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With Pujols, Halos Should Have New Level Of Confidence PDF Print E-mail
Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 05 April 2012 01:47

ANGELS BASEBALL

Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols

Despite an 86-76 record, Anaheim finished 10 games behind Texas in the AL West, and finished out of the playoffs for the second straight year. That's the first time it's happened since Arte Moreno became owner in 2003, and it's a trend he clearly doesn't like.

So it should come as no surprise that there were changes, including Jerry Dipoto taking over as general manager for Tony Reagins. And, armed with a fresh influx of cash from a new television deal with that guarantees the team $150 million a year for the next 20 years, Moreno allowed Dipoto to spend big on free agents.

But look beyond the obvious acquisitions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Dipoto has altered the look of the team in other ways while still keeping several key pieces of a winning, veteran club in place.

Adding Pujols (.299, 37 homers, 99 RBIs), and getting back Kendrys Morales – who has missed 1½ seasons while recovering from a fractured lower left leg but batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs in 2009 – will certainly bolster an offense that scored only 667 runs in 2011, its lowest total in a non strike-shortened season since 1992.

The Angels also have to believe outfielders Tori Hunter (.262, 23 homers, 82 RBIs) and Vernon Wells (.218, 25 homers, 66 RBI) are not done, that second baseman Howie Kendrick (.285, 18 home runs, 63 RBIs) is blossoming into the batting champion many have predicted he could be, that Gold Glove shortstop Erick Aybar (.279, 10 home runs, 59 RBIs) can be a prototypical leadoff hitter, and that Mark Trumbull (.254, 29 home runs, 87 RBI) – who led the team in home runs and RBIs as a rookie – can play enough defense at third, a new position for him, to keep his bat in the lineup.

If so, whatever new catcher Chris Iannetta (.238, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs), who came here in a trade with Colorado for pitcher Tyler Chatwood, and ultra-swift Peter Bourjos (.271, 12 homers, 43 RBI) add to this lineup is gravy…a rich, deeply satisfying gravy.

Even Mike Scioscia, now in his 13th season as manager, admits, "This definitely has the potential to be the best offensive team we've had."

The fact that Wilson (16-7, 2.94 ERA) is projected as the team's No.3 starter shows how deep the Angels' starting rotation is. And, on paper, it is one of the best in baseball.

Jered Weaver (18-8, 2.41), a two-time All-Star who finished second in last year's American League Cy Young Race to Detroit's Justin Verlander, is the undisputed ace. Dan Haren (16-10, 3.17) led the starters with 238.1 innings pitched. Ervin Santana (11-12, 3.38) once again battled inconsistencies in his delivery and command most of the season, but also threw a no-hitter against Cleveland. Even the fifth starter – be it Jerome Williams, who went 4-0 in six September starts, or Garrett Richards, who had a strong spring – should not be a dramatic dropoff after Weaver, Haren, Wilson and Santana.

Despite Anaheim's league leading team ERA of 3.57, the bullpen was a letdown with a league-high 25 blown saves – 10 by rookie closer Jordan Walden (5-5, 2.98, 32 saves) – and erratic efforts by nearly every setup man other than Scott Downs (6-3, 1.34, 26 holds). Dipoto has added veterans LaTroy Hawkins (3-1, 2.42 in Milwaukee) and Jason Isringhausen—with 300 saves in his 15-year career – to help mature youngsters like Walden and Kevin Jepsen (1- 2, 7.62).

There are those predicting the Angels will displace Texas in the AL West, and fight off the Yankees, Tigers, Rays, Red Sox and White Sox to return to the World Series for the first (and only) time since 2002.

But Scioscia won't budge from his one-game-at-a-time approach.

"The expectations aren't any different than we've had in any other season…whether people thought we were a fluke or the best thing since sliced bread doesn't affect the way we need to go about our business," he said

"Our total expectations are very high; we're going to make sure our focus is to play to our potential. And it will like any other year on how we go about our business – hopefully with better results."

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Last Updated on Thursday, 05 April 2012 03:26