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03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Angels Opening Day outlook

Team must weather injuries to Lackey, Escobar

Exciting new names and faces are in place, but the Angels are fundamentally unchanged in 2008 as they begin their bid for their fourth American League West title in five seasons.

They will run the bases aggressively, pressure defenses and pitchers and hope to put runners in scoring position for one of the game's premier run-producers, Vladimir Guerrero. Complementing Vlad is new center fielder Torii Hunter. The two hit 57 home runs combined last season, more than any other tandem in the American League. Pitching remains the backbone of the club. The big question is how well Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis will perform at shortstop in the absence of Orlando Cabrera, dealt to the White Sox over the offseason for starter Jon Garland.

Calling card
Even with twin aces John Lackey (strained right triceps) and Kelvim Escobar (shoulder inflammation) sidelined at the season's outset, the starting pitching should be solid, led by Jered Weaver and Jon Garland. Francisco Rodriguez is one of the game's dominant closers, and the rest of the bullpen is solid.

Achilles' Heel


Projected starting lineup
1. 3B Chone Figgins
2. DH Gary Matthews Jr.
3. RF Vladimir Guerrero
4. LF Garret Anderson
5. CF Torii Hunter
6. 1B Casey Kotchman
7. 2B Howard Kendrick
8. C Mike Napoli
9. SS Maicer Izturis
Projected rotation
1. RHP Jered Weaver
2. RHP Jon Garland
3. LHP Joe Saunders
4. RHP Ervin Santana
5. RHP Dustin Moseley
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Francisco Rodriguez
Setup: RHP Scot Shields
Setup: RHP Justin Speier
Middle: LHP Darren Oliver
Middle: RHP Jason Bulger
Long: RHP Rich Thompson
The big question is how well Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis will perform at shortstop in the absence of Orlando Cabrera, dealt to the White Sox for starter Jon Garland. Aybar has spectacular talent, while Izturis is steady, dependable and more experienced.

You'll know they're rollin' if...
Guerrero, Anderson and Hunter are hitting with runners in scoring position. All three of these guys are capable of reaching 100 RBIs with 25 to 30 homers.

You'll know they're in trouble if...
Injuries surface with the same regularity that the did in '07, when the lineup never was together for any appreciable stretch of games.

Testing, testing


The weekend of April 11-13 finds the Angels in Seattle, facing their AL West rivals. The Mariners will be eager to see how their reshaped rotation, featuring Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, stacks up against the Angels, who go into the season without twin aces John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar.

Interleague Play
In June, the Angels welcome the Braves and Mets to Angel Stadium for three games each and then head to Philadelphia and Washington for three games each with the Phillies and Nationals. The National League East is one of the Majors' toughest divisions, and it could work to the Angels advantage that they face the Braves and Mets at home.

The Bottom Line
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Angels start slowly with a demanding early schedule and Lackey and Escobar sidelined, then come on like gangbusters in the second half to claim their fourth division title in five seasons behind a more formidable offense.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.