Five things to watch as Angels, Dodgers open season – San Bernardino Sun

Opening Day seemed unreachable a little more than a month ago, when Major League Baseball postponed the start of the season as its lockout lingered.

It was a painful blow for Dodgers fans who had waited since their team’s mid-October elimination from the playoffs for another chance and simply cruel to Angels fans whose team lost relevance far earlier in 2021.

But a second postponement quickly led to a deal between the owners and players and the establishment of Thursday, April 7, as the day when every team is even and has the same chance to delight and disappoint over the next 162 regular-season games and, possibly, beyond.

The opening of the season is accompanied by romanticized projections of what’s possible in many places, and that clearly is the case locally. The Angels and Dodgers, however, have some of the best players in the league – their rosters feature winners of eight MVP awards, including a guy often compared to Babe Ruth – who make those projections seem possible.

The Angels get started Thursday at home against the Houston Astros at 6:38 p.m. with Shohei Ohtani on the mound and likely batting leadoff; the Dodgers and new first baseman Freddie Freeman have to wait a day longer and will open at Colorado on Friday afternoon.

Until the first pitches are thrown, here are five things to look forward to this season for the Angels and Dodgers:

The return of Trout

Mike Trout won three of those aforementioned eight MVP awards and finished second in the voting four other times. He’s on a trajectory that certainly will land him in the Hall of Fame. And he’s widely considered the greatest player of his generation.

Angels center fielder Mike Trout smiles as he jogs back to the dugout during a spring training exhibition game against the Dodgers on Sunday night at Angel Stadium. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

Critics and even his biggest fans want to see one more thing.

Trout, who played in just 36 games last season and has reached 140 games only once in the past four full seasons, has to stay healthy. He suffered a calf injury in May 2021 and never got back on the field for the Angels the rest of the season.

The Angels have a lineup that can be dangerous, but they need the player who already has 310 home runs at 30 years old on the field far more than he has been in recent seasons.

California kid comes home

Freeman, the 2020 National League MVP who finished in the top 10 in voting five of the past six seasons, seemed like a lock to return to the Atlanta Braves after helping the only MLB team he’d known win the World Series. But when the free agent didn’t have a deal in place before the lockout, a departure suddenly seemed more likely.

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman works out prior to their spring training finale against the Angels on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

The Dodgers locked up the Orange County native and added his big bat to a lineup that makes some wonder if it’s the best ever assembled.

One thing the Dodgers know is they won’t have to face Freeman, who had two home runs and a .444 on-base percentage against them in the National League Championship Series in October, in this season’s playoffs.

Even more Ohtani

With his prowess hitting and pitching, Ohtani won the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award last season, only the 16th person given the honor. He almost certainly won’t receive that again, but a repeat of everything else he achieved in 2021 seems within reach.

The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani warms up prior to their spring training finale against the Dodgers on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

MLB recently approved a rule that lets pitchers who also hit remain in the game as a designated hitter even after they’re taken off the mound. It’s a rule that essentially affects one player – Ohtani – but could prove helpful to others in the future.

For now, it means the Angels can get even more of Ohtani at the plate than they had last year, when he hit 46 home runs en route to his AL MVP award and Ruthian comparisons.

Rotation questions

The Dodgers have a future Hall of Famer in their starting rotation, but Clayton Kershaw is several years and far more innings past his prime when he won the NL Cy Young Award three times in four seasons.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, left, and pitcher Clayton Kershaw talk prior to the team’s spring training finale against the Angels on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

The success of the Angels’ pitching staff could rely heavily on Noah Syndergaard, who has pitched all of two innings since he had major surgery in March 2020.

Walker Buehler will open the season for the Dodgers and should continue to be their ace, and Ohtani has that role for the Angels. Both teams will need a lot more, though each is in good shape if it can get games to the bullpen.

Revival time

Third baseman Anthony Rendon was key to the Washington Nationals’ World Series championship in 2019 and was solid in his first (pandemic-shortened) season with the Angels. But he was limited to 58 games in 2021 because of injuries and didn’t play after July 4.

The Angels’ Anthony Rendon bats during a spring training game against the Dodgers on Sunday at Angel Stadium. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Cody Bellinger was the NL MVP in 2019 but hasn’t been the same since and struggled mightily last season with injuries and problems with his swing. He says he’s healthy but still is tinkering with his swing.

When they’re at their best, Rendon and Bellinger are difference-makers who could elevate their teams to postseason glory.

And on the first day of a long season, they have the same chance as everyone else to do just that.

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