I had the first two weeks ready to post pretty much the day they were to go up. Last week I kind of fell behind and now this week I’m pretty much writing these the night before.
The Angels are one team that I sort of had written out awhile back though.
I was talking about John Lackey and all that fun stuff, and then yesterday, the day before this preview was supposed to go up, the roof fell in.
So here is why the Angels will still win the division, despite the news about Lackey and Ervin Santana and also something about Milwaukee, because they are a baseball team too.
* Wild Card
Los Angeles Angels – AL West
Last Year: Won AL West, Lost in ALDS
Notable Additions: OF Bobby Abreu, RP Brian Fuentes
Notable Subtractions: IF Mark Teixeira, OF Garret Anderson, SP Jon Garland, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Underrated addition: Bobby Abreu
He’ll be missed: Garrett Anderson
Abreu is a huge upgrade over long time Angel Anderson, but Anderson was the elder statesman.
Biggest Key to Success: Recharged and Reloaded
The AL West did some things to improve in the offseason. Texas didn’t do much in terms of additions, they’re hoping for some growth within. Oakland made a lot of cunning moves for a one year run, and they figure to be Los Angeles’ main competition, while Seattle did some things, but don’t figure to be serious contenders for first place.
The Angels themselves did some things. They lost a lot, including a MVP caliber first baseman, a record-setting closer in one offseason, and a long-time outfielder who’s always been dependable.
Mark Teixeira is gone, Garret Anderson is gone, and Francisco Rodriguez is gone.
Did this team lose too much?
They did add Bobby Abreu and Brian Fuentes to replace those losses, so it isn’t like they just let everyone walk and not have any backup plans.
Is this the same Angels team that had the division wrapped up really early?
No, but they might be better off in that sense. The best thing that could happen to the Angels is if they get pushed by a team like Oakland. They cannot afford to go into the playoffs and again go out in the first round.
You play 162 games for three games, and by the time you get done with those 162 games, you forget all about the three.
This team needs to pushed, and if they get pushed then they might be able to go into the playoffs in a better state of mind that is more geared up and focused.
Biggest Concern: We’ve Got Depth, But We Don’t Want to Use It
Their concern is already starting to bubble up.
They’ve got depth in their starting rotation, but they’d rather not test it early and put it to the test quite like this.
Last year, with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar out, the Angels got some much-needed production out of Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders.
Saunders is now a part of the rotation and Santana even got a contract extension, but he’s now a part of that injured crew.
Lackey is now again going to start the year on the DL, along with Santana and Escobar and the Angels are down to Saunders, Jered Weaver, and Dustin Moseley.
The sky is falling the sky is falling!
Not to worry. Los Angeles will give a look to young prospect Nick Adenhart, who is the number one prospect in the organization according to Baseball America.
Shane Loux will likely get the other spot to start the year.
That’s a lot of pressure to heap onto three younger pitchers, counting Moseley who really was just a spot-starter last year, of a contending team. To replace the production of three big time pitchers, if you are counting the loss of Jon Garland into the equation, is a rather big task.
Escobar could be back midseason, hopefully Lackey and Santana sooner, but if they are battling these nagging injuries all year, that depth is going to get tested and that is something you’d rather not do.
Biggest Change: Replacements at every level
The Angels have never been a team to pay their own free agent. They’ve gone out year after year in attempt to sign the big money outfielder, just see their current outfield. Torii Hunter last year, Gary Matthews Jr. the year before, Vladimir Guerrero awhile ago, and now this year Bobby Abreu.
Now Abreu wasn’t big money, but he’s coming from out of organization.
Meanwhile, the Angels also let a few high-priced free agents walk, including Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. Los Angeles has always been a team to just replace what they lose, that’s how they’ve operated and this is no different, with one slight adjustment.
The Angels must have felt somewhat confident in Kendry Morales to trade away Casey Kotchman for Teixeira, knowing full-well he could bolt. Morales will be the man to take over first.
On the other hand, they must not feel Jose Arredondo is ready to take over the closers spot. Scot Shields is a great set-up man and one of the most durable relief pitchers in the league, so moving him to closer probably isn’t the most efficient move. Arredondo was being groomed as the next Francisco Rodriguez, but the signing of Fuentes puts that on hold.
Perhaps, whenever Arredondo is ready, Fuentes could get traded down the road, or his previous experience as a set-up man would work, but for now, the closers job is his.
The Angels also let Jon Garland walk, choosing to give Ervin Santana an extension instead. Dustin Moseley is in line to take Garland’s spot in the rotation, but the Angels have always been deep, so they shouldn’t miss him too much.
Team MVP: John Lackey, SP
This is a hard pick when you lose what they’ve lost and the player that you’d normally pick is aging.
The Angels have a lot of very good players, but with Mark Teixeira gone, they don’t have one guy on offense that could be an MVP candidate.
They do have Vlad Guerrero, who is still a feared hitter, but not really the hitter he was. That being said though, he’s still probably the best hitter the Angels have in the lineup, which still says a lot.
But when I look at the Angels and I try and pinpoint an MVP, I’m forced to go to the pitching staff. I could go in any direction, considering the Angels were really saved by the years Santana and Joe Saunders had. But John Lackey is the ace of this staff and if he’s healthy, he’ll need to set the tone.
Last year Lackey started the year on the DL and the Angels survived, but he’s still the best starter they got and you better believe that had an impact in some way.
Now with him doing the same this year, he’s going to have to make up for lost time, especially with Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar both on the shelf for now.
Lackey may be the first one back, until then the Angels will have to survive, but when he gets back they need him to be the rock of the rotation.
On the Rise: Jose Arredondo, RP
Way back when the Angels were winning a World Series, they were doing this little deal where they had Troy Percival closing games and a young Francisco Rodriguez waiting in the wings.
So it is not shock to anyone that Jose Arredondo is being compared to Rodriguez.
The one different here though, is that the Angels signed Brian Fuentes to close games, rather than just had the closers to spot over to Arredondo after Rodriguez left in free agency.
Fuentes though is a pitcher who is capable of closing and being the primary setup guy. So if there comes a point where the Angels feel like Arredondo is ready or Fuentes starts to lose it, they can switch.
Arredondo though is a rising star among the relief pitchers in the game. Quietly he pitched in 61 innings for the Angels, won 10 games, and carried an ERA of 1.62.
Can he close?
In three postseason games, Arredondo didn’t allow a run. He can pitch with the pressure.
With two outs and runners in scoring position, hitters hit just .160 off him, and he allowed just seven runs to score.
He’s the future game-ender for the Angels, one way or another, but for now he’ll continue to help bridge the gap to the end.
There is plenty to not like about the Angels. A lot of people feel as if this is the year the Angels slip up. With Oakland going on a sort of mini-run in the offseason in attempt to try and compete, there is a lot of popularity in thinking that Oakland could unseat the Halos.
I think this could help them.
This team needs someone to battle with. Look how it worked out for Boston and Tampa Bay.
Los Angeles still has a lot of the same young pieces. They will have to survive a month or so without two of their best pitchers in Lackey and Santana, but they are one of the few teams that can deal with more than one injury to the rotation at one time.
While that depth is untested, it is still depth, depth that just needs to hold on for a little while.
Their offense is going to be a little different. I think Abreu adds a little bit of a different look that could help this lineup out.
I’m going to stick with the Angels to repeat as AL West winners, but it won’t be as easy as it was last year. But maybe, just maybe that will take them a little further; at least I think it will.
Prediction: Win the AL West
Milwaukee Brewers – NL Central
Last Year: Finished Second in NL Central, Won Wild Card, Lost in NLDS
Notable Additions: OF Chris Duffy, SP Braden Looper, RP Todd Coffey, RP Trevor Hoffman, RP Jorge Julio
Notable Subtractions: IF Russell Branyan, OF Gabe Kapler, SP CC Sabathia, RP Guillermo Mota, RP Salomon Torres, RP Brian Shouse
IF Ray Durham, SP Ben Sheets
Underrated addition: Braden Looper
He’ll be missed: Salomon Torres
Looper adds another arm to a rotation that lost two of their best. Torres had a rubber arm and was still dependent despite his age.
Biggest Key to Success: Growth Movement
Yovani Gallardo will be addressed later in this preview, but he’s in this group.
I’m focusing on two certain players, in addition to Gallardo, that need to step it up. Those two players would be Manny Parra and Rickie Weeks.
Milwaukee’s offense is good; there is no doubt about that. But every place I’ve looked says Rickie Weeks is going to be this team’s leadoff man.
If you are leading off for your team and you are striking out 115 times, you better be bringing something else to the table.
Not only that, when is this kid every going to be healthy enough to see 500 at-bats?
He was last year, but he was struggling to the point the Brewers decided to acquire Ray Durham to platoon with Weeks.
So much talent with the bat, he’s got to prove it.
Manny Parra, the man on the pitching side of this little spiel, well he needs to show more consistency.
Parra got off to a fantastic start to the 2008 season. He went 8-2 with a 3.78 ERA in his first 18 starts.
In his last 11, he won just two games, lost six, and he gave up three less runs in seven less starts.
That isn’t going to cut it.
Parra, like Weeks, has so much talent, he too needs to prove it and do it for an entire season.
The Brewers know what they have in guys like Fielder and Braun. But they need help and these guys are two keys to that success they hope to have.
Biggest Concern: Close it Down
Check out this little statistic.
Of the teams that carried a bullpen ERA under 4.00, and there were exactly ten teams, only one had a closer that started the season, not save at least 15 games.
That team would be Milwaukee.
Eric Gagne was the closer for Milwaukee; he saved 10 games and then pretty much exploded.
Eventually, Salomon Torres, who has been tested positive for an arm made out of rubber, took over and closed out 28 games.
Also in those ten teams’ closers, aside from the three teams that switched closers, due to injury or in Oakland’s case, preference, Torres had the lowest percentage of his team’s saves with 62 percent.
The next lowest is B.J. Ryan with 72 percent. If you combine the percentages of the two pitchers who had the most saves for the three left out teams, they make up 91 percent, 79 percent, and 87 percent.
Torres and Gagne equal 84 percent, which is the third lowest percentage behind Percival and Wheeler of Tampa and Ryan of Toronto.
What all this says is Salomon Torres saved that club’s bullpen. The Brewers also had the most pitchers record a save out of those ten teams with seven.
Now Trevor Hoffman, their offseason closer acquisition, will start the year on the disabled list.
Torres has retired and the Brewers are left with three 2008 saves and 7 blown saves left in their bullpen.
Not only do they need someone to close out games, they need someone to get them there, that can’t happen if the guys getting them there are being saved to close out the games, because the guy closing them out isn’t there.
You see it just gets complicated at that juncture. Hoffman needs to stay healthy, or they need a solid answer.
Biggest Change: We Had a Run
They certainly went for it.
You can’t blame a team like Milwaukee for wanting to go for it. It was a valiant effort.
But it came up just short and now they’ve got some work to do.
With Corey Hart in right, Ryan Braun in left, and Prince Fielder at first, they certainly don’t need Matt LaPorta, so giving up a big piece for one run was well-worth it in the eyes of Doug Melvin.
With Mike Cameron getting older though, maybe losing Michael Brantley might sting a bit, but the Brewers are still chock full of young talent.
With Alcides Escobar pushing the infielders, Mat Gamel pushing Bill Hall, Angel Salome pushing Jason Kendall and Lorenzo Cain possibly pushing Cameron, more youngsters are on the way.
So it isn’t so much the changes that happened, but rather the ones that could happen either late this year or next.
Milwaukee brings their talent up in waves, which is no mistake. Now with Kenny Macha in the fold as a master of managing young talent, that new wave could have a huge impact.
Team MVP: Prince Fielder, 1B
Can I use the nickname, “The Big Vegetarian” for Prince Fielder?
Is he still eating the veggies?
I don’t know if that was the cause for him to not hit 50 home runs again, or what, but let’s not worry about young Prince.
He was just 24 years of age last year, so give the guy a break, he’s still putting up a good 30/100 number.
Prince is the middle of that lineup. Pairing up with Ryan Braun, they can hit the homers and drive in the runs.
But it really is Prince who’s the man the Brewers need to produce. I mean, how do you not fear this guy?
His swing is so violent, he’s a very large man, and he just hits the ball very far. I like Braun as much as the next guy, but Fielder has to get his numbers from 2008 a little beefed up like he did in 2009 to make the Brewers feel really good.
On the Rise: Yovani Gallardo, SP
Give Yovani Gallardo a redo on his 2008 season.
Okay, sure, consider 2009 your redo.
Only, you need to help Milwaukee forget about Ben Sheets and the heroics of CC Sabathia in the second half of 2008.
With the longtime Brewer Sheets and the hired gun Sabathia both gone, Gallardo now becomes the leading man in this Milwaukee rotation.
He’s got the stuff of an ace, but he needs to prove it.
Last year was pretty much a lost season for Gallardo, pitching in just four regular season games and two postseason ones, he didn’t get much of a chance to show his stuff.
In 2007, Gallardo pitched in 20 games, carried a 3.67 ERA, and struck out 101 hitters in 110 innings.
Gallardo showed he was still the same pitcher, if not better in what little action he saw in 2008, when he struck out 20 batters in 24 innings.
A healthy Gallardo would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the Milwaukee staff. Fair or not, the image of having two ace-caliber pitchers in Sheets and Sabathia in the rotation is still fresh in the minds of everyone.
So having at least one ace wouldn’t be a bad thing.
I’ll be flat out honest and right to the point with Milwaukee.
I think this will be a little bit of a let-down year after coming off the high of a playoff appearance.
They are struggling in the pitching department, both in the bullpen and in the rotation. Thing is, as much talent as they have in their system, I don’t see many pitchers outside of Jeremy Jeffress and maybe Luis Pena that could contribute this year, and Jeffress probably not more towards the end of the year.
If you know me by now, you know I need to see some pitching. I see it in Parra and Gallardo, the young guys are there. I like the veterans like Looper and Suppan, if healthy and productive of course, but the bullpen is something to worry about.
In the end, Cincinnati’s pitching rules Milwaukee’s hitting and it’s a big reason I’m not big on Milwaukee this year.
I’d like to be wrong, because I grew to the Brew Crew last year when they acquired Sabathia and made a run, but I see a fourth place finish in the NL Central this year.
Prediction: Finish Fourth in the NL Central
Wednesday: Community Leader Preview and Prediction Special