Last year's disappointment has provoked many excuses, but the core truth to the underachieving was an injured Albert Pujols, a lousy bullpen, and no reliable pitching after the top three arms and that was with a league-average No. 3 in the person of . He's gone and has been replaced with last year's kind-of No. 4 Garrett Richards. Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago will fill out the fourth and fifth slots. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are the keys, though. Healthy they are as reliable a 1-2 punch as any team could wish for. Give the 2013 team an average Pujols and they are one more solid pitching performance away from taking the division.
With a healthy Pujols and the hope of a rebounding Josh Hamilton, the Angels will boast an enviable offense. If the pitching has no one to compete with Joe Blanton's terrible 2013 all should be well. The defense will be alright. Freese is below average but not terrible, Pujols has lost a step but still picks well. Howie Kndrick is still good and Erick Aybar won't cost you much with his glove. In the outfield, Trout is sublime and the Hambone/Calhoun corners are better than league average. Iannetta and Hank Conger behind the plate approximate the catching voodoo that Mike Scioscia demands.
It is all going to come down to the offense being historically awesome, the pitching being above league average, and the bullpen rebounding from the abyss. One great Pujols season coupled with Trout being Trout and the others being themselves and this is a dominant force in baseball. A tweak here or there, an injury, oh well, see you in 2015, as there is no depth, no salary room to add anyone, and no cavalry coming.
Parenthetically, there is also Mike Scioscia and the way he builds a lineup. Scioscia saw INANITY and INSANITY so close to each other in the dictionary that he decided to merge them. To not bat Mike Trout first in the lineup is indefensible, but heeere's Mikey down at No. 2. So with the best leadoff hitter in baseball batting second, there must be an obvious choice for leadoff, right? WRONG! He might give Kole Calhoun a shot, but since Kole is not a vet he will get three or four games to bat .500 at the spot before being replaced by a mismatched veteran like who will be given three months of batting .150 before Scioscia budges again.
Scioscia plays a game of infinitesimally small margins and the ‘pen does the heavy lifting close game after close game. There is a reason Frankie Rodriguez set the all-time saves mark wearing a Halo -- almost every victory was close. If the pen is not well above league average, Mike Scioscia's managerial flaws -- his worship of the RBI, his belief in the clutch, his rigorously asigned roles for players no matter how overmatched they might be -- are exposed, but more often than not Scioscia DOES actually win divisions when his bullpen is strong.
This team is no sure thing but it could be a wild bunch. If they are ten games out in July, though, look for Mike Scioscia's departure. Make the postseason, though and all (all being "2010-13") will be forgiven.