ESPN Pegs Angels for 2nd Place Finish

By Brian Helberg
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With spring training due to start tomorrow, we have now officially entered power rankings season. David Schoenfield of ESPN released his annual pre spring training power rankings last week. Much to the chagrin of Angels’ fans, the acclaimed sports writer ranks the Halos as the 8th best team in baseball, and predicts a second place finish in the American League West.

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David Schoenfield does a solid job covering all angles of the Angels in his preview. He kicks things off by listing all of the Angels’ big offseason moves. Next he discusses who he believes is the most intriguing player on the roster. Then he nominates a player due for a better year and a player likely to regress in 2015. He breaks down what could be the Achilles heel for each club, and then predicts where the Halos will finish.

General Manager Jerry Dipoto can not be accused by fans of resting on his laurels this offseason. Despite winning 98 games and the American League West in 2104, the Angels enter spring training with a surprising amount of turnover. Obviously, Howie Kendrick is the big loss, but Kevin Jepsen is a player who will also be missed in the big A next season. Key additions Andrew Heaney, Matt Joyce, and Nick Tropeano could all play key roles for the Angels in 2015.

Mike Trout is listed by Schoenfield as the Angels’ most intriguing player for 2015. Schoenfield acknowledges Trouty’s greatness, but wonders whether he will be be able to adjust to the high fastball this season. The chink in Trout’s armour appears to be high fastballs, and he is sure to see a heavy dose of the high heat this season. Much of the Angels’ success in 2015 hinges on the performance of their star center fielder. Another strong season from the 23-year-old phenom could propel the Angels back into the postseason, while an off year from Trout could spell doom for the Halos.

Schoenfield is at a loss when it comes to picking an Angel who will have a better campaign than expected this season. He does manage to say that Josh Hamilton was his choice prior to undergoing shoulder surgery. While I can understand where he is coming from, I would suggest C.J. Wilson and David Freese both offer reasonable rebound potential in 2015. Wilson had a rough season in 2014, but his career numbers suggest it is fair to expect a bounce back. Freese had had some incredible moments during his career, and with 2015 being his contract year, you can bet he will give his all for the Halos this summer.

Jul 7, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Matt Shoemaker (52) in the fourth inning of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Shoemaker has been tabbed as the most likely candidate to regress this season. Shoemaker had a phenomenal rookie campaign in 2014, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations. Shoenfield states that Shoemaker will be hard pressed to repeat his incredible performance during the second half of last season that saw him post a 1.87 ERA. Blackbeard’s minor league numbers do suggest a dip in production should be anticipated, but I still believe he will put up quality numbers this season. Shoe has the look of a guy who has figured out how to be successful, and I think he will post similar numbers to what he produced last season.

Losing the presence of Howie Kendrick at second base is the issue Shoenfield believes will be the hardest for the Angels to overcome in 2015. Schoenfield notes that Josh Rutledge and Grant Green represent subpar replacements at second base. Kendrick really stepped up in Hamilton’s absence, functioning as the Halos cleanup hitter for much of last season. The charismatic 31-year-old will be sorely missed by the Angels and their fans this season. Josh Hamilton will be asked to carry more of the load offensively without Kendrick, and if he is unable to produce, the Angels may struggle to score runs in 2015.

In conclusion, Schoenfield predicts October baseball will be played in Anaheim for the 8th time since 2002. While he does not project another division title for the Halos in 2015, he does think they will earn one of the two wild cards in the American League in 2015. Shoenfield reiterates that the Angels should be alright offensively with the likes of Trout, Albert Pujols, and an emerging Kole Calhoun in their lineup. However, Schoenfield suggests Jered Weaver and Wilson may let their teammates down at the top of the Angels’ starting rotation.

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David Schoenfield is a highly respected journalist in baseball circles, but I think he has this one wrong. He projects the Halos will finish with a record of 87-75, just one win shy of the first place Mariners. I tend to agree that 98 wins may be hard to duplicate this season, but an 11 win decrease, and second place finish seems overly harsh to me. Yes, the Seattle Mariners have improved on paper this offseason, but they will have to prove on the diamond if they plan on dethroning the Angels in 2015.

It will definitely be a dog fight all season between these two clubs, but fingers crossed the Angels come out on top. The battles between the M’s and the Halos should make for a fun season of Angels’ baseball to watch for us fans, and I cannot wait for it to officially get started tomorrow morning!

Next: Angels Add Matt Lindstrom to Crowded Bullpen

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