Angels Opening Day: Living On a Prayer

Rejoice! It's Opening Day, baseball fans! 

What's that? You hear the Red Sox are a mortal lock to win the World Series this year? That Boston's road to American League dominance ran straight through the Halos' shattered dreams of signing Carl Crawford? That the Oakland A's are actually decent? No worries! None of that matters on one of the greatest days in sports, that rebirthing moment when every team in the league is 0-0 and everybody has a chance to still be playing in October.

Yes, it's all very exciting, but the Halos really do have a lot to be worried about this season--2010 was a decade-low, punch-yourself-in-the-face kind of season. It would be safe to say that the Angels will improve this year, but that's based on a few questions (Vernon Wells' real value in the lineup, when--and how strong--Kendrys Morales is coming back) getting solved early.

Alleviating some of those fears on Opening Day would certainly help start the season off right. So here are three things Angels fans will most want to see happen today, whether they're likely to happen or not, just to get that slightly smaller monkey off the Rally Monkey's back.

1. Joel Pineiro to magically come all the way back from that shoulder injury
Without Pineiro in the mix, it gets to be pretty slim pickings farther down the Angels' rotation. Scott Kazmir is hardly dependable, and he's shown no signs of improvement this spring. His numbers have all more than doubled since his last exhibition season with the Angels: 6.65 ERA up from 4.76 a year ago, 13 more runs, 10 more walks allowed. Considering how well 2010 went for Kazmir (it didn't) after a respectable spring, is it safe to say he's ready to have the worst season of his career? Usually, spring is a time for pitchers to work out their mechanics and get a rhythm back in their routines. Kazmir looks like he's just declining.

Pineiro was the last moderately reliable starter the Angels had before he was put on the 15-day disabled list for tightness in his right shoulder. Over the previous season, Pineiro started out shaky but slowly tightened it up to become the he had been with St. Louis. Besides one bad outing against the Yankees, his 9-3 record over his last 12 starts was filled with some impressive performances.

No, Pineiro wouldn't have gotten the start today anyway, but just as a sign of reassurance that everything is going to be all right, couldn't he just run out onto the mound, throw a few fastballs and let everyone know he's throwing as good as he says he now feels? Please?!?!?

Some fans seem to have beef with this guy.
Some fans seem to have beef with this guy.

2. The Rally Monkey fling his own poo at Arte Moreno and Tony Reagins
Nobody knows better than the Halos favorite simian that this offseason didn't go exactly as planned. Then again, most Angels' offseasons don't always turn out like they should--Anaheim has one of the biggest payrolls in the league, yet when it comes to pulling the trigger on signing a guy, Moreno and Reagins tend to come up short. The Angels' front office has let a lot of good players waltz out of their clubhouse without putting up a decent fight: Mark Teixeira, K Rod, John Lackey and Chone Figgins, just to name a few over the past few seasons. Crawford was the intended target this spring, and yet with the talented left fielder practically cozying up in his designated locker room spot in Anaheim, the Angels lost him to the dreaded Sox.

But again, not surprising given the Angels' history of stomach-churning offseason non-acquisitions. Most Angels fans are probably holding in a bunch of angst and could use some kind of an outlet this Opening Day. Having the Rally Monkey hurl his own feces at the club's owner and GM might be a little overboard, but that doesn't mean fans don't still want it to happen sometimes.

3. Jeff Mathis continue what he's showed all spring . . . or just bring in Hank Conger already
Spring-training success can be so tantalizing sometimes that one forgets how infuriating certain players can truly be. That said, with a .391 BA and a .522 SLG, Jeff Mathis is having his best spring on record.

Then again, those stats don't even come close to making everyone forget about Mathis' nightmare season in 2010. No need to rehash how bad that year was for Mathis (but it's so fun! .195 BA, .278 SLG, 18 RBI, 6 BB, 40 hits with 59 strikeouts . . . goddamn). Better hope the spring he's had at least gives Mathis some sort of boost for the regular season.

But because that's unlikely to happen, most Angels fans will agree: It would be a lot more satisfying to see Conger finally get to show what he's been saving for the majors for a while now. He's only 23, so he's definitely still got some time to develop, but considering how bad both Mathis and Bobby Wilson are, it wouldn't be unwarranted to amp up Conger's playing time this season. So long as he stays healthy, that is--Conger has had trouble with a host of injuries before.

Unfortunately, Halos fans also probably realize by this point that Mike Scioscia seems to have fetishized keeping Mathis behind the plate, despite his dismal track record when standing next to the plate. Something about his athleticism. So, Conger had better show some of that if he wants to take over the catcher's position.


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