With dawn about to break on a new Angels season, there is a ton of anticipation tempered with a few nagging questions. Time will answer these for me, but I don’t have that kind of patience, so call them concerns or curiosities, here’s my top 5.
5) How will they start?
Better than last year. Frankly, it’d be hard to start worse. Everyone who we expected to be fit, is. There’s far less confusion in the outfield/DH categories than there was even a month ago, and essentially this is the same on-field lineup as last year, so they should be pretty comfortable around each other. Simply put, I think last April was an anomaly. Yes, they have three tough series to kick things off, with the Reds, Rangers and A’s all looking to improve on or justify last year; but the Angels have a few points to make of their own, and I think they’ll make them before they even get to the cannon fodder that the Astros and Twins should be.
4) Can the “Big Three” possibly live up to the hype?
Yes, if they’re allowed to. Pujols has had a year to get used to playing in the American League, and in Anaheim, and for what must be the first time in his career, he’s not the main focus of the media and fan spotlight. That honor goes to Mike Trout, closely followed by Josh Hamilton. Trout is playing his first opening day, and, watching his meteoric career to date, I see no reason to think he’ll do anything but rise to the occasion. Hamilton, for better or worse, strikes me as someone who just plays his own game regardless. I’m not saying he’s not a team player, he just is what he is, and if that means hitting dingers when a game is well out of reach, or dropping a routine fly when the entire season is on the line, Josh is gonna do what Josh is gonna do. Plus, he’s starting with back to back series against former teams – if he can ignore the pressure, he’ll feel right at home at those ballparks.
3) How will the rest of the lineup fit around them?
Speaking of pressure; for the rest of the lineup, is there any? Peter Bourjos can finally stop checking the transfer notices every morning. With Wells and Morales gone, Mark Trumbo has everything to prove and virtually nothing to lose. With Conger anointed as his backup, Iannetta knows his job is safe, at least defensively. Whoever bats at 2 is being handed the best opportunity to put up career numbers since, well, Torii Hunter last year, and that leaves 7 and 9 looking at setting the table or mopping up the scraps, both in a good way. It seems to me that as long as they don’t completely implode on defense, this Angel’s lineup have some of the safest jobs in baseball.
Before we get to my top two questions, I should point out that my five questions could easily have been “pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching and pitching.” That, however, would be petty. So….
2) How will the rotation perform?
Jered Weaver is a stone-cold ace, who should have won a Cy Young by now. Wilson has it all, if he can keep it together in his mind and his arm. After that, though, it’s a bit of a mystery. Going off his last start against the Dodgers, Tommy Hanson looks to have timed his run into the season perfectly, and Vargas and Blanton undoubtedly have the stuff on their day; fans just have to hope those days coincide with their starts. For me, I’d like to see Garrett Richards given a starting chance early, before it gets too crucial.
1) Can the bullpen be trusted?
For the third year in a row, here’s where the biggest “uh-oh” factor exists. On paper, they look better than they did in ’11 and ’12, but then again, again on paper, they didn’t look bad either of those years, and they still managed to blow more saves than anyone else. There are, however, promising signs. Ernesto Frieri had an intriguing problem last year in that his fastball was so consistent, it became predictable. Reports from Spring Training are that he’s added more than one new pitch to his repertoire, and even if they aren’t lights-out, if they can put a seed of doubt into a batter’s mind, that can only help. Scott Downs was the one bright spot in the ‘pen last year, and if he’s healthy, there’s no reason to doubt he’ll be great again this year. I think Mark Lowe may well turn out to be another brilliant move by the back office, and as mentioned above, I think Garrett Richards was unlucky not to make the starting five, so long relief shouldn’t be an issue for him. Throw in Ryan Madson when he’s fit again, and suddenly, there shouldn’t be such an intake of breath every time that bullpen door swings open. However, Halo’s fans have been let down before, so we can only wait and see.
That sentiment, in fact, goes for the whole shebang. We’ve waited long enough, it’s time to see.