Major League Baseball will kick off the 2007 season with a lure of headlines, including the presence of Dice-K in Boston, Barry Bonds’ chase for Hank Aaron’s home run record and the Human Growth Hormone controversy among others. Here is a quick preview of what to expect out of the five teams which play in the state of California.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have been predicted to win the World Series and all indications suggest that only injuries can prevent the 2002 champions from bringing the title back to Orange County.
With an influx of starting pitchers, the team should be able to sustain a winning record while former Cy Young Award Winner Bartolo Colon and rookie phenom Jered Weaver recover from the disabled list.
The addition of reliever Justin Speier will add more depth to one of the great bullpens in all of baseball and make up for the loss of reliever Brendan Donnelly, who was traded to the Red Sox earlier in the year. Scott Shields and closer Francisco Rodriguez are arguably the best one-two punch when it comes to closing out games and the free agent signing of outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. will also add some pop to a lineup which lacks home run power outside of Vladimir Guerrero.
Matthews’ controversy surrounding the use of HGH has already created some issues with the team but manager Mike Scioscia will make sure their are no distractions when the regular season begins.
Last year, the lack of power was one of the team’s biggest weakness and don’t be surprised if owner Arte Moreno tries to make a deal for another big bat to support Vlad.
The health of Chone Figgins will also be crucial to a team which is known for its use of small ball.
With a dominant rotation, reliable bullpen and improved defensive, the development of young stars like Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman will be the biggest keys in how far the Angels go in the season.
Los Angeles Dodgers
After being knocked out of the first round of the playoffs a season ago to the New York Mets, the Dodgers were able to keep almost their entire core roster and added another dominant arm to the starting rotation.
Former Giant Jason Schmidt crossed over to San Francisco’s most hated rival and will be the ace for a starting staff which includes former World Series winners Brad Penny and Derek Lowe.
The addition of Juan Pierre at the top of the lineup will give the Dodgers tremendous speed along with Rafael Furcal.
If Nomar Garciaparra is able to remain healthy and productive like he was in 2006, and Jeff Kent continues to put up impressive power numbers, the Dodgers will easily win the National League West.
The closer position is the only question mark that remains for L.A. Takashi Saito was a pleasant surprise for the injury-plagued Eric Gagne and with Gagne sitting on the disabled list in Texas, the pressure will be on Saito to replicate last seasons 24 saves performance.
It was only a matter of time before the Athletics lost the final part of their big three and with the departure of Barry Zito, the once feared three-headed monster of Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder has been officially become separated.
In the past five years, the A’s have lost two MVPs in Jason Giambi (Yankees) and Miguel Tejada (Baltimore) as well as three aces in Zito (Giants), Hudson (Braves) and Mulder (Cardinals).
Whether it was right or not, the A’s will have to turn the ball over to young stars Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton.
Harden is the most seasoned starting pitcher of the three but has been plagued by injuries since showing tremendous promise in the 2005 campaign.
If healthy, Harden can easily win 20 games and become the next big starting pitcher in Oakland.
Closer Huston Street uncharacteristically blew 11 save chances last season and will need to become more consistent because of the lack of depth in the bullpen.
On offense, look for the A’s to rely on the power of Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez and the consistency of shortstop Bobby Crosby.
San Francisco Giants
When you sign a starting pitcher for seven years and $126 million, he better be the savior of your franchise; Barry Zito isn’t a savior.
There is no question the Giants overpaid for Zito, but in a market filled with overpriced pitchers, the Giants were hard-pressed to find a replacement for Jason Schmidt and desperate to give Barry Bonds one last chance at the all elusive World Series ring.
After winning the Cy Young Award in 2002, Zito has complied a less than stellar 54-46 record with the A’s.
The Giants will have a good solid rotation with fellow lefty Noah Lowry and youngster Matt Cain.
The real trouble with the Giants is on offense. Barry Bonds, Dave Roberts, Ryan Klesko, Rich Aurilia, Ray Durham and Omar Vizquel are well over 35 years of age and on the downside of their careers.
Instead of getting younger and improving the starting lineup, the Giants have placed all their eggs in one basket and will likely suffer the consequences when all of the aforementioned players have injuries and break down physically during the tedious 162-game season.
San Diego Padres
After winning the past two NL West Titles, the Padres have a lot of new faces but are still a contender for the Division.
Acquiring future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was probably the smartest move by the Padres all season.
Maddux provides steady veteran leadership for youngsters Jack Peavy and Chris Young.
The acquisition of second basemen Marcus Giles gives the Padres one of the most talented right infields in the league along with first basemen Adrain Gonzalez.
Shortstop Khalil Greene is ready to have a breakout year and tough the outfield is a little old, the Padres simply know how to win games.
Like the Angels in the West, the Padres have arguably the best bullpen in the NL with closer Trevor Hoffman and set up men Cla Meredith and Scott Linebrink.
Hoffman became the all-time saves leader a year ago and as long as his deceiving change up continues to keep batters off-balance, the Padres will be able to battle it out for another title with the Dodgers. Just don’t expect the Dodgers to hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning once again.