We’re a day away from the first Cactus League game for the halos in 2010, and I couldn’t be more excited. This is the start of a new era in Angels baseball, as this winter saw the Angels part ways with team leaders and fan favorites Vlad Guerrero, Chone Figgins, and Big John Lackey. Scot Shields is now the lone holdover from the 2002 World Series team. Even if Rob Quinlan can make the squad again after signing a minor league deal with the halos, he and Shields would be the only two players left from the start of the 2004 season.
So we embark upon a new chapter in Angels lore in 2010 after an active winter that has put a halo cap on the heads of Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, Joel Piniero, Fernando Rodney, and Brian Stokes. Scot Shields will also return after missing most of last season with a knee injury and Brandon Wood finally seems assured of regular playing time to show us if he is for real. No team in the AL West is as deep 1-5 in the rotation, or 1-9 in the lineup. Our defense should be excellent, and the leadership of our veteran outfielders in unquestionable.
My concerns, though mild, are as follows. First, can Erick Aybar replace Chone Figgins as an effective lead off hitter and catalyst for the offense? (Blazingly fast, he seems to need some good Rickey Henderson style instruction on the art of base stealing still.) Second, can Brandon Wood flourish wil regular playing time and bring his promised power numbers? (With Izturis at the ready and a slew of power in the middle of the order, this is not crucial, and it can be argued that we need Izzy’s speed more than Woody’s power!) Third, has the bullpen that cost us so many games in 2009 been effectively shored up with the return of Shields, maturation of Jepsen/Bulger/Thompson/Palmer, and the addition of Stokes/Rodney? My guess is yes. Finally, will anyone step up and take the place of John Lackey not only as the staff ace, but just as importantly, as a clubhouse leader? All five starters are proven 15+ game winners, but in October, can one of them outduel C.C. Sabathia, Doc Halladay, or even John Lackey? We’ll have to watch and find out, because as Chris Berman likes to say, “That’s why they play the games”.
Just when halos nation was starting to panic, the Angels picked themselves up and dusted themselves off with a 5-3 road trip to Baltimore, New York, and Oakland. They’ve now won six of their last 8 games (and should have won another) to pull one game below .500. They square off against Doc Halladay tonight in Anaheim, where the offense hopes to fire their guns as well as they have been for the past week. The offense is clicking from top to bottom right now and Vlad will be evaluated today to see if he’s ready to start swinging a bat again. The starting pitching has been surprisingly good considering it has included starts from the likes of Shane Loux, Anthony Ortega, and Matt Palmer. Reagins and Scioscia seem to have made the right call not going for a veteran free agent pitcher, and both Santana and Lackey looked good in their rehab starts with Salt Lake early this week. They’ll start again for the Bees this weekend and could rejoin the big league club as early as next week. All indications have the team back at full strength by the first week of June. The worst seems to be over and the Angels appear to be back in Championship form. Now if they can just figure out what is wrong with Scot Shields…