So apparently the Angels were much more in focus than I thought, and halleluiah for that! Sometimes it’s okay to be wrong, other times it’s downright awesome. Hot pitching. Clutch bats. An already improving bullpen that jumped to pretty darned good with two lights out closer options. Homeruns – yes, and from that guy too! I think it’s safe to say that the Machine is coming back online nicely – see, patience is a virtue. I hate that injuries occurred prompting its creation, but I do love the way our outfield-of-the-future-come-a-little-early is looking. And, hello? Come from behind wins? Don’t look now but I think the Angels are back.
Okay, there’s still some tinkering that needs to happen. A few or, you know, a lot less guys left on base would be nice. And there is the little matter of Texas and their smaller – dare I say slowly shrinking? – but still substantial lead. But things are coming along nicely. And, go figure, take six out of seven against your division rivals including a 4-game sweep of the Mariners, jumping from last place to second, and suddenly optimism returns to the season outlook. I’m really looking forward to this week’s home stand and can’t wait to see the outcome if we meet Texas with this swagger instead of the nervous gaffs of a few weeks ago.
Thoughts on Kendrys Morales
Since the season began, Kendrys Morales has had his good days at the plate and his bad days. A few days ago, reporters and fans alike were concerned with the number of his recent 0-fers and today he is a hero after hitting 3 for 4 with a homerun and 2 RBIs. As for me? I’m just grateful he’s able to play again and am unsurprised and calm about the inconsistency. I know that being a DH is not as strenuous as being a position player, but think of what he’s asking of his ankle after, in essence, two seasons of immobility punctuated by rehab activities. I expect him to hit because he is a natural hitter. But I also expect him to have tired and sore days in addition to the usual small expected slumps an uninjured hitter will go through in a given season.
However, I think that Kendrys is another player with whom a little patience from the fans will eventually be rewarded. I think that based on what we’ve seen so far, he will contribute this season, even if his contributions come in waves. But in the meantime he’s building up strength, getting his swing back and getting into his old groove so that next season we stand a good chance of having the old Kendrys back 100% of the time – at least in the DH role ‘cause it’s not like we’ll need a new first baseman. And I for one think this possibility is worth putting up with more bad days this season than one might expect from your typical hitter – especially if the good days look like Sunday!
On a Personal Note…
Of course, as luck would have it, I was away this weekend so we only grabbed bits of the killer games on MLB.com Gameday and Twitter. Yeah, yeah, I know. The first step is admitting that you have a problem. Don’t worry, we have never sacrificed quality vacation time to stay indoors for the game and we never will. Witness, we spent Sunday hiking around the various trails in Yosemite Valley, not trying to catch the Angels day game. (Check out my Twitter page for a few photos if you are interested.) But, especially in the evenings, if we don’t have any other plans, what could be more relaxing and vacationy than kicking back with the game or seeking out a local’s haunt to watch it at? Besides, this was primarily a working vacation anyway, helping empty out the storage unit and move all of my husband’s family’s stuff back into the rebuilt cabin in Yosemite. We went from having the cabin totaled by a falling tree and the resulting snow melt/water damage/mold created by the hole in the roof a little over two years ago, to this last summer:
And, finally just in time for summer 2012, this:
…and I am looking forward to many fun trips back up here to come!
Focus. It’s essential, both for winning the game at hand and for reaching the post season. Completely out of sorts after the last three games, on Tuesday morning I was going to argue that Angels had hopelessly lost all focus.
Fortunately, I’m a moody writer in the reverse of tradition – I hate writing when I’m in a bad mood – so I had Tuesday’s gem to remind me that the prognosis is far from hopeless before I posted. The Angels have lost focus, it’s true, and for several seasons now if we’re being honest. But, they are working to regain their focus and we saw some of the fruits of that effort last night. Still, I think that Mike Scioscia’s comments after Monday’s game are correct. When you get mired in problems this deep, you aren’t going to fix them overnight. And, while my out of focus image is a pun-ny visual I also think it’s an apt analogy. As you focus the lens on a camera, your view bounces from terrible, to good, to blurry again, and back through good directly to bad a few more times until finally it’s just right.
The Angels aren’t fully focused yet and, while I hope Tuesday was the beginning of a fun winning streak, especially with Weaver on the mound today, I also imagine we’re in for a few more shifts through frustrating play before they do achieve complete focus. Batting averages are going up, or starting to go up again as the case may be. The bullpen’s been looking downright good lately. Situational hitting…is still a work in progress. Even when we win, LOBster is still far too much in season for anyone’s tastes. But the team’s overall record is improving – three steps forward, two steps back but, still, improvement. Much like focusing the camera, some of the interim results may give you a headache watching them, but ultimately we seem to be headed in a better direction.
And, once the Angels have finished focusing, what will the picture look like for late September? I know what we all want it to be but, honestly, I don’t think you can ever have more than a hopeful idea until you actually get there even in seasons where the team is doing well. Besides, I think focusing so hard on the end of the season before it even really began is the underlying reason the Angels got so very out of focus to begin with. Focus on the end of May first and then worry about June and so on. Although the end of the season is no longer as far away as any of us would like, it still really is a long way off yet.
The Hopefully Annual Baseball Extravaganza San Diego Edition: Part 2
After Sunday’s all too costly game – wishing both Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans full and speedy recoveries! – I didn’t have the heart to post about the end of our San Diego trip. But a one hit shutout does a lot to improve one’s outlook on things and scanning through my photos I was reminded of all of the positive things we fans can focus on right now while the team is getting it together. Hey, last season I was the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels Baseball, best get back to it, right?
1) Starting Pitching, of course. So there have been a few issues getting started, but ultimately the staff is strong top to bottom as they reminded us this week – Weaver more than bounced back from Texas on Friday. Haren looked much healthier and definitely pitched to win, as did Santana and Williams. (And can you believe we have a guy this good as our 5th starter? The more I watch his calm presence on the mound, the more I adore him). And then there was C.J. last night. ‘Nuff said. If the rest of the team is willing, clearly our starters can get us there.
2) The kids. I simply can’t say enough good things about what Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout bring to this team – and Trout especially was on fire at the plate throughout this series. While I absolutely did not want it to come about because of injuries, especially injuries like these, I am eager to see if, with playing time, Peter Bourjos can bounce back to last season’s batting average. If he can, having the combined dynamic speed and talent of Trout and Bourjos in the outfield and terrorizing the base paths is certainly cause for celebration, no Pollyannas required.
3) Kudos to the Bullpen. They’ve been looking pretty darned good lately, no? I think the shifts and changes have ultimately been good for the team. I’m thrilled with the addition of Ernesto Frieri to the pen. To a man, the relievers appear to be making whatever adjustments and corrections they can to help keep us in the game and the improvement has not gone unnoticed.
As for the game itself, it was a tough loss, but largely because leading up to that point the game was so good – a two run tie until the bottom of the 7th and the Angels fought hard to get on top again. There were frustrating wasted opportunities at the plate – though certainly not from Eric Aybar! What a game he had! But defensively the team was amazing and that catch of Trout’s to keep us in the game? Wow! I just wish it had ended differently.
And, a few more words about Petco itself – our seats were in the club section right behind home plate with a fantastic view of one gorgeous ballpark. A lot of the photos I’ve included in this post are warm up photos and that is largely because at Petco Park all of BP and the warm up sessions are easily viewable from the concourses at all levels and, for the most part, fans are allowed easy field section access until the end of batting practice, something that is only possible with the more open designs of the newer stadiums. I am absolutely against all of this moving to L.A. talk, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few modernizing upgrades to the Big A in Anaheim.
Something else I would like to point out is that I love the Padre’s sense of community. It was heartwarming to enjoy National Anthems played by a local school band on Friday and to have a local military color guard on Saturday.
Suffice to say it was a great a trip and I will jump at any chance I get to catch a game at Petco Park again.
Like many baseball fans, Seth and I have a goal to eventually enjoy a game at every major league baseball stadium and ideally some of the minor league stadiums as well. Economics and vacation time has thus far limited our progress to slow and local but, hey, progress is progress! Last season we took in a gloriously old-fashioned single admission double header at the Oakland Coliseum and experienced the Dodgers Giants rivalry at AT&T Park. This season we headed down the 5 freeway in the other direction and are currently enjoying the beginning of Interleague play as the Angels take on the Padres at Petco Park.
A Word About Petco Park: Gorgeous!
Okay, when can I ever limit myself to one word? Add to that enjoyable, friendly and in general a first class baseball experience. Everywhere we went, our clearly not rooting from around these parts red attire prompted staff to smile and welcome us to the park, a nice touch we have never experienced before. We enjoyed nice conversations with friendly ushers during batting practice and the game – baseball fans everywhere love talking about their team, their stadium, their experiences and I love to listen. The fans in our section were equally lovely, despite the fact of the Angels winning. And with recent Padre Ernesto Frieri sitting right in front of us in an Angels uniform (Ah, our seats! I’ll get to those is a minute.) and the other half of that trade, Alexi Amarista playing second, we had plenty to talk about.
Batting Practice and Bullpen Sessions, Oh My!
Taking in batting practice is one of my favorite ways to start a ballgame experience and yet, even as often as we go to the ballpark, this treat is a rare one for us. Working hours being what they are, even on the weekend, and L.A./Orange County traffic being what it is, if we’re lucky we get to the game about 20 minutes before first pitch and if we’re not, we get there somewhere during the 1st inning. So it was a nice vacation luxury to walk through the gates shortly after they first opened. Petco Park was designed with wide concourses that have great views of the field for most of their stretch, so we roamed freely about from the outfield above the beach bleachers, to our bullpen adjacent seats to home plate and back.
So, About Interleague Play…
Although it certainly isn’t the popular view, I actually enjoy and look forward to Interleague play. Maybe it’s because I was raised on the Dodgers and the National League. Maybe it’s because my team of choice has such a natural, longstanding and fun Interleague rival in the Dodgers? Or maybe it’s just that my personality is as slightly skewed from the norm in my baseball fandom as it is in everything else? Whatever it is, I look forward to seeing all of the unusual matchups Interleague play has to offer. Hello, odd visuals like the Angels playing against the storied ivy draped backdrop of Wrigley Field? How can that not be fun? Or, at least, that’s what I think. Besides, watching American League pitchers bat is a seasonal novelty I will never tire of and some guys surprise you:
As if All of This Preamble Wasn’t Enough, the Game Rocked…
The Angels played well and that was especially nice to see after Thursday’s game against the White Sox. Yes, I know, the Padres are struggling but so are the Angels and the struggling Royals just swept the unstoppable Rangers so you never can tell how these matchups will turn out once you take them from paper to the field. I was proud of our guys! Jered Weaver looked great – and not just with his bat . Our bats were present and made that presence known. Our defense had more than moved on from Thursday’s gaffs – hey, who put that sun up there in the sky? *facepalm* – and the bullpen rocked. All that and a W – what more could a fan ask for?
Okay, Now That’s Funny!
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I prefer my blog entries, my friends and, indeed, my baseball with a rollicking sense of humor, the more off kilter the better. I love baseball’s crazy prank traditions, overly complex and fabulously silly rookie hazing rituals, and the goofy things that stadium personnel do to the opposing team. This evening it was the Padres Jumbotron Angels player slides that had me cracking up:
Big A Jumbotron programmers can be funny too, just usually at the Angels expense. For example, when our pitchers load the bases with only one out or no outs, it’s not uncommon for the stat to tell us how rarely the batter hits into a double play or how prone he is to grand slams. Ummm…thanks guys?
Anyway, that concludes Part 1 of our excursion. We have great seats for today’s game too and I am really looking forward to it – Go Angels!!
I probably should not let my mood rise and fall based on the results of the latest Angels game. That way lies a certain sort of madness I suppose…or perhaps just strong fanaticism. But darned if I wasn’t more than a little mopey after last weekend’s debacle. And, now that the Angels have won two in a row with strong bats making an appearance, darned if I’m not grinning from ear to ear…of course the fact that we’re leaving for San Diego tomorrow morning to catch the Angels/Padres series might have something to do with my mood as well. But before we embark on what I hope will be a nice long streak of giddy making wins, there is a little unpleasant business this blogger should attend to:
Bye Mickey Hatcher
The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher Tuesday evening and, I have to admit, I’m pleased. Oh, not for the reasons you might think. This isn’t another ‘Dancing in the streets, Ding Dong the Hatch is Gone’ Angels blog post. I was never particularly in the ‘Fire Hatcher, he’s the bane of our existence’ camp. Look, since 2010 the Angels offense has been dismal to put it kindly and Angels fans readily place the blame on Hatcher. But the thing is, before the 2010 season the Angels offense was pretty darned good for a few years there, at least from a batting average and overall effectiveness standpoint if not from a frightening power standpoint. I vividly remember a few games late in the 2009 season where the entire Angels starting lineup was batting at or over .300. Crazy good! And if we’re going to blame Mickey Hatcher for the bad times, doesn’t it only stand to reason that we credit him for the good times? I mean, it’s not as if either apex of the pendulum was a brief moment in time such that one might characterize it as a fluke.
But, here we are in May 2012 and while the offense had shown brief flashes of teasing hope heading into Tuesday, it still looked like the third season in a row of wildly swinging but otherwise quiet bats. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Angels lack of recent championships occurred simultaneously with the lack of offense. Do I think this is Hatcher’s fault? No. I don’t think he “ruins” swings or there would be no way to explain the seasons before 2010. And ultimately whatever the hitting coach is or is not doing, whatever the team’s strategy and hitting philosophy, the burden is on the players to get in the batter’s box and make contact with the ball.
But I also think it’s clear that Hatcher wasn’t equipped to fix the current situation or we would have seen strong signs of a breakthrough long before now. Over the weekend against the Rangers you could see how much the team has internalized the situation as they started to noticeably despair the moment the Rangers pulled ahead. When a problem gets this convoluted and existing personnel can’t solve it, it’s time to bring in fresh ideas and a new point of view, not because existing staff are to blame for causing the problem or aren’t good at their job under normal circumstances but specifically because they are no longer an effective fit for the job under the current circumstances. On the one hand, I’m sorry to see Hatcher go. He’s a good guy who cares a lot about the team and the team in turn owes him thanks for the good years. But on the other hand I am pleased that Jerry Dipoto recognized the severity of the offense problem and didn’t let the team flounder for another full season without trying something radical. Do I think this solves the Angels problems? I certainly hope so!! But bringing in a fresh point of view is never a guarantee of good results.
Regardless, the Angels offense sure looked good Tuesday and positively exciting on Wednesday to the joy and relief of Halos fans everywhere. Now, a lot of fans are already cheering on new hitting coach Jim Eppard, freshly promoted from AAA Salt Lake City, and congratulating him on our seemingly revitalized bats. But, seriously people, that’s just plain silly. However good Eppard may eventually be for the team, no one walks off the plane and magically turns two plus seasons of weak offense around in less than 24 hours. It could be a sort of placebo effect, relief over someone finally making a radical move to help, just one of those inexplicable things or even some delayed positive result of Hatcher’s influence, though that would be sad considering the situation. Whatever the reason, hitting is contagious and I sincerely hope that Eppard’s fresh presence, methods and point of view are able to help coax this initial hitting outbreak into a full blown virulent offensive epidemic…or, you know, just not stand in the way while it happens of its own accord because, sometimes, that is the most effective thing a leader can do.
Keep it going guys! Interleague is nigh and you know what that traditionally means for the Angels!
Have You See This Centerfielder?
Wednesday was Peter Bourjos bobble head night but somehow I really think that Bourjos would have preferred to be in the lineup than the subject of the evening’s promotional giveaway. I know I would have preferred it. Not to take anything away from Vernon Wells’ two great defensive plays on Monday or his hits this evening, but I would still also really like to see Bourjos and Mike Trout in the same outfield and the same lineup – an outfield with quicker, better defense every time, not just sometimes. And to add insult to injury, not only was Bourjos not in the lineup for the 14th time in the last 18 games, but he was handing out his own bobble heads at the front gate. Oh, I’m sure meeting and shaking hands with Bourjos was a very nice thing for the fans, but really? They had him handing out bobbleheads at the front gate? What’s next? ‘Hey, Petey, while you’re not doing anything would you mind taking over for the bat boy for a few innings?’
Yes, Bourjos started off the season in a hitting slump like, oh gee, I don’t know, most of the rest of the team. But he alone has not been given the chance to work his way through said slump with playing time. Surely they can find better use for a kid who was on the short list for a Gold Glove in his first full season in the majors than occasional pinch running duties. Why wouldn’t we want to make every effort to allow he and Mike Trout to grow together into one dynamite outfield duo? Of course, as I finish this post it looks like he’s in the lineup today – yay! – so maybe this is the sign of better things to come?
Monday Night’s Shutout by the A’s
As you can probably tell from the photos, we were there. It was about as pleasant as you might imagine.
The Good – Hey it was a night at the ballpark and our friend scored her mother’s company seats so we were sitting pretty in the Diamond Club right behind home plate for free. That part wasn’t just good, it was downright giddy making.
The Bad – We were shut out. 5 – 0. By a division rival. I don’t think any more details are really necessary.
Still, there were signs of hope that I think were the logical precursor to the last few nights’ offensive productivity. Namely that the Angels were hitting the ball – right at the A’s for an out in many cases, but there was still some solid contact going on and a few cases of robbery by an excellent play. There was also less wild swinging. Albert Puljos in particular looked more comfortable and, up until the very last at bat where he swung at one so high and one so low that Vladdy would have been saying ‘Really?’, had good discipline and good contact…just at people and robbed in one case. Looking at him Monday I felt we would be seeing more of the old Albert later this week and, indeed, we have. Keep it going! I am rooting for you!!
And here are a few more random game photos just for kicks. No on to the today’s White Sox game, the Padres and, hopefully, a lot more winning! Go Angels!!
When the weekend began, I was annoyed. Here were the Angels entering this must-watch first series of the year against the arch-rival Rangers, and I was stuck with the piles and piles of work I brought home in order to meet a tight deadline. Oh, I still had every intention of watching the games, just over the top edge of my laptop while I rewrote course catalogs for new states. Of course, you all saw what happened…the box scores and sports news recaps if nothing else. As it turned out, aside from Saturday, my work was far more entertaining and less frustrating than watching the Angels…and, for the record, anytime anything compares unfavorably to wrestling with Massachusetts state regulations, that’s really saying something. Ugh, indeed!
I think Angels fans were looking to this series for the answer to one of the biggest questions of our season. I know I was. So, can the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? You may be surprised at my answer but, yes they can, and win. Just look at Saturday. The Rangers weren’t asleep at the wheel, the Angels just actually showed up and played and it was a good close game.
However the frustrations and, let’s face it, colossal beat downs of this series replaced that question with a far more relevant one – will the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? I don’t think we have a definitive answer to that one yet, but Friday and Sunday sure didn’t put a hopeful spin on things.
Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen. And this team? I just don’t know. I see some guys, mostly the younger guys, continuing to fight hard even when the score looks impossible and I see other guys starting to go through the motions when the game gets tough.
I prefer to look at some of the good examples. Take Jered Weaver. He had a terrible outing and his temper flare in the dugout after gaving up the grand slam to Nelson Cruz is now all over MLBN and ESPN. But you know what? I like his fire. No, he wasn’t able to get it back together when he got back to the mound in the next inning, but terrible starts happen. He didn’t give in, he got mad. When he finally left the game, singing along to Hit the Road Jack, the calmly livid look on his face reminded me very much of the his expression right before he threw the infamous pitch during that game against the Tigers last season. No, I don’t think this means opposing batters need to think about hitting the decks the next time Weaver takes the mound, but I do think it means he’s about to take care of business. And I’ll bet that in his next outings and, especially the next time he starts against Texas, things will be very different. We need to see more guys with that passion and resolve.
Mark Trumbo looks frustrated these days. Given a few seconds and even less effort, I think we can all come up with a whole slew of reasons why that might be. But he turns that frustration on the ball and knocks it deep into the stands. There are a lot of guys who are frustrated right now, but I want to see more of them channeling it like that. I also want to see more speed and defense in the outfield. Yes, Vernon Wells got a timely hit on Sunday and we’re grateful. But Peter Bourjos got a timely bunt that also led to runs on Saturday and which outfield had better defense which, let’s face it, we’re going to need against most of our competitors – Wells, Trout and Hunter or Trout, Bourjos and Hunter? (Yeah, I know Trumbo was actually in right on Sunday, but the Wells/Trout/Hunter combo has been more regular.) Which outfield had more fighters? Exactly. Now let’s hope Mike Scioscia comes to the same conclusion.
And there’s one more thing I think the team needs to do, stop worrying about championships, rankings, October, all of it and just play today. And then when tomorrow becomes today, they need to just play today again, and so on. It feels like everyone is pressing so hard for what could be at the end of the season, for what they feel should be that they are no longer able to just be and the end results are anything but pretty. And, from a sanity perspective, I think that goes doubly for us fans.
Money can make people do some pretty strange things and that in turn can lead to awful decision making. And the more money we’re talking about, the more things can get even stranger and the decisions even worse. This proportional relationship explains but in no way excuses baseball GM thinking, which at times provides us with arguably some of the most ridiculous occurrences of this phenomenon. Allow me to explain by putting a, completely random of course, GM big money/bad decision situation into everyday terms. Say I went shoe shopping and on a bizarre whim committed…oh, let’s pull a completely random number out thin air here…let’s say $86 million give or take on some sort of weird four season…er…month…four month payment plan. I mean, personally, I usually spend more like $40 to $60 on a pair of shoes and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than a bill on a pair but I have heard of Manolo Blahniks and the like – hello, I do have two X chromosomes! – so I suppose that $86 million might be reasonable for someone else.
Now let’s say these shoes just plain turn out to be bad shoes. I mean, they’re certainly nice, personable shoes…er, I mean pretty. That’s it, pretty. They look good on my feet. But other than that, they’re bad shoes. They give me blisters, pinch my heels and make my feet ache. Every now and then it finally seems like they’re starting to get comfortable but then they don’t allow me to walk for any length of time before all the blisters and pinching start up again. And, to top it all off, they’re not just affecting my feet. When I wear these shoes, more often than not, they wreak havoc with the whole starting lineup…er…my back. My back and, actually my legs. Now these shoes worked out okay for a friend of mine but, as anyone can tell you, she’s much more hitter friendly…er…I mean she has much, much better arches.
So what should I do about these shoes? I mean, I committed all of that money to them, so I suppose I should just keep wearing them until I’m crippled right? There’s no way I could eBay the silly things. Who else would be crazy enough to commit so much money to them. And, in the mean time, other, better, more reliable shoes are just sitting there riding pine – in my closet that is, it’s one of those new fangled pine closets – and gathering dust. So, just to be fair, I should probably trade those better, more reliable shoes for another aging reliever and a few sticks of used bubble gum right? …er…I mean used gym socks, old flip flops and a couple of packs of mothballs. Suffice to say, this is completely ridiculous and I am thrilled that Major League GMs don’t get to make my sartorial decisions for me.
So, baseball. Because this blog is about baseball after all, not about shoes, crazy monitory decisions or strange, badly used literary devices…okay, maybe it is frequently about strange, badly used literary devices, but I digress. Peter Bourjos. The trade talk has been flying through the rumor mill again like crazy and, coincidentally or not, he’s riding the pine again tonight. I know his bat has been terrible so far this season. I also know that, so far, when Sosh puts him back in for a game, he hits…and then is benched again, which isn’t exactly sensible or positive reinforcement. I also know he started out slow last season and finished out 2011 hitting a respectable .271, a figure we sure wish Vernon Wells had achieved. And his defense? Oh my word, his defense!! So this makes no sense to me.
As far as Bourjos’ latest replacement goes, I love Mike Trout. I want him to stay in the lineup, batting leadoff, and in the outfield every game. But I want to see Peter Bourjos in the outfield with him instead of Vernon Wells. Bourjos is younger. Bourjos is faster. Bourjos catches everything in sight! Bourjos made changes at the plate last season that lead to a respectable batting average and appears to be on the verge of doing the same thing this season while Wells is, at best, one step forward, two steps right back to last season. Keeping and playing Bourjos and Trout together would mean many more seasons of an amazing outfield combination that can’t even see their peak approaching from where they stand, as opposed to aging outfield.
If the team hadn’t committed so much money to Wells, I don’t think we’d even be having this conversation. But they did and we are. However, I don’t think any amount of money justifies the team cost of continually not using the best tool we currently have available…and it certainly doesn’t justify trading that tool for another bullpen arm. Since I first saw Bourjos play in 2010, I have been dying to see a regular outfield with Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Torii in right (for as long as Torii’s an Angel and I do hope that’s longer than this just this season). I just hope Jerry Dipoto wants to see the same thing.
* * * * *
And now the highly anticipated Angels/Rangers game is about to begin! Go Halos!!! Of course…I’ll be catching it delayed by about an hour and 15. Seth doesn’t get off work until 6 and the Friday Night Ritual just isn’t the same if I start the game without him – besides, he’d wait for me. In the mean time, I’ll be preparing the Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels spread – blue cheese bacon burgers with fried leeks and fresh tomatoes. Wine still to be determined, but definitely, definitely red. I’m thinking something in a Syrah.
Mike Scioscia left Albert Pujols out of the lineup today, a common Scioscia tool to give a struggling player a day away from the grind to mentally refresh for, hopefully, a new approach. So I don’t think I can avoid it any longer. Apparently it’s high time for the obligatory what’s wrong with Albert Pujols post. Well, I do blog about the Angels, after all, so you know that tackling this topic is practically a contractual obligation.
As you may or may not have noticed, although I do comment on Pujols from time to time, I’ve pretty much avoided arm chair batting coaching, ranting, raving, advising, foaming at the mouth, begging, pleading and/or keeping a running lack of homerun tally anywhere even remotely in his general direction. It’s not that I don’t care, far from it. It’s just that I am absolutely certain he’ll come around eventually, though I am coming to realize that eventually may be a lot later than I originally thought, and while his slumbering bat is certainly a problem, fixating on it fixes nothing and ignores a whole host of other problems that have been far thornier for going on three seasons now.
As for what’s wrong with Albert? Well, there’s the new league/new ball parks/new opposing pitchers theory. At least in the short term that was probably part of it. Angels blogger True Grich suggests that moving away from his wife and children, who are remaining in St. Louis for the time being might have a lot to do with things. I can’t say I disagree. I mean going for long periods of time without…companionship, someone to lighten up your off time, hugs from the kidlets, comfort, laughing together, someone to talk through the bad stuff with and anything else that one might add after those ellipses, when one was used to enjoying those things on a regular basis would throw anyone for a loop, especially when things aren’t going well. MLB Network recently compared the dimensions of Angels stadium to Busch stadium, pointing out that Pujols’ Angels stadium on the warning track fly outs would simply have been out of the ballpark at Busch stadium. Well, honestly, I’d been wondering about this very thing and given that many of Pujols’ homeruns weren’t of the tape measure variety, I can see how this would seriously mess up a person’s swing for a while.
I think all three of these things are part of the problem, but I actually think that the main problem is the homeruns, or rather that homeruns have become the fixation. When he is more himself, Pujols hits for average and for power, which means that he hits a lot of singles and doubles and those figure heavily into his RBI and run totals. He keeps saying he isn’t a homerun hitter that he’s more of a doubles guy and this is true in the same sense that Jered Weaver says he’s not really a strikeout pitcher. Strikeouts aren’t Weaver’s primary goal, they just happen a lot when he’s on his game. Ditto for Pujols and the homeruns. When he’s on his game and hitting well, the homeruns just come along with all of other hits.
But ever since the Angels signed Pujols, the fixation has been on his eventual homerun total and when he was going to hit the first one. This wouldn’t be a problem if Albert himself wasn’t also fixated on that first homerun and obviously swinging for the fences. Which came first, the Angels’ expectations or Pujols’ pressure on himself? I don’t even think it matters but somehow he needs to start believing his own words again and just focus on hitting the ball and the rest will come. Heck, homeruns are a wonderful, highly productive tool in the lineup, but if Pujols gives us an around .300 batting average and high RBI and run total, I personally wouldn’t care about how many of those hits were specifically homeruns.
I really hope that taking a day off has helped Pujols clear his head…or reach the point where he’s frustrated enough to brute force stubborn his way through his problems. But I don’t think it would hurt to also arrange a visit from his family, wipe the homerun thoughts completely from his mind and watch a tape of that MLBN segment, you know, just in case.
In the meantime, it’s sad to hear everyone on the team talking about Pujols in terms that are the very definition of Mendoza line – Yes, he’s struggling at the plate, but he’ll come around and in the mean time look at that defense. – but I’m afraid that’s just the way it’s going to have to be until he figures it out and comes around. The fact of the matter is that his defense is out of sight and do we really want to be the team who decided after less than two months that a.326 lifetime batting average over 11 seasons and one+ month (even after all of this ick) is somehow a fluke? Because even if takes most of this season for Pujols to get back to his usual form, it will be worth it in the long run…that said, if it does take most of the season, I may have to rethink my no ranting, raving, whining and/or foaming at the mouth policy. I’m just saying’.
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Now, on to something happier. After two games in a row that made me think temper tantrums are seriously wasted on the young, the Angels offense finally showed back up, thanks primarily to a significant youth uprising. Mike Trout sent his first homerun of the season sailing over the wall. Mark Trumbo hit a Trumbomb that may just now have landed, I mean we’re talking into right into Big Papi 2010 Homerun Derby territory. C.J. Wilson pitched a good game tonight, the defense was on and the Angels offense pushed and pushed again, forcing and then taking advantage of several Blue Jay errors. It was like watching Friday’s game but in reverse and, you know, fun! If Trumbo, Trout and Kendrys Morales (who also had a big night) aren’t all in the lineup tomorrow after the night they had then I truly will think, love Scioscia though I do, that there is an evil Magic 8 Ball making all too many of the lineup decisions.
So, Kristen. How was the ballgame?
Oh, it was nice. Fun. You know. They threw the ball, caught the ball and hit the ball. Couple of good plays. Just another Halo victory, as the announcers say. Oh…yeah…there was one other thing…
OMG!!! OMG!!! Jered Weaver threw a no hitter!!! And it was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my entire life. He was so on, he made it look effortless. I am still bouncing with excitement as I type this hours later and might quite possibly still be cheering were it not for the fact that I am hoarse from all of the cheering I did at the game – my neighbors are grateful and they don’t even know it, he he. Congratulations, Jered! This was beyond well deserved!!!
So, yeah. That was the first no hitter I’ve ever seen in person, a thought I heard echoed by many, most of whom are older than I and have therefore seen a great deal more live baseball, as the jubilant crowd lingered, mingled and eventually meandered their way out. It was just so magical that I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave. I know I had to pry myself away from the rails. So, now I am going to try to string together a few coherent thoughts about the game and the Angels beyond just exclaiming Wow!! over and over again, but I can’t make any promises on that front. As I said before, I’m pretty giddy.
So, as you may have heard a place or two…or ten…thousand, the Angels had a rough April. Enough pieces were there for a winning team, but those pieces just weren’t working together or at the same time. The team desperately needed not just a spark, but several sparks in rapid succession, sufficient to get a fire a going. So, starting Friday, the team makes several needed changes. Spark. Last night Jerome Williams pitched a gem, a complete game, three-hit shutout. Spark! And the offense started to pick up – Hello Torii ‘Homerun’ Hunter and Howie ‘one double shy of the cycle’ Kendrick! Spark!!
Then Jered Weaver takes the mound and flat out deals – 9 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. He threw 77 of his 121 pitches for strikes. Spark! Spark!! Spark!!!
And to top it all off, finally gifted with a lineup that simultaneously contained all of the teams’ best hitters, the Angels offense just went to town. Nine runs on 15 hits?! Baseballs were flying over the wall, zinging into the outfield, sneaking through the infield. It was a sight to behold. Spark! SPARK! Whooooosh. Conflagration? I hope so. We’ll find out this series when we face the Blue Jays.
Yes, we could look at sweeping the Twins as just the Angels beating up on a team that had an even worse April than we did. The Angels just did what they were supposed to do, big deal – except that in this case it is. The Angels did what they were supposed to do, which means that all of those sparks are starting to catch fire. Hip hip and ten thousand huzzahs. Keep it going boys and soon everyone’s going to catch on fire. So, Dan Haren. Weaver one upped Williams. You’re a competitive fellow. How about it? Care to try for the one up like you did last season? It could be fun!
So back to this whole no hitter thing. Being there was almost indescribable, but I’ll try. The crowd was sparse. Way too sparse for my tastes. Blame the aforementioned April woes combined with a weeknight game on a night that really looked like the morning’s rain might resume at any moment despite what the weather reports said. But by the fifth inning this small crowd was so excited, so invested in every pitch, that the feeling was absolutely electric and it filled the stadium.
Everyone knew what was going on. Ball players like to say they never look at the scoreboard but the fans make no such pretenses. And we all kept looking at each other, giving thumbs up and high fives. Bouncing up and down. Cheering. Pumping our fists and banging on the empty seats. All jumping out of our skins to shout out loud that which tradition forbids us from so much as whispering before the outcome of the final pitch…well, except for these two obnoxious ladies who from the 6th inning on would not shut up with the “Catch it Torii, catch it. Don’t spoil the no hitter!” “Way to go Pete, you saved the no hitter!” and so on. Look, I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe that saying no hitter during a no hitter, unless of course the person you’re saying it to is the pitcher in question, will have any impact on the game. But there are some traditions you just don’t break, and this is one of them. For the most part, they were simply ignored. And after that final out, the crowd went nuts chanting “Weaver, Weaver!” and jumping up and down.
And can I just say how heartwarming it was to see our hometown hero who made it clear in no uncertain terms last season that he loves this team as much as we do, accomplish so much at home in front of friends and family! Watching him exchange emotional hugs with his parents and then sweep his new bride – who has a great name, by the way, even though she spells it funny – up into an embrace before the press conferences began? This was a slice of what baseball used to be.
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And the absolute icing on the evening’s seriously delectable cake was our seats. Some season ticket holder with a very exclusive location just couldn’t make the game this evening – bet they’re kicking themselves now, don’t you? – and put their tickets up for sale online. I really will never be able to thank them enough because not only were Seth and I there for this amazing game, we watched it from the front row of the Knothole Club, the Club level restaurant in right field just to the “It’s outta here!” side of the foul pole. The view? The service? The food? Amazing! This game made its own ballpark experience. We would have enjoyed ourselves in even the cheapest of cheap seats. But having the rare opportunity to enjoy such luxurious surroundings and a perfectly unobstructed view of the magic on the mound made it even better.
When last we encountered our heroine, her Angels were mired in distress, largely of their own causing, and she was more than mildly annoyed with the situation. I believe the term livid was bandied about? So she did what anyone who is that mad at a loved one should do – she stepped away until she could approach the situation more rationally. Specifically, she said she would avoid watching the Angels play for the duration of the weekend while she was biking, wining, snapping photos and generally goofing around on the Central Coast…
…Yeah, any guesses as to how long that lasted? Mmmm hmmmm…uh huh…well, then…I see…Okay, all of you who said first pitch on Saturday greatly underestimate the depth of my anger. Those of you who said first pitch on Monday greatly overestimate the strength of my will power. And as for those of you who said the beginning of the third inning on Saturday? Well, you know me pretty darned well and it’s not your fault that you didn’t know that my in laws’ place has no television and no internet connection sufficient for, say, streaming baseball games. We know. We’ve tried. The middle of the 5th on Saturday. That’s when my resolve broke and we watched the game.
We were picking up amazing barbeque from the Main Street Grill – seriously, you can tell when the tri tip and brisket are ready each day from two blocks away when the perpetual heavenly aroma of the smoke shifts from a wood smell, to that of wood and meat to that of beautifully cooked meat. Yum! …but I digress. As I said, we were picking up barbeque to take with us, when Seth noticed that the game was already on in the dining room, in the 5th inning and that the Angels were actually winning. Yeah, I know. Already on TV. In Giants country with a heavy dash of A’s! What are the odds? Clearly this was meant to be. We might as well eat here, Seth suggested, as the guy at the register laughed at us good naturedly. We could probably watch the rest of the game by the time we’re done. Can we say ‘enabler’? Also, ‘awesome’!
I’m glad we changed our minds. It was a good game, though the offense still needs a lot of work. And I am equally glad we really were too busy to watch the game on Sunday (Yuck!!!) but not Monday night’s game. (Overly exciting in the 8th but, still, yay!!!) Suffice to say, I may get mad from time to time, but I’m in it for the long haul and I have a handful of hastily snatched up cheap tickets to prove it, because I plan to be there as the Angels turn this around…a lengthy process I think just may have started already. We’ll see.
Besides, the Angels released Bobby Abreu and brought up Mike Trout! You’ve all seen my posts about Bobby. I appreciated his efforts for the team in ’09 and ’10, I admire his career and, quite frankly, I like the guy, but this was a move that needed to be made. Bobby can’t contribute on the field anymore and his bat hasn’t been helping much either. With Trout, we have a lot of possibility. Is he the answer? Absolutely not. The answer to the Angels woes is a lot more complicated than anything one 20 year old top prospect can solve. But bringing Trout up is a great start as is moving Jordan Walden out of the closer’s spot until he can regain some control. I think that crafty and reliable Scott Downs is an excellent temp or even temp to perm if it comes to that. Now, I’ve never been one to desire a gift gesture as a form of apology after an argument. But if the Angels were intending to offer one even so, this is an excellent start to getting the team back on the right track and oh, so much better than any old roses. Now can we just put all of our big bats in the lineup at one time, already? Pretty please with some of that wonderful Central Coast barbeque on top?