All of us at Baseball Analysts are throwing a Johan Santana changeup at you today and posting short takes on what we found interesting on Opening Day.
Angels 3, Athletics 0
I sat in the front row behind the Angels dugout (that's me on the far left) and witnessed Joe Saunders carve up the A's, allowing only three hits and two walks over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. In opposition to the consensus perception, Saunders is not a soft-tossing lefthander. According to FanGraphs, his fastball averaged 91.0 mph last year and it ranged from 88-92 on Monday night. His 93rd and last pitch of the evening hit 91 and resulted in a weak comebacker off the bat of Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was retired 1-3.
Manager Mike Scioscia handed the ball to Jose Arredondo to close out the seventh. He was throwing 93-94 (in line with his 93.7 average last season). Scioscia then went to Scot Shields in the eighth. He retired the side in order with a heater that was 91-92 (vs. 92 last year). Newly signed free agent Brian Fuentes closed out the ninth 1-2-3 and earned his first save as a Halo. The slinging southpaw was working at 89-90 (down a tad from a year ago when it was sitting at 91-92).
While the Angels bullpen lacks a Jonathan Papelbon and Boston's depth (which is strong enough to exclude Daniel Bard and the easiest-throwing 100-mph fastball you've ever seen), it ranks among the best in the league. Look for Arredondo, Shields, and Fuentes to finish the final three innings of numerous games this season.
A couple of other quick takes:
- Chone Figgins made two spectacular plays at third base in the first and third innings, one where he ranged to his right, backhanded it, and made a strong throw to nip former teammate Orlando Cabrera and a second in which he dove to his left and forced out a baserunner at second with a throw from his knees. Figgy may not win any Gold Gloves for his work at the hot corner but is better defensively than generally believed.
- Howie Kendrick had two run-scoring hits, including a home run that left the park just to the right of straightaway center field. It's easy to forget that Kendrick is only 25 years old and averaged .360/.401/.571 during his minor league career (with 50 HR in 1669 plate appearances). Howie could inflict a lot of damage from the two hole this season.
...and a couple of departing questions:
If one is worried about the Angels' starters, then one has to be equally concerned about the A's. Sure, LA is doing without Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana in April (and perhaps part of May for one or more of the trio). But the Angels managed to go 18-11 last April without any help from Escobar or Lackey (or Mark Teixeira, for that matter). By contrast, OAK opened the season with Dallas Braden and the rotation includes Dana Eveland, a guy named Josh Outman (nice name for a pitcher but c'mon), and two highly touted but untested rookies who have thrown a combined total of 68 innings above High-A and have yet to appear in anything above Double-A. Meanwhile, the bullpen is in shambles and in no way compares to what the Angels can deliver in the late innings.
While I picked the A's to finish second behind the Angels in our AL West preview last week, I believe (as I opined on Friday) that Oakland "could find themselves in the cellar come October if the young pitchers aren't up to the challenge and Beane trades Holliday in July."
It's only one game. I know there are still 161 games to play. But I see no reason to change my assessment of the Angels and A's after last night.