Five Key Angels And Dodgers
The season starts, and the first thing you notice is that this isn’t Arizona or Florida anymore.
Funny how the whole tone changes when you go from spring training to the real deal. One thing that hasn’t changed is that the fate of the Angels and Dodgers hinges on five key players from each club.
Exactly who are they? I thought you’d never ask.
1. Kendrys Morales. Duh! Not hard to figure this one, huh? Will he recover? When will he get back? And when he does, will he be the same dominant player he was in 2009 and early 2010? If the answers aren’t positive, the other four players on this list might not matter.
2. Fernando Rodney. Did you watch the ninth inning of the opener in Kansas City? If you did, there is no need to explain. This guy was shaky the second half last season, shaky throughout the spring and shaky in his first closing assignment in KC. All he did was struggle through a 26-pitch inning on Thursday, put the tying runs on base and narrowly miss losing when a potential 3-run homer went foul before he finally squeezed out the save. And don’t forget, this was against one of the weaker lineups in the game. What happens when he has to face the big boys?
3. Peter Bourjos. He has to hit enough to stay in center field, where he might already be the best defensive player in the league. So far so good with the bat, but the real encouraging thing is that he walked enough to have an on-base percentage in the high .400s in spring training. He’s also become a terrific bunter. So why did he have to wait so long to learn how to do both? Every time I asked that question in the past, Angels officials had no answer. I mean, why should they? This guy has only been the fastest player in the organization for years. He keeps this up, and the Angels might stumble into the best leadoff man they’ve had since Chone Figgins. First, though, Bourjos has to prove he can hit over the long haul.
4. Bobby Abreu. He is older (36), looks a bit chunkier and desperately needs to bounce back from that .255 season a year ago. What makes him even more important as the new DH is his presence as the only left-handed bat in the heart of the order, at least until Morales returns. If he doesn’t hit, right-handed pitchers will give the Angels fits.
5. Vernon Wells. When you’re making more money than anybody but A-Rod, you better contribute. If he hits to his career averages (around .270, 25 to 30 homers and 85 to 90 RBIs), he’ll be fine. But if he doesn’t, the pressure will mount and this team will struggle for runs the way it did a year ago.
1. Jonathan Broxton. In his first appearance of the season in the home opener, he immediately gave up a home run to the Giants’ Pat Burrell, then he managed to hold on to Clayton Kershaw’s victory. Not a particularly good sign. If he can bounce back from an ugly second half of 2010, this could be one of the better pitching staffs in the game. If he can’t, well, new manager Don Mattingly will have to start looking a bit more seriously at Kenley Jansen, who appears to be the closer of the future.
2. Rafael Furcal. If he’s healthy, he is the top of the order catalyst this offense desperately needs. If he isn’t, everything about this team changes, both offensively and defensively.
3. Matt Kemp. He is the breakout star waiting to happen. He seemed to have a new attitude in the spring and if his new mentor, Davey Lopes, can get through to him, Kemp can be one of the better all around players in the sport. If he reaches that level, the Dodgers can win the division. If he doesn’t, they can’t.
4. Andre Ethier. He wouldn’t have been on this list until he started talking about this possibly being his final year in L.A. He’s been the most consistent player on the team the past two years, and if he’s focused, he and Kemp can be a big time 1-2 punch. If he isn’t, if he is already brooding about 2012, it could be a long summer downtown.
5. Juan Uribe. The World Series hero with the Giants now joins their bitter rivals and he needs to give this team the added pop Ned Colletti thinks he’ll deliver. If he can hit 20 to 25 home runs and help stabilize an otherwise undistinguished infield, he’ll be worth every penny the Dodgers are paying him. But if that doesn’t happen, these guys could wind up scratching for runs the way they did in 2010.
— STEVE BISHEFF