Thursday, March 27, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

I’m a fan. And, by definition, fans are supposed to have an irrational exuberance for something. Baseball, like all sports, trade on the irrational belief that all teams can win every season. We all know that can’t happen, but as fans, we believe it. We get excited for our team to win and hope that it happens.

While I always get excited for the start of every Angels season, this year, I’m getting particularly excited. To see why, I came up with a list of the reasons why this year is going to be better than the past few. 

Here’s what I came up with:

10. The Improved Pitching 

Last year, the Angels posted a 6.56 ERA in Spring Training. Not surprisingly, they posted a 10-20 record before the start of the season and got off to a 9-17 record. This year, as of March 27th, the Angels have a 3.47 ERA and a 17-10 record. Not surprisingly, with better pitching, the Angels are off to a 17-10 record in the Cactus League. That is enough to give hope that the April curse is over and that 2014 will be a better season.

9. The Strong Hitting

While the pitching during this year’s Spring Training has dramatically improved, the hitting has not dropped substantially. Last year, the Angels posted a .300/.358/.471 triple slash line during Spring Training and went on to have the 5th best OPS in the game (.743). Over the offseason, the Angels traded slugger Mark Trumbo to improve the pitching and there were some concerns that the offense would suffer. However, that hasn’t been the case. So far in the Cactus League, the Angels have posted a .292/.354/.459 line. And that’s with Josh Hamilton missing nearly two weeks due to an injury. Since the Angels are posting a similar level of offense as last year, it’s very likely that they will have another top-level offense, and that should translate into more games won.

8. The Return of Albert Pujols

Last year watching Albert Pujols play was painful. It hurt knowing how much pain he was in every day trying to play through plantar fasciitis. He wasn’t the same person, and it showed in his numbers. This year, he’s back to the player we all wanted. He’s moving free and easy and playing with confidence. He’s making good defensive plays at 1B instead of just DHing. When he’s hitting, he can be a leader on the club by setting a good example. This year, he should hit close to .300 and hit around 30 or more HRs. That will be a big improvement on last year.

7. A Legitimate 3B

Has it really been over a decade since we’ve had a prototypical 3B—one who can hit for power? I grew up with the concept that corner infield positions should be sources of power—ones that can make a difference with one swing of the bat. I’ve missed that. Instead of always scrapping for hits and scrambling for runs with the bottom of the lineup, we now have another chance to make a difference with one swing. I’m excited to see what David Freese can do and maybe getting double digit HRs out of our 3B.

6. Hector Santiago and Kole Calhoun

They’re great guys. Not just because they came to the Spring Training Fanfest, but because they are great with the fans and are hard-working players. I’ve been following Kole since he was first drafted. He’s worked his tail off to get to where he is, and I’m very happy to see him having such success. There’s nothing like seeing one of your guys making it. And, with Hector, since coming over in the trade, he’s been nothing but pure fun to follow on Twitter. While he might not have come up through our organization, it feels like he’s been with us all along. He’s found a home with us and the fans. And, oh yeah, he has a screwball that can be just sick at times to watch. Following these two all season long is going to be a lot of fun.

5. Improved Minor League Affiliates

When I say that I follow the Angels, I don’t just follow the Major League team—I follow the entire organization. I want to know who is on the Triple-A team to provide depth. I want to follow prospects to see how their developing into the next generation of stars. As Jerry Dipoto told the fans at the Spring Training Fanfest, the Angels have been revamping their Minor League system and they see the organization in ways that the national press does not. In spite of what the prognasticators have said about the Angels’ organization, they had almost all of their affiliates playing in the Minor League post-season. They will have a 1st round draft pick for the first time in a few years. With their newly finished manual for improving all aspects of player development in place, I want to see how it all comes together to turn these players into champions.

4. Quality Time with My Sons

My eldest son is going to turn 8 soon. And, my twins are 6. All of them are playing Little League baseball and are old enough to really start to understand the game. They get that it’s about more than outs and runs. They know where the plays are (they will even tell me) and what types of plays to run when the Angels are hitting. More than ever, baseball is going to provide quality time for me and my sons. Knowing that every day I will be able to watch an Angels game with them means that I have built in family entertainment for the next 6 months. I always treasure my time with them and love that they have the same passion for the game and the team that I have.

3. Josh Hamilton

When the 2012 offseason began, I predicted that the Angels would sign Josh Hamilton. Then, and now, having a left-handed bat with power made a lot of sense for our lineup. I know he struggled last year, but in some ways, that made me more of a fan. Through all of his troubles at the plate, he was still a good player and good to the fans. I find inspiration in his life story and appreciate his willingness to share his failures to help others avoid his mistakes. If you haven’t watched the Tim Mead Dugout Talk on, you should just for his story about Josh Hamilton. He tells it well. My bet is that Josh leads the Angels in HRs this season and shows us just why he’s one of the best in the game.

2. It’s Freaking Baseball

I know there are other sports and that people get passionate about them. But none of them have the allure for me like baseball. It’s the perfect game. There’s daily excitement and drama. There are stories that unfold over weeks and months. There are ups and down, stress and relief. There will be something to talk about and discuss for the next 6 months. I’m willing to bet that there will be 5,000 new threads on between now and the end of the season. There will be rants and praise. There will be new in-group jokes and new fans to meet. The season won’t be won in a day and it won’t be lost in a day either. No matter what, there are 162 games between now and the end of the season that we cannot predict all that will happen.

1. Mike Trout

Is there anything in baseball he can’t do? I’m not sure. He could hit for the cycle in a game. He could go 5 for 5. He save a game by robbing someone of a homerun. He can steal his way into position to score the game winning run. Whatever he does, it will always be Troutstanding. This is his year. The Angels have a great team and will be playing meaningful games. The writers who get to vote on the awards are going to finally realize that Mike Trout is absolutely the best player in the Major Leagues and will give him a well-deserved MVP Award. I don’t want to miss a single minute of his season. 

Bonus—It’s a Wide Open Race

So the Mariners got Robinson Cano. The Rangers got Prince Fielder. The A’s got—well, they always get something from  . . . somewhere (Billy Beane can beat any magician at pulling a rabbit out of a hat). And the Astros had a winning record against us last year. 

But let’s be honest, no team has a lock on the A. L. West this year. The Mariners have several questions to answer this season. Already Robinson Cano has said that they need another hitter. Their rotation still isn’t set, and they have had injuries. The same is true for the Rangers. The A’s will implode at some point this season. And the Astros are still a couple of years away from contending.

So, the race this year is wide open for the Angels. The team may not win the division, but my bet is that they are going to make it into the post season this year. The pitching is vastly improved. The hitting is good. Pujols and Hamilton are healthy. The team is playing much better. 

Frankly, I’m happy that the experts are discounting us as a team. It gives our guys something to play for—to prove them wrong. They need an attitude, and I think they have it. I want to see them get out of the gate well and play like they can and it will be a good season. I can’t wait for it to start. 


So, there you go. That’s my list as to why I’m excited about the 2014 season. How about you? How are you feeling about 2014 and what’s getting you excited?

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