11/09/09 7:30 PM EST
Several Halos worthy of hardware
AL West champs look to make noise on awards front
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
That will be followed by the Nov. 17 American League Cy Young Award winner, the Nov. 18 AL Manager of the Year and the Nov. 23 AL Most Valuable Player.The Angels have viable candidates in each category on the heels of a third consecutive American League West title, along with their sweep of Boston in the AL Division Series and six-game extravaganza with eventual champion New York in the AL Championship Series. Here are prominent Angels candidates in the balloting for each of the major awards: Rookie of the Year A trio of Angels pitchers emerged to help hold together a pitching staff that was in constant flux because of injuries to prime-time arms, along with the tragic death in the season's opening week of 22-year-old starter Nick Adenhart. Matt Palmer, a 30-year-old journeyman right-hander with an 0-2 career record in three Major League starts coming into the season, arrived from Triple-A Salt Lake to provide a shot in the arm in the depleted rotation. Palmer won his first six decisions, tying Jered Weaver's club record, and went on to log a 9-1 mark in 13 starts with a 4.66 ERA before reinforcements arrived. Dispatched to the bullpen, he excelled there with a 2-1 record and 2.74 ERA in 27 appearances, finishing the season 11-2 with a 3.93 ERA in 121 1/3 innings. Jason Bulger, coming into his own at 30 after years of struggles, was a durable force in the bullpen in a variety of roles. Making 64 appearances, one fewer than club leader Brian Fuentes, Bulger was 6-1 with a 3.56 ERA. The big right-hander with mid-90s heat and a solid 12-to-six curveball held hitters to a .207 batting average in 65 2/3 innings, striking out 68 and walking 30. Kevin Jepsen, after a rocky start related in part to back issues, came on like gangbusters around midseason and was a dominant presence in July and August when the Angels took charge of the division. Easing the loss for the season of setup artist Scot Shields (knee surgery), Jepsen was 6-4 with a 4.94 ERA in 54 appearances, but his numbers were distorted by 16 earned runs surrendered in his first 11 2/3 innings. At 25, he showed he is has the stuff and makeup of a future closer with his 95-97-mph heater complemented by a 90-91-mph slider that freezes hitters. AL Cy Young Award With injuries costing John Lackey and Ervin Santana the season's first six weeks, Kelvim Escobar limited to one start before shoulder issues ended his season, Joe Saunders missing almost three weeks with shoulder pain, and the stunning loss of Adenhart, the Angels' rotation was a work in progress until the final month of the season when the acquisition of Scott Kazmir, along with the return to health of the old standbys, made it complete. Through it all, Jered Weaver was a pillar of strength. The slender right-hander with the crossfiring motion joined the game's elite with a stellar season. Taking the ball for all 33 assignments, pitching through illness and midseason arm fatigue, Weaver finished 16-8, setting career highs in complete games (four), innings (211), strikeouts (174) and wins. "Jered really matured and put it all together this year," Lackey said. "He had a great season, and we really needed it." "I don't know where we'd have been without Jered," manager Mike Scioscia said. Very likely, they'd have been watching Texas compete in the postseason. Manager of the Year Scisocia was challenged as never before in his 10th season at the helm. The death of Adenhart rocked the team in so many ways, it was impossible to comprehend or measure. Predictably, the Angels struggled. They were 29-29 on June 11 following an 11-1 loss in Florida to the Rays when Scioscia gave a forceful and rare postgame address, making it clear things had to change or changes would be made. The Angels responded with a 2 1/2-month stretch of baseball as impressive and dominant as any produced in the organization's history. A home sweep of the Yankees before the All-Star break had the Angels leading the AL West by 1 1/2 games, and they were never caught, winning by 10 games. Taking his sixth team in his first 10 years as a manager to the postseason, Scioscia -- the AL Manager of the Year during the team's 2002 World Series title season -- accomplished something no skipper in history had done. He did it by using a total of 14 starting pitchers and missing the heart of his lineup, Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, for a three-week stretch with injuries. Guerrero, the centerpiece of the lineup for six years, was limited to 100 games. "Mike was a rock for us, all year long," Hunter, Gold Glove center fielder and clubhouse leader, said. "I love that man. He kept us together through some really rough times. Losing Nick, that was like losing a brother. We came through that, dedicated our season to Nick, and played some great baseball." AL Most Valuable Player Scioscia was convinced that Hunter, in the midst of a career year offensively, along with playing his customary sensational defense, was the leading AL MVP candidate when he was lost for a month in July with a groin injury sustained crashing into outfield walls. While Hunter was away, first baseman Kendry Morales erupted offensively, throwing his hat into the MVP ring. Morales would finish with a .306 batting average and club highs in homers (34) and RBIs (108) while playing solid defense at first base, taking all the sting out of the loss of Mark Teixeira. Bobby Abreu was a force all season, in the clubhouse as well as on the field. The improved discipline of an array of Angels hitters -- from veterans Hunter and Chone Figgins to youngsters Erick Aybar and Howard Kendrick -- was traced in large part to Abreu's daily influence. Scioscia called the Venezuelan veteran the team's MVP. Reaching several career milestones, including 250 homers, 2,000 hits and at least 150 games played (152) for the 12th straight season, Abreu became the fifth player in history to combine at least 30 steals with 100 RBIs in five seasons. He hit .293 with a .390 on-base percentage, scoring 96 runs while driving in 103. He joined Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez as the only players with at least 100 RBIs in seven straight seasons. Figgins, determined to prove his durability after two injury-riddled seasons, played 158 games. He developed into a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman with remarkable range and a powerful arm while ranking among the game's premier leadoff men. Batting .298 with a career-best .395 on-base percentage, Figgins scored a career-high 114 runs (second in the AL) and stole 42 bases, third in the league. With Figgins and Abreu as catalysts and Morales and Hunter serving as forces along with Juan Rivera, Mike Napoli and oft-injured Guerrero, the Angels set a franchise record with 883 runs scored.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.