Posted on: April 19, 2010 3:19 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2010 3:35 pm

Not Much Room for Error

I'll assume the just completed 3-game sweep of the Blue Jays (in Toronto, no less) got some Angels fans off the ledge, or at least sitting on it instead of standing. After getting off to a horrendous start, the Halos went 4-2 on this recent roadie through the Bronx and Toronto to get to within a game of .500.

The starting pitching was the story. Joel Pineiro pretty much single-handedly got the team its only win against the Yankees and then Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana mowed through the Jays like a fat kid through his Easter candy. Very impressive starts from those guys, especially Saunders and Santana, who desperately needed to show something resembling their All-Star forms of two seasons ago.

The offense was better. More timely hitting than we've seen and a few more balls leaving the yard. Not much else to say, but I do expect the club to go on a tear with the bats here, real soon (Brandon Wood included). Erick Aybar has been outstanding at the top of the order. He's been patient, but still aggressive in the sense that hey, you got a pitcher throwing strikes, swing the bat. You have to read the situation and E.A.'s done that so far. Color me impressed.

The reason I titled this post as I did, is because at this point in the season (early as it may be), this is the impression I get from this team. We don't have the wiggle room we enjoyed the last few seasons with us taking a small step back and Texas and Seattle taking some steps forward. The starting pitching has been really good lately, and it will have to continue to be until our bullpen gets its collective head out its ass. And this may not happen at all, who knows. Rodney looked good closing out games over the weekend in Fuentes' absence and Jepsen looks decent. But three guys does not a bullpen make. Stokes, Shields and Bulger need to step it up or Mike's gonna start looking for other options down at AAA or even AA. If there's one aspect of the team where he shows little patience, it's the bullpen.
Posted on: April 6, 2010 2:33 pm

Opening Night Observations

Not gonna lie, I spent the first part of the game more focused on the Duke - Butler NCAA title game, which was a GREAT game. Can you imagine if Heyward's last-second heave would have gone in? It would have EASILY been the greatest shot/moment in the history of the tourney. Move over Jimmy V searching for someone to hug, move over Villanova upsetting Georgetown, move over Laettner's turn around jumper versus Kentucky. It would have been HUGE. Alas, it wasn't to be.

Even though my full attention was dedicated to the hoops, I did flip to the Angels home opener against the Twins during commercials and also followed over the internet, so I had at least an idea of what was going on. And right after Heyward's shot came up empty, I switched the channel to see Jered Weaver pitch out of a little jam in the 6th to finish his night. A solid outing from Weaver - 6 innings, 3runs, 6 Ks, 5 hits and couple of walks. He gave the offense a chance, and that's all you can really ask, especially this early in the season.

The Halos were able to scratch across a couple runs and then got a little breathing room when Matsui and Morales (M & M, anyone?) went back-to-back in the 8th. Mathis did a nice Napoli impersonation, hitting a solo shot in the 2nd inning and Erick Aybar did his job atop the order, getting on base three times and scoring two runs. Brandon Wood had a tough night, going 0-4, striking out three (ouch!) times. I still think he'll be fine.

Perhaps the best sign was three scoreless innings from the bullpen - Jepsen, Rodney and then Fuentes, who notched his first save of the season in a very un-Fuentes like undramatic (is that a word?) fashion.

Overall - nice nights from Matsui (welcome), Morales (HR batting right) and 6 strong from Weaver.

Ho-hum. Just another Halo victory (RIP Rory).

Also, I didn't get a chance to hear much of Victor Rojas' call of the game, so jury's still out on him, for me.

Matsui goes yard on opening night.
Posted on: March 23, 2010 2:36 pm

Spring Update

We're somewhere between knee and waist-deep in Spring Training, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the club and see how they're doing. The 5-11-2 record isn't good, but it shouldn't set off any alarms either. Early on, the regular players play half the game, if that, with kids from all walks of the minor league system filling in.

Spring records are a strange thing. If you're team's struggling, it's so easy to dismiss it. They're just getting their work in...the kids are playing most of the innings...pitchers are working on new pitches, etc. If you're winning, well, that's another story. They're looking good...mid-season 'bout the kids, the future looks bright, etc. The truth, as it often is, is somewhere in between. Records really don't mean jack, but we can look at some stats to get a feel for how some of the players are looking. Let's do that now, shall we?

We'll start with Brandon Wood. I like the .275 average. I love the .396 OBP. I want to marry the 7 strikeouts in 40 AB's. That would equate to around 100 K's over the course of 600 AB's. Of course, he'll be facing much better pitching day-in day-out, but it is a pretty good sign. If Woody can keep the K's to around 150, he should have a heck of a season. Also, he sports a flawless fielding percentage at 3B. Looking forward to watching the kid on a daily basis.

Also looking good: Mike Napoli. Naps is flat out raking with a team-leading 4HR and a nice .310 average. Kendry Morales is doing his best to show everyone last season was no fluke. The switch-hitting first baseman is hitting .387 with 2HR and 9RBI. A repeat of K-Mo's .300/30/100 from last season isn't all that far-fetched.

I'm not very concerned with the slow starts of Matsui and Abreu. Veterans with track records like those two guys will be fine. Just stay healthy. Please. I am a little concerned with Erick Aybar. He's a bit banged up, and he hasn't really got his timing at the plate hitting just .111. Nice to have Maicer Izturis waiting in the wings.

The pitching hasn't been great, but that's completely normal. Most guys aren't even at full strength until about a month into the season. No worries. The main bullpen guys have been very good though, especially Brian Fuentes. Maybe having Fernando Rodney looking over his shoulder will keep him motivated.

Youngsters making an impression:
Cory Aldridge: .333, 2HR, seemingly makes a spectacular catch every other game
Bobby Wilson: .357, playing a solid backstop. Could be trade bait later in the year
Michael Ryan: .391, 7RBI
Posted on: March 8, 2010 7:32 pm

Early Outlook: Semi-optimistic (part 4)

OK people, we've looked at the Halos' additions and subtractions and what the lineup may look like come opening day. Only one thing left to pick apart, and that's the pitchin'. Used to be we Angels fans would head into a season praying, begging the baseball gods for a little extra offense. This season, we may need to pray for outs.

A lot has been made of John Lackey's departure, maybe too much. Now, I'm not gonna sit here and tell you his loss won't be felt AT ALL. That would be retarded (my apologies to Sarah Palin) on my part. But isn't it equally retarded to assume the entire staff is now horrible due to the loss of a guy who won 11 games last season and just 12 the year before? Big John was unquestionably the leader of the Angels staff, and probably of the entire pitching staff. The cliches of him being a "bulldog" and a "fierce competitor" and all that are well-deserved and well-earned. But when you boil down the numbers, Lackey is not in the class of the Roy Halladays, Johan Santanas or CC Sabathias of the world. He is a number one, not a true "ace." Heck, he'll be the number 3 starter behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on the Red Sox staff. So Lackey wanted a lot of money and the Red Sox gave it to him, end of story.

What's that leave the Angels with?

Jered Weaver
Joe Saunders
Ervin Santana
Scott Kazmir
Joel Piniero

Weaver is sort of thrust into the defacto number 1 role, coming off his breakout season in '09. The lanky righty went 16-8 and posted a very solid 3.75 ERA. I see no reason why he can't or won't produce similar numbers in 2010. He is just entering his prime years and the changeup he's developed has turned into a devastating pitch for him. It will be interesting to see how he responds to being the "guy" now, defacto or not.

Saunders somehow managed to win 16 games and only lose 7 last year. I say "managed" because he posted a pretty dismal 4.60 ERA. Joe got a ton of run support, sure, but he was really just a bi-polar pitcher last season. When he was bad, he was hit the showers after 3 innings bad, and when he was good, he was outdueling Zack Greinke 1-0 good. He did have a stretch where he pitched at less than 100%, and after coming back from a DL stint, he was pretty solid at the end of the season. Joe was an All-Star in '08 and despite the record, wasn't real good last year. I think we'll see who the real Joe Saunders is this year, and I think it'll be somewhere in between.

Ervin seemed to turn a corner in 2008, putting together a great season and living up to all the potential in that electric right arm. Unfortunately, he turned back around in '09, regressing to the tune of 8-8 and a 5.03 ERA in 139.2 innings. Like Saunders, Ervin wasn't all there physically, and, deserved or not, he has a reputation for being not all there mentally at times too. If Ervin is physically OK, I think he'll be fine, if not, more of the same. He just doesn't seem to have the intestinal fortitude to get by without his best stuff. An 18-win 3.50 ERA wouldn't surprise me any more than a repeat of his horrible 2009.

Scott Kazmir had an off year, it happens. Hell, look at Josh Beckett's roller coaster ride from 2005 to 2007. There are some very concerning signs in Kazmir's case, and that's his strikeouts per innings numbers. WAAAY down last season. Like, from stellar career K numbers to blah, all in one season. I'm not sure how injured/hurt he was, but whatever happened last season, let's hope it's behind him. For Kaz to be effective, he has to strike batters out. We'll see if the velocity's back.

Now for the new guy, Joel Piniero. He's coming off a bit of a revival in St. Louis at the hands of miracle worker Dave Duncan, so as long as he doesn't hit his head and get amnesia, I think he'll pitch just fine. He's a veteran guy, pitches to contact, knows his way around the division from his time in Seattle. Should be a solid innings-eater type guy. Like Jon Garland, but better.

So, looking at what I've written above, the Angels have a few question marks in the rotation. What needs to happen in order for the team to have a good season, is that three of those guys need to perform. Any three. The other two can have bouts of inconsistency, etc., but three of those arms need to step up. We'll see if it happens.
Posted on: March 2, 2010 4:27 pm

Early Outlook: Semi-optimistic (part 3)

So, parts 1 and 2 of this riveting series looked at the major pieces gained and lost by the team this off-season. A general consensus, or at least a widely held belief out there is that the Angels got significantly worse in these "exchanges." I'm not so sure. Now, I'm obviously an unapologetic Halo Homer, so take that into account when reading this. But also take into account that I'm really a fairly rational person who has NO problem criticizing the team he has rooted for since 1976. With that, let's take a gander at how the Angels lineup may look when they break Spring Training a month or so from now.

My projected lineup for the 2010 Season:

1. Erick Aybar SS
2. Bobby Abreu RF
3. Torii Hunter CF
4. Hideki Matsui DH
5. Juan Rivera LF
6. Kendry Morales 1B
7. Howie Kendrick 2B
8. Mike Napoli C
9. Brandon Wood 3B

While it's not the juggernaut the Yankees will field, it's a pretty solid group from 1 to 9. Plus, it costs about half of what the Yanks lineup will cost (ZING!). There are a couple of big question marks that jump out immediatley when looking at the configuration I have above, and they are the bookends. First, can Erick Aybar handle the lead-off role? I honestly have no clue. Not even a guess. What I'm hoping for is that E.A. has a similar type season to his 2009 season. Well, "duh," you might say, "he hit over .300." You might say that, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking more from an approach point-of-view. The ideal lead-off man works counts, takes walks, sees a bunch of pitches, i.e. Chone Figgins last season. I don't think Aybar is capable of making that change in his offensive approach just yet, and I don't want him to get all wrapped up in seeing five pitches every at-bat to the detriment of his other skills with the bat, like his extra-base potential, bunting ability, etc. Now, I'm also not saying that he should be the exact same free-swinger he's been the last few seasons. It's going to be a work in progress and it will take at least three or four seasons for E.A. to be an elite lead-off hitter, if it even happens. I just want to see him remain Erick Aybar. I'd be perfectly happy with a .290 average and a respectable .360 OBP for next season. If he can do that, he will easily top 100 runs scored, and that is what is most important.

A big plus in Aybar's favor is the number 2 hitter (Abreu, I'm assuming) is like another lead-off hitter. Let Aybar-be-Aybar and let Bobby Boy do his thing and I think the top of the order will be just fine without Chone Figgins. And if Aybar can't handle the role, move Bobby up. Leading off isn't just about speed, hell Aybar's not even anywhere near an accomplished base-stealer either. It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out, but I'm truly not worried about the top of the Angels' order.

Another thing I'm not worried about: Brandon Wood. Put the kid in the 9-spot and let him learn big league pitching. He will strikeout. He will hit home runs. But more importantly, he will LEARN. The Angels lineup doesn't need Woody to have a breakout season in order to be good. The team will score plenty of runs with or without production from Wood (hell, he's gonna hit 8 or 9 in the order). Give him the at-bats and let him struggle and eventually, find his way. He may not even hit .250 this year, but as long as he's showing progress and knocking one the hell out of the yard every now and then, leave Izturis on the bench and give the kid a chance to make good on his enormous potential.

If anyone even looks at this, anyone might say, "why the hell do you have Morales hitting 6th? He was the team's best hitter in '09." Well anyone, two reasons. That's where I think Scioscia will hit him, given the veteran bats the team has and Scioscia's affinity for veterans and their well-worn bats. And, that's kind of where he fits, at least heading into the season. In addition to veteran-ness, Scioscia, like most managers, likes to alternate the lineup with righties and lefties. I'm assuming Hunter and Matsui are locks for the 3 and 4 spots, so righty Rivera will follow, leaving Morales 6th. Even as a switch-hitter, Morales sees most of his ABs from the left side and Rivera's a better right-handed hitter than Kendry. Hence, Morales hits 6th and is still very productive.

Now, I wouldn't be shocked if Kendry ends the season as the team's 3 or 4 hitter. This could very well be the season he establishes himself as a legit middle-of-the-order guy. A hot start from Morales and slow start by Torii could bring about big changes in the batting order, but for now, let him prove last season was a sign of things to come and not an aberration. I'm not quite sold...yet.

OK, so at the beginning of this post I made mention of all the talk of this being the end of the Angels' stranglehold on the AL West due to the their off-season and the off-season of the Mariners and a healthy Rangers squad. I know most of these nay-sayers are looking at the starting rotation as the main reason for this. I'll examine that in part 4.
Posted on: February 26, 2010 4:17 pm

A look back at my 2009 player predictions

I'm going to take a break from my multi-part early season preview thing to see how well my predictions were for the 2009 season. Sure, it's easy to make BOLD predictions at the beginning of each season, you know, grandiose statements like "Vlad's gonna come back strong with a 40 HR, 130 RBI season and John Lackey is a lock for AL Cy Young - mark my words." Well, while I made neither of those statements, I did mark my words in a post in this very blog, and I'm ready to see how close or far off I was on my projections for Angels players stats for last season.

Let the hindsightedness commence!

Chone Figgins: PROJ: .290/.380/105 runs/55 SB --- ACTUAL: .298/.395/114/42
Not a bad start, huh? Figgy had an unbelievable year from an OBP standpoint and he outpaced my runs scored projection as the team ended up being a far better offensive club than I, or anyone else really, had anticipated. Those 17 CS of his really did in my stolen base guestimate. Figgy's still fast, but he has lost a step or two.

Howie Kendrick: PROJ: .310/10/55/85 runs/15 SB --- ACTUAL: .291/10/61/61/11
I was anticipating Howie hitting out of the 2-hole for most of the season, hence the lower RBI and higher runs projections. His mid-season struggles and subsequent demotion really hurt his AB totals, but he returned with a vengeance to really light it up in the second half of the season. I'm not so sure about all the "future batting champ" stuff, but I do expect a breakout season for Howie this year, health being the key factor.

Bobby Abreu: PROJ: .300/18/90/80 runs/20 SB --- ACTUAL: .293/15/103/96/30
A hell of a season from Bobby Boy. His stolen base total is remarkable, because he's really not all that fast anymore. Just goes to show you how much being a smart baserunner has to do with swiping bags. It ain't all speed. Yes, I'm looking at you, Erick Aybar. His RBI and runs totals were hepled by how productive the Angels offense was - and he was obviously a BIG part of that.

Vladimir Guerrero: PROJ: .315/28/110 --- ACTUAL: .295/15/50
Well, a big miss here. But in my defense, Vlad only mustered 383 AB's due to a multitude of leg and back problems. And he was the full-time DH! I guess a lot this projection was me wishing for a resurgence that just wasn't meant to be. It better not happen this season in Texas, dammit.

Torii Hunter: PROJ: .275/20/80 --- ACTUAL: .299/22/90
My numbers here look better than they actually were due to Torii getting injured and missing about a month's worth of AB's. And he was smoking the ball when he collided with a wall and got the bad end of it. Walls seldom lose. Had he stayed healthy, we're probably looking at 28-30 HR and 115 or so RBI, making my projections very very wrong.

Juan Rivera: PROJ: .285/22/65/475 AB --- ACTUAL: .287/25/88/529 AB
Not bad here except for the RBI totals. I thought he'd be hitting lower in the order and again, the Halos offense was a big surprise, production-wise.

Kendry Morales: PROJ: .280/13/60 --- ACTUAL: .306/34/108
Moving on...

Mike Napoli: PROJ: .250/25/55/350 AB --- ACTUAL: .272/20/56/382 AB
Nailed this one pretty good, minus a few HR. I really thought Naps' average was an abberation in '08 when he hit .273. Apparently not.

Erick Aybar: PROJ: .275/5/40/65 runs --- ACTUAL: .312/5/58/70
Not too shabby on this one either. Underestimated the average a bit, and yes, his RBI totals have much to do with the team's offense. I didn't project steals for him that time around, but I will for this upcoming season. He has to steal more bases.

So there it is. Pretty damn good effort on my part if I do say so myself. And I just did. Projections for this upcoming season will be made in a few weeks, or so. You can't wait (you can wait).
Posted on: February 24, 2010 4:45 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2010 6:16 pm

Early Outlook: Semi-optimistic (part 2)

I finished up Part 1 with a look at the players leaving the Angels for greener pastures, or in Lackey's case, greener monsters, I guess? Well they're all leaving for more green, that's for sure. And who are we to begrudge them that? Just kidding, we're fans, we begrudge everything. Hell, we'd begrudge whatever god or deity we believe in if he/she came down wearing the cap of our favorite team's rival. "Really, Buddha, the A's? EFF-OFF!!"

Anyways, let's take a look at the NKOTB (don't act like you don't know) who were signed to replace our departed heroes.

Welcome to Anaheim:

Hideki Matsui, Fernando Rodney, Joel Piniero

Let's start with Matsui, since he was signed to, in effect, take the place of probably the best player the Angels ever had. Now, I didn't say, "the greatest Angel ever," so all you Garrett Anderson and Tim Salmon and Rob Wilfong fans can get off my back. Seriously, whoever you consider the "greatest Angel ever," it's tough to argue that Vlad wasn't the single greatest talent to ever grace the Big A. I'd say only Nolan Ryan could give Vlad a run for his money in that department.

Now, we all know Vlad was more the impaled, than the impaler the last few seasons, so losing him isn't really the blow it would seem to be. The lineup may look less intimidating with his name not in there, but it will be better off overall with Matsui's, granted he can stay healthy. He was relatively healthy for the Yanks last season as the team's primary DH, and I don't expect to see him wandering around the Angels' outfield with a glove on much, if at all. His power numbers from last season (28 HR, 90 RBI) were probably inflated a bit by playing in the launching pad that is the New Yankee Stadium, but I like that he put up those numbers in just 456 at-bats. If the Angels can coax 500 AB's out of those creaky knees, I'd expect to see a line somewhere in the neighborhood of .300-20-90. Pretty much what Vlad would have done with those same at bats, but without all the getting-thrown-out-trying-to-stretc
h-a-single-into-a-triple. You know what I'm talking about. Worst. Baserunner. Ever. Plus, Matsui at 1-year, $6.5 mil is a steal and gives the team flexibility for 2011 if his knees implode, which, lets be honest, is a possibility.

That brings us to Rodney, who kinda replaces Darren Oliver, I suppose. I liked DO's ability to go more than an inning, but I think I like Rodney's ability to close more. I am bummed we couldn't (didn't?) re-sign Oliver, but it seemed like he wanted to go home and pitch in Arlington. He will be missed. So Rodney gives us a right-handed version of Brian Fuentes in essence. He's more of a power pitcher, but he, like Fuentes, walks too many batters to be a truly elite closer. His ERA was a bit high last season for the Tigers, at 4.40, but 37 saves in 38 chances is pretty damn good. We'll see if it was smoke and mirrors. In any case, Brian Fuentes has a greater incentive to be better than he was last year with F-Rod (you heard it here first) waiting in the wings to take his job. Competition is good.

Joel Piniero wasn't really signed to take Lackey's place, but more to hold down the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation and make 30 or so starts. The Angels are hoping Jered Weaver or Scott Kazmir steps into the vacated "ace" spot created by Lackey's absence. I'll get into that later. As far as Piniero goes, he had his best season since 2003, going 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA. The consensus seems to be that his return to form was simply a result of Dave Duncan's brilliance and he will surely be unable to post similar numbers in the AL. I can't entirely disagree with the consensus, but I will add this: His turnaround was also attributed to a new grip for his sinker and a greater reliance upon it. So, as long as he doesn't forget the "magic sinker grip" or to throw it often, one has to assume he won't be a total dumpster fire every fifth day. I expect he'll end up somewhere in the neighborhood of a 4.20-4.50 ERA with around 12 wins while eating up around 200 innings. And that will do just fine.

(To be continued...)
Posted on: February 22, 2010 6:39 pm

Early Outlook: Semi-optimistic (part 1)

Spring has yet to arrive, officially, but pitchers and catchers have reported for most MLB teams, and really, does winter even exist in Arizona (yes, parts of Arizona get a bit of winter) and Florida? Now I'm not one those who gets all nostalgic and weepy with the earliest signs that baseball is right around the corner, i.e. "the smell of fresh cut grass," "the pop of the mitts," "a fresh start for each team" and all that quasi-poetic crap. I don't start getting the least bit excited until the Angels and Dodgers play their annual pre-season exhibitions, or at least until I draft one of my three or so fantasy teams. But with all the upheaval the team went through this past off-season and the positive changes made by two of the Halos' division rivals, I thought it an OK idea to give an early look at the team's new make-up and their chances this upcoming season. I'll probably write a similar post as Spring Training progresses and we get a better look at how the team is shaping up, meaning, I'll look at how Brandon Woods' spring is going and whether or not he'll break camp as the starter at the hot corner.

But first thing's first! And what's first is looking at the team's off-season filled with career-Angels bolting, a few decent signings and some swings and misses at pulling off a trade for an ace who's name rhymes with Shmroy Shmalladay.

John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver

Of course, the team said "buh-bye" to a few more players, but really, these are the only ones whose departure could affect the team(Sorry, GMJ). Let's start with the big Texan with the odd-shaped mouth. While it's tough to bid adieu to Lackey, giving him the kind of contract the Red Sox gave him just wouldn't have been a good idea for the club. I know you have to overpay in this day and age in the MLB, but I'd rather overpay for another, better (and younger) pitcher. Lackey has started the last two seasons on the DL, and even though he bounced back and had good seasons - including a nice 2009 post season - it's just not a good sign. There will be plenty of fish in the sea come the trade deadline and the 2010 off-season as far as starting pitchers go. I do think Lackey has two, maybe three more seasons in him at his current level of effectiveness, but this will be a move (non-move?) Angels fans come to praise very soon.

Oh, Desmond DeChone, it's gonna be tough watching you circle the bases up North in teal and navy. But I have a feeling you won't be circling them at quite the same rate (114 runs scored) as you did for the Angels in '09. I guess I would have been OK had the team re-signed you to a deal similar to that which you signed with the Mariners (4 years, $36 million). After all, you're one of the better lead-off men in all of baseball, and you had a nice season in 2009 - a near .400 OBP, the aforementioned 114 runs and 42 stolen bases (though you were caught a league-leading 17 times, OUCH!), and you played a GG-caliber third base. But you know, we have this kid named Brandon Wood who's been biding his time in the minors. He's supposed to be pretty good. We could have traded him a few times, but we didn't. I'm kind of curious to see him get regular AB's and he plays 3B as well. I guess what I'm saying Figgy, is I will miss you, but hopefully this Wood kid can lessen my pain by hitting a few (20? 25?) 450-foot bombs over the visitor's bullpen. As the saying goes, Chone, we will see. We will see.

As for Vlad. It was time, and I think most sane Angels fans would agree. Now, I'm not thrilled he ended up in Texas, but whatevs, he is an injury waiting to happen. I'll always appreciate his time with the team and will give him a standing ovation when he visits the Big A in Rangers gear. He better oblige by promptly grounding out to Erick Aybar.

To be continued...

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or