A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
Dates we play them: 5/19-5/20 and 7/5-7/8 at home, 9/24-9/26 @ Los Angeles
Offense: A potential lineup: Erick Aybar-SS, Howie Kendrick-2B, Bobby Abreu-RF, Torii Hunter-CF, Kendry Morales-1B, Hideki Matsui-DH, Juan Rivera-LF, Mike Napoli-C, Brandon Wood-3B. Bench: Kevin Frandsen-3B, Ryan Budde-C, Reggie Willits-OF.
Much like us, the Angels have a below average offense. They draw fewer walks, hit less homeruns, and strike out more, but they do hit more doubles. And they can't use a horrific BABIP as an excuse (team .283). Erick Aybar, however, can. He's drawing walks at almost double his career rate, but a BABIP .037 points lower than normal is nerfing this positive change. He's been brutal defensively so far, but looked good the past two seasons. He will not match last year's breakthrough. Howie Kendrick is yet another fragile second baseman. If he could last an entire season he could be a 3-3.5 WAR player. So far he's maxed out at only 105 games in one season. He constantly puts the ball in play, and as a result he rarely walks. Like Aybar, he's been good defensively in the past but not so much yet this season. Odds are they'll both fix it before October rolls around. Bobby Abreu has continued to somehow stave off the effects of old age. True, he'll never be a 30-30 guy again, but another 15-30 season like last year is very possible. He's slowly getting worse, but not at the extreme rate other hitters his age have over the past few seasons. His defense is atrocious. My least favorite centerfielder, Torii Hunter is still raking out west. He's also still saying stupid things. His bat is still good enough to make up for the fact that he hasn't been above-average with the glove since 2005.
Kendry Morales finally got to a play a full season last year, and did not disappoint. 34 homers and a .924 OPS are pretty nice. I think having the balls to try escaping Cuba 12 times is more impressive though. He's headed for some harsh regression this year, as he doesn't look likely to crack 30 homers or a .300 batting average this year. If you want to play the lazy comparison game, you could hope this is what Dayan Viciedo could become. Wrong, Morales knew how to walk in the minors. Did you know that Hideki Matsui actually appeared in a Godzilla movie? You do now! Matsui has gotten off to a very rough start and seems to be in line for his worst season in the majors. He's striking out more than ever, and while his BABIP is low, it will probably never be as high as it once was thanks to his old/bad legs. The Grim Reaper may be coming for his career. Juan Rivera finally had another good season, the first time since 2006. That being said, he won't crack 500 AB again. He's been decent in left. Jeff Mathis getting hurt finally forced Mike Scioscia to start Mike Napoli regularly. Napoli's tremendous pop (.233 career ISO) has been good enough to keep his value positive even though he is terrible defensively. Sounds a little familiar. Brandon Wood will never live up to the hype his amazing 2005 season brought. He is an AAAA player at best. The .08 BB/K ratio is my favorite part.
Pitching: A potential rotation and closer: Jered Weaver-RHP, Joe Saunders-LHP, Ervin Santana-RHP, Joel Pineiro-RHP, Scott Kazmir-LHP, and Brian Fuentes/Fernando Rodney-LHP/RHP.
I like to imagine that Jered Weaver brags to his brother about already having a better career in under half the time to his older brother Jeff Weaver. Then Jeff smacks him senseless with this. Thankfully we get to miss Jered this series, as he has held us to a team OPS of .379 against him in 5 starts. He's having a good season and could post a new career high in strikeouts. He throws a high-80s/low-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Saunders is a lefty that pitches to contact and walks a few too many guys for his low strikeout totals (1.7 K/BB career). He's off to a bad start because he has walked just as many hitters as he has struck out so far. He's an innings eater at best. He throws the same stuff as Weaver, with a slightly better fastball and slightly worse everything else. His changeup is erratic. If you follow Ervin Santana's career WAR trend, he's due for an at least 3 WAR season (he has a weird trend of doing good in even-numbered seasons). He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a devastating slider, and a changeup. His slider is his money pitch. A proud graduate of the Dave Duncan School of Groundballers, Joel Pineiro made the potentially dumb decision of moving to the American League. So far, so good though. He'll only get about 100 strikeouts a season, but walks so few hitters and posts such an extreme GB/FB rate (2.54 last season, 2.21 this) that he can get away with it. He won't match last season, but a 3-3.8 WAR season isn't a pipe dream. His sinking fastball is his main weapon, but he also has a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Scott Kazmir is another wonderful example of talent flaming out. I mean, he's still capable of 2 WAR season, but his monster 2007 is beginning to look like an aberration. Kazmir has always walked his fair share of guys, but in the past he could get away with it by blowing hitters away with his stuff. That has gone the way of the dodo. His once mighty fastball now sits in the low-90s. His slider hasn't been good in half a decade, but he seems to have found his changeup. Probably too little, too late. Brian Fuentes has struggled so far this season (shocking!), so now the Angels' depth chart lists both him and Fernando Rodney as the closer. They should really just stick with Fuentes. Brian has a better K/9 and isn't currently relying on a BABIP over .100 points below where it belongs. Regression is going to hit Rodney like a freight train.
Outlook: Hey, another pre-season contender scuttling! This may be the year the Angels finally cough up their choke-hold on the AL West crown. Too bad we're also bad this season. Prediction: 4-5 season series.