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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on April 12, 2010
It's very early in the season and we probably shouldn't read too much into it, but the Angels don't seem like a shadow of the team they were last season.¬† It wasn't a good offseason for the team with the departure of stalwarts and fan favorites Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero and John Lackey, but the team sure seemed to have enough depth that no one expected them to be missed much.
Admittedly at age 35, Vlad isn't quite as feared as he once was and Reagins was right to expect a decline in overall skill. ¬†¬†But what it really came down to was a judgment call, based as much on dollars as it was on statistics and production.¬† In measuring that Reagins may have given too much credit to last year's dreadful line, .295-15-50, without really realizing that those statistics were complied in just 100 games and those numbers reflected an injured Guerrero, not a healthy one.
And while Vlad isn't as feared as he was in his prime, or mentioned in the same breath as guys like Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols anymore, he was the most feared man batting in Anaheim over the last six years.¬† That's not to slight Torii Hunter or Kendry Morales, but the truth was that pitchers would still rather face either of those hitters, or anyone else in the Angels lineup, than they would with Vlad.
That's because Vlad can take anything a pitcher throws and put it into play and that he had no seeming weaknesses at the plate.¬† Pitch inside he'd hit it.¬† Pitch outside he'd hit it.¬† High?¬† Low?¬† Yep, same thing.¬† And if a pitcher threw it right down the middle, he did so with the knowledge that when it landed there was a good chance it would be somewhere in the outfield seats.
Vlad simply is intimidating at the plate.¬† That's the reason the Rangers signed him to hit cleanup, because opposing pitchers would often rather throw to Josh Hamilton than face Guerrero with runners on base.
But Vlad will only be a factor in Anaheim as a visitor these days and the Angels, if they are to be successful, will have to do without him.¬† Thus far, that seems like a tall order.¬† The Angels have only managed to score more than four runs once in six games, and they've only managed to score a grand total of 24 runs in that span.¬† More frightening might be that they've only managed to win two of those games, both games started by Jered Weaver, the only starting pitcher who's held the opposition to less than four runs in any of his starts (and he's succeeded in both his starts).
Hunter is doing his best to fill Vlad's shoes in the No. 3 spot, but Hunter isn't a player on the same level offensively as Guerrero, nor is Hideki Matsui, a 35 year old outfielder with bad knees and a worse arm.¬† The Angels true hope for the center of the lineup lies with Morales, a high average, power hitting first baseman with just a single season of experience underneath his belt.
Morales is the future for the Angels, the first key player in the new wave of position players being developed by a deep system as the Angels retool so that they can¬† compete for years to come.¬† In his first full season Morales lead the team in home runs (34) while driving in 108 and posting a .306 batting average.¬† Those are the kind of numbers that match up with Guerrero in his prime (although Vlad had plenty of speed and could steal bases too).
So far Kendry hasn't found his groove this season.¬† Just six games in he's struggling a bit -- hitting just .222 with a single home run.¬† And he's not alone in having a difficult time stepping into some new shoes -- Erick Aybar, the youngster stepping into Chone Figgins shoes as the team's leadoff hitters and spark plug is off to a rough start as well -- managing just a .238 average with no steals.
For the moment, as the team adjusts to its new offensive reality, without tablesetter Figgins, and without Guerrero to scare opposing pitchers, some growing pains are to be expected.¬† But the Angels and Reagins believe they will come around and that these Halos will be at the division when the season ends.
But no doubt about it, this team misses Vlad and watching him smoke the ball down in Texas can't be easy to watch.