2009 LOS ANGELES ANGELS PREVIEW
The Angels were a force to be reckoned with in 2008, taking an early lead in the AL West race and never looking back. They finished with 100 wins and won the division by twenty games! Despite loading up at the deadline by dealing for star first baseman Mark Teixiera, the Angels again fell short in the playoffs.
2009 brings some serious changes in Anaheim, I mean Los Angeles. Regardless of where the Angels actually play, they’re now without superstar closer Francisco Rodriguez and Teixiera, both of whom departed for New York City via free agency. Though the Angels are undoubtedly weaker because of it, they still retain a lot of talent and should enter the season as the favorites to repeat as division champions.
The Angels boast, by far, the deepest rotation in the AL West. John Lackey (12-5, 3.75 ERA, 24 starts), Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49, 32 starts) and Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41 ERA, 31 starts) are all coming off of excellent seasons and their 4 th starter, Jered Weaver (11-10, 4.33, 30 starts), has top of the rotation potential and should be no worse than very good. No one else in the division can claim more than two entrenched starters, while the Angels have four! Meanwhile, they have a plethora of candidates to fill the final spot: Dustin Moseley (2-4, 6.79) is expected to get the first shot but he will have to be effective to hold off Kelvim Escobar, who missed all of last year due to injury and is expected back in June. Another option is free agent Jon Garland, who declined arbitration but could easily end up back with the Halos.
Anaheim also has the division’s best bullpen. Veterans Darren Oliver and Scott Shields will again provide the Angels with very capable setup work for their new closer, Brian Fuentes (2.73 ERA, 82 K, 30 SV), formerly of the Colorado Rockies. The Angels should be in great position to hold onto leads late in games and they also have very good depth. Expect Fuentes to thrive in his new home closing ballgames.
The Angels’ weakest point is their infield. While they are solid defensively, none of the returning starters even broke double digits in Home Runs last season in the Major Leagues! Third baseman Chone Figgins (.276, 22 RBI, 34 Steals, .367 OBP) is a very solid leadoff hitter and 2B Howie Kendrick (.306, 3 HR, 77 RBI, .333 OBP) had very good numbers for only playing in 92 games. At shortstop, Erick Aybar (.277, 3 HR, 39 RBI, .314 OBP) and Macier Izturis (.269, 3 HR, 37 RBI, .329 OBP) should again provide an effective platoon. First base will be manned by big time prospect Kendry Morales (.213, 3 HR, 8 RBI, .273), who will likely have his first shot at an everyday starting role. In short, the Angels’ infield is not a major power threat but should do a very good job manufacturing runs and will make a lot of plays defensively.
Los Angeles’ outfield is a solid group, led by superstar right fielder Vladimir Guerrero (.303, 27 HR, 91 RBI, .365), who yet again finds himself without much power protection in the lineup. Centerfielder Torii Hunter (.278, 21 HR, 78 RBI, .344, 19 SB) will provide plenty of production and Gold Glove defense. In left field, Gary Matthews (.242, 8 HR, 46 RBI, .319) and Juan Rivera (.246, 12 HR, 45 RBI, .282) will split playing time. Matthews has been a sizable disappointment in his two seasons in LA and will need a solid season to hope to justify his $11 million annual salary. The Angels’ outfield is a very solid group which should drive in plenty of runs and compares well to any other group in the division.
The Angels are the clear class of the division when it comes to their pitching staff. An old baseball adage is that good pitching beats good hitting, so that already puts the Angels ahead of their competition. While they still need to find another big bat to put into their lineup, Los Angeles should still score more than enough runs to win with their excellent pitching staff.
2009 looks like another excellent season for the Angels. Owner Arte Moreno may have lost two of his biggest stars in the offseason, but the remaining players should be more than enough for the Angels to emerge for the AL West for the third consecutive season, especially once they pick up another power bat at some point during mid-summer. Expect the Angels to win between 90 and 95 games this season and play in October.
By Matt Baxendell
> View all of the 2009 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans