A's fans this year are a bit schizophrenic, and it's understandable. On one hand, we are all hoping beyond hope that the A's are better than predicted, but we also get nervous about too much talk about them being 'underrated' and 'surprising'.
I know one thing holds true for me: I like these A's best when they are the underdogs. I don't want anyone to pick the A's to win a single series; I want it to be a surprise when they do. I want to enjoy a team with no expectations, although it wouldn't hurt if they could hit a little bit.
I am an A’s blogger. I spend a considerable amount of my time on the internet with other A’s fans. I know how A’s fans feel about the A’s this year. I know how A’s fans feel about the Angels’ injuries so far this season (Lackey, Escobar, Shields), and thanks to the amazing Staturday post by salb918, I also know how the stats feel about them.
What I didn't know (and was curious about, if for no other reason than to fire up a little bit of the Angels/A's rivalry that has been missing for a year) was how Angels fans are feeling about the season. Is there any merit to the whispering that the division is now open to Seattle and the A's?
I hand-picked an Angels' fan from an unlikely location; like me, he is a cross-California fan of his team. I live in Los Angeles and root for the A's, while Andy Bauer lives in Northern California and roots for the Angels. The irony is not lost on either of us; that we just happen to live in the other's season ticket market.
I asked him to describe (in blog-form, of course) how he, as a life-long Angels' fan, felt about the upcoming season and the threats to the Angels' apparent stranglehold on the AL West. As always, I thought I would share it with my fellow ANers; it's a different analysis that I'm use to as an A's fan, and I liked that it cemented my great wish to have the A's considered real underdogs.
Not a single regular season pitch was even thrown, and already I was in panic mode. The problem being that knowing who was going to be throwing that first pitch had been thrown (pun intended) into some serious doubt. We knew for some time that Kelvim Escobar was going to have plenty of time to update his Myspace page early in the season, but the disturbing news that he has a tear in his throwing shoulder that may end his season completely, and possibly his career, had cast an Ervin Santana shaped shadow over the Angels’ long-term season goals. Couple this with John Lackey’s triceps injury that will keep him from even picking up a baseball for two to three weeks and that shadow may turn into a full-blown eclipse. Oh, and just a little side note, Scot Shields will begin the season on the DL also. Awesome.
Like any clear thinking American sports fan, I reacted to this news by doing what comes naturally. I freaked out. When I came to three days later, I realized I needed to look at the situation a little more rationally. How are they going to weather this April storm and where will they be by the time we see those May flowers I’ve heard so much about? The Angels pride themselves on depth, a justified self-congratulations. But you don’t just pick up 18 game winners off the scrap heap. Fortunately for the Angels, their scrap heap is loaded with potential classics (is there a more frightening word in the American sports lexicon than “potential”?).
Ervin Santana. The mere mention of his name causes a torrent of conflicting emotions for this Angels fan. So much potential (there’s that word again), so much fear (for me). In light of the current situation I’d settle for ¾ of the 2006 Santana. Just give the lineup a chance to make things interesting. Let’s just start there. In the sage words of Dr. Leo Marvin, baby steps. He has the physical skills to be very good, even to something approaching great, the question is whether his head will be screwed on right to make that happen. Some have made the suggestion Ervin should only pitch at home given his ridiculous home/road splits (For his career - Home: ERA – 3.14, WHIP – 1.17, Away: ERA – 7.14, WHIP – 1.63), though Scioscia has, rightfully, nixed any such idea.
Dustin Moseley will be filling the final spot in the rotation, a role he filled rather ably at points last year. But last year he was filling holes left by far less talented pitchers than either Lackey or Escobar. So while he may perform courageously in the interim this season, no one’s expecting him to make us forget who we’re really missing. If Moseley does falter, the Angels have a potential ace waiting in the wings (OK, that pun was not intended) in Nick Adenhart. He was up and down this spring, but definitely showed flashes that make Angel fans smile to themselves in their sleep.
Now we know who will be carrying the torch in our 1-2’s absence, but that shadow still looms. Is it enough to still win the division? Only time will tell for sure—duh—but I submit that the division title is still very much the Angels’ to lose. Let’s take a look at the facts.
Texas doesn’t even enter this conversation. Let’s talk about that. They did nothing in the offseason to improve their perennial weakness: starting pitching. They did add Josh Hamilton to the OF, so I guess the old “we’ll bludgeon our way to a pennant” strategy still holds sway in the Ranger front office. Oh, those Texans. In a way it’s almost loveable.
Threat assessment: none.
Oakland, on the other hand, did make some major moves. Unfortunately for the A’s faithful, they involved trading away all of their good players. As an Angels fan, I was obviously thrilled; at least for the short-term. I do not bow to the altar of Billy Beane and his sabermetrics mumbo-jumbo. (Before you Rob Neyer-reading Athletics enthusiasts dismiss me as a backward mystic who believes mathematics to be some sort of wicked sorcery spawned by Lucifer himself, let me assure you my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek. Everyone knows math is very useful for calculating batting average.) However, he does have an uncanny ability to occasionally turn what looks like a pile of nothing into something, which always makes me nervous. I mean any guy that can win a division title with Scott Hatteberg on the roster, let alone as a starter, must be doing something right, right? That said, it would take a wizard of Gandalf the Grey proportions to turn this year’s pile into anything significant. The only way they can remotely threaten the Halos this season is if Harden and Crosby can somehow remain healthy for the duration, which, as any self-respecting baseball fan worth a strained Harden oblique can attest, is a physical impossibility. Even if that were somehow possible, the odds would still be something akin to those of Jeremy Giambi teaching sliding practice at A’s camp next spring. If you want to hear me anxiously worry about Oakland as contender, come back in two years.
Threat assessment: minimal.
Seattle looked like they were for real last year until a colossal late season collapse which, not coincidently, began with a sweep at the hands of the Halos at Safeco. If all the Angels were a picture of perfect health, I wouldn’t be worried much at all, but given the current state of affairs, I’m just a touch concerned. Just a skosh, a smidgen really. With the Bedard acquisition, the M’s have a solid rotation and a strong bullpen, and though their lineup is decent, the team is not without question marks. Can Miguel Batista really win 16 games again? Is King Felix finally ready to ascend the throne? Can Richie Sexson rebound, and by rebound I mean hit .230? And perhaps most importantly, how the crap is he making $3M more than Ichiro!? Top to bottom, the Angels’ lineup is much stronger and the fact that just about everyone coming off their bench could start for a fair amount of big league teams, including pretty much all of those in the National League, bodes well for when the injury bug bites. Tell me, who would you rather have coming off the pine Juan Rivera or Charlton Jimerson? Actually, now that I think about it, I may opt for Jimerson just so I can hear if the P.A. guy can say his name without snickering.
Threat assessment: moderate.
Of course all of this depends on Lackey coming back by mid-May, Santana not completely imploding, Moseley/Adenhart being at least somewhere north of terrible, the rest of the rotation (Weaver, Saunders, and Garland) performing up to expectations, and Reggie Willits not putting banana peels and ball bearings in front of every other outfielders locker in an attempt to injure them thus increasing his playing time and removing the looming fear of being sent down to AAA and having to ride smelly buses and eat at Chick-Fil-A after getting a taste of the Big Show last season.
But what fun would baseball be, or team blogs for that matter, if everything was a done deal before the season started? Well, if it meant the Angels would always win the division, then I guess that would best be characterized as awesome.
And there it is: I have been so busy hating Boston that I have been terribly neglectful of my Angels' dislike, despite all of the billboards on my street that remind me that the Angels really really do play in Los Angeles (they don't). I almost forgot how much fun it was just to care. And on a side note, I realize that I read so much of the baseball world from the sabermetric/A's point of view, that it's a noticable difference to read anything written outside it. In an esoteric kind of way, it seems strange to be a fan of more than just a baseball team, but rather of an organization, a philosophy, a way of looking at the game itself.
I would be hard-pressed to disagree with any of Andy's comments on the A's; not only do Harden and Crosby have to stay healthy for the A's to compete, but Crosby has to somehow become good. And I'm not sure that's even enough. At least half of the A's rookies have to perform at a major league level, and the rest of the team has to have, at best, good years.
Yet despite all the evidence, I'm not entirely convinced that the West is going to line up: Angels, Mariners, A's, Rangers. I think the A's have more 'potential' than the Mariners, but how and when that is going to show itself remains to be seen. Is this division really the Angels to lose? And after the first four games, I still only have one certainty about the A's: underdogs. Again.
Which is exactly where I want them.