Last season was a depressing year for southern California baseball fans. For the first season since 2003, no southern California baseball teams were represented in the playoffs. Although the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (formerly Anaheim Angels and California Angels) have won the only World Series championship in the region over the last 20 years, all three teams have remained relatively consistent and competitive each season. To add more fuel to the fire, the rival of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, won their first World Series since 1954 last season, and the team’s first ever in San Francisco. Can “SoCal” rebound in 2011? Take a dive with me as we break down the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the San Diego Padres..
Angels of Anaheim
Since Mike Scioscia was hired as manager in 2000, the Angels have been a model of consistency. Over the last decade, the “Halos” have earned five division titles, six playoff berths and one World Series title. Ironically, the team won the World Series in 2002 after securing a Wild Card spot rather than winning the division. Last season presented its share of obstacles as several of the team’s key contributors over the last few seasons were no longer on the team including John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins. Regardless, fans held lofty expectations for rising star Kendry Morales. Instead, their first basemen suffered a season-ending broken leg during his celebration at home plate following a walkoff grand slam. The event served as an omen for the rest of the season as the rival Texas Rangers, with the rejuvenated Guerrero, continued to pull away in the standings. The Oakland Athletics also surpassed the struggling Halos, which ended the season less than .500 for the first time in eight seasons (80-82).
First and foremost, the Angels will need to swing the stick more effectively for any opportunity at redemption this season. They posted their lowest run total in 18 seasons (not counting the 1994 season shortened by a strike). Catcher/first basemen Mike Napoli led the team with 26 home runs, yet the team lacked a hitter with 100 runs scored, 100 runs batted in or even a .300 average. The front office received criticism for not aggressively pursuing any coveted free agents, including Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, in the offseason. Their only major addition thus far has been former Toronto outfielder Vernon Wells in which they gave up Napoli. On the bright side, the pride of Orange County will send a strong pitching staff of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro who all posted earned run averages of less than 4.00. Nonetheless, Scott Kazmir was a bust with a record of 9-15 and an ERA nearing 6.00. The Angels can reclaim the AL West, but will need some help. First, their pitching staff must continue to shine, and Kazmir will need to rebound from his career-worst season. In addition, Kendry Morales and several other young players will have to stay healthy and pick up the slack as outfielders Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu are still spry, but another year closer to receiving their AARP card.
You can flip a coin on the best soap opera over the last couple of years. Some would pick the cinematic marvel “The Twilight Saga,” which has broken box office records and built huge followings for its stars. Or, one may choose the real-life drama unfolding in the City of Angels with one of sports’ most historic franchises that continues to be one of baseball’s attendance leaders. Move over Charlie and Lindsey because divorced couple Frank and Jamie McCourt are stealing the Hollywood headlines these days. Unfortunately, the McCourt’s divorce proceedings have caused the Los Angeles Dodgers to serve merely as a pawn in their settlement. Without a stable relationship with the team or fans, the McCourts have been viewed as enemies and obstacles to the Dodgers’ success. After the team dropped a small fortune with minimal return on investment in the Manny Ramirez experiment, the Dodgers have shied away from splurging on any other big-name free agents.
In 2010, Los Angeles finished in fourth place in the NL West and less than .500 for the first time in five years (80-82). Their pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley was subpar; however, the offense can be blamed as the cause of the team’s ill fate. Los Angeles scored their lowest run total in eight seasons and finished 27th in total homeruns. The heart of the team’s offense, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, both suffered declines in nearly all statistical categories. To add insult to injury (literally), Ramirez was sidelined the majority of the season and recorded career offensive lows. Without any major offseason upgrades, it is difficult to predict Los Angeles to bounce back from last season. However, I expect their current batch of talent to flourish without the distractions of “Mannywood” and a hopeful conclusion to the “McCourt-room” drama. I predict a second-place finish in the NL West where they will just miss the Wild Card.
It seems like a rerun to me. The San Diego Padres had another season of dominant pitching, but were unable to score enough runs. In fact, San Diego sat atop its division the majority of the season, but stumbled in the homestretch to the unrelenting San Francisco Giants. San Diego did make attempts to bolster their bats with the acquisition of Jorge Cantu, Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. Nevertheless, it is nearly impossible to stay optimistic with the departure of one of baseball’s most consistent big boppers, Adrian Gonzalez. Over the last four seasons, Gonzalez has averaged 34 home runs, 95 runs scored and 104 runs batted in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Even with these solid additions, an enormous gap will need filling. Fortunately, San Diego’s young aces – Wade LeBlanc, Matt Latos and Clayton Richard – will continue to thrive this season, which offers the team a remote chance at playoff contention.
With a disappointing 2010 and no monumental additions for the Angels, Dodgers or Padres, southern California baseball fans may be without a playoff team yet again. As a lifelong resident of the region, I am hopeful that one of these teams will find a way to succeed so we can brag to the country about more than just our fantastic weather.