Teams have reported to 2010 Major League Baseball training camps and it’s time to start our team-by-team baseball gambling previews for the year.
Look up “resilient” in the dictionary and you may find a Los Angeles Angels’ logo. Year in and year out, they’re expected to finally falter yet defy the odds and rise to the top of the American League West. Last year, they overcame everything from injuries to off years to the death of starting pitcher Nick Adenhart en route to another division title.
Pessimist bettors may say that pitching has always been L.A.’s strength and that it won’t be the same now that John Lackey left for Boston. I disagree. Yes, the Angels lack an ace, but they have an extremely deep rotation full of above-average starters. Jered Weaver has become the consistent winner that many scouts thought his brother Jeff would. Joe Saunders doesn’t make it look pretty but there’s no denying that he finds a way to eat innings and win games.
Scott Kazmir isn’t efficient with his pitches but he’s a talented strikeout artist with a high ceiling. Joel Pineiro transformed his game in St. Louis last year and emerged as, arguably, baseball’s top ground ball pitcher. The question is whether or not 2009 was a fluke.
To me, Ervin Santana is the wild card. He went from dominant All-Star in 2008 to a total flop in 2009. If he can even find a happy medium, he could do wonders for this rotation.
Los Angeles’ bullpen battled healthy problems and inconsistency but it has plenty of experience and depth, Brian Fuentes wasn’t very good last year but still managed to save 48 games; Kevin Jepsen has the makeup to take over ninth-inning duties if Fuentes falters and free-agent signee Fernando Rodney has closing experience.
Scott Shields ideally will regain his status as an elite setup man if he heals properly from knee surgery.
Will the Angels’ offense regress after Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero left town? I’m not so sure. Yes, they lost a reliable lead off man in Figgins, but shortstop Erick Aybar hit .312 last year and should improve his eye as he matures. Bobby Abreu will also keep getting on base, swiping bags and driving in runs.
Even Vladdy’s void can be filled by Hideki Matsui, who defected from New York after winning the World Series.
The rest of L.A.’s lineup has plenty of pop and room to grow, too. Kendry Morales finally got a chance to play every day last season and thrived, becoming a premiere power hitter in his first full season. Torii Hunter’s prime is coming to an end but he’s still a great athlete with power left in his bat.
Mike Napoli may have the best pure power of any catcher in the league and underrated Juan Rivera seems to produce whenever he’s healthy and given playing time.
Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood intrigue me. Kendrick has shown a quality major-league bat already; he just has to stay healthy. Wood flashed bigtime power in the minors but the prospect hasn’t yet translated that ability to big-league level. That said, he hasn’t had a long opportunity to do so and that may change this year. With all the quality hitters around him, he shouldn’t feel too much pressure.
Here I was ready to write off the Angels again but, after sorting through their roster, it’s clear they’ll field a talented, experienced team yet again. None of their division rivals can match their pitching depth and they remain one of the AL’s top offensive clubs. I see another playoff appearance in the cards.
Angels Prediction: First, American League West
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