Angels flawed, but still could take AL West

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If nothing else, the AL West should be very interesting to follow. There are reasons to be optimistic about each squad, but I couldn’t help but grow more pessimistic with regards to each team as the spring went on. The Rangers may well have the most talent in the division, yet theirs is a squad with the potential to be decimated by injuries and the funds might not be there to bring in replacements. The A’s know that feeling well, so they made increasing their depth a priority over the winter. Unfortunately, while their fallbacks are better, they currently have Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki comprising the heart of their lineup.
The Mariners, for all of their positive moves, still have obvious holes in their rotation and lineup, though if they get a working Erik Bedard back in June and a legitimate DH in July, there’s the chance they could run away with the division. They’re the one team capable of doing so, in my opinion.
The Angels, though, are still the favorites for the moment, even with John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins all having departed. The lineup, while lacking a superstar, is pretty strong throughout and the team has five solid pitchers to fill its rotation. Also, let’s face it… the Angels are pretty much always better than expected. Credit Mike Scioscia and/or the team’s ability to do the “little” things. The Angels typically wins several more games a year than the computers say they should, and it’s not all because of summer acquisitions like Mark Teixeira and Scott Kazmir.
In 2010, the Angels look worse on paper than they have in several years, perhaps since before their World Series victory in 2002. It’s the rotation that scares me more than anything. While the Angels have their five proven starters, no one in the group is likely to dominate.
As part of my 2010 projections, I had 57 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, including all five Angels starters. Here’s how their ERAs ranked in that group:
Jered Weaver – 14th (3.96)
Joe Saunders – 22nd (4.07)
Scott Kazmir – 32nd (4.20)
Joel Pineiro – 35th (4.25)
Ervin Santana – 53rd (4.65)
It’s a group with some upside, particularly when it comes to Kazmir and Santana. But I’m not overly optimistic in regards to any of them. Plus, there’s no 220-inning workhorse here. Kazmir is a weak bet to make 30 starts, and I also wouldn’t put any money down on Santana doing so. The Pineiro signing was extremely important for the Angels, but I think they’ll come to regret not bringing in a Chad Gaudin-type to function as a swingman. Matt Palmer did the job better than anyone could have imagined last year, but the league clearly caught up to him and he was dreadful this spring. The Angels have no quality alternatives unless prospect Trevor Reckling develops quickly.
Of course, the lack of an extra starter is something that can and probably will be addressed in July. But I worry that Palmer may cost them several games before then.
The Angels will score runs, though not as many as they could if they’d simply commit to Mike Napoli over Jeff Mathis. I think the bullpen will be adequate, in part because I expect Kevin Jepsen to turn into a force in a setup role. The defense is strong, particularly aside from the outfield corners. That’s a big reason why the projections for Weaver and, especially, Saunders are as kind as they are.
My guess is that enough will go right for 86-88 wins and another trip to the postseason. Still, this is a team that could finish under .500 if only a few things go wrong.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cardinals 5, Dodgers 3: The Cards had a 3-0 lead that the Dodgers erased by the seventh inning. It remained tied until the ninth when Dave Roberts called on his just-activated closer, Kenley Jansen. Jansen said he was healthy before he came in and he said he felt fine after he came out but in between he gave up ninth inning homers to Jedd Gyorko — a pinch hit number — and Matt Carpenter to take the L. Los Angeles stranded 14 baserunners. The Cardinals won their 15th game in the month of August, the most in all of baseball.

Giants 2, Mets 1: Derek Holland allowed a Wilmer Flores RBI double in the first inning and then he and six relievers shut the Mets out for the game’s final 12 frames. Zack Wheeler allowed only one run over seven innings while striking out 10, and relievers continued that fine work until the 13th. Some fine work can be undone, however, in the blink of an eye:

That allowed Andrew McCutchen to score what turned out to be the winning run. His comment about it after the game:

“Laughed all the way to the dugout. Everybody’s eyes were about as big as that big-eyed emoji. It was pretty crazy. Everyone was pretty stunned, but everyone was going to be stunned when something like that happens.”

It was the Mets, though, so is “stunned” really the right word here?

Athletics 9, Rangers 0: Mike Fiers allowed only one hit in seven shutout innings and the Rangers were the third team shut out overall on Monday night. Ramon Laureano hit two homers for Oakland. Khris Davis hit one, but it was a special one. Before the game Davis met with some kids from the Make a Wish Foundation, and one of them — Anthony Slocumb — autographed Davis’ jersey. Davis, still wearing the jersey in the game, launched a monster home run with Anthony’s name on the back:

Davis, after the game:

“I thought about him around the bases. There’s not a better feeling than hitting a home run, so hopefully he got some excitement and joy from watching that.”

And, I presume, he got the jersey too.

Mariners 7, Astros 4: Seattle helped Oakland back in to a first place tie in the West by beating the Astros thanks to a three-run homer from Robinson Cano in the eighth which broke a 4-4 tie. Felix Hernandez made his return to the rotation after a brief foray into relief work. He wasn’t great — he allowed four runs in five innings — but the M’s got to Houston’s pen, tying things up on a sixth inning and taking him off the hook for a loss when Mitch Haniger singled in a run, setting the stage for Cano’s heroics.

Braves 1, Pirates 0: When you have a 20 year-old rookie pitcher making his big league debut you don’t want to have him make one first inning run hold up, but that’s what the Braves did to Bryse Wilson. Wilson responded, however, tossing five shutout innings with five relievers keeping up the goose eggs the rest of the way. The Pirates, meanwhile, have allowed a single run in five straight games . . . and they’ve lost three of those games. When the opposition makes defensive plays like this one made by Ender Inciarte, however, stuff like that is going to happen:

Indians 5, Red Sox 4: Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead in this potential playoff preview, but homers from Melky Cabrera and Michael Brantley in the fifth and six tied it up and a two-run homer from Greg Allen in the seventh put Cleveland up 5-3. Rick Porcello surrendered all of those bombs. Just before the Allen bomb he had been hit in the gut with a comebacker, which knocked the wind out of him. He said he was fine and no one blamed the blast on the effects of that comebacker. Porcello just said he hung a crappy pitch. Corey Kluber pitched in the seventh inning for Cleveland and got his 16th win on the year, tying him for the league lead.

Blue Jays 5, Orioles 3: Kendrys Morales smacked two homers, accounting for four of the Jays’ five runs. Toronto has taken 10 of 11 games against Baltimore this year and all eight at home.

White Sox 8, Twins 5: White Sox manager Rick Renteria was taken to a hospital before the game due to lightheadedness and stayed overnight for observation. If there was a TV in his room he observed Matt Davidson hit a homer and drove in three runs, Jose Abreu get two hits and two RBI and Lucas Giolito allow three runs and five hits in his second straight win. He also observed the Sox win their fourth game in five outings. Here’s hoping that, and whatever medical care he needed, got him feeling better and that he’s back with the club today.

Rays 1, Royals 0: The Rays bullpenned it up once again and saw four pitchers combine on the shutout, with second pitcher Ryan Yarbrough working the most innings. Willy Adames third inning RBI single was the game’s only scoring. Eight pitchers were used in all in this 1-0 game. I wonder if there were any nine-inning, no-rain-dealy 1-0 games that involved this many pitchers in all of baseball history before, say, 1990. I bet there wasn’t.

Brewers 5, Reds 2: Chase Anderson gave up early solo homers to Reds batters — he does that — but Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich homered — Shaw’s was a two-run shot — to give the Brewers a 3-2 lead by the sixth inning and they just added from there.