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CNN/SI Preview: Anaheim Angels
Posted: Monday March 15, 1999 06:48 PM
By Dan George, CNN/SI
Player to Watch: Mo Vaughn, 1B
A year ago, during his well-publicized summer of discontent, Mo Vaughn hit .337 with 40 homers and 115 RBIs for the Red Sox. Now Mo, as the Angels' newest superstar, says he's happy. That sound you hear is American League pitchers gulping.
Basking in the glow of a new six-year, $80 million contract, the 31-year-old Vaughn should add even more punch to an already dangerous Anaheim lineup. Darin Erstad, Jim Edmonds and -- as the cleanup hitter behind Vaughn -- especially Tim Salmon figure to benefit from the Hit Dog's presence.
But that's not all. Vaughn should bring leadership to a team that's run out of gas late the last couple of seasons. And he stays healthy, another key factor for the fragile Angels. Despite a broken finger, knee surgery and several hamstring injuries, the left-handed slugger has averaged 150 games over the past six years, excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season.
It remains to be seen how much Vaughn will miss friendly Fenway Park -- he's hit .327 lifetime in Beantown compared to mortal .284 at Edison Field -- but more frequent looks at the marginal pitchers dotting AL West rosters won't hurt. After feeling slighted in Boston, Mo has something to prove. Despite that hefty price tag, look for him to be a bargain by season's end.
1998 Recap (85-77, 2nd place, AL West)
For a second straight year, the Angels were in the AL West hunt until a late-season swoon. In 1997, it was a one-game playoff loss to the Mariners after squandering a big lead in the closing weeks. Last season, the Halos scrambled into a first-place tie with Texas with a week to play -- then promptly dropped a three-game series to the Rangers.
But the operative word for the Angels in '98 was injuries. Starter Ken Hill missed two months with a bad elbow, while Salmon played the second half of the season on a gimpy foot. Injuries also sidelined pitchers Chuck Finley and Jack McDowell, infielders Randy Velarde, Justin Baughman and catcher Todd Greene.
Still, there were bright spots. Outfielder-turned-first baseman Erstad showed signs of becoming a superstar, batting .296 with 19 home runs, 82 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in his second full season, mostly while leading off. Despite the bad wheel, Salmon led the team with 26 homers and knocked in 88 runs. Center fielder Jim Edmonds paced the regulars with a .307 average and 91 RBIs. No Angels pitcher managed more than 11 wins, but closer Troy Percival still racked up 42 saves.
Barring injury -- and given their track record that's a big qualification -- manager Terry Collins' Angels could provide the AL West with its third different champion in three seasons.
Vaughn, Salmon, Erstad, Edmonds, left fielder Garret Anderson and third baseman/DH Dave Hollins provide plenty of pop. Gary DiSarcina is solid at shortstop. Finley has the potential to regain his 15-win form, free-agent acquisition Tim Belcher is a virtual lock to pitch 200 innings and Percival is one the game's top closers.
But there are plenty of questions:
But even banged up, the Angels appear plenty formidable. And if they can keep everyone out of the trainers' room, they should make things more than interesting in the AL West.
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