The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been deemed by most to be the big winners of the 2012 offseason free agent market. They beefed up their lineup and their pitching staff in an attempt to reclaim the AL West from the back-to-back World Series entrants, the Texas Rangers. These offseason acquisitions and a few other factors have suddenly put the Angels, a team with no 20-game winners in 2011, as the lead candidates to have two 20-game winners in 2012.
The Angels starting pitching rotation boasts an absolutely formidable front four—Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana. It's saying something about the strength of the rotation when Santana, who put up a 3.38 ERA and struck out 178 in 2011, is the weakest link.
Winning 20 games may prove to be no problem for Weaver, Haren or Wilson. Although none of them have ever hit the 20-win mark, the 2011 season was certainly a predecessor to it. Haren went 16-10; Wilson put up a 16-7 record; and Jered Weaver, perhaps the best pitcher in the AL in 2011 not named Justin Verlander, was 18-8. With all three coming off seasons just shy of 20 wins, it's hard to believe the forces under Mike Scioscia will not come up with 20 victories under their belts.
What more can be said about three-time MVP and arguably the best hitter in the game, Albert Pujols? The Angels acquired the crown jewel of the 2011 free agent bonanza when they signed Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million deal. As the No. 3 hitter, Pujols breathes some much needed life into the previously average Angels lineup. This bodes extremely well for the pitching staff.
With Kendrys Morales sidelined for 2011, rookie Mark Trumbo took over the reins at first base for the Angels last season. While Trumbo had a sensational rookie season (losing out to Jeremy Hellickson for the AL Rookie of the Year award), there is no denying that he is no Albert Pujols. In his inaugural year, Trumbo's Wins Above Replacement was a respectable 2.1. Over his 11 Major League seasons, Pujols has averaged a little over 8 WAR. Those six extra wins could be the bridge to 20 wins for guys like Haren or Weaver, who fell just short of it last year.
With the return of Kendrys Morales and the addition of Pujols, the Angels found themselves with two highly capable hitters who they did not have in 2011 to sit in the heart of the lineup. Teams can rarely add both a No. 3 and No. 4 hitter to the lineup in the same offseason. Adding that kind of quality to a lineup that already ranked sixth in 2011 in runs scored can mean some huge run support for the team's hurlers.
In 2011, three of Haren's losses were by a margin of a single run, and he had five no-decisions that resulted in a team loss where he gave up one earned run or fewer. Weaver's 2011 record hadtwo losses by a single run and three no-decisions that resulted in a team loss by one run as well. The extra support to make up those few runs could easily push either of them to their 20th win.
The AL West
The road to the AL West pennant is not going to be a simple one for the Angels. Despite snatching free agent C.J. Wilson from division rival Texas, the Rangers squad is not looking any less intense than the team who has taken the journey to the World Series two years in a row. A tough Texas lineup awaits the Angels' starters every time they square off against the Rangers.
The rest of the division, however, presents far less of a challenge. Thirty-eight of the Angels games in 2012 will come against the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners—two teams ranked on the bottoms rungs of any power ranking list that you might come across. Having a slightly easier schedule may only enhance the chance for the team to come up with their two 20-game victors.