ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels got plenty of good breaks in 2014, when they won a big league-best 98 games and led the majors in runs scored.
The Angels got almost no breaks — injury or otherwise — last season while they finished 74-88, the worst record of manager Mike Scioscia's first 17 years in charge.
The upcoming season seems likely to land somewhere in the middle for this team of extremes. Yet even if they don't return to the playoff race, the Angels are confident they're building toward something good after years of stretching for quick success and ignoring the hard work of franchise-building.
"We're excited because I think that a lot of areas were addressed," said Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in baseball by a long shot. "The litmus test is when you start the season and see how you play and how your matchups go. Are you executing on the field?
"But I think we all feel really good about the depth. For the first time in a while, we've got a lineup that's going to be deep, and we're going to play terrific defense. These guys are eventually going to make us a strong team."
The Angels are hoping to reap at least some of those eventual benefits this summer. They don't want to waste another year in the prime of two-time AL MVP Mike Trout, or a remaining year of effectiveness for slugger Albert Pujols.
General manager Billy Eppler filled the Angels' two obvious lineup holes in left field and second base, while Pujols should be ready to play regularly around opening day after offseason foot surgery. And surely the Angels can't lose three starting pitchers to season-ending elbow ligament injuries again, as they did last season, right?
"A lot of the guys in here have been together for a long time," right-hander Garrett Richards said. "I'm excited to get to know some of my new teammates and move forward with them and hopefully put together a World Series-caliber season. I feel like last year, we didn't even really get to get into our team. Everybody got hurt so early that it was kind of dismantled. With the guys coming back this year, we'll see what we've got."
Here are more things to watch when the Angels begin their 57th season of baseball:
RICHARDS' RECOVERY: Wary eyes will be on Richards' right elbow after he skipped Tommy John surgery in favor of rest, rehabilitation and stem-cell therapy on his partially torn ligament. He feels healthy and confident, and the Angels desperately need his return to ace form.
NEW LOOK: Cameron Maybin is the Angels' new left fielder heading into his contract season, and Orange County native Danny Espinosa is their new second baseman. Both seem to be major upgrades over last season's struggling contributors at the positions. But from Gary Matthews Jr. to Josh Hamilton, the Angels have an extensive recent history of acquiring veteran players who suddenly forgot how to play baseball after pulling on a Halo cap.
WHO'S ON FIRST: Pujols is likely to be mostly a designated hitter, and newcomer Luis Valbuena was expected to play first base extensively. But with Valbuena sidelined for a month or more by a strained hamstring, C.J. Cron will get the first chance — and the homegrown slugger entered the weekend leading the Angels in Cactus League hits.
THE STOPPER: Longtime closer Huston Street entered spring training in a competition for his job, and he pitched to two batters this spring before straining a back muscle. Street likely won't be ready for opening day, which leaves Scioscia with Cam Bedrosian or Andrew Bailey as his probable new closer.
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