Title will be heaven sent for Angels - NBC Sports

Title will be heaven sent for Angels
Plenty of reasons to like the Halos, starting with Albert Pujols
AP
Albert Pujols makes the Angels better on paper, and his presence has also made a world of differences in the team's clubhouse.
April 5, 2012, 9:04 pm

History hasn't been kind to back-to-back World Series losers like the Rangers.

Do the Yankees' aging stars really have one more title in them?

The Rays don't hit enough.

Can the Tigers pitch and defend well enough?

The Red Sox's soap opera includes everything from manager/clubhouse adjustments to injuries to potential weak spots at closer, shortstop and right field.

And will the bullpen drag down the Angels despite the additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson?

But here are enough reasons to like the Angels to win it all:

1. Anybody who watched them this spring couldn't help but feel a different vibe - and for that, you can thank Pujols. It's right to question the length of his 10-year, $240-million deal, but Pujols' immediate impact in the clubhouse and on the field are obvious. The Angels believe they're going deep into October, with Pujols leading the way.

2. Not only did the Angels sign away the No. 1 pitcher from their top division rival, their rotation is deep enough that they've installed Wilson in the fourth slot. That plus the switch in home parks sets up well for a big season from Wilson, and the Angels should have the top starting foursome in the game.

3. Kendrys Morales was brought along slowly this spring, but has shown he's healthy enough for the Angels to reasonably expect 120-or-so games of solid production from him. Remember, Morales finished 5th in AL MVP voting in 2009, and was on his way to a big season before the ankle fracture in May 2010. Also keep in mind the Angels won 86 games last season without either Pujols or Morales in the lineup. Now they'll often be hitting 3-4.

4. Now that Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox have walked away in the last two years, you can make a case for Mike Scioscia as the game's best and most-ensconced manager. His 12-year run at 1,066-878 (.548) includes five division titles and six 90-plus-win seasons in Anaheim. And it's about time for a second pennant and world championship.

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6. Arte Moreno long has operated one of the game's best-run franchises. This winter, he was smart enough to get out in front of the game's latest financial explosion fueled by exponential growth in international income and local television rights deals by signing Pujols and Wilson. There's a new economic stratosphere for the game's elite franchises, and Moreno got the jump and pushed the Angels into it.

7. Mark Trumbo has shown enough athleticism to handle third base at least on a limited basis. You know the Angels would like him to make a more-complete transition, so maybe he'll play there more than the 50-60 games they're projecting at this point. The lineup would benefit if he can. He'll also get some DH at-bats in place of Morales.

8. Jerry Dipoto is the rare ex-big-league player who has risen to the GM role, and possesses encyclopedic knowledge of both the game's history and current personnel. His unique combination of skills plus a high-energy enthusiasm will make him one of the game's better GMs. And since he knows his way around a pitching staff, look for him to make the right call on a mid-season pickup in the No. 5 rotation spot or bullpen, if needed.

9. It's been a rough recent stretch for elite prospect Mike Trout, who looked worn out in the Arizona Fall League, and was limited by a virus and lingering shoulder tendinitis this spring. But he's in Salt Lake City for now, and won't be back until there's a need, or until he forces his way to the big leagues by dominating at the Triple-A level.

Other picks and predictions:

Worst team coming out of Arizona: Cleveland (3-14 in their last 17 Cactus League games)

Worst team coming out of Florida: PIttsburgh (3-13 in their last 16 Grapefruit League games)

Over their projected win total: Toronto (81.5), St. Louis (83), Kansas City (80)

Under the projected win total: Atlanta (87), Colorado (81)

AL division champions: Angels, Tigers, Yankees

AL wildcards: Rangers, Rays

NL division champions: Phillies, Cardinals, Diamondbacks

NL wildcards: Marlins, Giants

AL Most Valuable Player: Pujols won three of them in the National League. Robinson Cano should win one of these years. Ditto Evan Longoria. But Miguel Cabrera should have won last year, and now finds himself in the favorable situation of hitting in front of Prince Fielder, and the potentially vote-gaining situation of making a successful transition to third base.

AL Cy Young: Dominant teams have dominant starting pitching, so there's no shortage of elite candidates here. But from among Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, etc., we'll call for it to be David Price's big breakout year.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum went back-to-back in 2008-09, and it's time for Clayton Kershaw to turn that trick.

AL Rookie of the Year: This could be one of the best classes for any league in recent years, with elite prospects Matt Moore, Jesus Montero, Yoenis Cespedes, Addison Reed - and when the time is right, Trout. Moore gets the call.

NL Rookie of the Year: It's tough to pick somebody who's beginning the season in the minor leagues. But with Devin Mesoraco and Yonder Alonso the other leading candidates, why not Bryce Harper?

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon can win it any year, but we'll go with his former boss, Scioscia, this time. Darkhorse candidate: John Farrell.

NL Manager of the Year: One way or the other, Ozzie Guillen's Marlins are going to be interesting to watch. If this mix of talent comes together, they can make a significant jump from last place to a wild card spot. Darkhorse candidates: Mike Matheny, Don Mattingly.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: This could be easy now that Morales has passed the health test. But Twins Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau - and Morales' teammate Vernon Wells - could win it, too.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Sentiment screams 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, but Adam Wainwright is a far better choice. So is Jayson Werth.

First manager fired: Too bad, but Brad Mills is an easy target - last guaranteed year of his contract, bad team, new owner and general manager who didn't hire him.

First general manager fired: In case you haven't heard, Ned Colletti has new bosses who dropped a little coin for the franchise, and a contract with an out clause after this season. Big splash coming in LA soon.

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