Now that spring training games are officially underway, fans all across Major League Baseball will finally get to see their teams return to action. Some teams have undergone huge changes, while other teams return looking similar to their 2011 forms.
Among the teams making big changes are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Their offseason moves included adding slugger Albert Pujols and left-handed starter C.J. Wilson. In addition, the Angels managed to sign relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, while also acquiring catcher Chris Iannetta from the Colorado Rockies.
After coming off of a second World Series appearance, the Angels' rival, the Texas Rangers, did not make many major moves. Much of the attention the Rangers received this offseason was due to the signing of Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. The Rangers also signed veteran reliever Joe Nathan in order to shift Neftali Feliz to the Rangers' rotation.
Heading into 2012, the Angels look to have closed the gap that existed between the two teams during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. During those seasons, the Rangers managed to finish in the division lead, leaving the Angels without a spot in the playoffs.
Let's compare the two teams heading into the 2012 season to determine why the Angels will be the better team in 2012.
When comparing the managers of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Texas Rangers, there is no doubt who the winner is. Although Rangers manager Ron Washington has taken the Rangers to the World Series in consecutive years, there is a big distinction between the two in overall achievements.
During his 11 years as the Angels skipper, Mike Scioscia has taken the team to the playoffs a whopping six times. Over that same time frame, Scioscia has finished in the top five of AL Manager of the Year voting seven times, winning the award in 2002 and in 2009.
Heading into 2012, Scioscia will also be longest-tenured manager in baseball.
While Ron Washington is a highly respectable manager and has started his managerial career off on the right note, he only has five years of managerial service and has led the Rangers to a winning record three times.
Both the Angels and Rangers have arguments for why they have the better defense, and each point is valid.
When looking at the Texas Rangers, we see that their infield is above average defensively but also committed its fair share of errors. In fact, one of their better defensive players, shortstop Elvis Andrus, committed the third-most errors in all of baseball with 25.
These errors were part of the problem that caused the Rangers to finish the 2011 season with the third-lowest fielding percentage in the American League.
While I may have given the nod to the Rangers heading into the 2011 season, I have to pick the Angels defense heading into the 2012 season. Simply put, the Angels' outfield defense is enough to make up for some of the slack that may come from an infield that will be improved by the presence of Albert Pujols at first base.
Currently, the Angels have three center fielders roaming the outfield, and the impact on the Angels pitching staff is evident.
Let's also not forget that shortstop Erick Aybar won a Gold Glove in 2011.
Even after the addition of Albert Pujols, I am reluctant to say that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a better offense than the Texas Rangers.
In 2011, the Rangers saw the emergence of ex-Angel Mike Napoli, who managed to become a force at the plate, swatting 30 home runs while batting .320/.414/.631.
While the Rangers did see the emergence of some players in 2011, they also saw their fare share of struggles. Take for example Josh Hamilton, who put up good statistics but did not manage to live up to what we have learned to expect from a player of his caliber.
The Angels, meanwhile, saw struggles all throughout the roster.
Despite getting decent performances out of players like Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo, the Angels saw the core of their offense struggle mightily nearly all season long.
The three veterans in Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter led the Angels' offensive troubles. In the second half, Hunter was able to turn it around, while Abreu and Wells were never able to get comfortable at the plate.
Heading into the 2012 season, there is a ton of optimism about the Angels lineup with the addition of Albert Pujols. Unfortunately for the Angels, Pujols may not be enough to dethrone the Rangers as the team with the better offense.
That said, there are question marks surrounding the Angels which, if answered favorably, could close the gap between the two offenses. Among these questions is whether or not Kendrys Morales will be able to make a full recovery and whether or not Vernon Wells will return to form.
Until these questions can be answered, we must compare based on what we know.
This may be the hardest category to decide on when comparing these two teams.
While the Rangers seemingly had the stronger bullpen, some changes in it may cause them to lose some leverage in a comparison.
The first change of note is the movement of closer Neftali Feliz to the Rangers starting rotation. During his three big league seasons, Feliz has recorded a whopping 74 saves while also posting an ERA of 2.55.
With his departure from the pen, newly signed Joe Nathan will assume the role.
The 2011 season was not too kind to Nathan, who lost his closing job with the Minnesota Twins due to numerous shaky outings. To end the season, Nathan finished with an ERA of 4.84, something he will definitely need to improve on in 2012 in order to be a solid closer.
The Angels' closer job heading into 2012 could be just as shaky. In 2011, Jordan Walden blew a major league-leading 10 saves, and much like Nathan, will need to improve in order to be effective as a closer on a competitive team.
Prior to reaching the closer, both teams appear to be fairly even. Both have very reliable setup men in Scott Downs (Angels) and Mike Adams (Rangers), and both also have a good assortment of middle and long relief pitchers that can take the pressure off of a struggling starter.
When comparing starters, there is no comparison. The Angels far and away dominate this facet of the team's budding rivalry with the Rangers.
In an attempt to improve their starting rotation, the Texas Rangers took a risk and inked Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. While many think very highly of Darvish, many also question his ability to pitch in the major leagues against tougher opposing hitters.
At best, Darvish could prove to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. At worst, however, he could become a repeat of Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Behind Darvish, the Rangers are likely to run out Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz. Holland, Lewis and Harrison all showed much improved stuff in 2011, each helping the Rangers get to the World Series once again.
In 2012, they will look to improve on their 2011 statistics in order to keep the Rangers in playoff contention. Meanwhile, Feliz will attempt to get acclimated to his new role as a starting pitcher and will look to show people why he has been highly thought of as a starter in the past.
Opposing Darvish, Holland, Lewis, Harrison and Feliz will be the Angels' starters Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams. This Angels rotation will no doubt be one of the best rotations in baseball and stands at a completely different level than that of the Rangers' rotation.
In 2011, the Angels' starters allowed the second-fewest amount of runs per game and will seemingly improve on that stat with the signing of ex-Ranger C.J. Wilson.
Look for the Angels to dominate this category in 2012.
After comparing the two teams, it is apparent that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have improved in enough areas to put them above the Texas Rangers in 2012.
While many of the category results may be similar to how many viewed the two teams last year, there is definitive reason to believe that the Angels were able to close the gaps that made the Rangers better the better team in 2011.
The acquisitions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson have no doubt made the Angels a much better team. Meanwhile, the Rangers did not seem to improve much in any given area.
While it is difficult to find flaws in a team that has won the American League pennant two years in a row, the Rangers may have benefited from the acquisition of a solid closer or another reliable starting pitcher.
No matter who you see as the favorite to win the American League West, there is no denying the fact that this is going to be a fun divisional race to watch. The teams are very evenly matched and should trade division leads many times before it's all said and done.
For now, though, I give the edge to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.