Joe Boyd once famously said in Damn Yankees!: One long ball hitter, that's what we need! I'd sell my soul for one long ball hitter.
Nico took some time the other day to talk about the Texas Rangers and how they are stacking up in 2007. He concluded that they still seemed a little short in the starting rotation. I wanted to take a few moments today to talk about the team that will likely be the odds-on favorite to win the AL West in 2007. Yep, those hated rivals from Southern California, the Angels.
The big rumor all this winter was that the Angels were searching high and low for the big bat to help Vlad. But whenever I start to look at an upcoming season and the potential contenders for a division crown, my first stop is always looking at the pitching department. The Angels are truly pitching rich right now, AND they will likely get Shrek back in the near future. As much as I can't stand that team, they've assembled a pitching staff that will be the envy of nearly every other team in baseball this year especially with Francisco Liriano on the shelf for some time. Not only do they have Santana, Colonel Saunders and Spicoli as their young arms, but they also have oft-injured Kelvim Escobar and Slingblade as the veteran anchors to the rotation. That's a rotation that is six quality pitchers deep, as long as Colon comes back and pitches well. The hope in viewing it through green and gold glasses is that the Colonel and Spicoli will show sophomore slump tendencies, although if I was to guess that the league would catch up to either of those two pitchers, Saunders would be the main candidate. Shrek might not be as good as the original (sequels rarely are), Slingblade has still been up and down, but can be just nasty when he's up. And let's just say that I wouldn't have minded seeing A's killer Santana moved for the big bat the Angels were rumored to be chasing this past offseason.
The other huge move for the Angels is getting Justin Speier. Speier adds something unbelievably important to the Anaheim pen. He's going to give Scioscia some flexibility so he doesn't have to toss Scot Shields out there every day. Scioscia really hasn't had that in the past couple of seasons, so Shields seemed to wear down a bit last year (I'm writing this on a plane traveling across the country right now otherwise, I'd check the splits).
You put all of this together and you're looking at some of the best pitching in baseball. Perhaps even the best depending on how their kids continue to develop.
The question with the Angels will be whether or not the team can produce enough offense to complement all that fantastic pitching. Yes, they signed a few vets, one coming off a career year in Matthews Jr., but the Angels offense will probably live and die around the development of players like Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli to give some adequate protection to Vlad Guerrero (not that a guy who will swing and hit the ball in the dirt out of the yard needs much protection). The offense also suffered a significant blow in the injury to Juan Rivera. But here's the thing that makes those So Cal rivals so dangerous...the Angels don't need to have an overpowering offense because of the aforementioned pitching staff to win a lot of games. If just one of the young prospects breaks through, the offense could make the Angels dynamic.
I would be negligent if I didn't mention how poor the Angels defense was in 2006. All of the extra outs they gave away were likely the difference in the A's winning the division over the Angels. That defense will probably be slightly better with Gary Matthews Jr. in center field. And it can't possibly be worse than some of the little league antics in 2006. But the Halos pitching should be that good that it probably won't matter.
That brings me back to the A's. The reason you've heard me go on and on and on about having Rich Harden healthy this year is because the A's need him in order to match up adequately with the Angels pitching staff. Harden and Haren give the A's a 1-2 that can pretty much match up with any combo the Angels can throw at them. And the A's pen probably has a lot more depth than the Angels.
So while it's been a broken record about Harden and his health this offseason, at least now you'll understand why I've been so damned redundant. You wouldn't think that a player who only makes an appearance every fifth day would be that crucial. I believe that because of the makeup of the strongest competitor to the A's AL West crown, that makes it so. Damn Angels.