The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are set to renew their classic Freeway Series rivalry in Spring Training Thursday afternoon. The two teams come into the season with high hopes and even higher pay rolls. But what sets these two teams apart is last season’s success of the Dodgers compared to the disappointment of the Angels.
The Angels, however, will come into this season with a slightly different look. They traded for St. Louis Cardinals postseason hero David Freese, hoping that he can bring some of the clutch hitting and defense that the Angels desperately lacked a season ago. The Angels also brought in the ageless wonder Raul Ibanez to DH for the ball club. Ibanez hit 29 home runs for the Seattle Mariners last season, and LAA could sure use that pop in their lineup.
The moves that they were able to make definitely improved the ball club, but it’s their pitching and the moves that they made over the past couple years that they are still waiting to see production out of. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton’s massive contracts just haven’t paid off so far. Pujols hit just .258 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI a season ago. Not quite the MVP numbers that the Angels expected when signing him for $240 million. As for Hamilton and his $125 million contract, he hit just .250 with 21 home runs and 79 RBI. Also way down from his usual MVP numbers.
Speaking of money, the rival Dodgers have spent quite a few dollars themselves. With a payroll over $220 million, it’s World Series or bust for Don Mattingly’s ball club. And with a lineup that is nearly identical to last season’s, they only seemed to add more talent. They brought in starting pitcher Dan Haren and reliever Chris Perez to bolster their pitching depth. But when it comes to the Dodgers and a world title, injuries could be what stand in their way.
All of the offseason talk about Los Angeles having too full of an outfield with Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier seems pointless because they will most likely need all of them. The likelihood of all four of them remaining healthy all season is very slim. Carl Crawford is already dealing with a hamstring issue. It would be in the Dodgers best interest, especially given the fact that money is no issue, to hold onto all four of them.
There is no question that both of these ball club’s lineups have the potential to be very, very dangerous. But the ultimate question surrounding the Freeway Series ball clubs is pitching. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke head the Dodgers starters, but beyond that they have legitimate questions. Can Dan Haren return to his former dominate ways? What kind of health and shape will Josh Beckett be in? And can Hyun-Jin Ryu duplicate last season’s success?
As for the Angels, they are looking at similar issues beyond their top two starters Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson. They brought in Hector Santiago, who has a career 3.41 ERA over three seasons pitching for the Chicago White Sox. They are really banking on him to turn into a dependable, every day starter. Bullpen wise, they brought in Joe Smith who had a 2.42 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over 70 innings out of the bullpen for the Cleveland Indians last season.
As the newest issue of the Freeway Series gets under way today, both teams have high hopes of a World Series title. However, only one team’s dream could be a reality and that team is the Dodgers. The Dodgers season turned around when they brought up their spark plug Yasiel Puig. While the Angels have Mike Trout, one of the best players in the game, they need some new youth to put a Puig-like spark into their clubhouse. They are hoping that a guy like David Freese could do just that, especially while reuniting with old teammate Albert Pujols. But it will be tough for the Angels in a stacked AL West. A Freeway Series World Series appears highly unlikely.
Commentary by Rich Peters