We've talked on this blog about how the Rangers might approach Albert Pujols and manager Ron Washington has made it clear that he'll do what he can (like walk him) to prevent Pujols from beating the Rangers by himself.
But the key to the Angels' success is the rest of the lineup and if someone steps up to offer protection for Pujols so that managers and pitchers pay for bypassing Pujols and pitching to others. Mark Saxon wrote about it recently on the ESPNLosAngeles.com blog and listed the candidates that could protect Pujols. Here's part of Saxon's blog:
First up in the search for a hitter behind Pujols: Kendrys Morales, who mashed 34 home runs and 43 doubles in his breakout 2009 season before a fractured left ankle cost him nearly two seasons. The Angels aren’t banking on his return, but they’re sure hoping for it.
“One thing that sets us up really well is if Kendrys Morales can come back, just his presence from the left side,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Right now, with a player like Albert, there are really only two ways to protect him: One is getting guys on base in front of him. Another is having some depth behind him, because he gets on base a lot.”
At first, it seemed that Morales’ return was less important when the Angels signed Pujols. Now, it could be paramount. If Morales is healthy and the Angels can squeeze him and Mark Trumbo into their lineup (Morales as designated hitter and Trumbo at third base or left field), they would have five players in their lineup capable of hitting 30 home runs.
It could be the difference between having a lineup as deep as the powerhouses of the league -- Texas, Detroit, Boston and New York -- and having a massive drop-off following the No. 3 hitter. Even after signing perhaps the best hitter alive, the offense could be the biggest question mark heading into 2012.
Angels cleanup hitters last season had a .739 OPS (on-base plus slugging), good for 10th in the AL. Their leadoff men had a .325 on-base percentage, seventh-best in the league.
Pujols walked 115 times in 2009. After the Holliday deal, he averaged 82 walks in each of the next two seasons. His lifetime OBP (.420) is .054 points higher than the Angels’ OBP leader last season, Alberto Callaspo.
Finding suitable protection for Pujols and some production in the rest of the lineup will be critical for the Angels as they try to track down the Rangers. Pujols gives them a big boost. No doubt. But he'll still need help.