The Los Angeles Angels weren't officially eliminated from the 2010 AL playoff race until Sept. 24 when they dropped a 2-1 home game to the White Sox. A poor start out of the gate and a 4-12 stretch shortly after the All-Star Game contributed heavily.
Don't forget a strong Texas Rangers dominating the AL West, a huge part of why the Angels failed in their attempt for a fourth-straight division flag.
In reality, the Halos' campaign was done May 29. Kendry Morales uncorked a walk-off grand slam to give the Angels a 5-1 win in front of a packed Saturday afternoon house. The victory left the Angels 3.5 games out in the division behind the Oakland A's with Texas between them.
But Morales and the Angels celebrated a little too soon. The first sacker leaped in the air coming into home and hit the plate a little too hard. Diagnosis: broken left leg, out for season.
Mike Scioscia's crew would actually go on a little tear after that game, winning eight of their next nine and 11 of 15 over the next couple of weeks. June 13 found the club just a half-game behind Texas who had assumed command of the division. The long haul, however, was a different story.
Scioscia essentially replaced Morales' bat in his lineup – .290, 11 HR, 39 RBI in 51 games – with catchers Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson, shifting Mike Napoli to first. Mathis and Wilson hit .206 with seven homers and 33 RBI in a combined 129 games.
Oddsmakers and pundits alike see a much closer race in the AL West this season. Texas opened as minus 145 favorites to repeat, with the Angels and Athletics each plus 245 at Bookmaker.com. The same shop lists season win totals for that trio at 87½, 84 and 83 respectively.
Working in the Angels' favor to win their fourth division crown in five seasons is the schedule, but before we get to that let's check out the roster.
All's Wells in Anaheim
Addressing an offense that was ninth in the AL in scoring (4.20 RPG) and 12th in OPS (.702) was on GM Tony Reagins' mind this past winter. That LA suffered on offense wasn't unexpected after the club lost Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins from the 2009 lineup.
Reagins' key acquisition to boost the bats was outfielder Vernon Wells, landed in a swap with the Blue Jays. A .280 career hitter, Wells is coming off a 31-HR, 88-RBI campaign with Toronto. Grabbing Wells isn't a bad deal. He's 31 and should have several more 25-35 homer seasons in him.
The problem is he's not just replacing Guerrero/Figgins now. The Angels also lost 47 dingers in trading Napoli (part of the Wells trade) and Hideki Matsui. Keeping Morales in the lineup for 150 games will also help, Torii Hunter (.281-23-90) is back after a solid 2010 and Bobby Abreu (.255-20-78) could easily increase his production with a healthy Morales plus Wells behind him in the order. Bigger and better things are also still expected from Howie Kendrick at second.
Still, all of that has to come through along with the many question marks. The Mathis-Wilson combination behind the plate would have a huge year if that pair combined for 10 dingers and an OPS above .700. Erick Aybar at short is a decent player, but his .306 on-base percentage is a big liability anywhere above ninth in the order. And youngster Peter Bourjos, expected to play center with Hunter moving to right, has to be considered an unknown. He's got some speed and a little pop – 6 HR in 200 major league plate appearances – and showed in the minors he can get on base at a decent rate.
Yes, the offense should be better, but how much? Rising two slots in scoring to seventh in the AL is what I'm betting on.
Haren, Weaver a nice 1-2 punch
The rotation, headed by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, is the strongpoint entering spring training. Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro give the Angels arguably the deepest 4-man rotation in the division. Scott Kazmir, the only southpaw of the bunch, has the potential to make it the best rotation in the Junior Circuit.
Kazmir is supposedly the subject of trade rumors, though the past two poor seasons in Anaheim probably wouldn't bring much immediate help in other areas, if any help at all.
If Kazmir is dealt away, it could open things up for Hisanori Takahashi to assume the sole left-handed starter's job. If not, the former Met will assist with long relief.
Speaking of relief, it's a bit unsettled. Scott Downs was inked to a new three-year deal as a free agent from Toronto this winter and the lefty enters camp as part of a closer-by-committee with Fernando Rodney, 14 saves as the part-time guy last season for the Halos after 37 in 2009 for Detroit.
Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen and Francisco Rodriguez are penciled in for 6th-7th innings. One guy to watch spring news on out in the 'pen is Michael Kohn. He's a hard-throwing right-hander who has strung together very good, progressive minor league numbers and could be a wild card for this team in relief.
Halos' favorable schedule
The close race that oddsmakers envision with their win totals was also realized in my simulations. Everything comes up a three-team race. The Seattle Mariners finished third in 5.1 percent of the computer runs, last 94.9 percent of the time, so if you want to bet a real long shot in this group, they're your team.
There will be 57 division matchups on the Angels slate, 30 in Anaheim and 27 on the road. That's a 10-9 home-away advantage with each of the other three teams.
The Halos will also have three interleague games at home versus both Washington and Atlanta, making an extra road trip to the NL East for games at the Mets and Marlins. June is the key month when the Angels will make cross-country flights twice a week apart. There are off days to make those treks, however, and the return flight home the night of June 22 from Miami is to begin a road trip at the Los Angeles Dodgers. So in addition to three extra home games against division foes, the Angels have a three-game 'road trip' versus the Dodgers when they can sleep in their own beds.
Pick: 'Over' 84 wins
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