Springtime Storylines: Did the Angels buy themselves the A.L. West?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Los Angeles Angels of Pujols.

The Big Question:  Did the Angels buy themselves the A.L. West this winter?

The Angels made the biggest splashes of the offseason: Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  But there was more paper crossing Jerry Dipoto’s desk than just the Pujols and Wilson deals. The Angels signed Howie Kendrick to a four-year, $33.5 million extension. They also brought in Chris Iannetta to replace the woeful Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Add that to what is one of the best rotations in baseball and it’s hard not to see why so many people are dubbing the Angels “Yankees West.”

That said, this is an Angels team that still finished ten games back of the Rangers, and it’s not like the Rangers have taken a step back.  Pujols will improve the offense, but it was still an offense that was 10th in the AL in runs scored last year.  Upshot: this is a team that has improved a lot, but it’s a team that had to improve a lot to keep up with their division rival from Texas.  Don’t crown them yet.

What else is going on?

  • Sometimes I think that someone told Dipoto that the zombie apocalypse is coming and that the only defense is to stockpile 1B/LF/DH types. Between Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and Mark Trumbo, the Halos have way too many corner guys. And that’s before you realize that some of them are blocking Mike Trout, who will start the season in Triple-A.
  • All of that muscle aside, the real key to how the offense does may well be the table setters: Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.  Strong seasons from those two and Pujols will be coming to bat with men on base which, hopefully, will keep the opposition from just walking him.
  • The rotation is clearly the strength of this team with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana going 1-4. There’s not a ton of starting pitching depth here, however. The fifth guy is probably Jerome Williams, and he would be followed up by guys like Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Brad Mills, and Eric Hurley. If the injury bug comes buzzing around the rotation, the Angels could be in trouble.
  • How we feeling about the pen?  Jordan Walden had some superficially good numbers as the closer last year — 32 saves, a 2.98 ERA, and 67 strikeouts in 60.1 innings — but he was inconsistent and blew ten saves. There is a lot of talent in the Angels bullpen, but if Walden gives Mike Scioscia headaches, it could all get shuffled around.

How are they gonna do?

Quite well, thanks. Like I said above: they have improved tremendously. But they are not as good an offensive team as the Rangers and are not as deep. I think the Pujols and Wilson additions pulled them close, but not ahead, and certainly not clearly ahead. This will likely be a bloodbath, and I expect the race between Texas and Anaheim to go down to the wire.

The Braves will be serving some insane food this season

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Lots of teams have crazy concession items and lots of them will circulate photos of the more gonzo ones in the coming week leading up to the baseball season. The Braves, however, have been one of the more aggressive players in the gimmick concession item game in recent years, and they just sent around a release talking about some of the stuff they, and their concessionaire, Delaware North, will be serving at their new ballpark, Sun Trust Park, in 2017.

Among them:a blackened catfish po boy, which is a blackened 6-ounce filet of catfish cut up among three tacos, with a cajun remoulade. Some BBQ beef brisket sliders. A double burger. An ice cream bar. They’re also going to have a regionally-inspired thing called “The Taste of Braves Country,” showcasing southern cooking from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Which they’re calling “Braves Country.” Accurate enough, I guess, even if some of us are old enough to remember when they aspired to be a national team. Alas.

The big item, though, is this one:

It’s called the “Tomahawk Chop” sandwich. It’s a fried pork chop with collard green slaw and white BBQ sauce. It serves four and costs $26. I’m guessing it tastes fantastic, but I think the name is pretty cringeworthy for the same reason the cheer which gives it its name is. And, given the dynamics of the Braves move to their new stadium, the choice of BBQ sauce is . . . amusing? I dunno.

Anyway, enjoy, Braves fans.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.