Even with some of their best players on the DL, the Anahiem Angels are still the hottest team in the American League. I don't have a fancy TV package, so I haven't seen them yet. But Vlad Guerrero is one of my favorite players in the game, and I have to admit that I'm curious to see what this team is all about. John Harper previews Anahiem in the Daily News this morning, and yesterday I asked my good pal, California native Rich Lederer, for a quick scouting report. Here is what he has to say about Mike Scioscia's bunch:
Bronx Banter: How is this team different from the 2002 champs?
Rich Lederer: Can you say Vladimir Guerrero? Vladi is by far the biggest difference between the 2002 and 2004 versions of the Angels. Jose Guillen, who was named A.L. Player of the Week on Monday, is another significant upgrade. The Angel left fielder had to be taken off the field on a stretcher with a sprained right knee and ankle after sliding awkwardly into second base on Sunday and is questionable for the series.
This year's team has Guerrero and Guillen as compared to Scott Spiezio and Brad Fullmer. All the other starters are the same. Spiezio and Fullmer are teeny in comparison to these boppers.
Bartolo Colon, the other major addition to this year's ballclub, gives the Angels a legitimate number one. However, he is not scheduled to pitch against the Yankees this week.
Other than that, the Angels are pretty much the same team that won it all in 2002 and went 77-85 in 2004. Health or lack thereof was the biggest difference between those two clubs and is likely to be the key to this year's fortunes as well.
BB: Just how good is K-Rod? RL: Yankees fans won't want to hear this but Francisco Rodriguez (0.00 ERA in 17 IP with 28 Ks and only 4 BB) is even better than the pitcher who blew down the Bronx Bombers in the 2002 ALDS. In a word, K-Rod is unhittable. Rodriguez has one of the nastiest sliders in baseball to go along with a mid-90s fastball. Think Mariano Rivera circa 1996. When K-Rod enters the game in the seventh or eighth inning, it's good morning, good afternoon, and good night.
BB: How is this team winning when they are so hurt? (What kind of competition have they faced?)
RL:The Angels are the hottest team in baseball, if not the best. The Halos are 9-0 in May after sweeping the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays--the teams with the worst records in 2003. Playing the Yankees on the road and at less than full strength may prove to be a whole 'nother thing.
Anaheim has four key players currently on the disabled list and Guillen may be on the verge of making it five. Reliever Brendan Donnelly (1.82 career ERA, the lowest among all active pitchers with 100 or more IP) has been out all season with a fractured nose. All-Star outfielder Garret Anderson (upper back stiffness) hasn't played since April 22. Designated hitter Tim Salmon went on DL on May 1 with an inflamed left knee. First baseman Darin Erstad joined the ward over the weekend with a strained right hamstring.
BB: Who and what exactly is a Chone Figgens? RL: This Chone isn't for dipping in coffee, but he can be dipped into the lineup at just about any position. Look for Figgins to start all three games in CF for the injured Anderson. He is a fun player to watch and is reminiscent of Mickey Rivers. Like Rivers, his game is all about speed. Figgins has five triples in 71 AB and is 9-for9 in SB attempts.
BB: Do you feel that the Angels are as good or better than the Sox and Yanks? RL: The Angels are very good, but they are not as talented as the Red Sox and Yankees. They can beat you offensively with the long ball or by playing little ball. In addition, Anaheim has such a strong bullpen that if they can get six good innings out of their starter, they are a tough team to try and beat in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Colon is a horse, but he would be no better than a #3 with Boston or just one of a deep four with New York. BB: How are they better than New York? How are they worse?
RL: The matchups this series favors the Yankees in the first two games. Kelvim Escobar vs. Kevin Brown Tuesday night and Aaron Sele vs. Javier Vazquez on Wednesday. The Yankees own Escobar (32 hits and 14 walks in 18 1/3 innings last year) and all of baseball owns Aaron Sele. Well, maybe not own. That $8.7 million he's earning per season is being paid for entirely by Arte Moreno although I think it would only be fair if the opposing teams chipped in, too. Vazquez has struck out 15 and walked only one vs. the current Angels players.
John Lackey, coming off a shutout and four quality starts in a row, gives the Angels their best shot at beating the Yanks on Thursday. New York will counter with Jon Lieber, who may be the Yankees version of Aaron Sele. Lieber, who has always been vulnerable against left-handed hitters, is fortunate that the Halos can only trot out Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy, and Casey Kotchman. The latter--the organization's #1 pick in the 2001 draft--will be facing his first major test in the big leagues this week in the Big Apple.
Look for A-Rod to have a big series as he has hit 9 HR in 78 AB vs. the scheduled Angels starters.
Here are my picks position by position (when healthy): C - Posada, NYY: By a wide margin.
1B - Giambi, NYY: Over Erstad?
2B - Kennedy, ANA: Do the Yankees have a 2B?
SS - Jeter, NYY: Two misfits defensively but at least Jeter can hit.
3B - Rodriguez, NYY: You gotta go with A-Rod although Glaus nothing
to sneeze at.
LF - Guillen, ANA: Higher ceiling than Matsui.
CF - Anderson, ANA: No contest over Lofton or Williams at this point in their careers.
RF - Sheffield, NYY, and Guerrero, ANA (tie): Choose your weapon.
DH - Salmon, ANA: Father time has passed both Salmon and Williams by. SP - NYY: At least with respect to The Big Three.
Bullpen - NYY and ANA (toss up): Two of the best in all of baseball. Overall:Slight edge to Yankees.
No sooner did the Sox hit the clubhouse after Kim's second straight abysmal start -- this time the struggling Korean surrendered six runs (four earned) on five hits, three walks and a hit batsman before he departed to a cascade of boos -- than Francona and general manager Theo Epstein huddled behind closed doors with Kim, pitching coach Dave Wallace, and senior pitching adviser Tony Cloninger.
The message was clear: Bronson Arroyo would replace Kim in the rotation, taking the next turn Saturday against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
What remains to be seen is whether Kim reports to the bullpen, Triple A Pawtucket, or the team's training and rehabilitation center in Fort Myers, Fla. The Sox gave Kim the night to consider the options.
In other Sox news, Johnny Damon will apparently shave his beard off later this month as part of a charity event. Hope you are not superstitious. And while we're talking Boston, be sure and check out Gordon Edes' piece on Dennis Eckersley in today's Globe.