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Springtime Storylines: Did the Angels buy themselves the A.L. West?

Mar 20, 2012, 1:00 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's first baseman Pujols watches the field during their spring training game at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Arizona

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Los Angeles Angels of Pujols.

The Big Question:  Did the Angels buy themselves the A.L. West this winter?

The Angels made the biggest splashes of the offseason: Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  But there was more paper crossing Jerry Dipoto’s desk than just the Pujols and Wilson deals. The Angels signed Howie Kendrick to a four-year, $33.5 million extension. They also brought in Chris Iannetta to replace the woeful Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Add that to what is one of the best rotations in baseball and it’s hard not to see why so many people are dubbing the Angels “Yankees West.”

That said, this is an Angels team that still finished ten games back of the Rangers, and it’s not like the Rangers have taken a step back.  Pujols will improve the offense, but it was still an offense that was 10th in the AL in runs scored last year.  Upshot: this is a team that has improved a lot, but it’s a team that had to improve a lot to keep up with their division rival from Texas.  Don’t crown them yet.

What else is going on?

  • Sometimes I think that someone told Dipoto that the zombie apocalypse is coming and that the only defense is to stockpile 1B/LF/DH types. Between Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and Mark Trumbo, the Halos have way too many corner guys. And that’s before you realize that some of them are blocking Mike Trout, who will start the season in Triple-A.
  • All of that muscle aside, the real key to how the offense does may well be the table setters: Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.  Strong seasons from those two and Pujols will be coming to bat with men on base which, hopefully, will keep the opposition from just walking him.
  • The rotation is clearly the strength of this team with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana going 1-4. There’s not a ton of starting pitching depth here, however. The fifth guy is probably Jerome Williams, and he would be followed up by guys like Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Brad Mills, and Eric Hurley. If the injury bug comes buzzing around the rotation, the Angels could be in trouble.
  • How we feeling about the pen?  Jordan Walden had some superficially good numbers as the closer last year — 32 saves, a 2.98 ERA, and 67 strikeouts in 60.1 innings — but he was inconsistent and blew ten saves. There is a lot of talent in the Angels bullpen, but if Walden gives Mike Scioscia headaches, it could all get shuffled around.

How are they gonna do?

Quite well, thanks. Like I said above: they have improved tremendously. But they are not as good an offensive team as the Rangers and are not as deep. I think the Pujols and Wilson additions pulled them close, but not ahead, and certainly not clearly ahead. This will likely be a bloodbath, and I expect the race between Texas and Anaheim to go down to the wire.

  1. rebeljpl - Mar 20, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I’m going to give the Angels some credit on their moves this year, and I’m a Rangers fan… But I agree with the article, I still think the Rangers are better in paper. They have more pitching depth and more bats. In a long season the depth and hitters should be able to keep them ahead in the west.

  2. stlouis1baseball - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    Look for Howie (or whomever is batting in front of AP) to have a monster year. They are gonna’ force feed him fastballs. I fully expect Howie to routinely buy AP’s Dinner when they go on the road as a token of his appreciation. LOL! Watch…Howie will break out!

  3. Francisco (FC) - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    You know, first it was the Phillies: “NL Yankees”, now the Angels, “Yankees West”. At this rate, all big spending teams will dubbed “Yankees X, or “X Yankees” within 5 years or so.

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 20, 2012 at 4:28 PM

      FC. In a word…YES. But I am not sure what your point is.

  4. IdahoMariner - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Someday, sportswriters will be arguing about whether mike trout should be in the hall of fame, because he will have started in the majors so late, waiting for this logjam to clear, and will end up with fewer years, and possibly as a DH sooner than he would have. At least the Angels, unlike the Mariners with Edgar, have someone GREAT blocking him, not someone crappy.

    • Kevin S. - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      Vernon Wells doesn’t not qualify as “great.”

  5. elgorditodehumboldt - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    The Angels improved immensely this off-season addressing issues with their offense, bullpen and solidified one of the best starting rotations in baseball. While the Rangers lost their best pitcher (who signed with the Angels) and didn’t really do anything else this off season, other than signing an unproven Yu Darvish.

    The Angels may have finished the season 10 games behind Texas last year, but the race was very close up until the last 2 weeks of the season when the Angels offense sputtered to a halt. With the improvements LAA has made, I foresee many hard fought battles for AL West dominance in the years to come.

    • Jonny 5 - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:24 PM

      25 Blown saves killed them.

      • Glen - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:04 PM

        I’m guessing many of those blown saves came in one-run games, which the Angels played in too many of last year. An improved offense – Iannetta over Mathis, adding Pujols, Morales returning and possibly putting up solid numbers – should take a lot of that pressure off, and they shored the bullpen with (admittedly iffy) veterans to mentor Walden, something he didn’t have much of last year. I’m predicting 93 wins for the Angels this year, and I don’t know if that will be enough to pass Texas.

      • scatterbrian - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:14 PM

        The Cardinals had 26.

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:44 PM

        The Cardinals got lucky, And hot at the right time. They also fixed their bullpen by trades last season and if that didn’t happen they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs.

  6. Jonny 5 - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    I thought, And still think the back of the bullpen was the knife in the heart of of the Angels last season. I think it was seriously foolish not to pick up a decent closer such as Madson to change the fact that THEY BLEW 25 SAVES LAST SEASON. Basically, the team they had last season won the division if they could have won half of the saves they blew. IMO they could have saved money and won the division this season by not buying Pujols and buying a good closer instead.

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 20, 2012 at 4:27 PM

      Still with the luck thing Jonny? They SWEPT Atlanta…the won 2 of 3 against the Pirates and TRHEE OUT OF FOUR against your Phillies. They then went on to finish 23 – 9 to close the regular season. Think about that. They won 23 of their last 32 regular season games.
      Again…23 – 9. 23 – 9 to close the regular season.
      Then…they beat every pitcher you guys had in Philadelphia during the 1st round (last one in Philly with the annointed one on the hill). Then beat the Brewers in 6. Then kept plugging away…plugging away and took the W.S. from Texas. Yeah…they took it.
      You are upset because you felt you should have been given the World Series w/ that Pitching staff of yours. But you gotta’ earn it.
      Your luck comment is an insult.

  7. mrmulligan - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Hace to give the Angels the advantage currently. Rangers have some serious question marks in their rotation. I’d definitely take Weaver-Haren-C.J. over any Texas starters and Santana’s no slouch (if totally healthy).

  8. - Mar 20, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    Of all the battles outside anything involving the Royals I’m looking forward to the Texas V Anahiem battle the most. Little twists like CJ Wilson giving out Mike Napoli’s cell number will make this rivalry more entertaining.

  9. westcoastredbird - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    I’m not an Angels fan but buying Dinero Gigante for 10 years will more than compensate for their closer woes. The Cardinals had 25 lewinskis the same number of blown saves as the halos and you know how that story ended. An under the radar signing of Jason Isringhausen will definitely help in the closer department. In the second half of last year he was his old self. I was hoping the Cards would resign him but they now have closers. I have to hand it to Jerry DiPoto he has a great eye for talent and the financial resources to make it happen. A great closer is easier to find than a generational iconic slugger! It should be a great American League West race.

    • cintiphil - Mar 20, 2012 at 10:05 PM

      Isringhausen will help NO ONE. He probably will not make it to the big team and stay in AAA, tuning up as they say. The Reds passed on him and Walt didn’t feel he was worth a second try at the bigs. Sorry, he was a great one at one time. Things change, and guys get older and get injuries.

  10. lyon810 - Mar 20, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    The Wire, you say?

  11. buffalomafia - Mar 20, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    Remember guys, what looks good on paper never happens in reality!

    Look @ last year when most people predicted Boston vs Philly in WS?

    Atlanta had best pitching staff in baseball & choked?

  12. randygnyc - Mar 20, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    I agree with the article, but itnfailed to mention the potential liabilities for the rangers with Hamilton, Cruz and Darvish. All 3 could have setbacks, for different reasons, this year.

  13. cintiphil - Mar 20, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    It has already started. Darvish is ailing and who knows where Hamilton will be? Wilson seems to be pitching very well so far in the Cactus, so it may be that LAA did buy a winner.

    • cintiphil - Mar 20, 2012 at 10:16 PM

      Sorry, I meant Feliz, not Darvish.

  14. cintiphil - Mar 20, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    Feliz, not Darvish.. Sorry

  15. cintiphil - Mar 20, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    Feliz, not Darvish.. Sorry

  16. jikkle49 - Mar 21, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    To be fair it wasn’t Dipoto that stockpiled all the corner guy he pretty much inherited them all and I’m sure he would love to move some of them for the right offer.

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