For the first time, the Cubs will play two interleague opponents in home-and-home series this year. In addition to the White Sox, the Angels are this year's choice for that role; the Cubs will play them both in Anaheim (where they haven't been since 2005) and Wrigley Field.
This is good news for Cubs fans, as we'll get a chance to see Mike Trout play at Wrigley. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for Cubs hitters), due to the configuration of the Wrigley outfield wall, Trout won't be able to do one of his patented leaps over the wall to steal home runs, as he did several times in 2012.
It will also be the first visit back to Wrigley for Albert Pujols following his departure from the Cardinals after the 2011 season. Pujols isn't what he once was -- his numbers have declined three straight years -- but he's still a very good hitter who has hit .302/.405/.616 with 53 home runs in 632 career at-bats against Cubs pitching, and .298/.397/.602 lifetime with 26 home runs at Wrigley Field. (The 26 HR are one short of the active leader in HR by a visiting player at Wrigley -- Adam Dunn. The all-time leader in home runs by a Wrigley visitor is Willie Mays, who hit 54 there.)
The Angels have added Josh Hamilton's bat to an already-potent lineup that finished third in the American League in runs scored in 2012. Why, then, did they fall short of the postseason last year? A mediocre pitching staff that finished seventh in runs allowed, despite having the excellent Jered Weaver and almost-excellent C.J. Wilson anchoring the rotation.
They have attempted to remedy this issue by adding Tommy Hanson, acquired by trading former closer Jordan Walden to the Braves. Hanson is just 26 and should be entering his prime -- but his ERA+ has dropped from 143 to 117 to 106 to 89 in his four big-league seasons. Will he be any better than Ervin Santana, who he's replacing? The Angels need him to be, in order to compete in the tough AL West.
Ryan Madson, who missed all of 2012 with an elbow injury, was signed to close; last year's closer, Ernesto Frieri, is still on the team, and the Angels attempted to trade for Carlos Marmol last fall before signing Madson, who had a setback in the recovery from his injury early in spring training.
The Angels are good. The Angels have spent tons of money trying to be better than last year. That's a lot of pressure, especially since they now have missed the playoffs three years in a row. By the time they meet the Cubs, we should know a lot about their direction.
The schedule-makers outdid themselves squeezing the Cubs and Angels into home-and-home matchups. The Cubs will travel to Anaheim June 4 and 5. That's a two-game road trip with an off-day on either side. The Angels visit Wrigley for a similar two-game set July 9 and 10.
Tomorrow, a look at the Oakland Athletics.