Editor's Note: Please visit OTM's sister site HalosHeaven.com for Angels coverage.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem and Greater California have won 100, 94, and 89 games in the past 3 seasons. They've been a model of success, despite some very questionable free agent signings and a penchant for center fielders. The Angels' success can be attributed in large part to stout pitching, both in the rotation and out of the bullpen.
In 2008 the Halos thumped the Red Sox 8 games to 1 during the regular season. Yet each year Halos fall flat in the playoffs, often as a result of an anemic offense. Angels' management tried to rectify that last year by trading for rent-a-slugger, Mark Teixeira, sending Casey Kotchman and prospect Stephen Marek to Atlanta.
Big Tex helped power the Angels into the playoffs and delivered during the playoffs, batting .467/.550/.467 against the Red Sox in the ALDS. Fortunately, it wasn't enough to put the Red Sox away. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar posted OPSs under .240 and made costly errors at inopportune moments. And who can forget this particular gem?
The Angels look a little different in 2009. The outfield resembles a normal 5-man depth chart, with Hunter, Abreu, and Vlad Guerrero starting; disenchanted Gary Matthews, Jr. is the 4th man and the ever-scrappy Reggie Willits is their utility outfielder; Juan Rivera acts as the usual DH. The biggest deficiency on this team is the absense of power hitters at the corner infield spots. Speedy swiss-army knife Chone (pronounced: "Sean") Figgins mans 3B while youngster Kendry Morales is the first-sacker.
On the pitching end, drama-queen Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez took the money and ran to New York's AAAA Squad. Can Brian Fuentes close with the same effectiveness? The initial results are not favorable, but most pro relievers can shut down the other team for 3 outs given a few runs of wiggle-room. The guys to watch are Scott Shields--can he continue to be effective?--and José Arredondo.
As we enter the first Red Sox vs. Angels series of 2009, can the Red Sox take advantage of a banged-up rotation? The Halos top 3, John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana, are all stuck on the DL with various injuries.
The Angel's main strength is their pitching, though you wouldn't know it from the opening day roster. John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana are all sidelined with various ailments, but schedule to return around the beginning of May. Slot those guys into the 1-3 slots with Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders and you have an excellent staff. Mike "suicide squeeze" Scioscia also has a pretty good bullpen with Fuentes, Shields, and Arrendondo holding down the back of the 'pen, but they fall short of being dominant as the last series demonstrated. Speier had an off year in 2008, but is typically a very good reliever. Darren Oliver will be the situational lefty. Jespen rounds out the 'pen with a whopping 10 MLB appearances.
Los Angeles also benefits from playing in a weak division. The A's and Mariners shouldn't pose a problem for the Angels. The main competition will come from Texas, especially if the Rangers can unload some of their catching talent for an upgrade to their starting rotation.
The Halos line-up suffered a big hit with the departure of Mark Teixeira who was the Angels' version of Manny Ramirez last year, batting .358/.449/.632. They once again will depend on Vlad Guerrero, aged 34, for the majority of their production. The addition of Bobby Abreu will help somewhat, to the detriment of the outfield defense.
Angels' Keys to Success in 2009
Health. The front of the rotation starters have to return healthy and effective, or the Halos don't have a snowball's chance in hell. Howie Kendrick also needs to stay healthy and provide the Angels with a patient, high-OBP bat to set up the middle of the line-up. Improvement by Rivera--who has never received the playtime he deserves--would certainly help.
How the Sox Can Beat Them
The Red Sox can out hit the Angels, plain and simple. We need to stay patient against the starters and try to get to the bullpen, which the Sox have the talent to thump. The Angel's depleted rotation will likely be the Halo's achilles heel this series.
Finally, Over the Monster would like to again offer its deepest condolences to the Adenhart family and Angels organization. Nick Adenhart, 22, was killed early Thursday morning in a hit-and-run car accident. What a waste of a terrific young kid and promising pitcher.