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Kendrick’s Demotion Means It’s Maicer’s Time to Shine

kendrick izturisWhen you try to think of one word that can describe Howie Kendrick‘s offensive production for the Angels this year, what words come to mind?

Poor? Dismal? Nonexistent?

No matter how you slice it up, Howie Kendrick needed to be sent down to Triple-A ball. In my opinion, this move was made a month too late.

Howie on the year is hitting a depressing .231 for being regarded as one of the best pure hitters to come out of the minor leagues in recent memory. Heck, he hit over .360 in his 4 minor league seasons altogether.

Kendrick hit an even lower mark of .193 during the month of May. And the fact that he’s drawn only 10 walks in the 51 games he’s played in, it’s not like his on-base percentage of .281 is going to give Scioscia a reason to keep him in the bigs.

In his first 3 seasons in the MLB, Howie hit .285, .322, and .306 respectively, so it’s not like the kid can’t hit. But if there is one thing that gets to him, it’s the pressure.

Take the postseason for example, a time of the year where all the lights are on him to produce, and he shuts down. In 2 postseason appearances, Kendrick has amassed 4 hits in a total of 27 at-bats, good enough for a .148 batting average. In last year’s postseason series against the Red Sox, Howie compiled 2 hits in 17 at-bats, while striking out 7 times and drawing no walks.

To put it lightly, he just hasn’t been able to find his swing so far this year.

Thankfully, there is a “replacement” who I’m excited to see get regular starts in the field as well as at-bats.

That somebody is 28-year-old Maicer Izturis.

Maicer was acquired by the Halos back on November 19th, 2004 along with Juan Rivera from the Expos/Nationals (whatever they were at that time) in exchange for the talented but ticking time bomb named Jose Guillen.

Although Izturis is listed as a shortstop, he has also filled in time valiantly at both the 3rd base and 2nd base positions. Mike Scioscia is confident to put Maicer anywhere in the infield because he is as sound as they come with the glove.

Standing in at 5’8″, Maicer isn’t the prototypical shortstop people think of. He doesn’t have that incredible range, doesn’t necessarily have the strongest arm, that kind of thing. However, although he may not be great at one thing in particular, he is good at everything else.

He has made countless plays in the field this year that have gone straight to ESPN’s Top 10 Plays or Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems. He reads the ball great off the bat, always puts himself in great position to make a play, and always seems to deliver a great throw to finish the play, whether it be from 3rd, short or 2nd base.

And at the plate, while Maicer may not be the guy who hits over .325 in the lineup (.273 career hitter), or club countless home runs (career high in HR’s is 6), he does virtually everything else.

He’s a contact hitter, and rarely strikes out (career high in strikeouts was 39 in 336 at-bats in 2007).

Although he’s a career .273 hitter, his batting average seems to skyrocket any time there are runners in scoring position or if it’s a late-in-game or pressure situation (pretty much the polar opposite of Kendrick).

He puts pressure on the defense because he can run well, and does a great job of spraying the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate.

Ever since Mighty Maicer’s come to Anaheim, he hasn’t ever been able to really call himself an everyday player for Mike Scioscia’s ballclub.

In 2006 after centerfielder Darin Erstad hit the Disabled List, super utility man Chone Figgins was moved into center for the time being, opening up 3rd base for Maicer Izturis where he established himself as an incredibly capable defender worthy of more playing time (he ended up starting 78 games at 3rd in ’06).

In 2007, the Angels (much to my and many Angel fans’ current dislike) forked out $50 million dollars for centerfielder Gary Matthews Jr., fresh off an All-Star 2006 season. This forced Figgy back to 3rd, and Maicer back to being the odd man out. He once again became the space-filler for whenever any infielder would go down with an injury (mainly the oft-injured Howie Kendrick at 2nd).

Maicer suffered an injury-plagued 2008 campaign, but in his 52 games at shortstop throughout the season, he only committed 2 errors, good enough for a fielding percentage of .991 (translation = pretty damn good).

Now, he finds himself being the space-filler until Howie can find his swing, and the way we’ve seen Howie swing the stick this year, that could be quite a time-consuming search.

In his 1st start replacing Kendrick at 2nd base on Friday, all he did was go 4-for-4 with 2 singles, a double and a triple, as well as an RBI and 2 runs scored. He followed that up with a 1-for-3 showing Saturday night with a double and a run scored, all while playing spectacular defense at 2nd base.

And if I may add, man do Maicer and Erick Aybar make a pretty double-play tandem! Maicer and Erick compliment each other perfectly in my opinion. Aybar has arguably the most range of any shortstop in the major leagues and can make some incredible acrobatic plays (he’ll get to balls that Maicer has no chance of getting), let alone the fact that he’s got a cannon for an arm. However, all these incredible plays mean that he’s more susceptible to errors. Maicer makes every play look routine and is very consistent in the field.

I’m excited to see what this new lineup will do on a regular basis. It’s been pretty damn good so far, they’ve posted 20 runs in the first 2 games with this Kendrick-less lineup.

The lineup and overall defense can only improve from this move.

So Howie… take your time, buddy. No rush.

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4/28-Angels Hold Off Orioles 7-5 in 1st of 2-Game Set

fuentes hunterJoe Saunders, a native of nearby Virginia, had around 20 family members in attendance at Camden Yards Tuesday to root him on, and he his squad was not about to disappoint the Saunders faithful.

Saunders came in to Tuesday’s game at a perfect 4-0 lifetime against the Baltimore Orioles, and remained perfect with today’s outcome. Saunders wouldn’t have his most brilliant outing of the year, going 6 innings, while allowing 4 runs (only 2 of them earned) on 10 hits, while punching out only 1 Oriole batter.

As I had mentioned in my article earlier today, the Angels needed to get good efforts from guys like Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, Chone Figgins and Mike Napoli to name a few, in order to be successful.

KMo, Figgy and Nap would each have two hits on the game, and Kendrick would have a 2-run jack for the Halos en route to a 7-5 victory.

More importantly, the bullpen did a great job of closing the door on the O’s on their 1st game of an 8-game road trip.

Joe Saunders (3-1) would be the winning pitcher in Tuesday’s contest, while Adam Eaton (1-3) would be on the losing end after giving up 5 runs in 6 innings of work.

Brian Fuentes would notch his 4th save of the year in 5 opportunities after starting the inning with a leadoff home run to Adam Jones, his 4th of the year.

The Halos move to 8-11 on the year, and Baltimore drops to 9-12, losing 10 of their last 13 games.

Game Notes

The Angels became the last team in Major League Baseball to win back-to-back games. The Angels couldn’t quite seem to ring up consecutive wins until the 18th and 19th games of the season, but for the first time this year, the Angels have a quote-unquote “winning streak” going.

The Angels would knock 7 extra-base hits in this game (6 doubles, 1 home run), with 11 hits altogether. This marks the 6th time in the last 7 games that the Angels have collectively had 10 or more hits in a single contest.

Howie Kendrick had a big 2-run homer in the 4th inning off of Eaton to tie up the game at 4-4. Kendrick would only go 1-for-4 on the night, but his tater makes it back-to-back games with a home run. 8 of HK’s 16 RBI on the season have come in the past 3 games. He’s now the club’s RBI leader with his total of 16.

Kendry Morales would go 2-for-4 with 2 doubles, 2 RBI and 1 run scored. KMo hit a crucial 2-run double in the 7th inning to push the Angels’ lead to 7-4. Morales now has 8 RBI in his last 5 games, and pushed his average up to .275 for the year.

Lots of Angels with a multi-hit game today, 4 to be exact.

Chone Figgins went 2-for-3 with 2 walks, 2 runs scored and 2 stolen bags. Mighty Maicer would go 2-for-5, with 2 runs scored and 1 RBI. The aforementioned Kendry Morales would go 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a run scored. And lastly, Mike Napoli would go 2-for-4 as well.

The bullpen would finally look 90% competent. Not all the way, but I’d say about 90%.

Jose Arredondo would pitch a scoreless 7th inning, surrendering only 1 hit and striking out 2 Oriole hitters.

Scot Shields (…gulp) oddly enough wouldn’t even give up a hit in the 8th, but would end up walking 1 batter. More importantly, Shieldsy didn’t give up a run… and that now pushes his ERA below 10.00! Yay! Now that’s some progress/change that he can believe in.

Brian Fuentes would allow a leadoff home run in the 9th inning to an emerging player in 23-year-old Adam Jones. Jones has been off to a scorching start this year, and I’m really thinking that this kid is going to have a special career. But on to the rest of the 9th inning, Fuentes would retire the 3-4-5 hitters in Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora, to end the game and give the Angels the 7-5 W.

The overall plate discipline from the leadoff spot to the 9-hole hitter is improving. The Angels drew 6 walks today, an overwhelming amount by Angels standards. This is a team that has had the free-swinging mentality ever since Mike Scioscia became the Halos’ skipper back in 2000. Bobby Abreu has been known throughout his career as being a guy who sees more pitches per at-bat on average than any other hitter in the league, and his eye at the plate is beginning to rub off on other guys. Chone Figgins drew only 62 walks as the leadoff hitter in 116 games last year, but this year he’s drawn 14 walks in a mere 18 contests, allowing Scioscia to let Figgy run free on the basepaths much more often.

Halo of the Game Review and Pick

4/28 Halo of the Game Pick: Chone Figgins

Stat Line: 2-3, 0 RBI, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 0 K, 0 LOB, 2 SB

Figgy got on base in 4 of his 5 plate appearances in Tuesday’s game (2 hits, 2 walks), and was able to swipe 2 bags, making him 9-for-10 in steal attempts on the year. He set the table today by getting on base, and was able to score twice, and it’s a documented fact that the Angels have a higher probability of winning if Figgins scores at least 1 run in a game compared to not scoring. Great game today on the part of Figgy.

Current Halo of the Game Hit Streak: 5 (season-high – 8 games)

Halo of the Game Season Batting Statistics

16 G – .356 avg. (21-59), 2 HR, 9 RBI, 12 R, 5 2B, 0 3B, 9 K, 10 BB, 5 SB

Tomorrow’s Halo of the Game Pick: Kendry Morales

Tomorrow’s Probables

Baltimore will send out 34-year-old Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara (4 starts: 2-1, 4.56 ERA). Uehara is labeled as a rookie despite being 34 years old, due to this being his 1st year in the MLB after spending the last 10 seasons as a member of the Yomiuri Giants. Uehara put together an impressive record of 112-62 with an ERA of 3.01 in those 10 seasons in the Japanese League.

The Halos tabbed Matt Palmer (1 start: 1-0, 6.00 ERA) as tomorrow’s starter. The 30-year-old journeyman Palmer went 6 innings in his first career start with the Angels against Detroit, giving up 4 earned runs in an eventual 10-5 Angel win last Thursday.

Tomorrow’s day game in Baltimore against the Orioles is scheduled for 9:35 a.m. Pacific time (12:35 p.m. Eastern). I’ll still be asleep, but I’m hoping I can wake up to Angel win!

Go Halos!

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4/26-Kendrick, Weaver Star In 8-0 Whooping of Mariners

hunter kendrickThe Angels came in to the game with a 1-4 record against the Mariners so far this season, and more importantly, a starting pitcher who had started the season in the initial 5-man rotation.

The Halos dropped the first 2 games of the series against Seattle with Shane Loux and Anthony Ortega (start was his MLB debut) as the starters on Friday and Saturday respectively, and Jered Weaver was the scheduled starter for the Angels on Sunday against former Angel Jarrod Washburn who had started the year on a tear for the M’s.

Weaver (2-1) was nothing short of brilliant, as he went 7 innings, allowing no runs on 3 hits, while striking out 5. Weaver now is 1-1 on the year against Seattle.

Washburn (3-1) got taxed early and would give up 6 runs on 8 hits in 5 1/3 innings of work, his shortest outing of the year. Wash would go 6 innings in his last outing against the Angels, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits in an eventual 11-3 Seattle win.

The Angels move to 7-11 and the Mariners drop to 12-7 on the year.

Game Notes

Howie Kendrick came alive. After his average dipped to .200 after the April 23rd game against Detroit, Kendrick is 6-for-11 in his past 3 games with 6 RBI. Kendrick went 3-for-5 tonight with 4 RBI, including a 2-run homer in the 2nd inning. He also would pitch in with 2 more run-scoring singles on the game as well, pushing his average to .258. This is the level that members of the Angel organization know Kendrick is capable of producing on day in and day out.

Jered Weaver put forth another sensational outing, going 7 scoreless innings tonight, while allowing only 3 hits. 5 K’s for Weav to only 2 walks, and he also did a good job of keeping his pitch count manageable so he could go 7 strong innings today. He got some run support today, and when the offense is good, starting pitching is good and bullpen is good (this may have been the first time that all 3 did well in a game this year), Weaver had the win well in hand.

Bobby Abreu chipped in with a 2-for-4 effort with 1 run scored and 1 RBI, raising his club-leading average to .375. I’ve been so impressed with Abreu to start this season, and for being a $5,000,000 off-season pickup, he’s been worth every penny so far.

Torii Hunter would go 3-for-5 on the day with 1 RBI and 2 runs scored, pushing up his average to .338.

The offense has been producing of late, scoring 8 or more runs in 4 of the last 5 games, after scoring 8+ runs once in the 13 games prior to that 5-game stretch this season.

The bullpen would really have had to implode in order to screw up this one. Scoreless innings have been hard to come by for Angel relievers, but Scot Shields and Brian Fuentes would each pitch a scoreless inning in this one… thankfully.

Chone Figgins and Kendry Morales each got the day off today from Mike Scioscia, as they are set to start up an 8-game road trip starting Tuesday. Brandon Wood took Figgins’ place at 3rd today, going 1-for-4 with a run scored and Robb Quinlan would also go 1-for-4 in Morales’ place.

Juan Rivera jacked his first home run of the year in the 4th inning off of Jarrod Washburn. Juanito is batting .309 for the year and seems to be hitting the ball the way he was back in that productive ’06 season.

Halo of the Game Review and Pick

4/26 Halo of the Game Pick: Bobby Abreu

Stat Line: 2-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 2B, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 LOB

Abreu has gone hitless in only 3 of the 18 games he’s played in this year, and leads the team with a .375 batting average after a 2-for-4 effort Sunday night. His plate discipline has been great and it seems like with him in the lineup, the Angels are drawing more walks instead of sticking to that free-swinging/”swing away whenever in the count” mentality that has gotten the Angels nowhere in the playoffs the past few years. Still searching for his first homer on the season, but he no doubt has had a huge impact on the Angels offense this year.

Current Halo of the Game Hit Streak: 4

Halo of the Game Season Batting Statistics:

15 G – .339 avg. (19-56), 2 HR, 9 RBI, 10 R, 4 2B, 0 3B, 9 K, 8 BB, 3 SB

Tuesday’s Halo of the Game Pick: Chone Figgins

The Angels are off tomorrow, and will now go on the road for 8 straight games, with a two-game set at Baltimore to start it off.

Go Halos!

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4/6-Saunders, Kendrick Carry Halos to Opening Day Shutout of A’s

Howie AbreuWho needs Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez? Well, after one game, the Halos apparently don’t. Angel baseball is off and running on a good note this year, as the Angels blanked the A’s 3-0 for their first Opening Day shutout since 1978.

Joe Saunders, an all-star and 17-game winner in 2008 got the nod from skipper Mike Scioscia to take the mound as the Opening Day starter, and he was nothing short of spectacular. Saunders pitched 6 2/3 innings of three-hit shutout ball en route to his first victory of the season. Saunders would walk two batters and strike out two batters as well in his 6 2/3 innings of work.

Jose Arredondo, who burst onto the scene last year with 10 wins and a 1.62 ERA would come in for Saunders with two outs and strike out Jack Cust to end the 7th inning.

Scot Shields would need only need 11 pitches to get through the 8th inning unscathed, and offseason acquisition Brian Fuentes, a native of Merced, California, hammered down the A’s in the 9th to earn his first save as a Halo and secure the Angels of their first victory of the season.

An interesting little fact here, the last time a left-hander was tabbed as the Angels’ Opening Day starter was back in 2002 with Jarrod Washburn. You may also remember that the Halos would go on to win the World Series over the San Francisco Giants in an epic 7-game series…. Let’s hope history repeats itself this year!

Scoring Recap

3rd inning- With 1 out, Howie Kendrick roped a single in to right center field, plating Jeff Mathis, who led off the inning with a single from 2nd base, as well as advancing Chone Figgins to 3rd.

3rd inning- With 2 out, following a Bobby Abreu popout, Vladimir Guerrero would ground one to the right of a diving Orlando Cabrera, who would glove the ball cleanly but throw a tricky two-hopper over to Nomar Garciaparra at first, who could not come up with the ball initially, allowing Vladdy to reach safely and score Figgy from 3rd. Kendrick would advance to 2nd on the play.

5th inning- With 1 out and no one on base, Howie Kendrick would blast a Dallas Braden offering up and over that high right center porch and into the stands for a solo shot, his first and the Angels’ first homer of the year.

Player-by-Player Recap

1- 3B Chone Figgins – 0-3, 0 RBI, 1 run, 1 K, 1 BB, 1 LOB

Didn’t do much with the bat today and was kept off the basepaths, but made a fine play going to his right and firing across the diamond, showing off his unheralded arm and defensive skill. The Angels always seem to be better off whenever Figgy scores at least 1 run in a game, and tonight was no exception.

2- 2B Howie Kendrick – 2-4, 1 HR, 1 run, 1 K, 0 LOB

Offensive MVP of the game no doubt about it. Kendrick is known for being a great line drive hitter, and I was even more impressed with the way he was utilizing the opposite field today. That shows the mark of a great hitter, and for a guy who hit .360+ routinely in the minor leagues, there’s no doubt that Howie will be contending for a batting crown in his career. Made an error in the 3rd for what should have been an inning-ending double play, but made up for it with the bat in the bottom half of the inning and in the 5th as well with that solo shot.

3- RF Bobby Abreu – 1-4, 0 RBI, 0 R, 2 K, 2 LOB

This was Abreu’s first game as an Angel, and in his first at-bat, he was everything I had envisioned and hoped for. He worked the count to 3-2, and followed it up with a nice base knock right over the 2nd base bag. The rest of the game didn’t quite follow his lead. 2 strikeouts and a first-pitch popout from a guy who is notorious for seeing as many pitches as any other player in the league wasn’t exactly satisfying. Played the part defensively, but I think Abreu will do a great job as a 3-hole hitter for the Angels this year as he can get on base, drive in runs, steal bases and hit for power as well.

4- DH Vladimir Guerrero – 2-4, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0 K, 1 LOB

With his 3rd inning RBI infield single, Vladdy passed Frank Robinson for the most all-time RBI on Opening Day games in a career with 19. The Big Daddy did a good job of going back up the middle and it was encouraging to see Vladdy leg one out, seeing that his off-season knee surgeries have held up (so far). Vladdy doesn’t have the legs that he used to back in his Montreal days, but he still sure as heck can hit. Vlad will benefit big time from having a patient, experienced veteran like Bobby Abreu in front of him instead of someone like Maicer Izturis plugged into the 3-spot as we saw last year from time-to-time.

5- CF Torii Hunter – 1-4, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 K, 2 LOB

Nothing really special or noteworthy out of the gregarious center fielder today, but he did get a base knock. No errors in the outfield for the game, and tomorrow Torii will be presented with his 8th consecutive Gold Glove award for his magnificent play in center field for the Halos throughout all of last year.

6- 1B Kendry Morales – 0-4, 0 RBI, 0 R, 1 K, 2 LOB

Not the start Kendry would’ve wanted, but that’s why he has 161 more games to make up for it. I’m still confident that Kendry can produce at a high level, and as the season goes on, he’ll be belting home runs and driving in runs from the 6th spot in the lineup with solid regularity.

7- LF Juan Rivera – 2-4, 1 2B, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 K, 0 LOB

Juan made up for the no-show of Morales who hit in front of him. He laced a nice double in the 6th, and pitched in with a single in the 4th. Not much action in the field for Juanito, but it’s an encouraging sign to see Juan hitting already, as he never was given the opportunity to get consistent at-bats last year and find a groove.

8- C Jeff Mathis – 1-3, 0 RBI, 1 R, 1 K, 2 LOB

Jeff Mathis’ first at-bat went for a base knock. Go figure. In the one time he got on base, he ended up coming around to score, but more importantly, he caught a shutout today. Mathis called a great game and just seems to be the superior defensive and game-calling catcher compared to long-ball hitter Mike Napoli. Jeff also made a great throw-down to 3rd base to get Mark Ellis on an attempted double steal. The throw was a little high and Figgins made a nice catch and tag on the play, but Mathis had a whole lot of zip on his throw, something the Halos haven’t seen behind the dish since the days of Bengie Molina. His defense seems to be a constant, but the hitting would just be an added bonus.

9- SS Erick Aybar – 0-3, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 K, 3 LOB

Aybar couldn’t get anything going with the bat today, but played solid defense, and started an inning-ending double play in the 2nd, when the A’s were threatening with 2 men on base. Aybar had a strong spring and I think he’s going to be a solid hitter in the 9-hole for Mike Scioscia with his speed and slap-hitting ability. Plus, Aybar is as acrobatic as they come in the field at shortstop and has incredible range.

Tonight’s MVP

Joe Saunders & Howie Kendrick

Saunders was fantastic in his 6 2/3 innings of three-hit ball en route to a team shutout of the A’s. Kendrick’s RBI single in the 3rd was all the Angels would need in the run column, but he figured a solo jack in the 5th would put away the A’s for good. This is a good sign to see Saunders dominating early considering the fact that the Halos will most likely be without John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar for April’s entirety.

Dub’s Halo of the Game Review and Pick

4/6 Halo of the Game pick: Howie Kendrick

Stat Line: 2-4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 K 0 LOB

So far, so good! Howie was the Angels offense in this one, so I’m sure glad I picked HK47 in this one.

Current Halo of the Game Hit Streak: 1 (Every time my Halo of the Game gets a hit, it adds to the hitting streak. No hits means the streak goes back to 0 of course)

Tomorrow’s Halo of the Game pick: Vladimir Guerrero (facing a righty fireballer tomorrow, much to his liking)

Tomorrow’s Probables

A’s: Trevor Cahill. The righty will be making his MLB debut tomorrow at the ripe age of 21. This is a guy who manager Bob Geren says could become a Brandon Webb-like pitcher in the future. Throws anywhere between 88 and 95 on his fastball and throws a hard sinker, which is his #1 pitch. The Halos struggled last year when they faced a kid making his MLB debut. Chris Waters of the Baltimore Orioles 1-hit the Angels in 8 innings of work back on August 6th of last year, en route to an Angel loss.

Angels: Dustin Moseley. Moseley steps in as the #2 starter on the decimated Halos’ staff to start the season. The 27-year old righty went 2-4 last year for the Halos while posting a fat ERA of 6.79 in 12 appearances. Moseley would go 0-1 in 3 appearances against Oakland in ’08, striking out 7, while giving up 7 runs in 9 1/3 innings pitched. Moseley is undeniably not your desirable #2 starter, as a matter of fact, I’m not so sure he’s even a #6 or 7 starter when all are healthy, but it’s up to Moseley to determine his worth.

Tomorrow’s game against the A’s is scheduled to begin at 7:05 Pacific time.

Go Halos!

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Offseason Review and Opening Day Preview

SaundersThe 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.

Go Halos!

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