Results tagged ‘ Marlins ’

And so it begins …

safeco-fieldOpening Day is finally here, and Safeco Field seems like a fitting place to start. It’s home to the team many have picked to win the American League West. And it kicks off with a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, the two guys who have made the most consecutive Opening Day starts in the Majors (Hernandez at seven, Weaver at six).

But Opening Day is only a ceremonial thing. “One of 162,” as many say. The season is long and arduous. And by the end of it, what happens on Opening Day or even in the first series will be nothing but a distant memory (like last year, when the Mariners embarrassed the Angels with a lopsided sweep in Southern California at the start of April).

If the Angels want to win another division title, they’ll have to answer several questions over the course of these next six months. And below are the seven most prominent …

1. What becomes of Josh Hamilton?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Angels aren’t necessarily in a welcoming mood with Hamilton, who’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be suspended for a self-reported drug relapse. The tone of their statements after news broke — and what they’ve said privately leading up to it — made you wonder if they even want him around. He’s a very likable guy, but he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract and his latest relapse struck a nerve with the Angels’ brass (make of that what you will). He won’t be going away, though. He’s owed $83 million over the next three years, so the Angels have to see what they get out of him. How does he fit into the roster? What type of production does he provide in his age-34 season? And how does he mesh with a team that may be better off without him? It’ll be the most fascinating storyline this season.

2. How good is Garrett Richards?

Richards has yet to allow a run in three Minor League outings and could return to the rotation by April 19 if all goes well, which means he basically misses only two starts. How good will he be upon returning, though? As good as he was leading up to the season-ending left knee injury he suffered Aug. 20? If so, this Angels rotation — with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago set to open the season — is more dangerous than people think. If not, they’re very vulnerable. A lot rides on Richards’ 26-year-old right arm (not to mention that left knee).

3. What will the Angels get out of second base?

They aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’ll replicate the production of Howie Kendrick. If C.J. Cron takes the next step in his maturation process (see: patience), David Freese stretches his last four months into a full season and Albert Pujols continues to look as good as he did this spring, they won’t need it. But replacement level production would be nice. Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack, but we may see many guys play second base this year.

4. Who gets the lefties out?

The Angels haven’t had a true lefty specialist since the 2012 version of Scott Downs, and Downs wasn’t really used as a lefty specialist. Last year, the Angels’ go-to reliever to get lefty hitters out was the right-handed Fernando Salas, who has a nice changeup that darts away from left-handed hitters. Ideally, they’d have that traditional left-on-lefty guy. Mike Scioscia has mentioned Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez as possibilities, but they’re multi-inning relievers who don’t have the big stuff that plays in that role. The next hope would be Santiago, but that would hinge on Andrew Heaney or Nick Tropeano developing well enough to warrant Santiago’s current rotation spot.

5. How do they upgrade the roster?

Even without saving any money on Hamilton’s contract, the Angels enter the season with $10 to $15 million of wiggle room. That’s what Arte Moreno said early in camp. It’s more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in a while, and they plan to use it. Question is, how? Do they get a second baseman, even though there aren’t many of them out there? (Chase Utley looks like a long shot, because of how intimidating his contract is and because of his no-trade clause). Do they get an outfield/DH bat? Do they get a starting pitcher (a lot of big names are entering their walk years)? Or do they add more bullpen pieces, like they did last year? June/July should be very eventful.

6. What kind of year does Mike Trout have?

You could reasonably expect a great one, considering he stays healthy. But how does he follow up a season that saw him win the AL MVP unanimously? We saw Trout transition into more of a power game last year, hitting more home runs and stealing fewer bases. But he’s only 23 years old, scary as that seems, and he’s still figuring out who he’s going to be in this game. My guess is he cuts down those strikeouts — I don’t know anyone who truly believes Trout is a 180-strikeout-a-year player — but doesn’t increase his stolen-base total by much. The Angels seem content with how often they sent Trout last year. Teams watch him closely and, far more relevant in this matter, steals cause a lot of wear and tear on the body.

7. Are the Angels better than the Mariners?

That’s probably what it’s going to come down to. The Mariners are a popular pick to win the division, because their rotation could be something fierce, their bullpen was one of the best in the game last season and their lineup got a big missing piece they needed in power hitter Nelson Cruz. But the Angels return the core group of a team that led the Majors in wins and finished second in run-differential last year. They’re starting a season with what should be a reliable bullpen for the first time since Jerry Dipoto came on board in October 2011 and they carry the confidence of succeeding with this group.

It should be interesting.

And to get you ready, here’s a look at our Opening Day content, in case you missed anything …

MORE LINKS! An updated depth chart is here, injury updates are here, pitching probables are here and a look at the top 30 prospects is here. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe to my weekly Angels podcast with Richard Justice here.

MLB.com compiled dozens of predictions on who will win each division, how the postseason will play out and where all the major individual awards will go. Below were my picks, if you’re interested …

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: Angels
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Pirates
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Indians
NL champion: Nationals
AL champion: Angels
World Series champion: Nationals
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza

Feliz Opening Day!

Alden

The Angels and the Hall of Fame …

Vladimir GuerreroNine Hall of Famers have played for the Angels at some point in their careers — sometimes for pretty long stretches — but none have gone into Cooperstown with an Angels hat. Nolan Ryan pitched in Anaheim for eight years, from 1972-79, but went in with a Rangers cap. Rod Carew spent his last seven seasons with the Angels, from 1979-85, but went in as a member of the Twins. Reggie Jackson spent five of his twilight years here, from 1982-86, but alas, he’s a Yankee.

So basically the Angels have zero representation in the Hall of Fame. Seven other current teams are in the same boat, but that can change soon for the D-backs (Randy Johnson), Mariners (Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr.) and Astros (Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell). The others are the Rockies, Marlins, Rays and Nationals, four teams that didn’t exist as recently as 1992.

The Angels have had some very notable representation on the ballot. Darin Erstand, Troy Percival and Tim Salmon have recently received token Hall of Fame votes, but have dropped off the ballot because they didn’t get the required five-percent support. Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, David Eckstein and Bengie Molina will debut in the next ballot, but four of them probably don’t have a shot and the other (Edmonds) would probably go in as a member of the Cardinals if elected.

I recently wrote about why Bobby Grich may have deserved more love from Hall of Fame voters, and how he could’ve been the first Angels representative in the Hall, but it looks like he’ll never get in.

At some point, though, the Angels will have their Hall of Famer.

Question is: Who?

Maybe it’s Vladimir Guerrero, whom Pedro Martinez vouched for recently, but Guerrero — eligible for the 2017 class — spent his first eight years with the now-defunct Montreal Expos.

Maybe it’s Albert Pujols, who should definitely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer but will have always put up his greatest numbers in St. Louis.

Maybe it’s Mike Scisocia, who’s building a Hall of Fame resume as a manager.

Or maybe it’s Mike Trout, who is on a path to becoming one of the greatest players in baseball history but, you know, is only 23 years old.

Class of 2035?

Vote below on who you think it will be and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Alden

You can win in October without dominant starters …

Mike Scioscia, Dino EbelIt’s no secret. If the Angels — considering a three-man rotation for the American League Division Series — are to go far in the playoffs, they’ll have to rely heavily on their deep bullpen.

The question is: Will it work?

One of baseball’s dogmas says teams that are “built for the playoffs” are the ones that have dominant starting pitching. But in the Wild Card era, that hasn’t proven to be true. Consider: Since 1995, the Major League quality-start percentage has been 48.88 in the regular season, 48.88 in the postseason and 51.96 in the World Series; in terms of innings per start, it’s 5.91 in the regular season, 5.76 in the postseason and 5.88 in the World Series. That’s a very negligible difference, especially when you consider all the bad teams that are lumped into that regular-season category.

Now here’s a case-by-case look at each of the last 19 World Series champions, with the first stat being innings per start and the second being the amount of quality starts throughout the postseason …

2013 Red Sox: 5.81 IP, 8 of 16 QS
2012 Giants: 5.64 IP, 6 of 16 QS
2011 Cardinals: 5.11 IP, 7 of 18 QS
2010 Giants: 6.44 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2009 Yankees: 6.29 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2008 Phillies: 5.9 IP, 10 of 14 QS
2007 Red Sox: 6 IP, 6 of 14 QS
2006 Cardinals: 6.20 IP, 10 of 16 QS
2005 White Sox: 7.66 IP, 9 of 12 QS
2004 Red Sox: 5.61 IP, 9 of 14 QS
2003 Marlins: 5.66 IP, 8 of 17 QS
2002 Angels: 5.02 IP, 2 of 16 QS
2001 D-backs: 7.08 IP, 14 of 17 QS
2000 Yankees: 6.42 IP, 8 of 16 QS
1999 Yankees: 6.58 IP, 10 of 12 QS
1998 Yankees: 6.79 IP, 9 of 13 QS
1997 Marlins: 5.83 IP, 5 of 16 QS
1996 Yankees: 5.42 IP, 5 of 15 QS
1995 Braves: 6.64 IP, 10 of 14 QS

That’s nine of 19 champions that got less than six innings per start during the playoffs, and seven that won the World Series despite receiving a quality start in less than half of their postseason games. Look at the 2002 Angels. Stunning. Managers tend to have quick hooks in the playoffs, because it’s all hands on deck and because the off days tend to keep bullpens relatively fresh.

So, you can win in October with a deep bullpen, a good offense and a rotation that keeps you in the game. And the Angels have the potential for that. Since Garrett Richards went down, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago have allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of 23 starts (includes tonight).

Just something to think about.

Alden

Division-by-division: NL East …

Bryce Harper

Leading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. First up, the NL East.

Braves
Last year’s record: 96-66, 1st place (lost to Dodgers in NLDS)
Key additions: UT Ryan Doumit, RP Luis Vasquez, SP Gavin Floyd, 1B Mat Gamel
Key subtractions: C Brian McCann, SP Tim Hudson, SP Paul Maholm, RP Scott Downs
Biggest strength: The ninth inning, where Craig Kimbrel has cemented himself as the best closer in baseball by posting a 1.48 ERA and converting 138 of 153 save chances the last three years.
Biggest question: Filling the gaps. The Braves overcame a lot in 2013 (struggles by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, injuries to Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward), but lost a few important pieces over the offseason and will need a lot more to go right.
Most important player: B.J. Upton. He batted a ghastly .184/.268/.289 in the first of a five-year, $75.25 million contract and needs to step up for an offense that is now without McCann (and still with Uggla).
In 25 words or less: The Braves handily won the division despite dealing with a lot of adversity last year, but the Nats are better and their holes are bigger.

Marlins
Last year’s record: 62-100, 5th place
Key additions: 1B Garrett Jones, 2B Rafael Furcal, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 3B Casey McGehee, RP Carter Capps
Key subtractions: 1B Logan Morrison, 3B Placido Polanco, OF Justin Ruggiano, OF Chris Coghlan, RP Chad Qualls
Biggest strength: Pitching, particularly young pitching. Despite losing triple-digit games, the Marlins had the best ERA in franchise history (3.71) and did it with an assortment of pre-arbitration pitchers with upside — Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Steve Cishek and, of course, NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez.
Biggest question: Offense. The Marlins ranked last in the Majors in runs scored last year. They’ve since added several new bats, but Furcal (coming off Tommy John surgery), McGehee (spent 2013 in Japan), Saltalamacchia (back issues) and Jones (.578 career OPS against lefties) all have questions.
Most important player: Giancarlo Stanton. He was limited to 116 games and an .845 OPS because of a strained right hamstring in 2013 and needs to produce in 2014 — either to help the Marlins’ needy offense, or to maximize a trade.
In 25 words or less: They’re an ownership and financial mess, but somehow the Marlins have done what they’ve always done — accrue young, talented pitching.

Mets
Last year’s record: 74-88, 3rd place
Key additions: OF Chris Young, OF Curtis Granderson, SP Bartolo Colon, SP John Lannan
Key subtractions: SP Johan Santana, SP Shaun Marcum, RP LaTroy Hawkins
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, even without Matt Harvey and in the post-Santana era. With Colon, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese, and top prospect Noah Syndergaard likely joining them midseason, it’s their best chance to compete, now and in the future.
Biggest question: Relief pitching. They ranked 22nd in bullpen ERA last year, and they don’t know what they’ll get out of closer Bobby Parnell (2.16 ERA and 22 saves) coming off neck surgery.
Most important player: Harvey, even though he won’t even pitch this year. The 24-year-old right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery 26 starts into a brilliant sophomore season that saw him finish fourth in Cy Young voting and will spend the entire year rehabbing. If he returns to form in 2015, he’ll join a young and dynamic rotation, and then the Mets can really get going.
In 25 words or less: It’s nice to see the Mets finally spend on free agents, but there are still too many holes to compete in a tough division.

Nationals
Last year’s record: 86-76, 2nd place
Key additions: MGR Matt Williams, SP Doug Fister, RP Jerry Blevins, OF Nate McLouth, INF Jamey Carroll
Key subtractions: MGR Davey Johnson, SP Dan Haren, INF Steve Lombardozzi, RP Ian Krol, 1B/3B Chad Tracy
Biggest strength: Talent across the board. With Fister joining Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, their rotation is spectacular. With Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, etc., their offense is dangerous from top to bottom. With Rafael Soriano, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, their bullpen is solid in the back end.
Biggest question: A rookie manager, and whether or not he can put it together for a veteran team that has World Series aspirations and underachieved last season.
Most important player: Blevins, or Xavier Cedeno, or any other lefty reliever who can consistently get lefty hitters out in a division loaded with dangerous lefty bats. It’s the Nats’ biggest (and, perhaps, only) weakness.
In 25 words or less: Barring injury, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a playoff team. Plain and simple.

Phillies
Last year’s record: 73-89, 4th place
Key additions: OF Marlon Byrd, C Wil Nieves, SP/RP Roberto Hernandez, RP Brad Lincoln, RP Chad Gaudin
Key subtractions: SP Roy Halladay, SP John Lannan
Biggest strength: The top of the rotation. Not many teams can boast a 1-2 punch as lethal as Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Biggest question: The health and production of the assortment of high-priced, aging superstars — namely, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon.
Most important player: Howard. He’s owed a guaranteed $75 million over the next three years and needs to revert back to the MVP form he’s now three years removed from.
In 25 words or less: Ruben Amaro Jr. is trying to squeeze out all that’s left from this championship fruit, but it may have already dried up.

Predicted order of finish …

  • Nationals
  • Braves
  • Marlins
  • Phillies
  • Mets

Alden

Angels sign Volstad to Minor League deal …

The Angels have signed starting pitcher Chris Volstad to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite.

Volstad, 27, was the 16th overall pick by the Marlins in 2005. The 6-foot-8 righty had a solid rookie season in ’08, posting a 2.88 ERA in 15 games (14 starts), but was never able to duplicate that.

Over the next four years, the last of which was spent with the Cubs, Volstad compiled a 5.14 ERA and averaged 153 innings per season. Last year, he spent the vast majority of the season — minus six relief appearances — pitching for the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, posting a 4.58 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP and a 1.30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 2/3 innings.

Volstad, currently pitching in winter ball at the Dominican Republic, joins relievers Josh Wall and Robert Carson as minor pitching additions in the early portion of the offseason. But unlike the latter two, Volstad is not on the 40-man roster.

Alden

Parting ways with Vernon Wells …

In honor of Paul Simon, who told you about the 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, below are Five Ways To Leave Vernon Wells. Not as catchy, I know. And it’s not as easy as slipping out the back (Jack), or making a new plan (Stan), or hopping off the bus (Gus) — OK, I’ll stop.

The best way to get it done may be a little bad-contract swapping.

Look, it’s no secret the Angels would prefer to part ways with Wells, who’s owed $42 million through the 2014 season. At this point, they can’t expect much salary relief (if any) in the process, but what they can do is create some breathing room in a clogged-up outfield and perhaps get a player back who can help them in an area of need. At the same time, they’d probably be helping Wells, sending him to a place where he can play more regularly. The best way to do it, perhaps, is to try and find a match with a team that has a similarly unfriendly contract. The Cubs did it in 2009, sending the volatile Milton Bradley to the Mariners in exchange for Carlos Silva. The Angels themselves tried to do it last offseason, with Bobby Abreu slated to return to the Yankees before A.J. Burnett evoked his limited no-trade clause.

Is there a similar partner for Wells this offseason? Below are some possibilities. Two things to keep in mind: 1. This is merely speculative — nothing more than my own opinion; 2. The Angels may consider the next two years of Wells’ contract a wash, so perhaps they’ll have little issue with paying the difference in a trade. The benefit for them is creating flexibility in the outfield — perhaps easing a return for Torii Hunter — while getting a player who may help them. If they can save a couple million dollars, too, even better.

BOS SP John Lackey ($30.5M thru ’14)

After winning 102 games, posting a 3.81 ERA and having a few memorable postseason moments in eight seasons with the Angels, Lackey put up a 4.40 ERA in his first year with the Red Sox, followed by a 6.41 ERA in 2011, followed by Tommy John surgery in October that knocked him out for all of this past season. But the soon-to-be 34-year-old progressed towards the end of the year, should have a normal offseason and is expected to be ready to go by the start of Spring Training. Would Boston go for it? They have Jacoby Ellsbury in center and there appears to be strong mutual interest in Cody Ross returning. Other than that, though, they have several uncertainties in Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish. Wells, meanwhile, may be a nice fit for the Green Monster, and to them, Lackey may represent part of that toxic clubhouse they’re still trying to fumigate.

NYY 3B Alex Rodriguez ($114M thru ’17)

It’s an easy place to go these days, since A-Rod is getting benched in the playoffs while being booed mercifully by the home crowd and the Angels could use an upgrade at third base. But A-Rod’s deal extends three years longer than Wells’, at $61 million. I’m thinking one $200 million deal (Albert Pujols) is enough in Anaheim.

CWS DH Adam Dunn ($30M thru ’14)

Bringing him on board as a lefty middle-of-the-order hitter could free up a trade for Kendrys Morales, who’s heading into his final year before free agency. But Dunn turned it around in 2012, raising his OPS from .569 to .800, and may claim AL Comeback Player of the Year honors for it (Morales is also in the running). This no longer looks like a salary dump for the White Sox.

SEA UT Chone Figgins ($8M in ’13, $9M vesting option in ’14)

This is one that seems to make sense for both sides. Figgins has said he wants out of Seattle, and he’d probably embrace a return to the place he thrived from 2002-09. The Angels could use a utility man with Maicer Izturis expected to depart via free agency (though Figgins doesn’t help them at shortstop). The Mariners, meanwhile, are in desperate need of power and Wells may be a nice fit now that they’re moving the  fences in at Safeco Field. One problem: The money. In case you hadn’t noticed, Figgins’ deal is a lot friendlier than Wells’. But, hey, if the Angels see Wells’ contract as a wash, that may not be an issue. By the way, Figgins’ 2014 option automatically vests with 600 plate appearances in 2013 — meaning it probably won’t automatically vest.

SFG SP Barry Zito ($20M in ’13, $18M club option — and $7M buyout — in ’14)

Another one that may fill needs on both sides. Zito would move into the Angels’ rotation — a rotation that could lose up to three-fifths of the 2012 makeup — and Wells would go to a team that, like the Mariners, is perpetually looking for offense. Plus, Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will hit free agency this offseason. But do the Giants really benefit from this? Though obviously no longer the same pitcher, Zito had a descent year with a 4.15 ERA in 184 1/3 innings. And in their desire to upgrade the offense, the Giants, three wins away from the World Series, may have higher aspirations than Wells. Zito, by the way, has a full no-trade clause — but he is a SoCal product.

Not mentioned: CHC LF Alfonso Soriano ($36M thru ’14); NYM LF Jason Bay ($16M in ’13, $17M club option in ’14); NYM SP Johan Santana ($25.5M in ’13, $25M club option in ’14); LAD SP Josh Beckett and 3B Hanley Ramirez ($31.5M thru ’14 each); LAD LF Carl Crawford ($102.5M thru ’17); MIA RP Heath Bell ($18M thru ’14).

Alden 

Question of the Day, 7/23 …

Hypothetically, what do you think the Angels would have to give to get a Shields/Garza type? — @MattPainter85

Yesterday, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said pitching will no doubt be available before the Trade Deadline, as it is every July, but added: “You’re going to pay a premium for it.” How much of a premium? Well, if the Tigers-Marlins trade is any indication — with top pitching prospect Jacob Turner going to Miami in exchange for a rental in Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante — than a big one. Pitching’s always expensive. But with two new CBA wrinkles (additional Wild Card and no Draft-pick compensation on rentals) it may be more expensive than ever this year.

There’s no doubt the Angels prefer to acquire a starter who’s under contract for more than just the next two months — rather than shelling out top prospects for a guy who may leave in the offseason and leave them with nothing. That’s why guys like James Shields (affordable club options in 2013 and ’14) and Matt Garza (not a free agent until after ’13) are intriguing.

What will it take to get them? That’s what everyone’s still trying to figure out. My guess, from the Angels perspective? I’m thinking one of their top young Major League-ready young players (Peter Bourjos or Garrett Richards) along with at least one highly-regarded low-level guy (John Hellweg? C.J. Cron? Jean Segura?). The Rays may probably want instant offense, too.

But, again, that’s a guess. Nothing more.

Another name to keep in mind: Josh Johnson (signed through 2013), since the Marlins seem to be sellers.

Alden

The ASG rosters that should’ve been …

American League

Mike Trout, CF (.343 BA, .399 OBP, 23 SB)
Rookie of the Year? How about MVP? Trout has elevated himself to that level already.
Robinson Cano, 2B (.316 BA, 20 HR, 50 RBI)
Best second baseman in baseball. And it isn’t even close.
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (.323, 18 HR, 68 RBI)
Best hitter in the AL, in my mind, and better at third base than I thought he’d be.
Josh Hamilton, LF (.318 BA, 26 HR, 74 RBI)
Somebody’s going to give this guy an absurd amount of money this offseason.
Jose Bautista, RF (.911 OPS, 27 HR, 64 RBI)
As Mike Scioscia said in Toronto, “How is this guy only batting .240?” He’s as fun to watch hit as anyone.
David Ortiz, DH (.302 BA, 22 HR, 55 RBI)
Remember when we all thought he was finished?
Paul Konerko, 1B (.333 BA, 14 HR, 42 RBI)
Like fine wine, Konerko seems to get better with age.
Joe Mauer, C (.327 BA, .415 OBP, 38 RBI)
He’s only catching about half the time, but he’s healthy and back to being himself offensively. Huge sigh of relief for Twins.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (.370 OBP, 11 HR, 42 RBI)
As slick as there is with the glove and a great hitter.

SP: Justin Verlander (9 W, 2.58 ERA, 128 SO)
Weaver’s numbers are better, but the reigning MVP deserves to start one of these.

National League

Andrew McCutchen, CF (.360 BA, 16 HR, 54 RBI)
Oh, and 14 steals. The guy does it all. An absolute freak.
Ryan Braun, LF (.309 BA, 23 HR, 59 RBI)
It was a rough offseason. Good to see him pick up right where he left off from his MVP year.
Joey Votto, 1B (.350 BA, 14 HR, 47 RBI)
Here’s all you need to know about how good a hitter Votto is: He’s hit ONE infield pop-up since ’09.
Giancarlo Stanton, DH (.364 OBP, 19 HR, 50 RBI)
Man, I sure hope he can compete in the Home Run Derby.
Carlos Gonzalez, RF (.340 BA, 17 HR, 58 RBI)
Like McCutchen, this guy does it all on the field.
David Wright, 3B (.350 BA, 10 HR, 55 RBI)
What a travesty that Pablo Sandoval is starting at third base over him.
Aaron Hill, 2B (.300 BA, 11 HR, 39 RBI)
Two cycles in one half? Yeah, he gets the nod.
Carlos Ruiz, C (.357 BA, 13 HR, 46 RBI)
Ruiz was always lost in those deep Phillies lineups. Not anymore. Without him, they have nothing this year.
Starlin Castro, SS (.291 BA, 40 RBI, 16 SB)
Tough year for NL shortstops. I’ll take the one with the most upside.

SP: R.A. Dickey (2.15 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 12 W)
Great story, great person, great season. I don’t care if he’s a knuckleballer. He deserves it.

*** I’ll be taking the Baltimore series off. Follow Joe McIntyre for Angels updates, and look for stuff on the Angels’ first half and the upcoming Trade Deadline very soon. I’ll catch up with y’all from KC.

Alden

C.J. Wilson is still a hitter at heart …

C.J. Wilson may be a little more amped for his next start than any other this season (maybe even more so than his return to Texas). The Angels are playing in Colorado, to kick off a six-game stretch at National League parks, and that means Wilson will actually get to hit. C.J. loves hitting, more so than most pitchers.

So, I asked …

Was playing on an NL team, where you can hit during starts, a big factor for you during free agency?

“Absolutely.”

So why were the Angels able to sign you?

“Home. If it would’ve been pretty much any other team, then …”

Then you would’ve been a Marlin right now.

“Easy.”

Wilson always wanted to be a hitter. He played some outfield and first base at Santa Ana Junior College and Loyola Marymount University, hits when he can during the offseason and takes it very seriously when Angels pitchers go out for pregame batting practice.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “You get a chance to influence the game. As a kid growing up, I always wanted to be a hitter, so I always took hitting seriously when I was a kid and when I was in college and stuff. … And it’s competitive with all the players on the team.”

But Wilson — 1-for-11 in 14 big league plate appearances, if you count the postseason — will admit he isn’t the best hitter on the staff. That title belongs to Dan Haren, who’s a .225 career hitter (59-for-262) with two homers and 27 RBIs.

“Dan’s obviously a great hitter,” Wilson said, with Haren nodding in approval right next to him. “But I don’t think he’s really been challenged here at all.”

Asked when he gave up the dream of being a big league hitter to focus solely on pitching, Wilson said: “I never have. I still think I can hit in the big leagues. … I still think if I got the chance, I can still do it.”

Well, he’ll get his chance Friday.

Alden

7-15, & the numbers that come with it …

Hint: They’re not pretty.

The Angels (and their $155 million payroll) head into the opener of a seven-game homestand, the first of a three-game series against the Twins and the finale of an ugly April with the fourth-worst record in the Major Leagues and a nine-game deficit of the Rangers in the American League West, where they also trail the Mariners and Athletics each by 5 1/2 games — two teams whose combined payrolls are $137 million.

They went 1-5 in their recent road trip through St. Petersburg, Fla., and Cleveland, have dropped six of their last seven overall, have tied the worst record in franchise history to start a season (also in 1976) and will finish April having won back-to-back games only once. They haven’t done that in any single month since July 1998, and only three other times in their history, according to Stats LLC. They dropped six of their first seven series, with four of those losses coming against teams that finished no better than 15 games out of first place last season (the Royals, Twins, Athletics and Indians).

The rotation, at least, has begun to improve the way we would’ve all expected, posting a 2.62 ERA in the club’s last 13 games while going at least six innings in 12 of those. But the bullpen can’t hold any leads and the offense can’t score any numbers. Yeah, it’s still only April (barely), but the Angels have the look of a team that isn’t taking these early struggles lightly. They’ve released Bobby Abreu, called up Mike Trout, designated Rich Thompson for assignment, called up David Carpenter and replaced (at least temporarily) Jordan Walden with Scott Downs in the ninth inning.

The numbers (warning: some of this material may not be suitable for younger readers) …

  • 0: That, of course, is the amount of home runs Albert Pujols has hit through his first 88 at-bats of the season, by far his longest stretch to start any campaign. He averaged 14.2 at-bats per home runs through his 11 seasons in St. Louis, and his career-high at-bat streak in one season is 105, done April 24 to May 22 of last year.
  • 0: That’s the amount of multi-hit games Pujols has had since his three-double game of April 19. That’s a stretch of nine games, which saw him post a career-high streak of five consecutive starts without a hit and see his slash line drop from .296/.333/.426 to, now, .216/.266/.295.
  • 10: The combined number of walks and RBIs for Pujols through his first 22 games (four RBIs, six walks), which is three less than the amount of strikeouts (13).
  • 40.3: The percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that Pujols has swung at so far, which would easily represent a career high, according to FanGraphs.com. Prior to last year (31.8 percent), Pujols had never swung at more than 30 percent of pitches out of the zone in any given season. He’s batting .204 with two strikes and, perhaps more worrisome, 21 of his 94 plate appearances (or, 22.3 percent) have begun with an 0-2 count — perhaps a sign that he’s still feeling out all the new pitchers he’s facing, which brings us to …
  • 14: The amount of starting pitchers Pujols faced for the first time this season (out of 22). Not an excuse, but probably part of the reason for his struggles — and those of the offense in general.
  • 9: That’s the amount of runs the Angels scored in their just-completed road trip, which saw them average just over five hits per game and go a combined 4-for-30 with runners in scoring position.
  • 4: The amount of times the Angels have been shutout.
  • 1-12: The Angels’ record when scoring three runs or less.
  • 23: The exact number of teams that are ahead of the Angels in terms of: runs per game (3.45), OPS (.642), slugging percentage (.352) and stolen bases (10).
  • .230: The Angels’ batting average with runners in scoring position, good for 12th in the AL — ahead of only the division-rival A’s and Mariners.
  • 6: The amount of losses the relievers have compiled, which is tied with the last-place Royals for first in the Majors. (What? You thought the bullpen was safe from this?)
  • 1: The amount of save chances Walden had (within five appearances) before serving up the two-run, walk-off homer that stripped him of his job on Thursday — game No. 19.
  • 1.49: The bullpen’s WHIP, which ranks 23rd in the Majors.
  • 1.52: The bullpen’s strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is tied for second-to-last in the Majors (with a Marlins team of similar preseason hype).

Fun, right? …

Alden

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