L.A. Angels: 11 Advantages They Have over the Texas Rangers
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With the calendar now turned to 2012 and MLB spring training just weeks away, baseball fans around the world are bursting with excitement for the upcoming season. No fans, however, may be more excited for the 2012 season than Angels fans.
After finishing second in the division for two consecutive years, Angels owner Arte Moreno flexed his muscles at the winter meetings, where he and general manager Jerry Dipoto shocked the world when they inked both Albert Pujols and ex-Ranger C.J. Wilson to long-term deals.
With Pujols and Wilson joining an already strong Angels team, they look to unseat the division rival Texas Rangers. The Rangers, however, seem ready for the challenge after coming off back-to-back World Series appearances.
Although the Rangers deserve much respect for their recent accomplishments, they may no longer be the best team in the American League. They may not even be the best team in their division.
The 2012 season will see the Angels and Rangers clash even harder than before. If the Angels have it their way, they will be replacing the Rangers as American League champions and returning to the World Series on the 10th anniversary of their World Series win in 2002.
It will not be easy, but the Angels do have some advantages over the Texas Rangers that may help them unseat the AL champs.
Jered Weaver Leads A Very Durable Pitching Staff
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When one observes the Texas Rangers, they will see two huge bats in the middle of their lineup: Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. While both players are to be feared and can put up monster numbers throughout an entire season, neither is well known for his durability.
Seeing as these two players count for a huge portion of the Rangers offense, one has to worry how the duo will fare in 2012, when they will be one year older.
Hamilton and Cruz may be the big names with injury histories, but in 2011 they were not alone. The Rangers also sent Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre as well as others to the disabled list.
In 2011, only three Rangers players collected more than 540 plate appearances. The Angels nearly doubled that, sending six of their players to the plate at least 540 times. That number can be increased to seven players if you include the newly acquired Albert Pujols.
Of the Angels players to visit the disabled list, only four were position players, and only one was a starting pitcher. The Rangers, meanwhile, sent nine position players and three starters to the DL.
2. Mike Scioscia
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The Angels' greatest weapon may not even swing a bat, throw a pitch or field a grounder. Instead, it may be the man in the dugout.
Mike Scioscia has been with the Angels organization since 2000 and has brought the Angels a World Series title and five division championships. In both 2002 and 2009, Scioscia managed his way to an American League Manager of the Year award.
Scioscia is very well respected by nearly everyone in the game and is considered one of the game's best managers. With the recent retirement of Tony La Russa, Scioscia has become the longest-tenured manager in the game today.
While Rangers manager Ron Washington has led his team to two World Series appearances, he has yet to achieve the sort of accomplishments that Mike Scioscia has. Until Washington achieves any of these milestones, he cannot provide the same sort of advantage that Scioscia provides the Angels.
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Mike Scioscia's main focus with the Angels team has always been pitching and defense. The 2012 Angels team has both of those, and both provide a huge advantage over the Texas Rangers.
In 2011, the Rangers ranked 26th overall in fielding percentage, while the Angels ranked eighth.
At their respective positions, the Angels had eight players who were within the top 20 in fielding percentage. The Rangers, meanwhile, only saw four players with that same achievement.
A solid defense can really help to support a pitching staff. One has to wonder if the young Rangers pitching staff will get enough defensive support to allow them to consistently go deep into games. The Angels' starters know they have a solid defense behind them and can pitch without having to worry about their fielders making unnecessary mistakes.
4. Strong Balance of Veterans and Young Players
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Entering the 2011 season, many people saw the Angels as an aging team. That opinion turned around very quickly. Young players such as Peter Bourjos, Jordan Walden, Hank Conger, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout burst onto the scene in a hurry and turned the Angels into a team with a lot of young players.
To go along with those young players are veteran leaders like Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu, as well as players like Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.
While the Rangers have a similar mixture of young and old, they do not have the same sort of personalities that the Angels have when it comes to players like Hunter and Wells.
They also do not have the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
5. Kendrys Morales
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One huge advantage that the Angels could have over the Rangers comes in the form of a single reinforcement: Kendrys Morales.
Should Morales return for the Angels in 2012 and return to form, the Angels could have one of the most dynamic offensive teams in baseball with a very dangerous three-four combo that could easily compare to the duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
The switch-hitting Morales pounded 34 home runs in 2009 while knocking in 108 runs. He was on pace to repeat those numbers in 2010 until he was injured during a walk-off home run celebration at home plate.
In 2011, the Angels won 86 games even without the influence of Morales. The addition of Albert Pujols could add to the win column, and the healthy return of Kendrys Morales could put the Angels well over the top.
6. Bullpen Stability
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The 2011 season saw a Rangers team in dire need of bullpen help. Midseason acquisitions of players like Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara did not help the problem, as they too struggled mightily after putting on a Rangers jersey. Relievers for the Rangers combined to post a 4.11 earned run average.
The upcoming 2012 season could provide even more challenges for the Rangers bullpen. Their closer Neftali Feliz appears to be joining the starting rotation while newly acquired Joe Nathan assumes the role as closer. Nathan was less than spectacular last year, posting a 4.84 ERA in his final year with the Minnesota Twins.
Despite the need for another starter, the Rangers could regret removing their very good closer from the bullpen.
While the Rangers bullpen struggled, the Angels had one of the better bullpens in baseball that combined to post a 3.52 ERA. General manager Jerry Dipoto has also made it a point to improve the Angels bullpen for the 2012 season. He has already inked veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins (2.42 ERA in 2011) and has noted that he would also like to add yet another bullpen arm.
7. Playing Baseball in Southern California
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Ask Torii Hunter what it is like to play baseball in Southern California, and you will likely receive a very positive response and a huge smile.
In the case of comparing Angels Stadium to Rangers Ballpark, there can be no mistaking the fact that most players (and fans) would prefer the sort of weather that is common at Angels Stadium.
Texas can be a brutal place during the summer with its excruciating heat and high humidity. Rangers Ballpark can be a hitter's best friend, but the weather can quickly drain both hitters and pitchers during the crucial August and September months in which teams are making their final efforts to attain a playoff spot.
In Texas, players commonly have to undergo medical treatments before and after the game to prevent dehydration. Southern California does not provide such challenges. The wear and tear on the bodies of the Rangers players from the heat alone puts them at a disadvantage when compared to the Angels, who get to play in pristine weather nearly every time they are at home.
8. Starting Pitching
The Angels Have One of the Best Pitching Staffs In Baseball
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If you thought the Angels had a strong starting pitching staff last year, think again. With C.J. Wilson in the fold, the Angels have a starting rotation that some believe is even better than the Philadelphia Phillies' starting three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Leading the starting rotation for the Angels is Jered Weaver, whose 18 wins and 2.41 ERA put him in second place in the Cy Young voting. Weaver is followed by Dan Haren (16 wins and 3.17 ERA), Ervin Santana (11 wins and 3.38 ERA), C.J. Wilson (16 wins and 2.94 ERA) and Jerome Williams (four wins and 3.68 ERA).
While the Rangers have a promising rotation possibly headed by Japanese stud Yu Darvish, none of their projected starters have the sort of track record that the Angels' top four have in the major leagues.
Regardless of Darvish, the Angels seem to have a very big advantage when it comes to starting pitching.
9. Room for Improvement
If the Veteran Core Bounces Back in 2012, the Angels Could Be Scary
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It may be hard to believe, but the Angels would likely have been a better team in 2012 even without the acquisitions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. One reason for that is because the Angels have a lot of room for improvement.
Last year, the veteran core of Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu struggled mightily. None of the three players seemed comfortable at the plate in 2011, and none put up the sort of numbers that one would expect from players of their caliber.
While each may be on the decline due to age, it does not seem likely that they will struggle as much as they did in 2011.
If the past is any indication, Vernon Wells could be in for a great season. In his career, Wells has made a habit of having some of his best offensive years just after some of his worst offensive years. He, along with Hunter and Abreu, will also have less pressure on them due to the signing of Pujols. This will allow the trio to do what comes naturally.
Many Rangers players had some of their best career years in 2011. Can they repeat such performances? It seems unlikely that a player like Michael Young could get any better at this point in his career.
10. Positional Logjams
Both Trumbo and Trout Could Force the Angels to Make Some Trades.
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Do not let the title fool you. Positional logjams can be a very good thing. In the Angels' case, there appears to be an excess of outfielders as well as first basemen.
The first base situation seems like a major plus for the Angels. They seem primed to try Mark Trumbo at third base as of now. If such an experiment works, the Angels could be left with some major thunder in the middle of the lineup, especially if Kendrys Morales returns.
If the experiment does not work, however, the Angels are left with a very good trade piece that could become attractive to smaller-market teams in search of an affordable power bat. This could net the Angels some good prospects, bullpen help or even a third baseman.
Mike Trout, arguably the best prospect in baseball, is the victim of another surplus in the outfield. Currently the Angels roster projects to have Wells, Bourjos and Hunter in the outfield with Abreu as the fourth outfielder. This likely leaves Trout in AAA, where he can get more experience and become better prepared for the big leagues.
Trout also allows the Angels to trade Bourjos, should they attempt to land a big piece, or even Abreu, should they prefer to shed salary.
It's not often that a big-league club can trade away players from its starting lineup for prospects and not be affected by the trade. The Angels, however, have the luxury of big-league-ready depth, which can allow them to make such trades.
11. Albert Pujols
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It is amazing how one man can transform an entire lineup. That is the case with Albert Pujols. His presence in the lineup can change how a pitcher approaches every hitter in the lineup, and his presence in the Angels lineup could provide a very big advantage over the Rangers.
Pujols' power works in nearly any ballpark and will likely make Rangers Ballpark in Arlington look like a Little League field. Not only will the Rangers pitch to Pujols carefully, but they will also pitch to those around him differently, which will likely work in favor of the Angels.
Because the Rangers have such an inexperienced pitching staff, Pujols could become a huge factor. His presence alone could cause the Rangers pitchers to throw mistake pitches to the batters in front of him or even to "The Machine" himself.
No matter what team a player like Pujols is on, he provides an instant advantage. For the Angels, it's an advantage over the Rangers.