Last season: 86-76 (2nd in AL West, 10 GB)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Tom says: When the new millenium rolled around, the talk of the Majors was all about the Oakland A’s. Then 2002 hit, and we had one of the best World Series of all time, where the then-Anaheim Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants in seven games to capture their first World Series championship and announce their arrival as royalty in the AL West.
From 2004 through 2009, the Angels were playoff regulars, winning the division five out of those six years. They did it playing small ball, manufacturing runs with singles, doubles, steals and bunts; and with lock-down defense. Their pitching was never dominant, so much as it was consistent. In fact, if you had to use a word to describe the Angels, it was consistency.
Well, that formula eventually wore off and the Texas Rangers unseated the Halos as the best in the West. The Angels’ formula stayed the same, but the offensive numbers dropped when the Rangers and even the perpetual cellar-dwellers in Seattle bulked up on pitching. Suddenly, the Angels couldn’t score enough to stay with teams. And in the American League, teams that can’t score in bunches are not likely to advance to the World Series.
As of August 1, 2011, the Angels were just one game behind the Rangers for the AL West lead. Flash-forward two weeks, and they were suddenly five games back, a margin they would not recover from. A late-season dip hurt the Halos and left them on the outside looking in for the playoffs. The Angels were looking for answers to their offensive woes. One would argue they addressed those woes in one fell swoop.
With a new GM in town, the Angels were aggressive this offseason and hit everyone where it hurts: dropping $254 million over ten years to acquire former St. Louis megastar Albert Pujols. “The Machine” gives the Angels a ridiculously dominant bat (obviously) who can hit for average and power. Albert hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs last season (the first time in his career he hit below .300 and under 100 RBIs), but you’d be naive to even THINK about not wanting this guy on your team. Maybe it’s because he’s spent his entire career in St. Louis, but this guy is a rare mix of superstar without the ego baggage. Very similar to how you’ll never hear somebody badmouth Ken Griffey Jr. about his demeanor. Cut from the same cloth, they go out there and put up ridiculous numbers. Pujols gets on base like it’s his job (and, it kinda is) and is still extremely productive defensively. He’ll provide the Angels with a strong glove at first and anchor their lineup in that 3- or 4-spot.
There’s a question as to where he’ll fit in, especially with the return of Kendrys Morales, who you’ll remember as the guy who missed most of the 2010 season and all of the 2011 season with a broken leg he suffered while trying to celebrate a walk-off home-run. The lesson, as always, is never try. Kendrys hasn’t been the healthiest in his MLB career (he’s played less than 57 games in every season except 2009), but his power (34 homers, 108 RBIs in 2009) was missed last season and will be something to compliment the addition of Pujols. Mix in the ageless Torii Hunter in right field (one of my favorite players all-time) and the still growing tandem of Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, and the Angels have a great mix of old and new, slow and fast in their lineup.
The Angels would like to see more production from left fielder Vernon Wells (.218 BA last year), who is getting up there in age but has an absurd contract (making $26.6 million this year). He needs to prove his worth to this team, or he’ll become J.D. Drew, West… and no one aspires to be J.D. Drew.
The pitching, for the Angels, is still on the up-and-up, and should be even stronger this season after the addition of C.J. Wilson. The Halos were sixth in the league last year in ERA (3.57), fifth in quality starts (98) and ninth in WHIP (1.27). Jered Weaver and Dan Haren led the team last year with 18 and 16 wins respectively, but, as has always been the case lately with the Angels, they haven’t been able to step up when needed. The signature wins eluded the Angels over the course of the season. Wilson has some big game experience, has pitched in back-to-back World Series and has won 31 combined games the last two years. Ervin Santana went 11-12 last year, while he went 17-10 the year before, with a worse ERA. That goes to show you how the offense has really been the issue for the Angels.
With the additions of Pujols and Wilson, the Angels have let everyone in the AL know, including the Rangers, that they are ready to enter the 21st century (in terms of offense), but will still be tough to score on with solid pitching. If the Angels can step up on the big stage, look out: We may have the new favorites for a run into the playoffs.
Worth watching: Watch the development of Kendrick and Aybar at the top of the Angels’ lineup. Either of the two can lead off or bat in the 2-spot, and we should see significant improvement in their numbers with both Pujols and Morales batting behind them. If Kendrick and Aybar continue to improve their averages and on-base percentages, this Angels team won’t have problems scoring, because we all know what Pujols does with runners on base and/or in scoring position. He may not be a machine, but he’s still Albert. Kendrick and Aybar’s success will dictate just how far the Angels can go.
Featured Image Credit: Alex Gallardo, Associated Press