The Los Angeles Angels are my pick to win the World Series. While the focus of attention this entire off-season and spring training has been on such teams as the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Mets and Dodgers, the Angels have done what they’ve always done during the entire era of Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia—-built a team that is good enough to qualify for the playoffs and win once they’re there.
It is true that they have some flaws, but so does every other team that is considered a contender. The Angels main flaw is that their offense is too reliant on Vladimir Guerrero. They spent the off-season trying to upgrade that flaw and walked away with the such players as Shea Hillenbrand and Gary Matthews Jr. Those names wouldn’t be at the top of most lists when looking to drastically upgrade an offense. Be that as it may, the Angels have enough pitching to account for the possibility of a lack of offense.
The pitching staff is what carried the Angels to the World Series victory in 2002; to the playoffs in 2004 and 2005; and will carry them to the world championship this season. Their starting rotation is deep with the emerging stars John Lackey and Ervin Santana, along with young Jered Weaver and the ultra talented and frustrating Kelvim Escobar. No one seems to know what they’re going to get out of Bartolo Colon this year. I wouldn’t expect all that much from a pitcher who has just come off of surgery and relied on an overpowering fastball to win; but even without Colon, the team is formidable.
The bullpen is deep and diverse. Francisco Rodriguez is a top five closer; Scot Shields and Justin Speier are reliable set-up men; Darren Oliver had ice water in his veins during the playoffs last season with the Mets. What’s more important in regards to the bullpen is that they have a starting pitching staff that can be counted on to gobble enough innings; and a manager that doles out their workload evenly, so they won’t be spent by late August. (Overusing relievers he trusts has been a legitimate criticism of Joe Torre in the past.)
As for that lineup, they may have some rough patches where they won’t be able to score because Guerrero is slumping; but they have enough to win. Hillenbrand has proven to be a productive hitter; Garret Anderson isn’t the star he was in his prime, but is still dangerous. If they get something from their young players like Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick, they’ll be okay.
And then there’s the Gary Matthews Jr questions regarding possible involvement in performance enhancing drugs. I would agree that these are relevant if Matthews had suddenly become a hitting machine whereas he was previously unable to hold a job on a big league roster; but with Matthews, the numbers he put up weren’t such that a red flag should be raised as were the sudden transformations of such players as Bret Boone or Luis Gonzalez. His numbers over the last two seasons in Texas with the Rangers were pretty good—-not great or outrageous. Hitting 17 and then 19 homers isn’t out of line for someone at age 30 and 31. His sudden success could be attributed to learning how to hit, playing in a hitter’s ballpark, getting a chance to arrive at the ballpark knowing that his name was going to be in the lineup, and the lure of potential riches in free agency on the horizon. I seriously doubt that the Angels are expecting Matthews to come in and hit 25-30 homers. When they signed him they undoubtedly knew that they were getting a guy who would probably hit 15-18 homers, strike out a lot, hit .265-.270, and probably win a Gold Glove in center field. There’s no controversy there.
One important thing to look at with the Angels is how they’ve handled adversity. They did not have a good season in 2006. Their offense struggled and their pitchers were injured or ineffective for long stretches—-but they still managed to win 89 games and put a scare into the Athletics in the last weeks of the season. The Athletics aren’t as good as they were in 2006 and the Angels are deeper and should be expected to have a less trying season in 2007.
Once in the playoffs, the usual suspects will be around. The Yankees have lost to the Angels twice in the playoffs of recent years and simply don’t match up well with them. The Tigers, for all the legitimate attention they’re getting for the powerful young team they’ve built, strike me as a team that might dominate during the regular season and get picked off in the playoffs. Overall, the Angels have everything they need to win and that’s why they’re my pick to win the World Series.
More on the Angels and the rest of major league baseball is clearly covered in my new book:
The Prince Of New York’s 2007 Baseball Preview