Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The Really Big 2011 Angels Preview
Well, just about 24 hours till the Angels open the season in Kansas City against the Royals, and that means its about time for an in depth season preview. Lets start out by looking at the Losses the Angels Roster took over the offseason:
Mike Napoli (Traded to Toronto) - Total dick move by the Blue Jays to trade him back into our division, but his power from the Catcher's position will be missed, but I think we can get by. If Jeff Mathis can show a solid improvement, we should be ok. If not, Hank Conger is waiting in the wings.
Juan Rivera (Traded to Toronto) - Oh no, an average hitting and poor fielding outfielder on a team packed with outfield depth, what ever will we do?!?
Hideki Matsui (Signed with Oakland) - Oh no, an average hitting and poor fielding outfielder on a team packed with outfield depth, what ever will we do?!? I know people are thinking he is going to help Oakland take back the division this year, but did those people watch the Angels play at all last year? If anything, making sure he played every game was more of a hindrance to the Angels. Have fun Oakland.
Ryan Budde (Signed with Toronto) - He went from a situation where he will never play to another situation where he will never play. That's a shame, he is a good guy. Hopefully it works out for him somewhere.
Kevin Frandsen (Signed with San Diego) - Its a shame to see him go, especially now with Morales' uncertainty, he was a good utility infielder and he will be missed.
Robb Quinlan (Released) - It will be weird to know that he won't be waiting in the wings in Salt Lake, hoping for someone to get hurt so he can get called up... but at the same time, he hasn't really done anything for the team since what, 2006?
Scot Shields (Retired) - Its a shame to see him go, but he hasn't really been the same pitcher since 2007, but as that last link to the 2002 team, it was a sad day when he retired.
Ron Roenicke (Hired as Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers) - One of my favorite all-time bench coaches for the Angels, its really good to see him get a shot at managing a big league club, especially one with such promise like the Brewers. He will probably be the toughest guy to replace on the whole list.
Now, in a natural progression, we look at the additions the Angels made for 2011:
Vernon Wells (Acquired in Trade from Toronto) - Easily our biggest acquisition in the offseason, Wells is essentially a Torii Hunter who hits for a bit more power and a bit less average. If he can perform to the level he achieved last year, he will be a valuable asset for the middle of our lineup. If not, well, there is no way he could be as bad as Steve Finley.
Scott Downs (Free Agent Signing) - With such uncertainty in our Closer role, Downs will be a good addition to the team, that is, if he cant stop injuring himself while playing with his kids. Also, looking a lot less like The Joker will help.
Hisanori Takahashi (Free Agent Signing) - I'm normally wary of anyone coming to our team from the Mets, but this lefty is going to bring a solidity to the long relief role that we lost when we let Darren Oliver go to Texas. He can also come in for the spot start, in case Scott Kazmir turns out to be the bust we all know he is going to be.
Rob Picciolo (Former Infield Instructor) - Our new bench coach has big shoes to fill, but will he be the right man for the job? I suppose only time will tell how Rob fits in as Mike Scioscia's new right hand man.
Overall, we lost a bit more talent than we gained, or so it would seem on paper, but I still firmly believe the Angels will finish 2011 above .500. A full season of Dan Haren, and at least 4 Months of Kendrys Morales should help remedy the loss in talent. Lets grade the team on a few attributes.
Infield: Without Morales, this group suffers a bit. Morales is a damn fine defensive first basemen, and really solidifies this group. Without him, you have Mark Trumbo, Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick platooning over there. Howie brings some solidity to Second, and as much as I don't like him, Erick Aybar will likely be our everyday starter at Shortstop. Third Base is another question mark, as Macier Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, and at least for a short time, Brandon Wood look to get starts at the hot corner. This is a solid infield up the middle, but with all the questions on the corners, it brings down the grade a bit. C+
Outfield: We now have the outfield depth that some teams dream of. Our starting 3 of Wells, Bourjos and Hunter (left to right) might be the best in baseball, at least defensively. Take into consideration that we have solid backups in Bobby Abreu, Reggie Willits and Chris Pettit. This is easily our safest bet this season. A
Catcher: We all know what Jeff Mathis brings to the table defensively at catcher, but if his bat continues to suffer, a more offensive minded Hank Conger may need to be the answer behind the plate. B
Contact: Overall, this isn't a very patient team. Eric Aybar will swing at anything, and the rest of the team will swing at almost everything. Expect even fewer walks than last year for this club, and more strikeouts. C-
Speed: Peter Bourjos might be the fastest player in the league, and it doesn't get much worse from there. The only guy in the starting lineup who won't steal 10 bases this year is Jeff Mathis, and its not like he is Molina-Brother-Slow at all. If anything, this team will need to revisit its roots and play a ton of small-ball this season if they want to remain competitive. A+
Power: Again, another lacking aspect of our offense last year was Power. Napoli led the team with 26 Home Runs, and he is now in Texas. Vernon Wells is probably good for 25, Hunter is good for another 20, but unless Trumbo really gets off to a hot start, or Morales comes back sooner than I expect, Power is going to be another troublesome area for our club. C
Starters: If speed is our strongest asset, our starting rotation is right behind. Even with the huge question marks at the back of the rotation (will Pineiro ever get healthy? Is Kazmir really going to be our 5th Starter come May 1st?), this is still one of the best rotations in the American League. Led by a pair of Aces in Dan Haren and Jered Weaver. These two are both good enough to make the All-Star Team and contend for Cy Young Awards for years to come. We may be entering our last couple seasons with Weaver, so the time to win might be now. Ervin Santana in the 3 slot is one of the best 3rd Pitchers in all of baseball, that is, if he can ditch the "I only pitch well in even-numbered years" jinx. A
Bullpen: Our Bullpen overall is very strong. A couple of lefties help fix a huge problem we had last year, and Takahashi is a great guy to have at your disposal. He can start, mop up, or even close for you. Scott Downs could be our Closer come May, but for now he is a great set-up guy for Rodney (when he gets healthy, that is). Jordan Walden might be the one guy everyone is talking about though. This flame-throwing righty seems to be the heir-apparent to Rodney in the pen, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is our Closer come the All-Star Break. B+
Closer: Fernando Rodney might have the hottest seat in all of baseball. If he doesn't come out of the gates perfect, he could lose his job in a matter of weeks. I know Scioscia likes to stick with his guys, but anyone can tell that he is at wits end with Rodney. I'd be shocked if he is still in an Angel uniform come August 1st. C-
So, now that we have gone over who is gone, who is new, and what everyone looks like now. Seems like a proper time to go over predictions. Lets do this on a month by month basis.
The Angels start out with a favorable schedule in Kansas City and Tampa to face the depleted Rays. Then a few easy series at home against the Blue Jays and Indians before heading back out on the road to face Chicago and Texas. The month wraps up nicely after a tough 4-game series against Boston in Anaheim.
May is going to be a tough month, as the Angels only get ONE off day on May 12th. Combine that with a four-game series in Boston and another series in Texas, its going to be a rough month, and 17 wins might be kind.
Another tough month in June, as it see the Angels playing the Yankees in Anaheim, then traveling to New York to play the Mets before coming back to California to play the Dodgers in LA. They don't play on any Thursday that month, its a bit strange.
The toughest part of July is a 10 game road trip at the end of the month that takes the Halos through Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit.
Trips to New York (to play the Yankees) and Toronto start out an already tough month that sees a third trip to Texas towards the end of August. This might be their first losing month of the season.
Another trip through the tougher AL opponents as the Angels play the Twins, Yankees and Orioles (yes, I'm sold on Baltimore this year), and the season ends with a vital 3-game set against the Rangers in Anaheim.
While I don't think 90 wins is going to be enough to top the Rangers in the division, it could be enough to steal a Wild Card spot from the Yankees or Twins. The Angels should play above .500 for the entire season, and if they don't, while I won't be surprised, I will be disappointed. They are still a top 10 team in the league, and they should be able to play like one, even if no one thinks they can.
Final Division Standings predictions:
Texas Rangers - 92-70
LA Angels - 90-72
Oakland A's - 80-82
Seattle Mariners - 69-73
Chicago White Sox - 95-67
Minnesota Twins - 91-71
Detroit Tigers - 85-77
Cleveland Indians - 78-84
Kansas City Royals - 62-100
Boston Red Sox - 101-61
New York Yankees - 91-71
Baltimore Orioles - 88-74
Toronto Blue Jays - 82-80
Tampa Bay Rays - 79-83
Colorado Rockies - 90-72
San Francisco Giants - 89-73
Los Angeles Dodgers - 83-79
San Diego Padres - 80-82
Arizona Diamondbacks - 78-84
Milwaukee Brewers - 89-73
Cincinnati Reds - 85-77
St. Louis Cardinals - 85-77
Houston Astros - 81-81
Chicago Cubs - 73-89
Pittsburgh Pirates - 59-103
Philadelphia Phillies - 99-63
Atlanta Braves - 95-67
Washington Nationals - 83-79
Florida Marlins - 76-86
New York Mets - 66-96
Wild Card Playoff: Yankees defeat Twins
ALDS: Red Sox defeat Rangers, 3-2; White Sox defeat Yankees, 3-1
NLDS: Phillies defeat Brewers, 3-0; Braves defeat Rockies, 3-2
ALCS: Boston Red Sox defeat Chicago White Sox, 4-1
NLCS: Philadelphia Phillies defeat Atlanta Braves, 4-2
World Series: Philadelphia Phillies defeat Boston Red Sox, 4-3
AL MVP - Adrian Gonzalez (Boston Red Sox)
NL MVP - Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers)
AL Cy Young - Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox)
NL Cy Young - Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies)
AL Rookie of the Year - Kyle Drabek (Toronto Blue Jays)
NL Rookie of the Year - Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
AL Coach of the Year - Buck Showalter (Baltimore Orioles)
NL Coach of the Year - Ron Roenicke (Milwaukee Brewers)
So there you have it, my obligatory and random 2011 predictions for all of baseball. If I get 40% of these right, someone owes me a coke. Regardless of what happens, though, this is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in recent memory for both the Angels and the rest of the league. I can't wait to watch it, discuss it and write about it!