Halos healthy, deep entering ALDS rematch
Explosive offense backs foundation of pitching, defense
ANAHEIM -- Heading into their third consecutive American League Division Series against the Boston stranglers on Wednesday or Thursday on TBS, the Angels feel healthier and more upbeat than in those 2007 and 2008 matchups.
"I really like this team, where we are," veteran right fielder Bobby Abreu said. "I feel like it's our time, I really do."
The Angels didn't have Maicer Izturis for last October's dance with the Red Sox, and in 2007 half their regular lineup was either inoperative or severely diminished in some capacity.
"We're healthy," ace John Lackey said, "and that's a good thing."
If depth matters, the Angels should be hard to beat -- even by Boston.
Not given to outlandish proclamations, by any means, manager Mike Scioscia has called his rotation of John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana "the best and deepest in my 10 years here."
Scioscia also has called his lineup "as deep as any we've had here," comparing it with the group that pounded its way to the 2002 World Series championship for depth from one through nine.
Featuring Chone Figgins and Abreu at the top, followed by Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera, Howard Kendrick or Izturis, Jeff Mathis or Mike Napoli and Erick Aybar, there is speed up top and at the bottom and power throughout.
"We're a line-drive hitting team," Figgins said, "and when we get something going, we can be dangerous. We can score some runs.
"It's been great this season, watching these young guys perform at a high level, seeing it come together. We lost a great one in Garret [Anderson] but got another one when Bobby showed up. He's been a tremendous asset to our club."
In the middle of everything, the club's emotional center, is Hunter, the peerless center fielder who has enjoyed his finest offensive season despite missing a month with a groin injury resulting from collisions with outfield walls.
Abreu, Figgins, Hunter and Morales all have been legitimate MVP candidates at points in the season, while Weaver has been the one constant in the rotation and Brian Fuentes has delivered capably in the ninth inning.
More than anything, it was the offense shined this year.
The Angels scored more this season than any outfit in franchise history, and there have been some lethal ones down through the years.
Yet the foundation of Scioscia's clubs remains the same: pitching and defense, arms and gloves linked in a common pursuit.
Pitching was a tender and sore spot for most of the season, from starting the season without Lackey and Santana to the stunning death of Nick Adenhart on April 9.
Kelvim Escobar made one start in his recovery from shoulder surgery and was shut down, unable to continue.
Joe Saunders struggled all season with shoulder issues, took three weeks off to mend, and came back firing down the stretch, recapturing his 2008 All-Star form.
Santana also finished strong, and he'll give the bullpen another power arm for the ALDS.
The relief corps, like the rotation, has experienced more than its share of instability, but over the final month, everything seemed to fall into place.
After setup man Scot Shields, the bullpen anchor, went down for the season with knee surgery, there were serious issues in front of new closer Fuentes.
Just as Jose Arredondo emerged last season as a valuable late-innings weapon, two more young right-handers -- Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger -- provided quality work to fill much-needed voids.
Darren Oliver continued to roll along, and journeyman Matt Palmer was a godsend, plugging holes in the rotation and bullpen all season long.
Pitching reinforcements seemingly arrived by the day, the count of starters swelling to 14 before Kazmir came from Tampa Bay at the end of August and made everything work, at last.
"That was so big for us, getting Kazmir," Abreu said. "He's a proven guy, a guy who is still young. When we got him, I was very happy. It gave us what we needed."
The Angels haven't scored runs for him, so his work isn't reflected in his 1-2 record. More indicative of his performance is a 2.01 ERA in five starts, and the way he has performed in crisis situations.
In his Angels debut in Seattle, Kazmir loaded the bases in the first inning -- then struck out the side.
"Nice way to make a good first impression," Napoli, his catcher, said.
Now it's time for Kazmir and his new buddies to leave an impression, and some footprints, in October.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.