By Pete Zarustica/Garden Grove Journal/With Associated Press reports
Long-time Angels fans can remember a time when an 80-win season was cause for celebration in Anaheim. But when the Halos staggered to an 80-82 finish in 2010, folks were disappointed, spoiled, perhaps, by a decade of excellence.
In 2011, the Angels are hoping to bounce back into contention for the American League West. Competition for a wild card team should be especially intense this season, so the Halos’ best prospect for a trip to the playoffs will be to leapfrog the Texas Rangers for the division pennant.
A lot rests with the bat – and leg – of Kendrys Morales, the star hitter who was sidelined last year with a bizarre injury. He broke a leg bone when he stepped on home plate after hitting a game-winning home run.
He’s not starting the season on the field, but – with any good luck – will return early enough to make an impact on the Halos’ offense, which sagged last season.
The roster changes over the off-season look like a wash, but if anyone can get the most out of the starless Halos it will be manager Mike Scioscia. That is, unless another wave of injuries pushes the Angels back to the 80-win range, or below.
Los Angeles Angels
2010: 80-82, third place.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (12th season).
He’s Here: OF Vernon Wells, LHP Scott Downs.
He’s Outta There: C Mike Napoli, OF Juan Rivera, DH Hideki Matsui.
Projected Lineup: 3B Maicer Izturis (.250, 3, 27 in 61 games), SS Erick Aybar (.253, 5, 29, 22 SBs), DH Bobby Abreu (.255, 20, 78), 1B Kendrys Morales (.290, 11, 39 in 51 games, will start season on DL), RF Torii Hunter (.281, 23, 90), LF Vernon Wells (.273, 31, 88 with Toronto), 2B Howie Kendrick (.279, 10, 75), C Jeff Mathis (.195, 3, 18 in 68 games), CF Peter Bourjos (.204, 6, 15 in 51 games as a rookie).
Rotation: RH Jered Weaver (13-12, 3.01, AL-leading 233 Ks), RH Dan Haren (12-12, 3.91, 216 Ks with Arizona and Angels), RH Ervin Santana (17-10, 3.92, 169 Ks), RH Joel Pineiro (10-7, 3.84), LH Scott Kazmir (9-15, 5.94).
Key Relievers: RH Fernando Rodney (4-3, 4.24, 14 saves in 21 chances), RH Kevin Jepsen (2-4, 3.97), LH Hisanori Takahashi (10-6, 3.61, 8 saves in 8 chances with the Mets), LH Scott Downs (5-5, 2.64 with Toronto; out until late April), RH Jordan Walden (0-1, 2.35), RH Matt Palmer (1-2, 4.54).
Hot Spots: C, 1B, bullpen. With a strong spring behind the plate and with the bat, Mathis appears to be winning his competition with Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger to become the Angels’ everyday catcher after Napoli’s departure. Morales is expected to begin the season where he started the last _ on the disabled list. That means a lineup shift could pull the young Bourjos out of center field until the Cuban cleanup hitter returns. The bullpen competition is down to just a couple of spots, with Matt Palmer and Rich Thompson fighting to stick with the big league club or get released. Scot Shields has retired after a brilliant decade as a setup man.
Outlook: After their first losing season since 2003, the Angels are hoping to come back strong with much the same roster from last season, but hopefully with fewer injuries and more production from the heart of their order. Their only major offseason addition was a big gamble on Wells, the slugging outfielder who had spent his entire career in Canadian obscurity. The rotation remains formidable, with Weaver and Haren providing an enviable 1-2 punch for an apparently solid bullpen. Scioscia has ranked this club among his most talented in a dozen seasons in Orange County, but the Angels must create more consistent offense to earn a seventh postseason appearance in 10 years.