Jered Weaver's return
The right-hander comes off the DL tonight and could shake up the AL West
The Los Angeles Angels now have won seven of their past 10 games, Albert Pujols is heating up, and ace Jered Weaver -- who missed the past few weeks with a balky back -- returns Wednesday night. Can they catch the Texas Rangers? Our experts discuss the AL West race in today's Triple Play.
1. With Jered Weaver back in the mix, the Angels have a _______ percent chance of winning the division.
Mark Saxon (@markasaxon ), ESPN LA: I'd say 15, maybe 20. Texas' edge in offense is superior to the Angels' edge in starting pitching. That's why I think they are a better all-around team, though Weaver's return at least gives the Angels a shot. They could replace him for a few weeks -- and they did that -- but missing him for months would have eventually exposed their lack of pitching depth. After Garrett Richards, it's a long, perilous drop to their Triple-A talent.
Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky), Halos Daily: About 25. This team is good enough to win a division, but probably not the AL West. The Rangers are the best team in baseball and nothing Weaver (or GM Jerry Dipoto) does is going to change that. The Angels are, however, one of the top five teams in the AL, and I like their chances a lot better to nab one of the wild-card spots.
Matt Meyers (@mtmeyers ), ESPN.com: Baseball Prospectus says the Angels have a 5.5 percent change of winning the AL West, but I think their chances are probably closer to 15. Pujols is back to being Pujols and I see them making a real push at some point.
2. If the Angels could make one move to improve those chances, it would be _______.
Saxon: Since they've gotten two home runs from their third basemen all year, everyone is going to say upgrade there. But that's not easy to do. The guys who could be out there -- say Kevin Youkilis or Chase Headley -- could be marginal improvements over someone like Alberto Callaspo, who plays good defense and gets on base. Their bullpen went from awful to very good with the Ernesto Frieri trade. Adding one more power arm could make it great. I think they'll concentrate on that.
Belinsky: Hire a team (led by Leonardo DiCaprio) to plant the idea that 2012 is a lost season in Rangers GM Jon Daniels' mind. In all seriousness, there is no obvious solution for them on the trade market, but an extra bat off the bench or another bullpen arm could make this team a little better.
Meyers: Not letting Vernon Wells play when he comes off the DL. Sure, he's not due back for another six weeks or so, but giving Wells valuable playing time down the stretch could easily cost them a win. It's hard to imagine many other moves having that much of an impact.
3. The player who will be the unexpected X-factor in the AL West race will be _________.
Saxon: You can't call Mike Trout an X-factor any longer, because he's one of the best players in the division. I'll say Kendrys Morales. If he can get back to hitting for power again, suddenly the Angels' lineup takes on a deeper, scarier look that could help them compete head-to-head with Texas and the other big offenses in their stadiums.
Belinsky: Erick Aybar. The Angels' shortstop has had a pretty awful year thus far (.602 OPS), but he's starting to turn things around and might just be worth a pair of wins for the rest of the season. If that happens, the Halos might be able to keep things interesting down the stretch.
Meyers: Ervin Santana. He showed a glimpse of his former self with a one-hitter against he Diamondbacks the other day, and if he can regain his 2010 form, the Angels have the best rotation in the game.
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