Though the MLB had their first game a little over a week ago, the Los Angeles Angels do not begin their season until Monday night. They will matchup against the Seattle Mariners in one of the last games to kick off the first full day of MLB action. Angel Fans are eager to hear Victor Rojas proclaim, “Light that Baby up!” Rojas has made those four words famous by yelling them every time the team wins a game. Unfortunately for Angel fans, he has not had much opportunity the last few years to utter the magical phrase.
The Angels have been a huge disappointment over the last four years. From 2004 to 2009, Los Angeles won five MLB American League West division titles. They have not even made the playoffs since. 2010 was a season full of injuries and disappointment for the Angels, and the team went into a rebuilding phase. They were still contenders in 2011, and just like the previous year, they had times when they looked like they were going to win the division.
The acquisition of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson made the Angels an AL favorite heading in to 2012. Yet the Angels underachieved again, despite the emergence of young phenom Mike Trout, who took MLB fans by storm. 2013 was even worse, as the Angels were only above .500 one time, after an opening day victory against the Cincinnati Reds. Newly acquired Josh Hamilton could do nothing right all year, and major injuries to Pujols, Jered Weaver, and Peter Bourjos kept the team from even being competitive.
During the off-season, General Manager Jerry Dipoto made some huge moves that changed the face of the Angels. He traded fan favorite and hometown hero Mark Trumbo to Arizona in exchange for some badly needed starting pitching, in the form of Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. They will replace Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, a pair of 2013 acquisitions that did not work out. The Angels signed Blanton off the street last year to solidify the back of their Bullpen. Early in the season, he was a hard luck pitcher, and had a hard time scratching out a win. The lack of success rattled him, and eventually he fell apart completely and was moved to the bullpen.
Tommy Hanson was acquired from Atlanta last year in exchange for All-Star closer Jordan Walden. Hansen never seemed to get comfortable pitching for Los Angeles, and ended up on a path similar to Blanton’s. Injuries to both Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas, combined with the back end woes, forced the Angels to start the young and inexperienced Garrett Richards several times during the season.
Richards was probably one of the only bright spots on the pitching staff in 2013. Though he still struggled at times, he progressed quickly and became a viable starter as the season progressed. The youngster has flat out electric stuff, and the experience he gained last year has moved him in to the starting rotation for 2014.
Skaggs and Santiago will join Richards, Wilson, and Weaver in the Angel’s starting rotation. Skaggs began his career in the Angel’s farm system, but was traded to Arizona as part of the Dan Haren deal. He has returned to Los Angeles as a more finished product, though he still lacks big league experience. Santiago has been with the White Sox for almost two years, first out of the bullpen in 2012, then as more of a starter in 2013. His 3.41 lifetime ERA makes him a perfect pitcher for the Angels to use in the back-end of the rotation. His upside is huge, and if he can put it all together this year, he could be the difference the Angels have been missing.
Just a few short years ago, the Angels were known for having a stellar bullpen. Lately, however, it has become their Achilles heel. Gone from last year is the failed Ryan Madson experiment. Madson was supposed to be a key piece of the bullpen for the angels, but his injuries proved more complicated and he never took the mound for them. Sean Burnett was brought in to be a dominant situational lefty, but injuries shortened his season and he was barely able to contribute. Even the steady Scott Downs spent time nursing injuries, and it forced the Angels to trot out a new reliever almost every night.
As a result of the tumultuous year in the pen, several pitchers from the Angel’s system had a chance to display their talents in 2013. As a result, many of them will be in the mix this year and spend time as a part of the rebuilt bullpen. Dane De La Rosa was one of those pitchers, and his contribution will be important to the Angels in 2014. He, along with Burnett, will start the season on the DL, but should return to the team in April.
Scott Downs was traded before the deadline last year, and Los Angeles acquired Cory Rasmus as a result. Rasmus will start the season in the minors, but could serve as a bridge to the setup and closer if Long time Angel Kevin Jepsen can not get the job done. Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri will be the setup and closer for the angels this season. Frieri was acquired from the Padres in 2012 for utility infielder Alexi Amarista, and made an immediate impact for the team. He recorded his first 13 innings as an Angel without allowing a hit or a run. His fastball is practically unhittable, because he can give it movement in four different directions. Frieri has been working on his secondary pitches, and if he can increase his variety, it will make his fastball deadlier and his effectiveness will rise. Smith is new to the Angels, and brings a veteran presence to a relatively young bullpen.
If the Angels want to return to their successful ways, it will have to start with their pitching. If the new players can mix well with the guys already in place, the entire staff has a chance to shine. A win on Monday will go a long way to setting the tone for the season. It is important for the Angels to start strong in 2014, or they will never be able to finish that way.
Halo Heartbeat is a daily column offering insight and analysis on the Los Angeles Angels
Commentary by Chris Chisam
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Los Angeles Angels