And for the most part, Scioscia is correct. Take last season. The four AL West clubs combined for an out-of-division winning percentage of .548, best in the majors. (The mighty East's was .536.) Even the last-place A's were 52-53 against non-AL West teams. But asserting, as Scioscia does, that the Angels' dominance in their division hasn't come easily does not answer the question of whether continuing to reign will be even tougher. Perhaps it didn't need to be said.
While the Rangers, Mariners and A's all made personnel moves that strengthened their rosters, the Angels lost quality free agents in No. 1 starter
The balance within the division now makes it difficult to discern in which aspects of the game the current iteration of Angels have a clear advantage.
• They have long boasted the AL West's best frontline pitching, but the arrival of
• They have long wreaked havoc on the base paths, but Figgins's defection to the Mariners; a Rangers lineup stacked with young speedsters, including
• They have long excelled in the field, but a divisionwide focus on improving defensively -- led by Seattle G.M.
• They have long had one of the majors' best farm systems to call upon, but now the Rangers, Mariners and A's each have at least three prospects ranked among
"We all got a little pitching, we all can play a little defense, we all got a little speed," says Rangers manager
The three challengers realize that the Angels, always rational and never driven by panic into overspending, have let key free agents go in prior years --
The team's greatest strength, in fact, might be that they never approach any season as being different from any other. "I'm sensing the same thing that I've sensed in every spring training," says Scioscia. "That it's a tough division. That you have to be prepared to play good baseball. And that we have to focus on our own club." While it is difficult to imagine that Los Angeles can win the AL West by 10 games, as it did in 2009, it is not hard to envision the division race ending as it typically does -- with the Angels back on top.