Regular Season Record: 89-73
2nd in AL West – four games behind the Oakland Athletics
Home Park: Angel Stadium
Shea Hillenbrand (1B/3B) – Free Agency (San Francisco Giants)
Gary Matthews Jr. (CF) – Free Agency (Texas Rangers)
Darren Oliver (RP) – Free Agency (New York Mets)
Justin Speier (RP) – Free Agency (Toronto Blue Jays)
Phil Seibel (RP) – Trade (Boston Red Sox)
Chris Resop (RP) – Trade (Florida Marlins)
Darin Erstad (1B/CF) – Free Agency (Chicago White Sox)
Brendan Donnelly (CF) – Trade (Boston Red Sox)
Kevin Gregg (SP/RP) – Trade (Florida Marlins)
Adam Kennedy (2B) – Free Agency (St. Louis Cardinals)
J.C. Romero (RP) – Free Agency (Boston Red Sox)
Tim Salmon (OF/DH) – Retired
The Skinny: The Angels meant to contend last year, but injuries and unusual defensive lapses thwarted them early and they while playing better after the break, they could not recover. Dissatisfied with a second place finish, owner Arte Moreno publicly guaranteed to do “something major” in the off-season, but neither did the Angels sign a top free agent nor did they make a blockbuster trade. The biggest (measured in dollars) signing was center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., a former journeyman who turned a career year in 2006 into a $50 million contract. However, the Angels should still be able to improve on last season if they get their grip together on defense and count on improvements from young players like Mike Napoli, Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar and Casey Kotchman.
Strengths: The Angels’ showpiece is their rotation that features one of the, if not THE best, quartet of right handers in the majors in John Lackey, who nearly pitched a perfect game last year, Kelvim Escobar, who can be really good if healthy, Ervin “Magic” Santana, who at age 24 should only improve on his 16-8, 4.28 ERA 2006 campaign, and Jered Weaver, who won his first nine games in his rookie season last year. And Southpaw Joe Saunders should be an adequate option for the fifth rotation spot until Bartolo Colon returns from his injury. When the starters leave the came, the Angels can trot out Justin Speier and Scot Shields to get the ball to closer Francisco Rodriguez, who led the league in saves last year. If the Angels have the lead after six innings, opponents might very well start thinking about the next game.
On offense, the Angels like to run. They led the AL in stolen bases last year and with Chone Figgins returning with a starting job, they might again this year. The success percentage (72% in 2006) could be higher though.
Weaknesses: While the pitching should be fine, more often than not, the Angels will have trouble putting runs on the board. Their slap-happy offense rarely takes a walk and struggles to put up runs with one swing of the bat, not a good combination. And now, their second biggest offensive threat Juan Rivera broke his leg in a Winter League game. Still, while they won’t become an offensive powerhouse anytime soon, they should be better than in 2006.
Another, more unfamiliar problem in 2006 was the defense. The Angels allowed 80 unearned runs, which was second to last in the majors. The reason were the constant change of (often inexperienced) personal and, as some claim, the new, more relaxed and less focussed clubhouse culture. With both the gloves and clubhouse presence of Adam Kennedy and Darin Erstad gone, this probably won’t change. It remains to be seen if manager Mike Scioscia can get his players back on track and restore the Angels reputation as one of the better defensive clubs.
1. CF: Gary Matthews Jr.
2. SS: Orlando Cabrera
3. RF: Vlademir Guerrero
4. LF: Garret Anderson
5. DH: Shea Hillenbrand
6. 1B: Casey Kotchman
7. C: Mike Napoli
8. 2B: Howie Kendrick
9. 3B: Chone Figgins
Keys to Success: As usual, health is the prerequisite for a successful season. That being said, Vladimir Guerrero, who’s performance dropped a bit last season, is the key to the offense and if he does not deliver the big hits, who will? Also, since the Angels are going to play in many close games, it is mandatory that they minimize their mistakes and do not let too many opportunities slip away. Therefore, it’s essentially that the young players mature quickly and become consistent producers. Oh, and Jered Weaver repeating his stellar debut would also help a lot.Prediction: With Seattle and Texas probably not going anywhere and Oakland losing their two best players from last year in Barry Zito and Frank Thomas, it would be foolish to predict anything else than a first place finish from the Angels. In fact, while they might not run away with the division, they should still take it with a comfortable margin. My take is 92 wins, five ahead of the A’s. Next, in the play-offs, the team has the pitching to stay in each and every game, but they need to acquire a big bat via trade if they want to have more than an outside chance at going all the way.
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