Purgatory Online

Monday, April 05, 2004

The Angels pretty much whomped the tar out of the Dodgers over the weekend, sweeping the Freeway Series and finishing their preseason with a 19-13-1 record (built on a strong start and a strong finish, with a kind of squishy middle). Rolling into tomorrow's opener against the Mariners, the Angels look like a team that's ready to pound out runs by the busful, while not worrying too much about the starting pitching. Unfortunately, it looks like both Jose Guillen and Bengie Molina will miss the opener, though neither is expected to be put on the DL.

Of the two, I'm more worried about Molina. His hamstrings seem to have been bothering him pretty regularly this spring, and it's not like you get many opportunities to rest them when you're catching full-time. Guillen's bone bruise will heal, but the Angels will have to worry about Molly's hamstrings for a while.

So now that Spring Training is officially done, let's take a quick look at what the starting pitching and lineup has looked like:

In the rotation:
Bartolo Colon - 5.16 ERA, 22.2 IP, 31 H, 13 ER, 20 K, 8 BB, 2 HR
Jarrod Washburn - 2.33 ERA, 19.1 IP, 18 H, 5 ER, 14 K, 6 BB, 0 HR
Kelvim Escobar - 4.01 ERA, 24.2 IP, 27 H, 11 ER, 24 K, 8 BB, 3 HR
Ramon Ortiz - 6.66 ERA, 24.1 IP, 37 H, 18 ER, 12 K, 8 BB, 4 HR
John Lackey - 9.00 ERA, 23 IP, 32 H, 23 ER, 15 K, 9 BB, 7 HR

Coming into spring training, the questions about the starting rotation - aside from who would get in - were "what kind of job is Kelvim Escobar going to do?" and "can at least one or two of the guys who had bad years in 2003 rebound?" On both of those fronts, the Angels seem to have at least a qualified positive response. Washburn closed out his spring training with a string of excellent outings, and seems to be benefiting from having Bartolo Colon around to take the "staff ace" pressure off of him. Escobar has had both good and bad outings, but the pendulum seems to be settling on the sweet side of the meridian, at least for now, and that K/IP ratio is a pleasant surprise.

Heading into the season, the questions have shifted to the back end of the rotation. There's no doubt that both Ortiz and Lackey are capable of performing well, but neither has given me much cause for optimism so far. Ortiz was awarded a spot in the rotation over Aaron Sele for reasons known only to God and Mike Scioscia, while John Lackey is pitching like he just bought stock in a company that manufactures home run fireworks. With Aaron Sele and Scot Shields waiting in the pen, the Angels can afford to have either or both pitchers crash and burn; the question is, how long of a leash will Scioscia give them?

In the lineup:
David Eckstein - .359 BA (23 for 64), 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, .531 SLG
Darin Erstad - .310 BA (22 for 71), 4 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, .521 SLG
Vlad Guerrero - .328 BA (19 for 58), 5 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, .603 SLG
Garret Anderson - .278 BA (10 for 36), 4 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, .556 SLG
Troy Glaus - .344 BA (21 for 61), 4 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, .738 SLG
Jose Guillen - .360 BA (18 for 50), 2 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, .760 SLG
Tim Salmon - .306 BA (19 for 62), 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, .484 SLG
Bengie Molina - .368 BA (7 for 19), 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, .474 SLG
Adam Kennedy - .226 BA (14 for 62), 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, .226 SLG

Whoa. Not that Spring Training means anything, you understand, but...whoa.

The top of the order is looking good. David Eckstein, in particular, has had a very solid spring and is looking pretty determined to get back to setting the table for the rest of the lineup. Erstad is still a question mark; his numbers have been inflated by a recent string of good games, and it remains to be seen whether his move to first base will, as some say, allow him to play injury-free and return to the level of offensive production he reached in 2000.

The three through seven slots are just scary at this point. Guerrero has had a spring entirely consistent with expectations, and doesn't seem to be suffering from any ill effects after being traded from a doormat to a contender. Anderson has had a short spring, but has had enough at-bats that he shouldn't be seriously hampered by it. Troy Glaus, fresh off shoulder rehab and laser eye surgery, has been killing the ball. Jose Guillen has fulfilled the optimists' best guesses. And Tim Salmon...well, we'll see about him. His adjustment will be mental; it's a hard thing to go from playing defense to DH'ing full-time; it's pretty much a public sign that he's nearing retirement. And hitting in the seven slot will be different, too - but I'd guess that he'll have an opportunity to be a part of a lot of big innings this year, which is fun for anybody.

Down at the bottom of the order, Molina is something of a question mark in terms of his health, which is a shame. His 2003 was one of the Angels' few bright spots, and the limited indications on him available this spring seemed to be that he wasn't regressing offensively. If he's healthy, he has good power to the gaps, and, despite being arguably the slowest man in professional baseball, will hit a bunch of doubles. If he's hurt, however, both Jose Molina and Josh Paul have had good springs, and should be able to fill in for him, at least temporarily.

Adam Kennedy, however, is the team's biggest offensive question mark at this point. After a brilliant 2002, in which he hit .312 from the nine spot and served as a kind of top-of-the-order guy at the bottom of the order, he lost over 40 points of average and 50 points of OPS in 2003. His 2003 numbers, unfortunately, appear to be the ones that are in line with his lifetime averages. At age 28, he's entering what statistically should be his most productive period. 2003-type numbers wouldn't be terrible for a guy batting ninth, but one can't help but recall the positive impact he was in 2002. The Angels will have Chone Figgins on the bench as a potential backup for Kennedy, though Figgins is also expected to play some innings in center field. Figgins has had a decent spring (.293, 4 2B, 5 SB), but has yet to prove that he can hit major league pitching for any extended period of time.

All in all, it's been a good spring for the Angels. None of their four premier free agents has been a bust, and we've seen signs from Washburn, Erstad, and Glaus that their 2003 performances are well behind them. The Angels are something of a trendy pick to win the West, and at this point I'd have to say that they're looking pretty competitive.

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