If winning a World Series is about having great starting pitching, a signature superstar, a solid bullpen and a great manager—and let’s admit, that’s about as good a start as one can think of—then the Los Angeles Angels deserve the hype, including here at TheSportsNotebook where they are the pick to win it all. But if anything is going to derail an Angel championship drive it’s going to be the offensive supporting cast for Albert Pujols. The everyday lineup is a combustible mix, with enough possibility to see greatness, yet little question marks in every spot. Let’s take a closer look…
THE BIG GUNS: Mark Trumbo & Kendry Morales—Trumbo hit 29 home runs in his first taste of significant big-league activity a year ago. Morales hit 34 bombs back in 2009 before being hampered by foot injuries the past two years that started when a broke a bone during a celebration after a walk-off home run. If healthy, Morales’ power would make him the perfect foil for Pujols, and circa ’09 Morales had solid plate discipline. Trumbo needs work in the latter category. He’s also going to need work on his defense. Right now the only way for both supporting players to join Pujols in the lineup is for Trumbo to play third with Morales at DH. Trumbo’s defense has been an issue early on. Mike Scoscia is less likely than Detroit’s Jim Leyland—trying a similar experiment with Miguel Cabrera—to be tolerant of bad defense, and in the case of Scoscia he’s got a viable option at third base as we’ll see in a moment.
ON THE EDGE OF EXELLENCE: That’s the story of the third base option, Alberto Callaspo, along with second baseman Howie Kendrick and centerfielder Peter Bourjos. Callaspo has had OBP’s over .350 in two of the last three seasons, including last year. His solid power of 2009 looks like it was a one-time burst, but he won’t hurt you with the bat and if he can just drive the ball to the alleys more frequently, Callaspo will solve the third base problem and leave Trumbo and Morales in a platoon situation at DH. Kendrick made a solid step forward last season. His OBP’s seem to be settled in the .330s, but he made up for it by popping 18 home runs. At 28 years old, there’s reason to think the uptick might be permanent and a second baseman with power is a huge asset. Bourjos had a good rookie year in 2011, with a .327 OPB—it needs to get better, but he’s only 25. The pleasant surprise Bourjos gave was a .438 slugging percentage—it’s not going to make anyone in Anaheim remember Brian Downing, who hit 28 home runs from the leadoff spot for the 1982 ALCS team—but for a player who’s main attributes are speed and defense, it’s an awfully nice addition. Callaspo, Kendrick and Bourjos are all young and all on the verge of being very good.
THE QUESTION MARK OF QUESTION MARKS: That would be Vernon Wells. At 33 years old, whether he can still produce at a high level is a big question. Two years ago he hit 31 home runs and slugged .515, but his OBP’s have been subpar in recent years and even the power surge was an anomaly for what’s taken place since 2006 when he was seen as one the game’s coming stars in Toronto. Expecting a sudden turnaround on his OBP’s is asking a lot. Expecting Wells’ to hit 20-25 home runs as the everyday leftfielder is not.
THE REST: Erick Aybar, Chris Iannetta , Maicer Itzuris—Aybar is the starting shortstop and his glove is excellent, while his bat is enough to not be a complete liability. Not since 2009 when he hit .312 his Aybar been an asset to the lineup, but the hits he prevents are more important than the ones he gets. Iannetta is getting his first chance to be a regular catcher. He posted a .370 OBP in part-time duty for Colorado last year, and he showed a brief power spark back in 2008-09 when he averaged 17 home runs a year—again in a part-time role. So if he can make the numbers hold up over the course of playing every day, Scoscia’s got something special. Itzuris is the utility infielder and will get his share of at-bats, although with both the bat and glove he’s a poor man’s Aybar.
The potential question marks with this lineup are legitimate. Beyond Pujols there’s no one on this list you look at and think of as money in the bank. But when you evaluate the group collectively the potential upside just seems so high, that for the Angels not to have a great lineup would have to be a case of everything just coming undone.