2013 Preview: Los Angeles Angels

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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 2013 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Angels.

The Big Question: Can the Angels slug their way to an AL West title?

With the addition of outfielder Josh Hamilton, signed to a five-year, $125 million contract, the Angels now have four players (Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and Hamilton) projected to hit at least 25 home runs with at least a .790 OPS according to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system. Trout, on the heels of an historically-great rookie season in 2012, is expected to be the most valuable of them all, shocking no one.

The Angels will be relying heavily on that offensive core as their starting rotation after ace Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson is questionable at best. Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, and Tommy Hanson are each expected to post an ERA above 4.00 according to ZiPS. Weaver, with three consecutive top-five finishes in AL Cy Young balloting, should once again be expected to dominate the competition leading an otherwise motley crew.

The bullpen is a parade of question marks. Will Ryan Madson be healthy enough to assume the closer’s role at some point in April? With a bad elbow, Madson has yet to face live competition in the Cactus League and is highly unlikely to be ready in time for Opening Day. Ernesto Frieri, a 27-year-old who saved 23 games for the Angels last year, will be the interim closer. Behind Frieri are Scott Downs and Sean Burnett, two solid lefties who should hold down the seventh and eighth innings. Aside from them, however, middle relief could potentially be a problem for the Halos.

What else is going on? 

  • The Angels decided to move Trout to left field, giving Peter Bourjos the everyday job in center field. The move was debated throughout the off-season, with some saying that Trout is just as capable as Bourjos as evidenced by a lengthy highlight reel. Moving from center to left hurts Trout’s value, at least when it comes to Wins Above Replacement, as center fielders are credited 2.5 runs and left fielders are debited 7.5 runs (net difference of ten runs, or 1 WAR) in positional adjustments. Last year, Trout posted baseball’s first 10-WAR season since Barry Bonds in 2004, according to Baseball Reference.
  • Albert Pujols is trying to bounce back from what was the worst season of his career in 2012. Though, to be fair, “worst” for him constituted 4.6 WAR, which would be a career-best for many other players. Rumors of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated if you believe in the middle four months of his season. Between May 1 and August 31, Pujols posted a .962 OPS with 29 home runs in 445 plate appearances.
  • The left side of the Angel infield is quietly pretty good. Neither shortstop Erick Aybar nor third baseman Albert Callaspo will wow you with offensive production, but slightly above-average defense and base running turns them into a nice combination.

Prediction: First place, American League West.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”