Los Angeles Angels Exceeding Expectations

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Orange County (et Cetera) weren't supposed to be this good.

Really, they weren't. All the wintertime numbers said the Angels were a third-place team, somewhere behind the Rangers and the Athletics and somewhere ahead of the Mariners.

But after blowing out the Rangers Tuesday night, the Angels are 11-6 and tied with Texas for first place. Their pitchers are second in the league in ERA, and their hitters are third in OPS (though just seventh in runs scored). And they've done all this without first baseman Kendrys Morales, who missed much of last season and still hasn't recovered fully from that severe ankle injury.

So how have they done it?

The short answer: Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.

Both have started four games. Both have won four games. Both have ERA's well below 2.

Weaver's doing his level best to prove that last season's breakout performance wasn't any fluke. Last season he led the American League in strikeouts, and this season he's leading the American League in strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Haren's been other-worldly. At his best, in 2008 and '9 with the Diamondbacks, he led the National League both seasons in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not coincidentally, he was an All-Star both years. After joining the Angels last summer, Haren pitched well, with a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts. But his strikeout-to-walk ratio was less than spectacular.

This spring, though? Twenty-seven strikeouts. Two walks.

Obviously, he won't be able to maintain that ratio. But it seems that Haren hasn't lost anything at all, which gives the Angels two legitimate aces, as good a one-two punch as you'll find in the American League.

Granted, the other three-fifths of the rotation is one big question mark, with Ervin Santana unable to reclaim his past glories, 32-year-old Matt Palmer a stopgap, and rookie Tyler Chatwood just getting his feet wet. Eventually the Angels will need a third reliable starting pitcher (if not a fourth) and it's not at all clear who that might be.

The hitters have done their part, too, ranking first in the league with a .273 batting average and -- uncharacteristically for this franchise -- third in home runs, with everyone paced by Howie Kendrick. It's no surprise that Kendrick's batting .292, virtually dead even with his career mark. But with a career high of 10 home runs before this season, what should we think about his team-high five homers already this season?

We should probably think Kendrick's going to hit more doubles than home runs this season. Still, he's 27 this season and was bound to have a great season at some point. This might well be it.

What should we think about Maicer Izturis's .388 batting average?

That's a rhetorical question. You know what we should think.

What should we think about Vernon Wells' and Torii Hunter's terrible starts? We should think they'll come around, because both are still good hitters.

We should also think the Angels are better for the presence of catcher Hank Conger, who nicely takes over the role of catcher-who-can-actually-hit from Mike Napoli.

And finally, we should think the Angels will get a boost when Kendrys Morales does return, probably at some point in early May.

The Orange County Angels might still wind up in third place. But this team won 97 games just two years ago, with a lot of the same players. Don't be surprised if they turn everyone into believers this summer.

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