NL opposition may help Pujols find swagger

NL opposition may help Pujols find swagger

NL opposition may help Pujols find swagger
ANAHEIM -- Interleague Play will provide one big positive and one big negative for the Angels this season.

The positive: Albert Pujols will face pitching he's a lot more familiar with; something he hasn't had the benefit of while sluggishly navigating through his first season of American League ball.

The negative: The man who mostly hits behind him, Kendrys Morales, likely won't be in the starting lineup for the nine games the Angels will play at National League parks.

"That's just the way it is," Morales, who has been solely a designated hitter in his first season back from two ankle surgeries, said in Spanish. "I'm not worried about [the lack of starts messing up my timing]. I'll just keep myself ready, because I know I'll probably be needed late in games to pinch-hit."

The Angels will get the NL West this year. If nothing else, that'll ease what's usually a hectic travel schedule. They'll travel to San Diego and Colorado, host the Giants and D-backs and, of course, they'll play six games against the nearby Dodgers.

This year, though, it'll be a little different.

This year's Dodgers-Angels meetings come on the heels of drastic changes, with the Angels signing Pujols and C.J. Wilson to give themselves more national appeal than ever, and the Dodgers changing ownership groups in hopes of getting back to their winning ways.

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In Spring Training, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly rejected the notion that the Angels were gaining on the Dodgers after their two marquee signings.

"It's like the Mets and the Yankees," he said then. "The Yankees are the team. I'm not badmouthing the Angels at all, and Mr. [Arte] Moreno and Mike [Scioscia] do a great job and had a great run, but we're the Dodgers, and that's not going to change."

"I know what he's trying to say because there's a lot of history there," Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said in response at the time. "[The Dodgers] have a lot of fans -- L.A., Hollywood area. But at the same time, with all we've done this year, I'd say there's a lot of Angels fans, too."

Last year: The Angels went 13-5 during Interleague Play in 2011, winning three-game series against four NL East teams -- the Braves, Nationals, Mets and Marlins -- and taking four of six from the Dodgers. A 15-game chunk of Interleague Play that began in mid-June saw the Angels go from four games below .500 and 3 1/2 games out of first place, to three games over .500 and tied for first.

All-time: The Angels are 152-114 since Interleague Play began in 1997. Their best years were in '07 and '09, when they went 14-4. Their worst was Year 1, going 4-12 in '97.

at Padres, May 18-20: The clubs have split their 22 meetings against one another, with the Angels sweeping the Padres at home the last time they faced off in '09.

Players to watch
Torii Hunter, RF (.292 BA, 40 HR, 148 RBI): Hunter has crushed the Padres (batting .381 in eight games), but has struggled against the Dodgers (.244 in 25 games).
Alberto Callaspo, 3B (.246 BA, 1 HR, 18 RBI): Callaspo posted just a .591 OPS against NL opponents last year.
Jered Weaver, RHP (10-3, 2.75 ERA): Weaver threw a shutout in his only start against the Padres, who he'll face on Friday.

at Rockies, June 8-10: The Angels have historically dominated this series, going 17-8 overall and taking six of eight at Coors Field. In November, the Angels acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from the Rockies in exchange for young starter Tyler Chatwood. But Chatwood is in the Minors and Iannetta is out another 5-7 weeks after undergoing wrist surgery.

at Dodgers, June 11-13; vs. Dodgers, June 22-24: The Freeway Series rivals will meet again, as they have each of the previous 15 years of Interleague Play. The Angels have won the series, 50-36, going 22-21 on the road and 28-15 at home. The 2012 meeting will see Dodgers outfielder Bobby Abreu face his former team -- the one that released him on April 27 -- and Pujols get his first taste of the rivalry.

vs. D-backs, June 15-17: The D-backs will come to Angel Stadium for the first time since 2001, meaning Angels fans will get their first look at Justin Upton, the star right fielder who proved to be among the best in the game last season. It could also be Dan Haren's first meeting against Arizona since being traded away in the middle of the '10 season. The Angels swept the D-backs at Chase Field during their last meeting in '09.

vs. Giants, June 18-20: Shades of the thrilling 2002 World Series will be present during this series, when the Angels host the Giants for the first time since that seven-game Fall Classic. The Halos swept them at AT&T Park in '09.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.