The Halos and Athletics will open their season at the Big A Monday Night, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Pacific time. Either the Angels or the Athletics have won the American League West division for each of the past 7 years, and 8 of the past 9.
Last year, the Halos ran away with the division, finishing with a league-best record of 100 wins and 62 losses. The A’s, on the other hand finished third at 75-86, 3 1/2 games behind the 2nd place Texas Rangers, and a whopping 24 1/2 games behind the first place Halos.
The A’s brought in one of the league’s best bats in Matt Holliday, but were forced to part ways with their young closer Huston street, a highly touted outfield prospect in Carlos Gonzalez, as well as pitcher Greg Smith. They also brought back former MVP Jason Giambi (who won it as an Athletic back in 2000), a solid shortstop and great character guy in Orlando Cabrera, and Nomar Garciaparra, a guy who can still put up solid numbers if he’s healthy (but he’s also a guy who has played half the season or less in 4 of the past 6 seasons).
The Halos, on the other hand, lost the free agency market’s most sought-after bat in first baseman Mark Teixeira to the New York Yankees, the single-season saves record holder and constant at closer for the past 4 years in Francisco Rodriguez, lifelong Angel Garret Anderson to the Braves, as well as a solid end-of-the-rotation starter in Jon Garland to the Diamondbacks to name a few. The Halos would end up re-signing outfielder Juan Rivera to a 3-year deal, bringing in former Colorado Rockies closer and a Southern California native in Brian Fuentes, extending starter Ervin Santana’s deal for an additional 4 years, bringing in a free agent outfield bat in veteran Bobby Abreu and let’s not forget to mention maybe the smartest move of the offseason for the Halos, extending skipper Mike Scioscia’s contract through the 2018 season.
This seems to be a year where the youngsters will determine how successful the Angels will be. Guys like Kendry Morales (the powerful, switch-hitting 25-year old first baseman who has some huge shoes to fill at first base as he takes over for Mark Teixeira), Howie Kendrick (a guy who has hit well in the regular season and improved his defense over the years, but has struggled mightily in postseason play), Jeff Mathis (a kid who calls a great game behind the dish for the Halos but has been almost an automatic out in each of the past 2 seasons) and even Brandon Wood (that is, if he can even get a shot at the Bigs this year).
Vladimir Guerrero isn’t getting any younger, and the Halos will be without their top three starters (outside of Joe Saunders) in John Lackey (elbow, out through April), Ervin Santana (elbow, out at least a month) and Kelvim Escobar (initially thought that he would be out through the All-Star break, but reports have it that he is months ahead of schedule after recovering from a torn labrum that forced him to miss all of last season). This marks the second straight year that the Halos start the year with Big John and Kelvim on the disabled list. Guys like Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley and even Shane Loux seem to be the frontrunners to take the rotational spots, all three are quite unproven heading in to this year, causing many to raise red flags in regards to the Halos taking the AL West crown again this year.
I look for the Angels and A’s to battle for the top spot for the majority of the season, and I really think the A’s are going to surprise a lot of people this year. If they can stay healthy, they may give the Angels a run for their money at the AL West’s top spot.
On to the Opening Day probable starters:
The A’s will send out Dallas Braden, a 25-year old lefty who has been continually sent up and down between the majors and AAA over the past 2 seasons. He was a guy who went in to Spring Training as the A’s projected 4th starter in the rotation, but pitched very well over the course of the spring, and due to an injury to their #1 starter Justin Duchscherer, an Opening Day start fell into Braden’s lap. Braden pitched in 19 games last year, 10 of them starts, putting together a record of 5-4 with an ERA of 4.14. Braden would tally 71 2/3 innings in the 2008 campaign, striking out 41 batters and walking 25. Braden has been pitching to contact much more of late, something that the Angels’ lineup will either live or die by, considering how many of the Angels hitters have that aggressive plate mentality. Braden went 1-0 in 5 appearances against the Angels last year with an ERA of 2.08.
The Angels also throw out a lefty in Joe Saunders, a guy who the Halos would send to the 2008 All-Star Game after an impressive yet surprising season. Saunders would finish the season at 17-7 in 31 starts, while tallying 198 innings pitched. Saunders would strike out 103 hitters and walk 53 over the course of the ’08 campaign. Make no mistake about it, Saunders’ strongest month of the season was April, a month in which he went 5-0 in six starts with a low ERA of 2.08. He would go 3-1 in his 4 starts against the A’s last year, with an ERA of 3.18, and is 5-2 in his career against Oakland.
Halo of the Game:
Whoever the “Halo of the Game” is, is an offensive player that I will be following for the course of the upcoming game, and after the game has ended, I will review my selection of the player with how they fared for the game. I thought this would be a fun game to play over the course of the year and see how my picks do. I will be keeping a tally of batting average, home runs, RBI, doubles, triples and maybe a few other categories. The first Halo of the Game will be 2nd baseman Howie Kendrick.