Springtime Storylines: Did the Angels lose too much blood this winter?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Los Angeles Angels


The
big question: Did the Angels los
e too much blood this winter?

Chone Figgins is in Seattle. John Lackey is in Boston. Vlad Guerrero is in Texas. The first two of those are more critical than the last one because, sadly, Vlad ain’t what he used to be, but they’re still significant losses. They were the kind of losses that had the chattering classes, um, chattering back in December and January about how the Angels won’t make the playoffs this year.

Since then, however, people have gotten a bit of a grip.  Even with Figgins’ OBP gone, the offense is still strong.  There are a lot of players on this team who need to hit for a high average to be truly productive, but there are fluky BA-dependent guys and legitimate BA-dependent guys, and I really don’t see a lot of flukes on this team. I expect them to regress a bit offensively, but I don’t think they’ll fall drastically off the pace that had them second in runs per game in baseball last year.

Same goes for the pitching staff.  Lackey will certainly be missed, but (a)the addition of Joel Pinero takes a lot of that sting away; and (b) it’s an open question whether Lackey’s performance in Anaheim really justified the exalted status of ace he realized as he headed into the free agent market. Good pitcher, no question, but one who missed a decent amount of time. So no, there’s no ace here, but was there really one here before? Regardless, from top-to-bottom I think the Angels rotation will be very solid, health permitting, as it must permit all teams who want to contend.

So what else is going on?

  • Adding Fernando Rodney as a setup man provides some insurance for the frequently shaky Brian Fuentes in much the same way that adding kerosene to your siding provides added fire safety to your home.  OK, that’s harsh. Rodney had a good season last year. But he really got lucky. He’s too wild to depend on consistently and I think he’s going to have a much worse 2010 than a lot of people realize. Between the uncertainly of Fuentes and Rodney and the loss of Darren Oliver, I think the bullpen will be the team’s biggest weakness. And an expensive weakness at that.
  • Something more specific on the offense: Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood are all at
    an age where we can expect improvement or, at the very least, the
    maintenance of a solid status quo. Bobby Abreu’s primary skill —
    working the count — ages well. I think Matsui still has a solid couple
    of seasons left in the tank. After writing that intro above I stopped to ask myself if I’m being too optimistic about the offense. I really don’t think I am. If you think differently, please tell me why.
  • Deep thought: this may be
    the most disrespected three-time defending champion in baseball history. Discuss.
  • Pfun Pfact: The Angels have outperformed their Pythagorean Win Projection each of the last six
    years. Good luck? Real Angels in the outfield?  Mike Scioscia the best manager in baseball these days?  I’ll admit, I don’t know, mostly because I’ve probably seen fewer Angels games these past few years than I have seen games for any other contender. Now that I’m actually writing for a living I’m going to be (a) staying up later; and (b) watching a lot more games, so that will remedied.  I’m really looking forward to it.

 
So
how
are they gonna do?

Sure, Figgins is gone, but Brandon Wood could be better than many
think.  The rotation is still very strong from top to bottom.  There’s
every reason to believe that Hideki Matsui will be better in 2010 than
Vald Guerrero was in 2009.  And perhaps most importantly, the Mariners
— everyone’s offseason darlings — put off more light than heat in
their offseason moves.  I think the Angels are gonna win their fourth straight division crown.

Prediction: First place, AL West.  And yeah, they’ll probably once again match up poorly with whatever AL East team they run into, but let’s put that out of our minds until at least September, OK?

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.