03/01/12 6:08 PM EST
If playoffs expand, winning division becomes key
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
That would bring upon one prevailing thought: Winning a division is now a whole lot more important.
"It makes it more interesting," Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "One more reason why you just win your division, and you don't even have to worry about it."
"That's the whole thing," outfielder Vernon Wells added. "Do everything you can to win your division, and if you don't, and you can make that Wild Card, you have a second chance."
In the new system, the two Wild Card teams would face each other in a one-game elimination to see who moves on to what has traditionally been the five-game Division Series.
Adding two additional playoff teams should create more excitement and hope around the Majors, and it gives division winners more benefits than they've had since the Wild Card came into play in 1995. Make it in as the Wild Card, and your entire season could come down to one game. Win the division, and you'll automatically move on to the next round, and perhaps even get a chance to line up your rotation.
In case you're wondering, the Angels would not have made it to the playoffs either of the last two seasons if that system were in place. In 2010, the Angels finished 10th in the AL. In 2011, the fifth-place team in the Junior Circuit was the collapsing Red Sox (four games ahead of the Angels).
Scioscia would consider hitting Pujols fourth
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Last season, the average amount of plate appearances for the cleanup hitter spot in the batting order was 705. For the No. 3 hitter in the order, it was 721.
That's a big reason why a team's most dangerous hitter -- and for the Angels, that distinction falls squarely on new first baseman Albert Pujols -- would preferably bat third instead of fourth.
"There's a little bit to that, but you also like to get that presence up in the first inning," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I mean if he's getting on base with two outs, and you have a guy behind him, and he keeps an inning going in the first inning, you have a chance to score in the first inning again. If he's hitting fourth early in the game, if [the lineup goes down in order], he's leading off the second. Now you can never tell how an order is going to flow after that, but you can line it up right away from the first inning."
Scioscia is still weighing multiple lineup options, including which combination will work best in front of Pujols -- Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo, Bobby Abreu and even Vernon Wells all came up in that discussion on Thursday -- and he even sees a situation where Pujols would bat fourth.
The Angels' skipper prefers Pujols to hit third, which is where he hit throughout the vast majority of his 11-year career in St. Louis.
But other factors could push Pujols back to the cleanup spot.
"If there's issues with our [No. 9 hitter] not being productive, our 1 and 2 guys struggling a bit, there's definitely a look that we're going to have that might put [high on-base guys] 1-2-3 with Albert hitting fourth," Scioscia said. "That's a possibility. It's not our preference. But you have to consider it."
Eckstein content with his decision to retire
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Heading into the 2011 season, former infielder David Eckstein had several Major League offers. More than he had at any other point as a free agent, actually.
But he declined them all.
"I just walked," he said.
The reason: Eckstein wanted to commit himself to his family, specifically his wife of six years, Ashley, who gave up her career as an actress so he could continue pursuing his as a ballplayer. So at some point in 2010, which he would finish batting .267 in 116 games for the Padres as a 35-year-old, Eckstein decided season No. 10 would be his last.
He stuck to that, and swears he hasn't regretted it since.
"She basically gave up her career for me, and so in her starting to take off, family's very important for us, so it was a decision that I made," said Eckstein, who's now getting his baseball fix as a guest instructor at Angels camp. "It's her time to go."
Eckstein's wife now does the voice of Ahsoka Tano in the hit cartoon "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," and will have a role in the upcoming animated film "Escape from Planet Earth." She has also co-founded the company "Her Universe," which creates merchandise for female sci-fi fans, and Eckstein is all on board.
Eckstein spent his first four seasons in the big leagues as the Angels' starting shortstop, and finished with two All-Star selections, two championship rings (with the Angels in 2002 and the Cardinals in '06, when he was named World Series MVP) and a .280 batting average. Not bad for a 5-foot-6 ballplayer with a weak arm and a world of doubters.
Towards the end, though, he just got tired of being hurt.
"Age became a factor," said Eckstein, who rents a home in Newport Beach, Calif. "It bugged me that I got injured every year. I did not want to just collect a paycheck. I wanted to be out there, and to be able to play for my club every game. And for the last five years, I was on the DL every year. That bugged me. You have to be accountable to your club."
Eckstein has been working on the Minor League side of the Tempe Diablo Stadium facility the last few days. He'll be in camp until the end of this week, and will return March 9-14.
Eckstein says he loves working with players, and sees coaching in his future at some point.
Just not now.
"Baseball's my passion," Eckstein said, "and at some point in time, it's definitely going to be part of my life."
The Angels' intrasquad game on Saturday is tentatively scheduled for 12:30 p.m. MT at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Mark Trumbo, who's trying to make a part-time move from first to third base, hasn't begun getting reps in the outfield just yet, but will after he progresses further along in his running program. "We'll get him acclimated as soon as we have full-go to get him into highly aggressive drills," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Veteran relievers Scott Downs, Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins are on a bit of a slower track with their throwing programs, and won't get into games in the first week of Cactus League games.
Catcher Robinzon Diaz, a non-roster invitee, had his visa issues cleared up and has reported to Angels camp.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.