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.

Yasmani Grandal played himself out of NLCS Game 4

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Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal has not had a good postseason. Entering Monday night’s NLCS Game 3, he was batting .111/.238/.278 in 21 trips to the plate across the NLDS and the first two games of the NLCS.

Defense has also been an issue for Grandal. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Grandal was on the hook for two passed balls. In the sixth inning of Game 3 Monday night, he couldn’t corral a curve in the dirt, which allowed Travis Shaw to score the Brewers’ second run of the night. Starter Walker Buehler was charged with a wild pitch. In the eighth, with Ryan Braun on first base and Shaw at the plate, Grandal again couldn’t corral a pitch in the dirt, allowing Braun to move to second base. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Alex Wood was able to escape the inning with no damage.

Manager Dave Roberts said that Austin Barnes, not Grandal, will start behind the plate for Game 4 on Tuesday night, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports. That comes as no surprise at all. When Grandal struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, Dodger fans regaled him with boos.

Barnes will be an upgrade defensively, but he’s lacking with the bat. He had an 0-for-3 performance in Game 2, though with an RBI, bringing his career slash line in the playoffs to .200/.281/.300 across 57 plate appearances. During the regular season, his career 100 adjusted OPS is a fair bit behind Grandal’s 115. Roberts is trading offense for defense in Game 4. Rich Hill will get the start opposite the Brewers’ Gio González.