Don't get me wrong: The Angels might win 100 games next year and leave the AL West in the dust. They definitely have what it takes, from solid and deep starting pitching to a hitting star, from an impressive young nucleus to the money to make significant upgrades. There is real cause for real concern that 2007 could be the year of the Halo. (As for the Mariners, they're just not there yet, and as for the Rangers, call me when they have a real rotation--their 80-82 record was no fluke.)
Yet there are legitimate reasons to think the Angels could stumble in 2007 and I'm here to point a few of them out, until worry turns to hope, hope turns to excitement, and excitement turns to "WHY ISN'T IT SPRING TRAINING YET???"
- With or without a key addition to their lineup, the Angels' offense is highly dependent on Vlad Guerrero. One nice thing about being the A's, and not having any good hitters, is that it's not so bad when they go down. Kotsay's back is acting up? Well he's only hitting .270 anyway. Crosby's dead again? Did our lineup just a little better? There are few offensive players in Vladdy's league--he can carry a team, a lineup, an inning, like few others can. And his knees do not look good. Knees and backs--both problem areas for Vlad--are tricky beasts, and Guerrero really looks like a guy whose knees could give out any time. In fact, in 2006 his knees looked like they had given out, even if he was able to hit .379 over a stretch where he was parking in the blue zone and no one was arguing. One of these years Vlad's body is going to say "no" for a significant stretch of the season, and 2007 is as likely as any to be that year.
- It is easy to argue that defense doesn't win or lose games and to find acronyms like VORP, SNERG, or BERP to back it up, but just watch a few Angels games and you'll realize that when a defense is bad enough it does make a difference. Are the Angels going to seriously address this issue, or will they add a big bat (who likely will not be a gold-glover) because big bats make a more visible difference? I don't really see where the Angels are going to substantially upgrade their defense--in fact, they're losing Adam Kennedy, who actually played decent defense, and if they're not careful the Angels could actually wind up allowing their defense to get a bit worse in 2007. Ouch.
- Regression to the mean could be mean to the 2007 Angels. Just as Mark Ellis' .316 average turned sour, there is little chance that Maicer Izturis and Juan Rivera will repeat the "career years" that posed as "breakout years," and just as Huston Street and Joe Blanton came crashing down to earth in 2006, the league will take steps towards adjusting to Jered Weaver, and then Joe Saunders. Undoubtedly, some Angels players will improve from 2006 to 2007 but some regressions are practically assured.