The Angels have been one of baseball’s top teams for almost a decade. But, as this Baseball Prospectus piece observes, this ALCS features an Angels team quite different than the versions we’ve gotten used to, the ones driven by contact hitters, speed and aggression on the bases, and the dominating back-end bullpen combination of Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. Offensively, the new Halos are much more slugging-driven; their pitching staff features strong starters — powered by two young phenom types in addition to standby John Lackey — and an atypically weak pen. Here, five Angels who could bring new and different manners of torment to Anaheim-shy Yankee fans this week.
Kendry Morales. Morales is the apotheosis of the new un-Angel-like Angels: the lead-footed 220-pound first-baseman was caught seven of the ten times he attempted a steal this year. But when you slug 34 homers and 42 doubles in your first full season as a starter, like Morales did this year, you don’t have to be able to go from first to third on a single. Mike Scosia still bats Vladimir Guerrero in the cleanup spot — overdeference to fading stars being a seemingly ineradicable baseball tradition; even the enlightened Red Sox are still hitting David Ortiz ahead of the vastly better-performing J.D. Drew — but Morales is the Angel whose power should scare the Bombers most.
Brian Fuentes. Fuentes is the big free agent the Angels brought in to replace Francisco Rodriguez. He’s less demonstrative than K-Rod, mercifully, but does have a highly unorthodox pitching style — he starts with his back to the batter and leisurely shot-puts the ball toward the plate — that doesn’t look like it would work at all. With a 3.93 ERA this year, he’s also been one of those bend-but-not-break closers that always seems to give up a single and a walk before getting a double play for the W. Basically, when this guy successfully finishes a game against your team, it will absolutely drive you up the wall.
Scott Kazmir. Speaking of undying baseball traditions: The Angels acquired the 25-year-old Kazmir from the Tampa Bay Rays this year in one of those moves where a team hopes that a struggling-but-talented youngster can get his head together with a “change of scenery.” That kind of deal rarely works out, and will likely screw some poor GM into trading for Oliver Perez at some point in the next few years, but the change of scenery apparently did help Kazmir, who posted a 1.73 ERA in six games for the Halos. The lefty is one of those guys who you wouldn’t be surprised to see throwing a no-hitter; his control is not great and he doesn’t work that deep into most games, but when he gets things together he can be impossible to hit.
Jered Weaver. Jeff’s younger sibling will be starting Game 3, and boy, does he look like his bro. He’s a little cleaner, a little less scruffy, a little less “hung-over where’s my cigarette hey is it time to pitch already?” than Jeff, but he has a similar motion and the same facial structure. But he’s a lot better than Jeff is, with a style belying his six-foot-seven frame and attitude-exuding Weaver demeanor: He doesn’t blow hitters away, relying on good control and a fastball that hovers around 90 mph mixed with a slider, a changeup, and a slow curve.
Torii Hunter. In a world without geographical and territorial allegiances, Torii Hunter would be the most popular player in baseball. He’s fun, he’s outgoing, he’s a prolific blogger, and he loves wiffleball. He’s having the best year of his career at 33, and acts the way we wish all pro athletes would: like they’re in the most enjoyable profession anyone could possibly imagine. Which is exactly why you’re going to despise him by the end of this series. Look at his massive homer off Jon Lester in the ALDS. The minute he hit it, the Angels dugout exploded, and Hunter was delirious. The Angels feed off his energy, and that’s all fine and great for the Angels, but if he pulls any of that exuberantly happy stuff in this series — and at some point, you know he will — you’ll want to set fire to the extra i in his name.