Only a few short years ago, Mike Scioscia and the Los Angeles Angels were known for their pitching and their defense. The starting rotation and the bullpen were among the best in all of baseball, and they anchored the Angels to five AL West Division Championships. The last few years, however, the identity of the Halos has changed. Now they are a power hitting team, one that relies on out-scoring opponents rather than out-pitching them. If the Angels are going to drive the Championship bus to Los Angeles this season, the offense is going to be the key.
The Angels have always been a team that could score runs. With big bats like Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, and Torii Hunter, Los Angeles has constantly been a stable run-producing team during Scioscia’s tenure. Lately, General Manager Jerry Dipoto has brought more power and slugging to the Angel’s lineup. The signing of Albert Pujols for the 2012 season, and Josh Hamilton for 2013, added arguably the game’s best two hitters to an already powerful offense. Budding superstar Mike Trout was coming in to his own, and Mark Trumbo was making a name for himself by hitting mammoth homeruns on a daily basis.
The offense just never really meshed, however, despite ranking in the top half of the league in most major categories. Some nights they were a run-scoring machine, but other nights, nothing went right. Without good pitching, an inconsistent offense does not stand a chance. The Angels never gained any momentum, and as a result, they never stood a chance.
Los Angeles enters 2014 with a completely new offensive mindset. Gone is Trumbo; traded for some badly needed starting pitching. Peter Bourjos, one of the best centerfielders in baseball, was traded for World Series MVP David Freese, in an effort to solidify third base for the Halos. Losing Bourjos hurts their defense, but the plethora of outfielders on the team made the trade logical. The Angels have had a revolving door at third base since Troy Glaus left in 2005, and Freese represents a definite upgrade at the hot-corner. Last year, Kole Calhoun proved he was capable of being an every day starter, and will take the place of Bourjos in the Angel’s lineup. Though not as dynamic a lead off man, Calhoun brings a much bigger bat than his predecessor. In addition, Trout can now take his natural place in centerfield, and Hamilton can do the same in left.
Joining Pujols and Freeze in the infield are two of the remaining four members of the 2009 division champion team. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar man the middle, and have done so with the Angels for their entire career. They rose through LA’s farm system and have played together for over five years. Aybar’s speed makes him a threat for bunt singles and stolen bases. Kendrick has a knack for the big hit and for driving doubles into the gap. Together, they join Chris Ianetta and Hang Conger, the Angel’s tandem catchers, at the bottom of the lineup. Both players have spent extensive time batting in the top half, but are just more consistent and productive anchoring the backend. Plus, there is not much room for them with legitimate clean-up hitters Hamilton, Pujols, and Trout, batting in the top five. Newly acquired Raul Ibanez will DH a majority of the time for LA, and will serve as protection for Freeze in the middle of the order.
The mixture of youth and experience the Angels bring to the table create a very formidable lineup. It is a good thing, because the unknowns on the pitching staff may force the Angels to score runs in bunches this year if they want to win. If Pujols and Hamilton, along with Freese, can return to their MVP forms, and Trout and Calhoun can carry their momentum into 2014, there will be plenty of fireworks in LA. The Halos have all of the pieces to make a deep run in to the playoffs, and the offense is the key to if they want to bring home a championship.
Commentary by Chris Chisam
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Los Angeles Angels