Ahead of the pack
Angels stand out as top World Series contender
Posted: Thursday April 12, 2007 11:54AM; Updated: Friday April 13, 2007 2:47PM
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Everyone in baseball is talking about the current state of parity, how there are no superpowers anymore and about how almost anyone can win any division (no, not the Nationals). Some say as many as 20 teams have a chance to contend, and others say it's closer to 25. But if there's one team that looks like a clear-cut favorite in its division, it's the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels, according to one competing general manager, have "the clearest path to the playoffs."
They already have extremely solid starting pitching, and more help is coming. Bartolo Colon is on his way back, and Jered Weaver shouldn't be far behind (though he recently suffered a slight setback). The bullpen is lights out. Their setup men, Scot Shields and Justin Speier, are the envy of everyone (three hits and 14 Ks in 12 2/3 innings), and their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, is so good that folks are imagining that he's cheating (he's not).
Their vaunted young players are also starting to shine. The competing GM cited second baseman Howie Kendrick ("he's going to be a great hitter''), first baseman Casey Kotchman and pitcher Joe Saunders as three youngsters on the cusp of real productivity. Several see Kendrick (currently hitting .324) as a batting champion in the making.
Vladimir Guerrero would look like the MVP so far if Alex Rodriguez wasn't hitting out of his mind, and Garret Anderson, long ago thought to have fallen into middle age, appears rejuvenated.
Arte Moreno, one of the best owners in baseball, hasn't yet acquired the "major'' star he predicted he would. But he might not need him.
But it isn't only what looks right about the Angels that has folks convinced they are the early favorites, it's also what's going on with the some of the other teams that looked good on paper heading into the season.
Yankees: They need doctors as much as they need pitchers. Either they are the unluckiest team around or their new training plan needs some serious work after Mike Mussina on Wednesday joined Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu and Jeff Karstens as injury sufferers since getting to spring.
Dodgers. They're talented but only look healthy when compared to the Yankees. So far, the Dodgers already have placed Rafael Furcal, Matt Kemp, Jason Repko, Yhency Brazoban and Hong-Chih Kuo on the disabled list.
Mets. That lineup is dynamic and the pitching has been better than advertised. But Oliver Perez provided a flashback to 2005 and early '06 on Wednesday against the Phillies when he had no clue as to where the strike zone was (seven walks and one HBP before his early hook).
Phillies. Beleaguered manager Charlie Manuel already is crying for bullpen help.
Tigers. They're good. But so is their division. Manager Jim Leyland has said that four teams in the AL Central can win 90, and we believe him.
Cardinals. Pitching coach Dave Duncan is a magician (maybe I shouldn't have doubted he could turn Braden Looper into a starter), but Chris Carpenter's elbow injury is not what they need.
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