Well we've got 17 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Los Angeles Angels.
Lineup: This is a pretty solid group. There are three major question marks by our estimate: Juan Rivera, Brandon Wood, and Hideki Matsui. Rivera struggled to recover from a broken leg a few seasons ago, and hasn't been the same hitter since; Wood has been one of the preeminent AAA sluggers for years now and is finally getting a starting shot, and Matsui, even as a DH, has done little to prove that he can be healthy for a full season. As for the rest, the Angels are stronger up the middle than most teams, with the bats of Mike Napoli, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, and Torii Hunter all above average for their respective positions. Cuban defector Kendry Morales broke out last season putting up MVP-caliber numbers, and should remain a middle-of-the-order force, and Bobby Abreu can probably be counted on for a nice OBP and some steals if he's got anything left in his legs. Reggie Willits is a nice fourth outfielder who can step in for either Abreu or Rivera if they underperform; Willits has plus speed and knows how to take a walk.
Rotation: There's nothing wrong with the rotation, per se. There's just not much in the way of clear greatness or depth. Jered Weaver is the nominal ace, and he's very good, but he's not exactly the sort of bro you want being your #1 starter. Scott Kazmir showed signs of regaining his 2006 form after being traded to Los Angeles, and if he can find his slider again, he could be a force...but we don't count on that. Joel Pineiro, the guy they signed ostensibly to replace departed ace John Lackey, showed that he can burn worms with the best of them last season, and is super stingy with the walks. He might suffer a bit coming over to the AL, but he should be comfortably above average nonetheless. Ervin Santana has been a mystery for years now, boasting bizarre splits - if he pitches at home, at night, he's flat-out dominant, but put him on the road during the day and he's back of the rotation fodder - but he'll be 27 and is only one year removed from garnering minor Cy Young consideration. Then there's Joe Saunders, whom we have no faith in (strikes out too few, walks too many). That's it. Five guys. And, no, none of the trio of Sean O'Sullivan, Matt Palmer, or Jose Ortega count as actual depth here.
Bullpen: The Angels let Francisco Rodriguez walk before last season and replaced him with Brian Fuentes. Which was an unmitigated disaster. Fuentes was awful yet somehow, some way, managed to compile a league-leading save total. Oh, wait, we know why: it's because being The Closer and getting Saves has little-to-no bearing on your actual talent. Silly us. Anyway, they signed Fernando Rodney - somehow extracting him from the Metrodome mound - to be the setup man, but Rodney's not very good either. So you've got two Closers at the back end of the 'pen, but neither are very good. They do have Scot Shields, who's very good and one of the most consistent relievers we've ever seen, but he lost the 2009 season with arm and knee troubles, and is hardly a sure thing at this point. Beyond him, guys like Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen are decent enough, we suppose. And they have another Francisco Rodriguez coming up! So that's exciting! All told, though, this is a pretty weak group.
Overall: If this team stays healthy, they could be contenders in a suddenly-stacked AL West. They can hit from top to bottom, with depth up the middle and in the outfield, and their five starters should at least keep them in games, if not outright win them. But if any of the starters go down with an injury - or Joel Pineiro regresses, and Ervin Santana fails to improve - then there's going to be serious trouble on the pitching side. This team isn't tremendous in the field, and will need their pitchers to be sharp in order to build safe enough leads for the shaky bullpen to hold. Can they do so? Sure. After all, the Angels have been outperforming expectations for years, now. It's some weird sort of voodoo they've got, or something. But we think this is the year it stops.
Predicted Record: 86-76, 2nd place AL West
Beer: Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale. Not that Mike Scioscia or Tony Reagins are bastards, mind you, but it takes a certain arrogance to run this team the way that the Angels do. Scioscia has them stealing bases like it's their job (it kind of is), and Reagins has carried on the Bill Stoneman-bred tradition of keeping the team's prospects close to the vest, as if to say 'our guys are better than yours.' Arrogant? Sure. Has it worked, year after year? You bet. Excellent team, excellent beer.