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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Angels Series Preview

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Well, here's something different.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- The Cubs play the Angels often in spring training -- did so last week, in fact. And again just yesterday in a practice game. But regular-season meetings between the teams happen just once every three years, the way the interleague schedule is set up. And that leads to this series' ...

Fun fact

This is the first time the Cubs have opened a baseball season against an American League team. Unlike previous seasons, when there is just one interleague matchup to begin the year, this year's schedule has three: this one, Mets/Royals, and Tigers/Marlins.

Here are some other facts about the Angels from the site manager at our SB Nation Angels site Halos Heaven, Josh Mayhood:

I’m supposed to write some words about the Angels, so here it goes: the Angels are the team that Mike Trout plays for. How many words is that? Okay, I guess I need to pad this out a bit more. The other team from Los Angeles (the one that doesn’t play in Los Angeles), had a pretty mediocre season last year, which is kind of incredible considering how bad they were. A late September run had them fighting for a playoff spot in the last series of the season, but ultimately they came up short. For most teams, this is really not that big of a deal, but when you have one of the highest payrolls in MLB… people kind of expect you to win. 

This season should be an improvement, however… at least on paper. The defense has been upgraded by way of trading Erick Aybar to the Braves for superfreak Andrelton Simmons, and they have some young arms like Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney that have performed well in small doses, and both plan to be more heavily involved in 2016. The main gripe on the Halos going into the off-season was their abysmal situation in left field, which all began with the signing of a guy named Josh Hamilton, who is still getting paid by owner Arte Moreno, and ended with a disastrous four-headed monster of Matt Joyce/David DeJesus/Shane Victorino/David Murphy.

The position was basically a black hole all of last year, let alone a source of massive controversy. While the Angels didn’t get one of the big free agent left fielders over the winter, and summarily got roasted by the fanbase for being so frugal in a desperate time of need, they did get a platoon together(Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry) that can’t be WORSE than last year, right? RIGHT?! 

(Speaking of which… the Cubs happened to sign the guy that every Angels fan was salivating over, so it’s kind of a sore spot between our two clubs. Name rhymes with Schmason Schweyward. Never forget.)

So there should be upgrades in at least two different positions; picking up Yunel Escobar to replace David Freese is probably a lateral move; Albert Pujols is on the decline but is apparently realizing he should stick to DHing and not re-injuring himself every three weeks playing first base; Mike Trout is going to do Mike Trout things; Kole Calhoun is an underrated Gold Glover. 

Catcher Carlos Perez is going to follow up a pretty decent rookie year by getting the bulk of the catching duties (over veteran backup Geovany Soto… heard of him?); the bench will have some intriguing options in Cliff Pennington and Ji-Man Choi; and the bullpen is largely going to be untouched from last season. All in all, not too shabby. I’m not exactly drooling over these items but they’re also capable of surprising a lot of fans. 

So what’s the rub? The start rotation. If the Angels said they plan to stick young guys like Skaggs and Nick Tropeano in there as much as possible, I’d be relieved. But as it stands, there are going to be many starts from C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. The former hasn’t even thrown a pitch yet in 2016, the latter is having a tough time getting his fastball over 80 miles per hour. Things are going to get pretty scary. Throw in Matt Shoemaker, who had a great rookie year in 2014 but has been regressing ever since, and you’ve got some potential for disaster.

I’m excited for this team, though, against all my better judgment. I think they have a third-place floor, with a division title ceiling, and once in the playoffs, anything can happen. The organization as a whole seems to be in damage control mode, and they’ve made big changes not only on the field, but in the front office and analytics department, and Mike Scioscia is going to be minding his p’s and q’s as well as he can, while working with a new hitting coach and pitching coach. The Halosphere has been a pretty weird place the past year or so, and Arte Moreno and Co. need a whole slew of positives to come out of 2016, or they’re going to see some drastic drop off in ticket sales(which is kind of already happening) and a whole bunch of venom shot their way. It’s going to be an interesting season, to say the least. 

I asked Josh to write a few words. He wrote a lot of words, but now you know quite a bit about the Angels!

Pitching matchups (2015 statistics):

Monday: Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 2.35 FIP) vs. Garrett Richards (15-12, 3.65 ERA, 1.240 WHIP, 3.86 FIP)

Tuesday: Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 ERA, 1.122 WHIP, 2.92 FIP) vs. Andrew Heaney (6-4, 3.49 ERA, 1.202 WHIP, 3.73 FIP)

Prediction

Richards and Heaney are both pretty good pitchers, but apart from Mike Trout the Angels' lineup is kind of a mess. Arrieta and Lester should be able to handle them, and the Cubs have the advantage of not having Lester have to bat (you don't really expect him to hit another home run, do you?). The Cubs should be 2-0 after sweeping this two-game set.

Up next

The Cubs return to the desert to face the Diamondbacks in a four-game series at Chase Field beginning Thursday.