Following off-season moves, L.A. area MLB teams resurgent in 2012

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Author: Lauren Taylor

Baseball is back, and it is hard not to be invigorated seeing teams take the field for the first time in games that finally count. With the slate wiped clean, let’s take a look at what fans can expect from the Dodgers and Angels this season.

Nobody made a bigger spending splash this offseason than Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno, who doled out a cool $240 million in free agency to lure first baseman Albert Pujols, perennial All-Star and three-time National League MVP, away from the St. Louis Cardinals. Moreno promptly forked over another $77 million to grab former Texas Ranger pitcher  C.J. Wilson off the market as well. The spending spree has drawn raised eyebrows, as Pujols is due $30 million in the last year of the contract, when he will be 41. But there is little question that Moreno was making a statement that he is heavily invested in a winning product after the Angels failed to make the playoffs in two straight seasons.

New general manager Jerry DiPoto deserves plenty of the credit if the Angels make a deep run in October. His hard work led to the team bagging both Prince Albert and Wilson in a 24-hour window in December. In addition, he said goodbye to catcher Jeff Mathis, a career .194 hitter who was always a threat to drag down the entire lineup, and put the pieces in place for manager Mike Scioscia to work with. While first base is crowded following the acquisition of Pujols, the big bat of Mark Trumbo will shift to third base. That should provide a boost for fan-favorite Kendrys Morales, fighting his way back from a freak injury suffered while celebrating a walk-off homerun in May 2010. Finally healthy, Morales should see most of the at-bats as the Designated Hitter, especially if the Angels can find a suitor for disgruntled veteran Bobby Abreu.

The infield offers a collection of solid bats with Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick forming a nice double-play combo up the middle, leaving the only real question marks on offense at the corner outfield positions. Center fielder Peter Bourjos’ speed and defense alone make him invaluable to the team, and in 2012, he may just end up being the best No. 9 hitter in the American League. But Vernon Wells must rebound from a woeful offensive year and Torii Hunter, three years older than Wells, is a prime candidate to fall off a cliff any day now. The good news for the Angels is that if either right or left field becomes a liability, top-prospect Mike Trout is waiting in the minors, getting ready for his shot in the Show.

As good as the lineup could be, the rotation has also been turning heads lately. Wilson will take his 16 wins from last season and slide right behind ace Jered Weaver. And with Dan Haren and Ervin Santana looking healthy, the Halos trot out what could be the strongest starting rotation in the American League West. While the bullpen might be a relative weakness, hard-throwing closer Jordan Walden shows promise and there are likely enough veteran arms to form a serviceable relief core.

Bold Prediction: 93 wins, AL West crown, loss in ALCS to Red Sox.

Up in Chavez Ravine, there is hope that good things are ahead for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time since Kirk Gibson’s sent fans fist-pumping into the streets in 1988. But most of the optimism stems not from the product that will take the field this year, but rather the changes in the luxury suites. The cancer that was Frank McCourt is finally gone, and the new ownership group led by Magic Johnson is expected to spend plenty of money to return the Dodgers to superiority in baseball and Southern California. If Johnson has anything near the effect on the Dodgers that he had on L.A. and the entire world of basketball, the National League (NL) West may have seen the last of the uninspired, underachieving Dodgers who’d lost all the swag they once held.

But it remains to be seen exactly what impact the new ownership will have this year. The 2012 roster is finalized, meaning changes aren’t going to happen right away. If the Dodgers can contend in what figures to be a pretty tough NL West race, they will be a big player at the trade deadline. But Magic and company will more likely make their presence felt next offseason. It’s highly unlikely the 2013 Dodgers will field a lineup with the likes of Juan Uribe, Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis.

Here’s a quick look at what to actually expect in 2012, however. Matt Kemp should have won last year’s NL MVP, and is arguably the best center fielder in the game. The Dodgers also have a true ace in reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who last year became the first pitcher since Jake Peavy to win the pitching Triple Crown, leading the NL in wins, earned run average and strikeouts. But it’s a mixed bag from there, as Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Rivera all have shown flashes of offensive brilliance laced with heavy doses of mediocrity. With game-changing speed, rookie shortstop Dee Gordon might be the most exciting player in baseball, but he has to prove he can get on base first. The staff behind Kershaw is suspect, although the bullpen closer Javy Guerra should build off a dominating end to 2011. With many questions unanswered, the Dodgers remain a true wildcard as the season gets underway.

Bold Prediction: 85 wins, 3rd place in NL West

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