Angels, Cardinals could finally fall flat

The Angels and Cardinals top the list of teams that could very well be disappointments in 2006.

Originally Published: February 7, 2006
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

Sure, virtually every team feels good about itself two weeks before the start of spring training. That's par for the course.

But let's face it: Some of that optimism is misplaced and about to be exposed under the bright sunshine in Florida and Arizona.

Just as there will be some teams that outstrip expectations, there will also be a handful that will find that they aren't as good as they -- and others -- expected them to be.

Here's a look at five teams that may be setting themselves up for disappointment in 2006:

Angels Los Angeles Angels
After winning the AL West two years running, the Angels stood curiously still this offseason.

They lost starting catcher Bengie Molina to free agency, and while Molina's brother, Jose, can increase his workload and Jeff Mathis is a highly regarded prospect, there are bound to be some adjustments for the pitching staff.

Dumping free agent disappointment Steve Finley was the right move, but how will brittle Darin Erstad hold up now that's he returning to center field.

Worst of all, despite having plenty of prospects to deal, the Angels failed to land a power bat to provide protection for Vladimir Guerrero, who has been nullified the last two Octobers.

Should the Angels make a third-straight playoff appearance, it's unlikely they'll go very far.

Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
In 2004, the Cardinals went to the World Series. Last year, they got as far as the NLCS. Sensing a pattern here?

Despite moving into a new stadium, the Cards have refused to increase their budget, causing them to lose a number of free agents, including outfielder Reggie Sanders and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. Larry Bigbie and Junior Spivey, their respective replacements, can hardly be considered upgrades. Starter Matt Morris left for San Francisco, leaving a significant hole in the rotation, and adding Braden Looper to the bullpen may not be such a positive move.

Of course, it helps that the Astros -- the Cards' opponent in each of the last two Octobers -- haven't gotten better, either. But the Cubs have, and the Milwaukee Brewers may not be far behind.

Orioles Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles' last winning season was 1997; don't look for that to change in 2006.

The Orioles don't have nearly enough starting pitching to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays. "Losing'' Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro might constitute addition by subtraction, but there are too many holes up and down the roster.

Veterans Kevin Millar and Jeff Conine might be good choices for a contending team looking to add the proper spare parts. But for a team in need of a wholesale makeover, this constitutes running in place.

Instead of setting their sights on the perennial division leaders, the Orioles should be worried about the Devil Rays, who are coming up fast in the rearview mirror.

Padres San Diego Padres
Last year, the Padres finished barely over .500 (82-80), yet won the National League West. This year, the division has improved and the Padres aren't likely to be so lucky.

The Dodgers (Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra and Danys Baez) have made great strides and the Giants figure to be more of a factor with Barry Bonds healthier. Then there are the Diamondbacks, who continue to take steps back to contention.

San Diego is unsure about second base and its starting pitching is thin. The Padres won't disappear in the division, but it's also highly improbable to figure they'll win it again.

Phillies Philadelphia Phillies
The Phils remained in contention for the NL wild card until the final weekend before finishing out of the playoffs, then did little to move forward in the offseason.

They replaced Billy Wagner (who'll close for the division rival Mets) with Tom Gordon, a step backward, and they traded Jim Thome to get out from under most of his contract and injury history.

Aaron Rowand makes them better in center field, but there's much more work to be done here. They continue to lack a bona fide front-line starter and there are too many aging veterans (third base, catcher) occupying important positions.

Look for the Phils to continue to lag behind the Braves, with the Mets overtaking them in the standings, too.

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.

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