After a disappointing week in which the Angels went 3-4 against expected cellar dwellers Oakland and Baltimore, the Angels will hit the road this week for a 6-game trip. The season is nearly 10 percent complete, so while I’m sticking to my April mantra of “It’s still early,” the Angels need to start playing well soon if they want a realistic chance at catching Texas.
Their first opponent this week, the Tampa Bay Rays, present a difficult obstacle. Preseason pundits almost exclusively selected the Angels as the best starting rotation in the American League, but the few that didn’t usually picked the Rays, who boast an embarrassment of young pitching riches. The Angels this week will face David Price (age 26), Jeremy Hellickson (25), and lefty phenom Matt Moore (22). Those 3 are respectively the 2010 Cy Young runner-up, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, and a consensus top 3 prospect in baseball heading into 2012.* This isn’t even including James Shields, who led all of baseball with 11 complete games in 2011.
* From prospect rankings I saw, most sites had Moore, Nats’ OF Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout as their top three prospects in some order. It really depends on the type of prospect you prefer.
For as good as both teams’ starting pitchers are, the bullpens are horrendous. Like the Angels, if the Rays want to make a World Series run, they will need contributions from the offense and bullpen to support strong starting pitching. Unfortunately for Tampa, their pen has been a disaster this year, to the tune of an 8.25 ERA.** This figure makes the Angels and their 5.06 bullpen ERA look excellent by comparison. Nevertheless the Rays have overcome the slow bullpen start and are a reasonable 9-7 thanks to a 3.75 starter ERA and 76 runs scored (6th best in MLB, backed by my MVP pick Evan Longoria, who doubles as a superstar third basemen and Jason Bourne). When the bullpen turns around, this will be an elite team that will make a serious bid at October baseball.
** This is despite reclamation project Fernando Rodney striking out 7 batters in 7 1/3 innings so far this season while only walking 2. Angels fans are well acquainted with Rodney, who complained about playing time last year even though he walked 28 batters in 32 innings.
After playing three in Tampa, the Angels will head to Cleveland for a weekend set versus the tribe. The Indians are off to the necessary good start (8-6) if they want to have a shot at beating out Detroit this season. Carlos Santana, coming off a recently-minted extension, is vying for the Best Catcher title; he’s only hitting .239 but is sporting an impressive .407 OBP due to 13 walks in 59 plate appearances. If Santana can maintain his improved walk rate and combine it with his prodigious power (27 homers in 2011), the Indians have an elite, MVP-caliber catcher just entering his prime, whose bat will also play at first base if they need to move him. The sky’s the limit for this kid.
Shin-Soo Choo, another Indian of note, is off to a slow-ish start, disappointing for a player that looked like one of the best players in baseball just two seasons ago. Those hoping Choo would quickly rebound after a forgettable 2011, in which Choo dealt with injuries and a DUI, are still waiting. His OBP is still solid, but with a .250 batting average and 0 home runs, he isn’t yet showing the same hitting prowess he showed in 2009 and 2010. Both years, his WAR exceeded 6.0.
Two solid clubs this week for the Angels. Given how this team has played so far, a 4-2 week might be too much to ask. Hopefully coming off a series victory, even if it was against the lowly Orioles, is a good omen.
Probable Pitchers so far, according to Angels’ official team site
Tuesday: Ervin Santana vs David Price
Wednesday: CJ Wilson vs Jeremy Hellickson
Thursday: Jerome Williams vs Matt Moore in a battle of former top prospects!
Friday: Jered Weaver vs Justin Masterson
Saturday: Dan Haren vs Jeanmar Gomez
Sunday: Santana vs Derek Lowe
3 Bold Predictions for the week
1) Carlos Santana will allow a passed ball, and I’ll make a really terrible joke about how he has to change his evil ways.
2) Albert Pujols hits 10 home runs this week, signs extension.
3) Ervin Santana, returning to the site of his no-hitter last July, won’t throw a no hitter.
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