I will start this preview by stating the obvious: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be the AL West champions. They are one of the few teams that have absolute control of their domination by using a combination of minor league depth and money. Even after losing two stars, this team is still in much better shape than its divisional foes.
The real strength of this team is its pitching. In 2008, the Angels led the league in wins (100) and saves (66). They also had the eighth best ERA (3.99). The rotation that posted such great numbers took a big hit before the first pitch was ever thrown.
John Lackey has a forearm injury that will cost him at least two starts. Kelvim Escobar is out until at least the All-Star break, and may get bullpen duties. Ervin Santana had a breakout year in 2008, posting a 16-7 record and 3.49 ERA, but he's on the DL with no set date.
So that leaves a few open rotation spots to begin the season. It's going to be a lot of patchwork until the big guys get healthy. Dustin Mosely and Nick Adenhart may be called on. The Angels were considering trading for Jake Peavy but those talks have died down. Even though they are starting on a down note this team has a lot going for them to stay on top.
The bullpen is lights out. That is of course if is not raided for starters. Scot Shields will return to setup and 25-year-old Jose Arredondo, who had a team best ERA of 1.62 may get to close a few games down the road. Speaking of closing, a lot of fans were worried about losing the new single season saves record holder Francisco Rodriguez. Well, LA calmed those fears by signing three time All-Star Brian Fuentes. Fuentes has averaged 30 saves per year for the past four years. That isn't close to 66 but tat will absolutely satisfy needs in a weak AL west.
The lineup doesn't have that same luxury. Mark Teixeira is a huge loss and takes away some protection from Vladimir Guerrero. They still do have some good weapons, and added a nice piece with Bobby Abreu. A lifetime OBP of .405 will help this team and so will his consistency. Chone Figgins is an ideal leadoff man with his speed. Howie Kendrick, however, may be an issue.
Kendrick has issues with staying healthy. And it seems whenever he comes back he loses his timing. His patience is also an issue. Kendrick has the potential to be a batting champion, but he opens his zone and is too impatient at the plate. Kendry Morales has never gotten 200 bats in a season, so he is an unproven commodity. The real problem is Vlad.
His numbers have begun to decline, and his body is starting to give. He is the only real power hitter in the lineup. One thing to keep in mind however is this team's speed and defense. They were fifth in the league with stolen bases (129) and eight in fielding percentage (.985). Those are two skills that will keep the pressure of their losses of them.
Despite the offense questions and rotation injuries, this team has two big cards in their favor. The first is the leadership of the club. Mike Scioscia is without a doubt the smartest manger in the game. The other is the lack of competition. The AL west is very weak and will be for another year or two. LA will feast off of that.
One other question that I think of when looking at this season is their playoff competition. Since 2002 they haven't made it to the World Series. Twice in the past three years the Red Sox have stopped the Angels in the playoffs, despite putting a winning record against them in the regular season. So you cannot help but wonder if this will be the year the LA beats the Sox in the postseason.
This team is a winning club, despite some holes. They have to start building their offense for the future. The Rangers and Athletics are beginning to build winning teams. So as long as the west stays the way it does the Angels can enjoy their spot on top of their division.