MLB In Full Bloom - Angerls Preview - 3/25/2014

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6– Number of days until Opening Day

101,396– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday.

Los Angeles Angels Preview

For the second season in a row, the Los Angeles Angels dug themselves an early hole with an awful April. They finished the 2013 season with a 78-84 record, under performing their 81-81 predicted record by a few games. Heading into year three of Mike Trout reign over baseball, the Angels still have some glaring holes. Combine those with a heavy influx of talent elsewhere in the division and you get the strong possibility of another disappointing season in Anaheim.

Key Additions: David Freese, Joe Smith, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago, Raul Ibanez

Key Departures: Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos,

OFFENSE: The Angels made a couple of moves this offseason to shore up some holes on their roster, but trading Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos leaves the team without much depth in their lineup. Kole Calhoun will be a full-time starter after breaking onto the scene with a .282 batting average last season. On the other side of the outfield, Josh Hamilton will try to replicate his second half production. After an abysmal June, Hamilton hit .287 after the All-Star break. He is already a bit behind schedule after a calf strain. J.B. Shuck will be the team's fourth outfielder, and some guy named Mike Trout will look to continue post crazy good numbers in center field. Albert Pujols battled plantar fasciitis that significantly limited his production last year and the Angels are hoping for a big bounce back season from him. David Freese should provide some pop at third base if he can remain healthy. Howie Kendrick and Raul Ibanez will produce as well for the Angels should run out a strong lineup everyday in 2o14.

STARTING ROTATION: The Angels' pitching staff posted a 4.24 ERA last season, fifth-worst in the American League. This poor showing was no fault of Jered Weaver, who put up a 3.27 ERA to lead the rotation. Unfortunately, he also spent time on the disabled list and failed to total 200 innings for the second consecutive year. The forearm tightness that bothered him last September has not been an issue so far this spring, but it may be something to keep an eye on going forward, as the Angels' pitching staff will only go as far as Weaver and C.J.Wilson take them. Garrett Richards will slot into the rotation behind Weaver and Wilson after a solid audition to end the 2013 season. Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago round out the staff and both have decent upside.

BULLPEN: The bullpen was a major issue last season, with the Ryan Madson signing never panning out and Sean Burnett only able to appear in 9 2/3 innings. With Dane De La Rosa as a  backup option at closer, excellent left-hander Burnett coming back and hopefully healthy and the addition of Joe Smith, it is fair to expect a big improvement for the Angels bullpen. Ernesto Frieri picked up an impressive 37 saves last year and he did it with an astounding strikeout rate. Frieri owns the 9th inning on a short leash as De La Rosa appears to be the closer-in-waiting in Anaheim.

2014 Prediction: It's going to come down to how the pitching staff works out. The Angels are going to have plenty of offense, but the run prevention appears to be lacking. I think the Angels are going to be better this season. I expect them to be a contender and let's not forget they won 89 games in 2012 and had a litany of things go wrong for them last season. I believe we've seen the downside to this team and that was last season and they still won 78 games.

Final Record: 86-76 (2nd Place in AL West)

MLB In Full Bloom - Athletics Preview - 3/24/2014

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7– Number of days until Opening Day

101,396– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Oakland Athletics Preview

After five straight seasons without a playoff berth, the 2012 Oakland Athletics surprised nearly everyone and made a historic comeback to take the AL West championship on the last day of the regular season. They followed that up with an encore performance last season, winning 96 games and taking home their second straight AL West title. Unfortunately for the A's, both of those seasons ended with a loss in Game 5 of the ALDS to the Tigers. General Manager Billy Beane has kept his nucleus mostly intact but still done some of his customary roster shuffling. Will this be enough to finally get his World Series ring?

Key Additions: Jim Johnson, Scott Kazmir, Eric O'Flaherty, Luke Gregerson, Drew Pomeranz, Craig Gentry, Nick Punto

Key Departures: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Seth Smith, Jeremy Blevins, Brett Anderson

OFFENSE: The Athletics get contributions from most of the hitters in the lineup. They do lack one thing that some of the other competitors for the American League crown have and that is one power bat that pitchers have to plan for each day. This may not be a bad thing, as there could be as many as three guys in the Athletics lineup that could hit over 30 home runs. Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Brandon Moss could all hit 30 homers this year. Moss came out of nowhere to be a very good player for the Athletics the past two years. The ugly thing for Moss is that he does not have a ton of patience at the plate, which held him up in his pursuit of a major league job. Josh Donaldson did not come out of nowhere entirely during the 2013 season, he was a first round pick in the 2007, but no one could have reasonably predicted that he would be as successful as he was in only his second full year in the majors. The Athletics have a solid lineup that will produce runs.

STARTING PITCHING: The A's did lose Bartolo Colon in free agency and Jarrod Parker recently underwent his second career Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2014 season as a result. A.J. Griffin was diagnosed with elbow tendinitis during spring training and is currently shut down. On the surface it may appear the Athletics starting pitching will struggle this year, but Griffin should return in April and this rotation is talented. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, and Griffin will most likely be the core this year. But, there are also a few other options, with Tommy Milone leads the pack Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom could also figure in at some point.
BULLPEN: The A's bullpen ranked sixth in the majors last season in ERA (3.22) and Billy Beane made it even stronger this offseason. Beane added Jim Johnson to replace Grant Balfour, along with Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, and Eric O'Flaherty (Tommy John surgery last May). The strength of the starting pitching should make this bullpen deep and it could be the best bullpen in baseball. Johnson comes over to the Bay Area after posting an MLB-leading 101 saves over the past two seasons in Baltimore. While Johnson remains young enough to stave off a decline in production, another 50-save season might be too much to ask. While the A's are better than the Orioles, Johnson topping out just above 35 saves seems like a better projection for a closer on a new team.

2014 Prediction: The American League West could be a pretty competitive division. However, the Angels, Rangers and Mariners all have far more questions to answer than the A's. While some may have thought the 2012 division title was a fluke, but last season's A's should have more than proven this group is legitimate. The Athletics have young starting pitchers that could struggle, the offense not performing consistently well due to a low batting average and high strikeouts, Johnson blowing too many games or simply regressing as the rest of the division improves. However, the Athletics will be the most consistent team and win their third-straight AL West championship.

Final Record: 89-73 (First Place AL West)

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