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Angels can't thrive on star power alone

The big three of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout will still need help from throughout the lineup, while ace Jered Weaver looks for the bullpen and his fellow starters to pitch in as well.

March 30, 2013|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • The Angels offense will count on the big bats of (from left) Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton this season.
The Angels offense will count on the big bats of (from left) Mark Trumbo,… (Jamie Squire / Getty Images )

There is enough star power in the Angels lineup to illuminate the Big A message board for months, the marquee shining with three megawatt names — Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Trout is just 21, but with his dynamic blend of speed, power and defense, he is already established as one of the best players in the game. Pujols has been a big producer for years, and Hamilton is a five-tool threat who, during hot streaks, might be the most dangerous hitter in baseball.

The trio has combined for four most valuable player awards, two rookies of the year, 15 All-Star game selections, two batting titles and 10 Silver Slugger awards — and is the primary reason the Angels are considered World Series contenders.

But if the Angels are to end their three-year playoff drought and play deep into October, they'll need significant contributions from the supporting cast and enough quality pitching to ensure all that offense translates to wins, not slugfest losses.

"You can't just go by me or Josh or Trout," Pujols said. "Everyone has to contribute. The clubs I've been on in the past that have won everything, that's how it is."

The Angels learned firsthand in 2012 the perils of pinning too much on one player. They were a popular preseason choice to reach the World Series after signing Pujols, but the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger stumbled badly out of the gate.

It took Pujols, a career .325 hitter with 475 home runs, a month to hit his first homer. On May 4, he was batting .194 with five runs batted in. The Angels got off to a 6-14 start. On May 21, they were 18-25 and eight games behind Texas in the American League West.

"Last year, I think everyone was looking to Albert to pick up the load, and no one was really concerned about what they were doing at the plate," center fielder Peter Bourjos said. "We got off to a slow start, the pressure started building, and it just kept snowballing."

Pujols recovered to finish with a .285 average, 30 homers and 105 RBIs, and so did the Angels, who averaged a major league-best 5.06 runs per game from mid-May on and finished 89-73. But they couldn't dig out of that early hole and missed the playoffs by four games.

Trout, slowed by a viral infection and shoulder injury last spring, did not join the team until late April. Hamilton, who signed a $125-million deal in December, was slugging 43 homers and driving in 128 runs for Texas.

"Those guys alone are not going to be anywhere near enough for us to get where we want to be," slugger Mark Trumbo said. "It's going to be important for all of us to be the best we can to support those guys who are used to putting up those lofty numbers and can almost carry a team on their back at times."

This season, the Angels will have three stars in the lineup right from the start, but the rest of the league is too good for that trio alone to carry the team into October.

Defending American League West champion Oakland has a dominant rotation and bullpen. The Rangers, though they've lost key players from the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, are still formidable. In the Central, defending AL champion Detroit has a power-packed lineup and solid pitching. And the East is loaded, with vastly improved Toronto and pitching-rich Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

For the Angels to win, they'll need Trumbo to find a happier medium between the beast who hit .307 with 27 homers and 66 RBIs through July 20 last season and the straggler who hit .213 with five homers and 29 RBIs the rest of the way.

They'll need slick-fielding shortstop Erick Aybar, who will bat in the important second spot, to provide the kind of production — .290 batting average, .324 on-base percentage — he did in 2012, but with a little more patience.

They'll need second baseman Howie Kendrick to drive the ball into the gaps, strike out a little less (234 the last two seasons) and ground into fewer double plays (26 in 2012).

They'll need third baseman Alberto Callaspo to improve his .252 average and deliver clutch hits, and catcher Chris Iannetta, who missed 2½ months of 2012 because of wrist and forearm injuries, to stay healthy. And they'll need No. 9 hitter Bourjos, a superb defender, to set the table for Trout, get his bunts down and cause havoc on the bases.

Pujols, whose Cardinals won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, knows a championship-caliber lineup when he sees one, and he likes these Angels.

"Everyone wants to concentrate on Josh, Trout and myself, but if you look at our lineup, anybody can hurt you," Pujols said. "Guys like Aybar, Kendrick, Trumbo, Callaspo, Bourjos … they have more talent than the name."

Hamilton, Trumbo, Pujols and Trout each hit 30 homers or more last year. Trout and Bourjos have top-end speed, and Aybar, Kendrick and Hamilton are above-average runners.

""There's nothing this lineup can't do," Bourjos said.

The offense will need to be prolific to overcome the team's pitching deficiencies. Right-hander Jered Weaver is a clear-cut ace — he had a 20-5 record with a 2.81 earned-run average last season. But the rest of the rotation — C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson — won't strike fear in opponents.

The bullpen looked awful this spring and will open the season without projected closer Ryan Madson, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and hopes to be game-ready by May. Until Madson returns, the relief corps looks much like the 2012 group that tied for the AL lead with 22 blown saves.

"When our starters gave us a certain length and our relievers got into roles last year, we were terrific," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "When the starters weren't going as deep and we didn't have as many relievers throwing well, we paid a price."

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