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.

Robert Gsellman exits start with apparent leg injury

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Another day, another Mets injury. Starter Robert Gsellman appeared to injure his leg attempting to beat out an infield single in the top of the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins. Paul Sewald relieved him in the bottom half of the inning.

Gsellman allowed three runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts on 54 pitches before exiting. At the plate, he went 1-for-2 with a single which came in the third inning.

The Mets should provide information about Gsellman’s status later this evening. The team could be looking at yet another pitcher to add to the disabled list. Other injured Met pitchers include Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Tommy Milone, and Josh Smoker. And injured position players include Neil Walker, Juan Lagares, and David Wright. It’s been a rough year.

The Giants are calling up Jae-gyun Hwang

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The Giants will call up infielder Jae-gyun Hwang from Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic reports.

Hwang, 29, signed with the Giants as a free agent from South Korea. He’ll earn a prorated salary of $1.5 million in the majors and has a chance to earn up to an additional $1.6 million in performance bonuses.

At Triple-A, Hwang hit .287/.333/.476 with seven home runs and 44 RBI in 279 plate appearances. He has mostly played first and third base, but also spent 17 defensive innings in left field. First base is spoken for with Brandon Belt, but Hwang could get the occasional start at the hot corner or in left field in San Francisco.

Hwang spent the previous 10 seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. In his final season with the Lotte Giants last year, he hit .335/.397/.570 with 27 homers and 113 RBI.