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Series #1: LA Angels - It Has Begun

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MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

First up to bat against the Oakland Athletics is the Los Angeles Angels. Here is a quick rundown of the A’s biggest American League rival.

Current Record: 0-0 (last season 80-82, 2nd place in the AL West)

Probable Lineup:

2B: Zack Cozart

CF: Mike Trout

LF: Justin Upton

1B: Albert Pujols

SS: Andrelton Simmons

RF: Kole Calhoun

3B: Luis Valbuena

DH: Shohei Ohtani

C: Martin Maldonado

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Garrett Richards

Tyler Skaggs

Matt Shoemaker

Shohei Ohtani

Hottest (Spring) Hitters:

New arrival Zack Cozart has quickly endeared himself to Angels’ fans as he hit to the tune of a 1.077 OPS in spring training, notching four home runs and five walks to ten strikeouts. And, as is no surprise, Mike Trout performed admirably as he didn’t strike out in his first 44 spring ABs, until Hyun-Jin Ryu finally nabbed him. Our very own Jesus Luzardo struck him out later on in spring.

Coldest Spring Hitters:

Albert Pujols barely reached base above a .300 clip and didn’t show much power, even in Arizona’s offense-friendly environment. His decline hasn’t been all too shocking, and despite his exorbitant cost, will now be slightly mitigated by the arrival of Shohei Ohtani forcing him into a reduced role. Keeping in mind the pressures of moving to an entirely new country and culture, learning a new, more competitive baseball league, the excessive expectations being placed upon him, and the difficulty of being a two-way player, Shohei Ohtani’s spring at the plate was rather awful. Just awful.

Hottest (Spring) Pitchers:

The main standout starting pitcher this spring, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Garrett Richards, who, when healthy, is a force to be reckoned with on the mound. He held opponents to a batting average against of .190, and had good run prevention. JC Ramirez had a bit of a home run problem in spring, but otherwise had a very strong WHIP of 1.05.

Coldest (Spring) Pitchers:

Much like the A’s, the Angels’ starting pitching really didn’t hold up this spring, with Richards being the only starter with an ERA below 4.60 and with two starters giving up as many, or more runs, than innings pitched. Keeping in mind the pressures of moving to an entirely new country and culture, learning a new, more competitive baseball league, the excessive expectations being placed upon him, and the difficulty of being a two-way player, Shohei Ohtani’s spring on the mound was rather awful. Just awful.

Key Injuries: Starting pitcher Andrew Heaney is currently listed as Day-to-Day with inflammation in his left elbow. Ian Kinsler will likely miss opening day with a “groin issue.”

* * *

For the A’s, it is fair to say that a lot needed to go right this season to become this year’s Minnesota Twins, and it is fair to say that, over the last two weeks, not much has. However, it is not all doom and gloom, as the A’s still have four of their five projected starters in the rotation with a revamped and extra-deep bullpen that can be used aggressively to shut down threats and keep games close. The lineup is going to light up the scoreboard day in and day out, and will only continue to get younger and more fun to watch as the season goes along. The much-chagrined defense of the recent past now possesses perhaps the best-fielding third baseman in an era where greatness at 3rd is the new norm, and the team is much more solid with the glove all over the diamond. How the season will go is impossible to predict, but this is still one of the most intriguing and compelling teams put together in the league.

For “The The Angels Angels,” this season is about finally putting a proper cast around Mike Trout and making a legitimate push for the World Series. While some of their impressive offseason was tremendous fortunes falling into their laps, with Shohei Ohtani choosing to play for them and Kevin Maitan falling into their laps to name a few, the team managed to support those moves by getting strong offensive players to play all over the diamond, without compromising anything from their already MLB-best defense. However, the pitching staff is still comprised of glass cannons, and the team’s success or failures this season depend almost entirely on those glass cannons staying healthy and intact, no matter how strong the offense may be.

Game 1 - Thursday, March 29, 1:05 PM - NBCSCA, FSW, MLB.tv

Kendall Graveman vs Garrett Richards

Graveman is making his second consecutive opening day start, last season winning against these very Angels after allowing two runs in six innings and seven strikeouts. On offense, Stephen Piscotty will be seeking to make a big impact in his first game playing for his true hometown team. Richards has historically been very strong against the A’s, as he was last year in his very limited action, so the homer-happy A’s offense will be given a true test on the mound right out of the gates.

Game 2 - Friday, March 30, 7:05 PM - NBCSCA, FSW, MLB.tv

Sean Manaea vs Tyler Skaggs

Manaea will need to prove this year whether or not he truly has top of the rotation potential, or is simply topping out as a nice #3. Which isn’t a terrible thing, mind you. Jonathan Lucroy will need to prove just how little spring training stats matter after going 0-for-the-spring, though the positive impact he has had on the young pitching has made his addition a positive regardless. Skaggs, like Richards, had an injury-hampered season last year, resulting in missed time and ineffectiveness, but when healthy can be very frustrating to go up against.

Game 3 - Saturday, March 31, 1:05 PM - NBCSCA, FSW, MLB.tv

Daniel Gossett vs Matt Shoemaker

If his uptick in velocity is real, then there’s a chance Gossett can be much more than his mediocre rookie season. Despite a Jharel Cotton injury opening a slot in the rotation for Gossett, as the sixth starter, he was pegged to see a lot of action over the full season anyways, and this will be his first chance to prove he should remain in the rotation for good. In case anyone was sensing a pattern, Shoemaker was limited to just fourteen starts last year due to a forearm injury, and in those fourteen starts was a shell of his former dominant self. It remains to be seen if the righty has fully bounced back, or will ever recover his top form.

Game 4 - Sunday, April 1, 1:05 PM - NBCSCA, FSW, MLBN, MLB.tv

Daniel Mengden vs Shohei Ohtani

Mengden was unhittable at the end of the 2017 season, but has long been inconsistent throughout his short career, and thusly will need more sustained success before it can be determined how real his performance was. His windup on the mound is captivating, but for once, there may be a more captivating player taking the mound up against him. The fourth game of the season will mark Ohtani’s first MLB start. How he will perform is a total mystery, but given the drama surrounding the sweepstakes for his services and how much he was wanted by everyone, the entire baseball world will be watching to see how he performs.

Baseball’s back, baby! May the next six-to-seven months be as compelling as your wildest dreams.