TUCSON — Last year, Seattle was the trendy pick to dethrone the Angels atop the American League West, with Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva projected to lead the Mariners to October.
This year, Oakland is the trendy pick to dethrone the Angels. The Athletics signed former Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera on Monday, and they already had acquired Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi to fortify a lineup that scored the fewest runs in the league last year.
"They've definitely gotten better," Angels ace John Lackey said. "They've made some good moves to improve their club."
So, are the Angels still the team to beat in the AL West?
"You guys are always trying to find somebody to say that," Lackey said with a smile. "We like our chances."
Lackey has started 206 major league games. The A's projected starting rotation -- Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden -- has started a total of 114.
"They've got a lot of potential," Lackey said. "That's about all you can say at this point. They've got some good young arms."
Lackey made his spring debut and said he has been told he would pitch every fifth day from now on, putting him in position to start on opening day. The Angels open the season April 6, against the A's.
Lackey pitched two perfect innings in Monday's 12-3 win over the Colorado Rockies. He was so efficient that he had to make 10 more pitches in the bullpen to hit his target of 35.
He also was efficient at bat -- in his own way. He took three called strikes, under orders from Manager Mike Scioscia not to risk injury by swinging the bat. "He told me not to do anything," Lackey said, "with a few expletives. . . . He probably saved me some embarrassment."
Lackey started last season on the disabled list because of a strained triceps muscle. He said his arm is in top shape now, probably because he started his strengthening exercises two months ago, in anticipation of pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. The Angels vetoed his participation, citing last year's injury.
"I just work here," he said with a shrug.
Back, back, back
The Angels had no home runs in their first five spring games, and they were the only major league team without one.
No more, not after catcher Jeff Mathis hit two home runs and third baseman Brandon Wood hit another. Mathis and Wood each drove in three runs, and outfielder Adam Pavkovich doubled three times and drove in four runs.
The Angels will play an abbreviated intrasquad game today. Ervin Santana is set for his spring debut, with Joe Saunders scheduled to debut Wednesday against the South Africa entry in the WBC. . . . Scioscia said the Angels' regulars would make their spring debuts in the next couple days, with the exception of Vladimir Guerrero. Scioscia said he'll wait another week to 10 days before playing Guerrero, who is coming off knee surgery. . . . The Rockies (0-6) are the only winless team this spring. The Angels rocked Colorado starter Franklin Morales for seven runs and nine hits in three innings. . . . Outfielder Reggie Willits was scratched from Monday's lineup because of muscle tightness in his left leg.