It’s been 173 days since Buster Posey hit that grand slam (not that I’ve actually counted).
But with Johnny Cueto’s first pitch today, we’ll officially and finally turn the page to 2013.
Manager Mike Scoscia, the longest tenured manager in baseball, leads the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim into Great American Ball Park for a three-game opening series against your Cincinnati Reds of Cincinnati. 2012 was a tale of two seasons for the Angels. They were 6-14 before calling Mike Trout up from AAA and 83-59 after. The Angels ultimately couldn’t overcome their slow start and missed the playoffs. But they have retooled and their 2013 squad stands second in the MLB Power Rankings.
In December 2011, the Angels signed a television contract worth at least $3 billion over 20 years. They quickly capitalized by reaching blockbuster agreements with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for $331.5 million. Not content, this off-season they signed Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million deal, and a few other free agents. The Angels’ payroll will remain at approximately $150 million this year. By comparison, the Reds’ payroll has jumped from $82 million to $105 million in the past year.
You might be wondering why the Reds are opening against an American League team. It’s because MLB moved the Houston AAstros to the AL to equalize the two leagues and the six divisions. There are now 15 teams in each league and 5 teams in each division. With an odd number of teams in each league, that means on any given day, there will be one interleague series. The Reds and Angels happen to be the Opening Day example of that.
ANGELS LIKELY LINEUP
- Mike Trout CF – (21, R) – .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 49 SB
- Erick Aybar SS – (29, S) – .290/.324/.416, 8 HR, 20 SB
- Albert Pujols 1B – (33, R) – .285/.343/.516, 30 HR, 8 SB
- Josh Hamilton RF – (31, L) – .285/.354/.577, 43 HR, 7 SB
- Mark Trumbo LF – (27, R) – .268/.317/.491, 32 HR, 4 SB
- Howie Kendrick 2B – (29, R) – .287/.325/.400, 8 HR, 14 SB
- Alberto Callaspo 3B – (29, S) – .252/.331/.361, 10 HR, 4 SB
- Chris Ianetta C – (29, R) – .240/.332/.398, 9 HR, 1 SB
It’s hard to believe that Mike Trout accumulated those home runs and stolen bases in just five months. His April 28 promotion transformed the Angels and Trout finished second in the AL MVP voting. Trout’s WAR of 10.0 dwarfed the 6.8 of JoeyMVP in 2010. You can dicker about the accuracy of WAR, but you get the point.
It’s tempting to look at Albert Pujols‘ stats and conclude that he’s declined. But consider that he didn’t hit his first home run until May 6. After that point he hit .305/.365/.569. Maybe his slow start can be explained by changing teams, changing leagues or just the initial pressures created by his enormous new contract.
Josh Hamilton finds himself playing for a new team this spring, leaving Texas after 5 seasons. His defense, power and on-base-percentage could make the Angels a much stronger team. Yet, he was maddeningly inconsistent last year, with prolonged slumps. His MVP-caliber April and May concealed some troubling signs at the plate the rest of the year. Hamilton’s strike-out rate spiked from 17% in 2011 to over 25% in 2012. Hamilton still hasn’t posted 500 AB in back-to-back seasons. Off-field problems, etc.
LIKELY STARTING PITCHERS
- Mon. 4:10 – Jered Weaver (R) vs. Johnny Cueto (R)
- Wed. 7:10 – C.J. Wilson (L) vs. Mat Latos (R)
- Thu. 12:35 – Joe Blanton (R) vs. Bronson Arroyo (R)
The Angels lost three-fifths of their starting rotation, with Zack Grienke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana leaving. To replace them, the Angels traded for Tommy Hanson from the Braves, acquired Jason Vargas from the Mariners and signed Joe Blanton as a free agent.
Jered Weaver’s (3) Twenty wins and a 2.81 ERA are traditional stats that you would expect from an ace. But his underlying numbers tell a more nuanced story. Weaver’s strikeout rate has declined rapidly the past two seasons and in 2012 he benefitted from an unusually favorable BABIP of .241. His 2012 FIP of 3.75 is a better indication of what his ERA may be this year.
C.J. Wilson’s (32) first season under his new contract ($77.5 million/5 years) was a disappointment. His record was 13-10 and ERA was 3.83. His FIP of 4.04 shows that the elevated ERA was no fluke. Wilson is coming off surgery over the winter to remove bone spurs from his shoulder.
Joe Blanton (32) was signed by the Angels as a free agent ($15 million/2 years) after pitching for Oakland, Philadelphia and a few months in 2012 for the Dodgers. He’s been an average end-of-the-rotation starter for a few years.
Ryan Madson was signed as a free agent ($3.5 million/1 year) to become the Angels’ closer. In 2012, Madson’s bloody and torn right elbow joint at the end of spring training triggered a series of events that in part, landed Aroldis Chapman in the closer’s role. Madson’s progress back from Tommy John surgery has been slow and he is not expected to pitch for the Angels until late April. In his place, Ernesto Frieri (RH, 27) will close as he did for the first time in 2012. Last season, Frieri saved a pretty standard 23 games out of 26 opportunities. Sean Burnett (LH, 30) was signed as a free agent. Last year for the Washington Harpers, he was one of the top left-handed set-up pitchers in baseball. He and Scott Downs will come in to face Choo, Votto and Bruce in big spots.
Update: If you want some local color, check out this streaming video of the parade. The parade starts at Findlay Market and heads south. It’s a great Cincinnati tradition. George Foster is the honorary leader this year, and Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos are taking part.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.