By Ross Newhan
SURPRISE, Ariz.--In the shadow of Albert Pujols, amid the never ending saga of the Dodger sale, there is this foundation to the multi-million dollar hopes of the Angels:
"I think where these guys are in their careers and the talent they have right now, there is no doubt but that our expectations are that this will be the best rotation we've had."
That was Manager Mike Scioscia on a bright, cool morning as the Angels prepared to play the Kansas City Royals. He was talking, of course, about Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and C.J. Wilson, the front four of a rotation that still has a vacancy at No. 5 and will not be needed until April 15.
"We've had some very good pitchers here---Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Jarrod Washburn among them," Scioscia continued, "but perhaps never a group of this caliber at the top of their careers."
Wins and losses for any pitcher are a matter of variables---good defense, productive offense and the right pitch at the right time.
Given Scioscia's 12 years of success at the helm of the Angels and the respect he carried during almost 10 years as the Dodgers bulwark catcher, there is a surprising fact that could change for him this year.
Only once--as the Dodger catcher in 1985--has Scioscia worked with a rotation that had four starters win 10 or more games; double figures in other words.
That was 1985, when Orel Hershiser won 19, Fernando Valenzuela 17, Bob Welch and Jerry Reuss 14 each. It never happened again while with the Dodgers and it has not happened as the Angel manager, even when the club won the World Series as a wild card: That 2002 rotation was led by Washburn and Ramon Ortiz, winning 15 each, and Kevin Appier at 14. Lackey, a rookie, did not emerge until later in the season, as did the rookie closer, Frankie Rodriguez.
"It's just tough for any pitcher to control wins and losses," Scioscia said. "All you can do it make the pitches. So much depends on the support of the team. Last year we played terrific defense, and we expect that to continue. We didn't produce the same kind of offensive support, but we expect that to change in a big way this year."
That expectation starts with Pujols in the No. 3 spot in the batting order and the possibility that Kendrys Morales will finally be ready to provide a left handed power bat behind him.
Morales makes his first exhibition start on Thursday, possibly the most watched and important moment of the Angel spring.
Meanwhile, the Angel rotation could be baseball's deepest and best.
"We have four guys in our rotation who could be a No. 1 on any team you want to name," Scioscia said, "but I'm not as concerned with how many wins they have besides their names but how many wins we have, period.
"I feel confident they will take us deep into games, and that is a major plus. Adding Wilson gives us left handed balance, and a fourth guy who is a true professional."
For Scioscia it could be a first since 1985.
Getting back to first place in a division won by the Texas Rangers the last two years is the bigger hope as exemplified by the contracts owner Arte Moreno gave Pujols and Wilson, among others. It was the owner's version of his own big pitch.
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It was expected that the 30 major league owners would vote on the five groups bidding for the Dodgers this week, but a person familiar with the process but not authorized to discuss it said Tuesday that it might not happen until early next week. The survivors of that vote will be turned over to Dodger owner Frank McCourt for final bids and negotiations. McCourt has to make a decision by April 8, when he is required to be back in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.