Unlike the Cubs, the Angels aren’t projected to be very good this season
The traveling road show that is the Chicago Cubs staged its debut performance in Anaheim on Monday. You could almost hear the carnival barker: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up and see baseball’s best team!”
Believe the hype? The Cubs certainly don’t shy from it.
Joe Maddon, the manager, fielded a stock question — about the Cubs playing with a target on their back — and turned it into a merchandising opportunity.
“The target is on the front,” Maddon said with a smile.
Maddon coined the slogan “Embrace the Target,” then slapped it on T-shirts for the players. As he reminded his large media audience, the T-shirts are on sale for $29.99 each, to benefit charity.
Best team in baseball? Bring it on.
“We are good,” Maddon said in a conversation Sunday. “Our kids are good. I understand why people are saying what they’re saying.
“False humility does nobody any good. I think we’re confident without being arrogant. I think that’s where the appeal is to fans in general.”
Here we are, nine paragraphs into this column, and we haven’t even discussed the Angels. It was opening night for the Angels, but the buzz was all about the visiting team.
A ray of light illuminates Angels pitcher Cam Bedrosian as he warms up in the shadows before the season opening game with the Cubs.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Could Angels Manager Mike Scioscia be on the hot seat soon?(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella is picked off at first base against the Cubs in the third inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Angels third baseman Yunel Escobar heads back to the dugout after grounding out in the season opener against the Cubs.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Angels starting pitcher Garrett Richards delivers in the first inning of the season opener against the Cubs.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
From left: Angels fans Daniel Ousted, of Fullerton, Chenoa Ousted, of Cypress, Antonio Ortiz, of Garden Grove, and Peter Ousted, of Cypress, show their Angels spirit while tailgating in the parking lot before opening day.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Angels slugger Albert Pujols rallies with teammates while being introduced during the season-opening game with the Cubs.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Angels starter Garrett Richards delivers a pitch against the Cubs on opening day.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Third baseman Yunel Escobar heads back to the dugout after making an out in his first at-bat as an Angel.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler is congratulated in the dugout after scoring on Matt Szczur’s three-run double in the ninth inning.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Cubs were cheered coming off the field after batting practice. A “Let’s Go Cubs” chant erupted early in the evening, before Angels fans rallied to counter it with boos. When Miguel Montero homered in the sixth inning, padding the Cubs’ lead in a 9-0 victory, Angels fans did not bother to counter the applause.
The first Cubs batter of the season, Dexter Fowler, doubled and scored. The Angels needed a left fielder. Fowler said he would have been interested but the Angels did not make him an offer.
The Angels never did sign a big free agent. They won 85 games last season. The Cubs won 97, then signed Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist.
In November, the Cubs were 11-1 to win the World Series, the Angels 20-1, according to the online bookmaker Bovada. By opening night — with no games played in between — the Cubs were 5-1 and the Angels 40-1.
ESPN asked 31 staffers to pick a winner in the American League West. No one picked the Angels. It wasn’t just an ESPN thing.
“Everybody ends up predicting the same version of whoever predicted first,” Angels closer Huston Street said. “Someone probably came out and said we needed to sign a left fielder because of how poor our left-field production was last year, then we didn’t. Then everybody quits thinking and just says, because they didn’t sign one, they’re not good.
“They just kind of copy and paste.”
Baseball Prospectus projects the Angels to win 76 games. Fangraphs projects 82.
“We’ll be way better than that,” Street said. “I think that’s ridiculous.”
That may be, but the fan base is jaded. The Angels have sold 16,800 season tickets thus far, down slightly from last year, down 30% from 2012 and almost 50% from the record 31,000 in 2006.
“You lose a little bit of the excitement when you don’t go out and get marquee players sometimes,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “To me, that doesn’t mean anything. Once the season starts, it’s all about the game that day.”
The Angels went out and got Albert Pujols in 2011, and Josh Hamilton in 2012. They have not won a postseason game since 2009. The Dodgers have won eight since then, even with their failure to advance to the World Series.
Funny thing is, the Angels used to be a team with all the expectations. They won the World Series in 2002. Then they won the AL West five times in six years, starting in 2004.
Maddon coached for the Angels then. He said the expectations are much weightier for the Cubs.
“We haven’t done anything in 100 years,” he said. “You have to earn that World Series hangover.”
On Monday, Garret Anderson threw out the ceremonial first pitch. In the Angels’ first and so far last World Series, Anderson delivered the game-winning double in Game 7.
To Cubs fans, 14 years since the World Series is a blip. To Angels fans, it’s quite a hangover.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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