There are a number of things to keep in mind with respect to manager Mike Scioscia's club, but the main thing to remember is this:
These guys are good.
They've won more games the past two seasons -- 197 -- than any team in the Majors. They began both those campaigns with Lackey, their ace, on the disabled list, where he would remain into May. Ervin Santana joined him on the DL to open the '09 season, and less than one week in, Nick Adenhart was killed.
Hardships don't come any more extreme.
The Angels were 29-29 on June 11, 4 1/2 games off the AL West lead. Exactly one month later, they walloped the Yankees at home, 14-8, to move into first by a half-game. They never moved out of the penthouse.
Yes, they did this primarily with a resounding offense and a high-quality defense. They had a patchwork rotation for five months, until Scott Kazmir arrived from Tampa Bay on Aug. 28 to give Scioscia five proven starters for the first time all season.
Along with Lackey, Santana, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, Kazmir flourished down the stretch, enabling Angels starters to shave their ERA to 4.44 from 5.00 over the final 38 games, going from 12th in the AL to fourth.
The instability in the rotation across the first five months created strain and stress on a bullpen that was without its most durable component for five years -- Scot Shields, out for the year with knee surgery -- and had an unreliable Jose Arredondo in his sophomore year.
Somehow, maneuvering 14 pitchers through his revolving-door rotation and keeping his bullpen functional despite all that duress, Scioscia managed to produce enough outs to win 97 games. Five more victories arrived in the postseason before the Yankees eliminated the club.
It could not have happened without the efforts of a coterie of willing arms, a diverse collection of pitchers who needed introductions when they arrived.
Matt Palmer, Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell each went to the post and won games after Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, Anthony Ortega, Kelvim Escobar and the late, potentially great, Adenhart had given their all for the cause.
If the Angels have to dip into their depth again in 2010, they can expect it to be just as helpful -- and likely more so, given that more reinforcements could be on their way.
Trevor Reckling is a developing young artist of 20, but he has a big league arm and a demeanor that suggests he is not intimidated by surroundings or challenges.
Chosen to pitch for Team USA in the World Cup this summer, Reckling comported himself with poise before shutting it down for the season.
It is not entirely out of the question that Rickling could grace the rotation sometime in 2010 season if he refines a few things and throws strikes in good locations during his time in Salt Lake.
The Angels never like to rush a young athlete, but they also don't believe in holding one back. Reckling, an eighth-round Draft pick out of high school in New Jersey, is way ahead of the curve in three professional seasons.
He was 9-9 in stops at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas with a 2.68 ERA in 154 1/3 innings, yielding 127 hits while striking out 122 with 78 walks.
"He's going to be something we monitor," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. "There are some things [notably command] he has to improve. He's talented. He's going to have a long Major League career."
Ortega is another intriguing possibility. At 24, he was making rapid strides when an elbow issue surfaced in 2009. He made three starts for the Angels, lasting only 12 2/3 innings while going 0-2 with a 9.24 ERA, but that was merely a baptism.
Ortega, a Venezuelan, pounds the strike zone with quality stuff. He showed no fear in making his second career start at Yankee Stadium, and though it didn't go particularly well, it was clear he wasn't dazzled by the bright lights.
The Yankees, with the only offense more lethal than the Angels, punished a whole lot of pitchers in their new cathedral's debut season.
"Ortega is in the mix," Reagins said, referring to the fifth-starter's job. "He's healthy now. He'll be ready to go in Spring Training. When he's right, he's pretty good."
Palmer would be the fifth starter if the season started today, and all he did was go 11-2 in his first full Major League campaign with a 3.93 ERA. He was the toughest pitcher in the league for right-handed hitters, who batted only .197 against him.
Palmer didn't care who they sent him out to face. He beat CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium on May 2, having outdueled the then-Tigers right-hander Edwin Jackson in his debut at home.
Palmer prevailed against Felix Hernandez in Seattle on May 19 to move to 5-0. On June 17 in San Francisco, facing the team for which he'd gone 0-2 in his first three big league starts in '08, Palmer kept his team in the game against Tim Lincecum. The Angels prevailed against the eventual National League Cy Young Award winner even though Palmer didn't gain credit for the win.
With young guns Weaver, Saunders, Santana and Kazmir lined up, and with some competent depth in numbers, the Angels won't embarrass themselves on the mound in 2010 -- even lacking a Lackey or Halladay.