Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Angels Should be Well Represented in San Francisco
By Adam Dodge - Angelswin Senior Writer

With their 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins last night the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim earned their league best 38th victory. The hottest team in baseball has won 9 of 11 and 16 of 20. That the Angels are in first place is no surprise. That they’re pitching has been as good any team in baseball was to be expected. It has been the surprisingly efficient offense that has caused many to declare the Angels the team to beat in the American League. Angel teams past have never been as balanced as the 2007 version, which should be recognized in a month’s time.

On July 10th the American and National Leagues will meet once again in Major League Baseball’s All Star game at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Of the 64 players that will participate (32 from each team) only 16 players will be voted in by the fans. The remaining four dozen players will be chosen by the game’s managers, Tony Larussa and Jim Leyland. This is significant, because of the deserving Angels only perennial All Star and MVP candidate, Vladimir Guerrero will be voted in. It will be up to Leyland to decide which other Angels will make the trip to the bay area.

And many are deserving. As many as nine Angels currently have a legitimate shot at representing the American League, of which five should be considered locks.

Aside from Guerrero, who will be voted in by the fans, starting pitchers John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, closer Francisco Rodriguez and shortstop Orlando Cabrera have all earned selections this season.

John Lackey is vying for his Major League leading 10th victory this afternoon, while also boasting a 2.37 ERA. Lackey has emerged as the ace on arguably the league’s best starting staff and might just be the best right-handed pitcher in all of baseball. If the game were played today, Lackey, Cleveland’s CC Sabathia, Boston’s Josh Beckett and Oakland’s Dan Haren are the only four pitchers worthy of starting for the American League.

Kelvim Escobar boasts an equally impressive ERA, has a 7-3 records, and has tossed two complete games for the Angels. Escobar seems to be fully recovered from the shoulder problems which plagued him in 2005. Perhaps the steadiest Angel pitcher over the last three seasons, Escobar’s record can be attributed to decent run support, something that has plagued the Venezuelan right-hander in his time with the Angels.

Francisco Rodriguez may have finally usurped Mariano Rivera as the premiere closer in Major League baseball. Rodriguez is the fastest to 100 saves in the history of baseball, broke the franchise record for saves in a season last year, and has been lights out in the playoffs. An All-Star last year, K-Rod might finally get his chance to close out an American League victory in next month’s game. How about this scenario? Mariano Rivera sets up Rodriguez, symbolizing the changing of the guard. It could happen, though Rivera has some work to do to make the team himself.

Orlando Cabrera may be the team MVP. He’s certainly the leader of the Angels. Cabrera has been performed well for the Angels since signing with the team before the 2005 season. In 2007 he’s been awesome, displaying the best combination of offense and defense at the shortstop position this season. In the midst of a career year, Cabrera should be the first option to replace Jeter, the game’s likely starter.

But Leyland may have other Angels to consider. Though not likely to make the team at this juncture, with a hot month leading into the game the following players have an outside shot of making appearances in the midsummer classic.

Gary Matthews Jr. signed a “ridiculous” five year, $50 million contract based solely on his 2006 performance for the Texas Rangers but through two months of the season you’d be hard pressed to find a better free agent signing. Matthews Jr. is hitting over .290 with 8 homeruns and 38 RBI. Good numbers, but not great you might say. Consider that Matthews Jr. hit out of the lead-off spot for the first month of the season. It’s reasonable to assume that had he hit clean-up in April Matthews would be leading the team, and possibly the American League in RBI. He’s been that good behind Vladimir Guerrero, and thanks to the emergence of Rookie of the Year candidate and leadoff man Reggie Willits, Matthews Jr. can expect to hit behind Guerrero for the remainder of the season. In addition, Matthews has been a ballerina in centerfield, robbing opposing hitters of extra bases on a weekly basis. He was an all-star last year and is certainly on the radar in 2007.

Scott Shields, though not as dominant as in years past, is on an upswing, and may deserve an All-star nod based on past performance. Shields is widely considered the best set-up man in baseball, a role which receives much more recognition in today’s game.

Two young players, who got off to slow starts for the club have turned it on over the past few weeks and compare well to others at their position. Casey Kotchman and Mike Napoli are big reasons why the Angels are 32-13 over their past 45 games. Each has 7 homeruns and rank well in the OPS department. It will take big months from each of these players, and in Napoli’s case an injury or two around the league, as there are at least 5 catchers ahead of him. But both players have an outside shot at making their first All-Star appearances, with Kotchman’s being more realistic.

ESPN has done it’s best to alienate west coast baseball. Hopefully Jim Leyland will do the right thing and reward the best players on arguably the best team in the American League. After all “this game counts.”
Love to hear what you think!


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