Alberto Callaspo aren’t anything more than that. The Angels will go get themselves a DH before Opening Day, and they might yet pull off an upgrade at third base, though there’s no help in free agency there.

Scioscia definitely seems to have his work cut out for him now. Yet this is what he wanted: he may have had nothing to do with the trade itself, but in choosing to put so much faith in Mathis, he steered Napoli out of town just the same.

Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.