Posted on: November 11, 2009 3:59 pm

Altered Angels?

The Angels are coming off of their most successful season since 2005, 100-win regular seasons notwithstanding. They managed to stay afloat while dealing with the death of a teammate. They survived injuries to key players that would have decimated lesser clubs. And they finally beat the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs. All-in-all, it was a pretty good season even with the team flubbing and floundering their way through the ALCS and losing to the eventual champion Yankees. Hell, a ton of experts didn't even think the Halos would win the AL West. I'm guessing there will be even more predictions that they relinquish their stranglehold on the AL West in 2010. And maybe they will. Chances are, the Angels will not look like the same club they've been since 2004.

Continuity has been one of the club's primary characteristics over the last five or six seasons, that and baserunners going first to third on a single ("they play the game the right way, blah blah blah"). From year to year, you knew John Lackey would be leading the rotation, Chone Figgins would be leading off and creating havoc on the bases and Vlad Guerrero would be swinging at every pitch thrown in his general direction, hittable or not, and, until recently, carrying the club from an offensive standpoint. Sure, you'd get a Gary Matthews, Torii Hunter or Bobby Abreu here and there, but for the most part, you knew what the Angels would look like next season, pretty much the day the Red Sox ended whatever season you're talking about. Not the case this "next season."

The first three guys I mentioned above are all free agents, along with a few other bench guys and 40-year-old wonder Darren Oliver, who will hopefully give it another go before moving to Boca Raton, or wherever it is old people go. Seriously, dude's old. But he's left-handed and can still pitch. And there are plenty of Hometown Buffets in Southern California. Did I mention he was old? Anyway, a lot of teams are looking at more free agents than the Angels are, but few are looking at more free agents who are as key to the club's success as the Angels. Ace, leadoff hitter (and a nice glove at 3B) and cleanup hitter - all hitting the free agent market. Of course, Vlad is not the same Vlad that won the AL MVP in 2004, or even the same Vlad that hit 27 HRs in both 2007 and 2008. Vlad seemed to age 5 years in the 2008 off-season and is now perpetually injured or banged-up, even in a full-time DH role. Vlad may not be entirely "done," but for what the Angels need - a middle of the order bat - he is. It wouldn't surprise me if Vlad's in an Angels uni in 2010, and if he is, I hope he makes me and many other Angels fans eat our words. But it's probably best for the club to look elsewhere as far as a DH is concerned. There are a few serviceable FA's out there, and even giving Napoli the job and hitting him out of the 6 or 7-hole might be a better option than Vlad. Tough to say, but true. Probably.

Now to Lackey. Big John has been the Angels ace and one of the leaders of the team, not just the pitching staff, for a while now. We always hear about how much of a "bulldog" he is and how much "fire" and "heart" and "insert adjective here" he pitches with. But the bottom line is, he's been one of the most consistent pitchers in the AL over the last four or five seasons. He's had five straight seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and almost won a Cy Young Award in 2007, going 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA. He's been pretty durable, even though he's started the last two seasons on the DL and hasn't reached the 200-inning mark since '07. The last two seasons are a bit of a red flag, but they weren't major injuries and he rebounded to pitch well in both seasons and he really did have a nice postseason for the Halos in '09. Thing is, Big John's in a pretty good position, as far as Big John's concerned. He is the best free agent pitcher available in a pretty down year for FA starters. Some team's gonna pay him a lot of money to bring his fire and bulldoggedness to their club. Will the Angels pay to keep him? Should they? Tough call, really. Chances are, whoever signs him will be overpaying a bit and will probably only get 2 or 3 more seasons of the John Lackey we see now. Other pitchers are available via trade, ala Roy Halladay, but parting with young talent hasn't been the Angels M.O., as we all know. I just don't see Lackey in an Angels uniform for 2010.

But the hottest Angel on the FA market may not even be Lackey. It very well may be Chone Figgins. Desmond DeChone has become one of the premier leadoff hitters in baseball and is coming off his best season. His OBP percentage hovered around .400 all season, he walked 100 times, he scored 114 runs, he stole 42 bases. Figgy had a hell of a season. While he's held down 3B for the Halos the past few seasons, he can play anywhere, really, and if another team signs him, he'll probably end up playing LF or 2B. He's obviously not a prototypical third baseman and the Angels think they may have one waiting in the wings in Brandon Wood. Jury's still out on that. I wouldn't be surprised to see Figgy return to Anaheim. We don't exactly have a leadoff hitter in waiting (Aybar's not ready) and the organization may be ready to trade Wood in a deal to acquire pitching. We'll see, but this Angels fan wants Figgy back. Our offense would take a HUGE hit if he left, I'm afraid. But just like with Lackey, teams are going to throw some ridiculous jack at Chone. Not sure if the Angels will be one of them.

Posted on: September 21, 2009 5:19 pm

Deja-vu all over again

The nail-biting can now stop. Barring a collapse of 1995 proportions, the Angels will wrap up a third straight AL West title in about a week or so. And really, I don't think a collapse like that is likely under a Mike Scioscia-led team. Nope, they usually wait till the playoffs start for that (baddump-bump!). In all seriousness, I was a bit nervous for this past series with Texas in Arlington. I had visions of Marlon Byrd hitting homers and Neftali Feliz mowing down Halos (seriously, though, how good does that kid look? WOW). The boys showed some stones, however, in taking two-of-three from a pretty depleted Rangers squad who had dominated the Angels in every way over the course of the season. Props to the Rangers and their fans on a great season. I'm already nervous for next season.

But first, time to be nervous about the playoffs, where the Halos look headed for their eightteenth consecutive matchup with the Boston Red Sox. I'm really getting tired of this ALDS matchup, as I'm sure most Angels fans are. Whereas, I'd bet the Red Sox and their fans have noooo problem in seeing the Angels in the playoffs again, homefield advantage or not. I'm not gonna rehash the Angels recent playoff failures, as it's been done to death, but I'll be darned if the Red Sox don't look fairly vulnerable this time around. Of course, I remember thinking the same thing last year, soooo there's that. I guess.

This Angels squad looks to have all the ingredients to make a deep playoff run. It's one of the best offensive clubs in the franchise's history. They have a little more pop, to go along with the speed and agressive base running and the starting pitching looks to be rounding into shape as the regular season draws to a close. The biggest question mark is something Angels fans aren't used to questioning. The bullpen. Brian Fuentes has done little to instill confidence in Angels fans' hearts, although, by the numbers, he's been more effective than Franky Rodriguez this year. Jose Arredondo wasn't able to back up his fantastic '08 season and mainstay Scot Shields had season-ending surgery earlier in the season. Perhaps the best bullpen arm the Angels have right now is Kevin Jepsen, who is getting all the "closer of the future" tags right now. But remember, Arredondo got those same tags last season. Jepsen has been really good since some early season struggles and his power arm has really solidified the 8th inning. Is it a bad sign when you're more nervous when your closer enters a game than the set-up man. Yeah, thought so. Oh well, Bring on Boston.

Posted on: September 4, 2009 5:05 pm

Trial by Fire

A tough September schedule will make or break the Halos' postseason chances

What seemed an almost foregone conclusion a mere week or two ago is now anything but a sure thing. Clinging to an ever-shrinking 3 1/2 game lead in the AL West, the Angels face probably the roughest stretch of games they've faced all season coming up after a series that starts today in Kansas City (who shouldn't be taken lightly, as the Halos face the Royals top 3 starters in Meche, Greinke and Hochaver) and then a home series with the Mariners (who just took 2 of 3 from us in Seattle).

Here's what it looks like:

3 vs. White Sox
1 @ Yankees (a makeup game, I think)
3@ Red Sox
3 @ Rangers
3 vs. Yankees
3 vs. A's
4 vs. Rangers

Ugh, right? One thing's for sure, if the Angels are fortunate enough to qualify for postseason play, they won't go in cold and well-rested, ala last season. It may end up being a good thing if we can just find a way to beat the Rangers.
Posted on: August 3, 2009 1:24 pm
Edited on: August 3, 2009 1:27 pm

Back atop the AL. But only the playoffs matter.

So, the Angels have somehow risen atop the standings and now have the best record in the AL. Not the AL West, the entire AL! The Kendry Morales has been a key to the Angels offense.Halos are at 63-40 as of August 3, and are breathing down the necks of their NL neighbors to the North for the best record in all of baseball. And of course, they've done this with Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero on the DL the last couple of weeks.

Man, those pesky Angels, winning with starting pitching and small ball and funda...wait, what? Wrong Angels. The 2009 Angels (which are looking A LOT like the 2002 team) have won by bludgeoning teams to death the last few months and pitching just well enough. And also, by playing top-notch defense. Lets take a look at the numbers, shall we.

~AL-leading 590 runs scored, 9 more than NY in 2 fewer games
~AL-leading .290 average (and a respectable .451 slugging %)
~2nd in SB's behind the Rays
~3rd fewest errors in the AL
~Pitching has been in the bottom half in ERA most of the season (currently 4.75. Ugh!)
~Leading baseball with 30-something come-from-behind wins

Not exactly the blueprint Mike Scioscia has used in recent years to rack up AL West titles and early playoff exits, which might be a good thing, if the pitching gets just a little better. John Lackey and Jered Weaver have looked pretty strong, but no one has stepped up among Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders (both All-Stars last season) to create a strong 3-man rotation needed to make a deep post-season run. There is still time, of course, but neither looks like they're going to find themselves any time soon. The bullpen has not been a typical lock-down Angels bullpen, but it's been better lately. Still, a big ? come the post-season.

The AL West is no cake walk this year, with the Rangers hanging very tough just 4 games back. The Mariners were in striking range as well, but have fallen back a bit and now stand 10 games back. If the Angels hang on to win the division by holding off a strong Rangers run, and that's what looks like will happen, they should be better off come the playoffs. Chances are, they'll be playing a team from the AL East again if they make the post-season. And of course, there is a certain AL East team that has the Angels number and another whose number the Halos have. Either way, the team will have to continue to light up the scoreboard, ala 2002, to have any chance at a second World Series title.

Posted on: July 9, 2009 2:10 pm

Texas BBQ

Angels get their wings clipped by Rangers, dropping 2 of 3

Andruw Jones isn't quite done yet, apparently. That or he was saving whatever was left in his tank to hammer the Halos in Wednesday night's finale between the Angels and Rangers. Seriously Andruw, three bombs? Just ridiculous. But the real star was Vicente Padilla, who held the Angels to a single run and didn't hit anyone in the head with a 94 mph fastball. Ervin was terrible again. His fastball velocity and depth on his breaking pitches was pretty solid, but he had NO IDEA where any of them were going. I'm really not too concerned with John Lackey's recent struggles, but Ervin scares me. He is not mentally tough enough to battle through things like this. Maybe some time off at the All-Star break will do him good. So much for the rotation rounding into shape, huh?

So after last night's a$$ whipping, the Angels are 2-7 vs. the Rangers and 11-16 vs. the AL West as a whole. Not good, people. I'm beginning to think the team's fortunes against the NL West were a mirage and that we may not be as good as I thought. I'm not sure. We're probably good enough to contend for the West with Texas (M's will some point), but not much else. And now with more injuries to Vlad, and more importantly, Torii Hunter, things aren't looking too good. All that said, we're only a game out of first and it's early July. Should be interesting the rest of the way, at the very least.

You've probably heard that the Blue Jays are "listening to offers" for Roy Halladay. According to Steve Bisheff of the LA Times, the Angels may be players, or at the very least, have the Major League talent and prospects needed to make a deal. It would obviously cost A LOT. Bisheff is guessing Napoli or Mathis, Aybar and Howie Kendrick, Sean O'Sullivan, Brandon Wood and Trevor Reckling. A lot, indeed. I don't see the Halos as players in the Halladay talks, and really, I don't think the Jays move him at all.

Posted on: June 23, 2009 6:04 pm

At Least They're Consistent?

The Angels' rollercoaster 2009 season continued last night with the team getting shelled 11-1 by the Rockies in Anaheim. That makes three straight losses by the club since reeling off seven wins in a row prior to this recent rough patch. I suppose the one thing we can say about these Halos is that they've been consistently inconsistent this season yet find themselves only a game out of first in the AL West entering play today (6/23). The Rangers have also been scuffling a bit, allowing the Angels to get close and hang around, but not take over first quite yet. The Mariners are also hanging around at a game over .500 and look like they may not go away altogether, like I thought they might. If Felix Hernendez and Erik Bedard stay healthy all season (big if) they should remain a .500 club or so.

Starting tonight, the Angels have a few more against the Rockies before continuing their tour of the NL West against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. After that, a big series in Texas that could see the winner standing alone in first in the division after it's over.

Just as the Angels rotation was beginning to get solidified, in personnel at least, Ervin Santana made his way back to the DL recenty. Sean O'Sullivan, who made and won his big league debut in SF last week will take Ervin's spot in the rotation. And while Kelvim Escobar recovers from his recent foray into the rotation, it appears it was a bit premature and overly hopeful to think he was ready to go 90-100 pitches every 5th day. I was convinced the bullpen was the right place for him, and it appears I was right. Take that, Scioscia.

The offense was starting to hit a nice little stride recently, and then the Dodgers and last night, Aaron Cook cooled them right off. Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales continue to provide at least some punch to the team's punchless lineup, but Vlad appears more and more done as each game passes. The offense often looks better without him, and that's tough to imagine, let alone say.

It appears the Angels are going to just say NO to Pedro. Good move. He's not the answer. Unless the question was who was the most dominant righty of the 90's? Well, it's not the 90's anymore and Pedro can't hit 90 on the gun either. Let him be another team's problem. Figgy continues to climb in the AL batting race and more importantly, get on base. It'll be interesting to see what the team does with Figgy after the season as he's a free agent. I like him at 2nd base personally, but I imagine the team is still considering that Howie Kendrick's position. I say re-sign Figgins for another 2-3 years and play him at 2nd base. Trade Howie. He'll probably end up being a pretty good hitter, but guys that hit .290-.310 with minimal pop are a dime a dozen...hell, that's our entire lineup, right?
Posted on: June 15, 2009 3:01 pm

Flawed and Feisty

The Halos are hanging around, but are they going anywhere?

After a road trip that saw the Angels play their worst ball of the season (and that's saying something), the club headed home for a three-game set with the Padres. Thank God for the Padres, huh, Halos fans? A visit from Buddy Black's club proved to be just what our sputtering offense needed, as extra-base hits were flying around the Big-A like it was 2002 all over again. In the series, a struggling Chris Young was the only bona fide big league pitcher the Angels had to face, as before his start on Saturday, Pads ace Jake Peavy was placed on the DL. Still, these are the Angels, and the team has had a knack for making Triple-A scrubs look like Cy Young, so it wasn't quite a foregone conclusion that the bats would come alive. But come alive they did!! The Halos slugged 9 HR and scored 26 runs in the three-game sweep, highlighted by Torii Hunter's 3-HR game on Saturday and Juan Rivera's pair of round-trippers in Sunday's finale.

With the Angels sweep and the Rangers dropping 2-of-3 to the Dodgers, the Halos climbed to within 2.5 games of the AL West-leading Rangers. The AL West remains a very winnable division, and it looks like it's going to go down to the wire with the Angels and Rangers duking it out all summer. The Mariners are hanging around as well, but their offense makes the Angels' look like the Red Sox. The M's just don't seem like contenders to me, but Felix and Bedard should keep them around .500. Billy Beane's probably already begun seeing what prospects Matt Holliday will bring, as the young (and old) A's look at another disappointing season.

The main reason the Rangers are tops in the division is their complete dominance within it. Texas is 13-3 against the AL West this season. Conversely, the Angels are 9-12. If the Halos don't do something to turn this trend around, they will most likely be watching Nolan Ryan and the Rangers celebrate a division title. As the old saying goes, there is a lot of baseball left to play.

In researching some stats for this blog entry, I came across some pretty interesting numbers. Let's look at offense. The common thought is that the Rangers have a top flight, explosive offense and the Angels, well, don't. This really isn't the case this year unless you're only looking at HR totals. The Angels currently lead the AL with a .279 average and sit 9th in runs scored with 296. The Rangers (albeit without Josh Hamilton for much of the season) are 7th in the AL with 310 runs scored. That's it, 14 measly runs separating the powerhouse Rangers from the slap happy Halos. This isn't to say that everything's all good offensively in Anaheim. While the club has hit .280 with RISP, far too many of those hits have been singles. The Angels don't hit a lot of home runs, but it seems when they do hit one, no one's on base. Ever. They also haven't hit a ton of doubles this year either, meaning the Angels need three hits in an inning oftentimes to score a run. This needs to change. If it's a case of bad luck, they may be in line for a nice offensive boost very soon, but if it's a case of lack of clutch hitting, which is how it appears, the Angels mediocre offense will remain just that.

Scot Shields' season is over, and I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing for the club. Scotty just didn't seem to have it this season. If he was coming back, however, the club might have been OK with standing pat while the bullpen continues to struggle. With Shieldsy done, the club is now forced to look at bringing a good arm or two into the bullpen before the trade deadline. We'll have to wait and see who's available and just what the Angels are willing to give up.

A quick look at some HOT Angels:

Chone Figgins is now 5th in the AL with a .326 batting average. Figgy's hitting line drives all over the place from both sides of the plate and he's scoring runs too. He's currently tied for third in the AL with 47 runs scored. When Figgy scores, the Angels usually win.

Torii Hunter's 3-HR day on Saturday punctuated what's really been a two month hot streak. Hunter has really carried the club offensively and his 16 HR and 51 RBI are both 5th in the AL.

With Jered Weaver's CG shutout yesterday, the righty is now 7-2 with an ever-shrinking 2.08 ERA, good for second in the AL behind Zack Greinke's 1.72. Weav has been unbelievable lately, and looks like a lock for his first All-Star appearance.
Posted on: June 1, 2009 3:53 pm

Escobar's return raises questions.

Kelvim Escobar appears headed for the Angels' rotation. Would he be more valuable in the 'pen?

As Kelvim Escobar gets set to make what should be his final rehab start (tonight at Triple-A Salt Lake), it looks like Mike Scioscia and the Angels powers that be have decided that the big righty is going right back to his role as a starter. When Angels fans last saw Escobar, he was dominating AL lineups to the tune of an 18-7 record and a 3.40 ERA. Of course, that was 2007. Escobar missed all of last season after undergoing major shoulder surgery, an injury Escobar himself thought might end his career. When you take into consideration this recent injury, his history of injury, his experience pitching in a variety of relief roles and the Angels current bullpen struggles, I believe Escobar can better help the club win by heading to the pen.

All things equal, a starter does make a bigger impact on a game than a reliever. They pitch more innings and have more direct control over wins and losses than relievers, and so it makes sense to want your best pitchers starting, right? In most cases, yes. But in the case of Escobar and this Angels team, I say it makes more sense to send him to the pen.

All season, the Halos have pretty much led the AL in starters ERA. Even with the absence of John Lackey and Ervin Santana (who are both back), guys like Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley and especially Matt Palmer stepped up to give solid performances more often than not and mainstays Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver have been fantastic. Night-in and night-out, whoever the Angels have put out on the bump has given the team a chance to win. The problem has been that the Angels bullpen has blown more games this season than in the past few seasons combined (this may not be true, but it sure feels like it). As the starters have led the AL in ERA most of the season, the relievers have been last in ERA. And by a wide margin. Late inning stud Scot Shields has been atrocious, and is now on the DL, closer-in-waiting Jose Arredondo has been hit hard with a 5.32 ERA and a .310 BAA. New closer Brian Fuentes has been anything but lights-out, blowing three saves already including a 3-run lead to the Mariners on Saturday night.

So, yes, the bullpen needs help. And in my view, Escobar's versatility makes him ideal to help settle down the worst pen in the AL and to get the Angels back on track in the very winnable AL West. Escobar has been used out of the pen in the past, as recently as 2005 when he ws battling more injuries and even closed for the Blue Jays in 2002. He has the experience and mindset to handle the bullpen. In addition, given his injury history and the fact that he's coming off a major one, fewer innings might be just what the doctor, and Angels fans ordered. If he goes back in the rotation, a trip to the DL seems almost certain, fewer innings out of the pen coud help the club and get him ready for a starting role in 2010 (although he may be a FA after this season).

It just seems to me that the rotation is set right now with John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and the surprising Matt Palmer. Ervin and Big John have struggled, but they will right the ship. I suppose inserting Escobar into the rotation sends Matt Palmer to the pen. I'm not so sure Palmer's stuff translates to the pen. He's not a guy who can get a strikeout when needed, and this is often the case when coming out of the pen. He can get ground balls with his sinker, but in my view, his stuff his better suited to getting the club through 5-7 innings with a chance to win.

Put Escobar in the pen and use him in a variety of roles: 2-3 innings if needed, in a tight game in the 8th, or even as a closer if Fuentes continues to struggle. That's my thinking, but Kelvim is set to make his debut next weekend, as a starter. We'll see how his shoulder and our bullpen hold up.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or