I’ve never really cared for the last few days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline. Oh I know they’re supposed to be exciting, filled with stimulating fan trade speculation, debates and the thrilling sense of possibility for teams in the post season running or close to it. But while I enjoy the discussion and debates, and I’m not immune to the sense of possibility, for me it’s always tainted with faint traces of an impending sense of doom. Perhaps it’s a lingering hangover from some of the crazier – because they weren’t all crazy – deals Tony Reagins used to pull this time of year. Perhaps it’s just the intense degree to which I hate parting with favorite players I’ve grown attached to, and I know that if you’re going to get someone good, well then, you’d better give up someone good.
Either way, it seems to me that buying and selling teams alike are just as likely, and perhaps more so, to do themselves harm as good this time of year. Think about it. What kind of decisions do we make when our need is great, the options are far from plentiful and the asking price is predictably obscene? Sometimes desperation and opportunity lead to brilliance but more often…uh huh. Exactly. Yes, GMs typically do a better job than you or I in such situations, but the comparison still has merit. For every Rangers scoring Cliff Lee tale there is an Angels “scoring” Scott Kazmir story, or much, much worse.
No this doesn’t mean that I’m arguing against all trade deadline wheeling and dealing or even that I wish the Angels would abstain from it. It just means that when it comes to thoughts of trade discussions surrounding my team, I spend most of the last few days of July in a state of hmmmm…how shall we say? Cautiously optimistic worry? Hopeful panic? Serene terror? Yeah, any those will do. Flip a coin. And this season in particular I don’t want to give up the most obvious trading chips – Peter Bourjos, Hank Conger, etc. – and I don’t like a lot of the options being discussed, especially when those options are discussed in terms of some or *gasp!* all of the Angels most obvious trading chips.
So, imagine how wonderful it felt to finally exhale and feel my heart rate return to normal ranges when it was announced this afternoon that the Angels landed Zack Greinke. And that the price for these coveted riches was infield prospect Jean Segura (who is excellent but blocked by Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, much like Alexi Amarista before him) and two AA pitching prospects, instead of the frequently discussed Bourjos, Conger, Santana and half the farm. Oh yeah, it felt that good.
Am I completely thrilled with the deal? No. I worry about Greinke. While I think that, in many ways, the Angels will be a good match for working with his anxiety issues and he’s certainly a great pitcher, I lost a lot of respect for Greinke when he gave up in Kansas City because he didn’t like the way the season was going, admitted it and couldn’t seem to understand why folks got so mad about it. And then there’s his little pitching in away games issue. Also, I think that unless Greinke signs a lengthier contact preventing him from going free agent at the end of this season, this was a more expensive deal than I would have liked, even without giving up Bourjos, et al. However, in the larger context of trade deadline deals, notoriously desperate and expensive as they are, this deal really is pretty good. Ever since our magical December 2011, we Angels fans have referred to GM Jerry Dipoto as the JeDi Master and, if Greinke performs to his capabilities as an Angel and especially if we keep him, Dipoto has proven once again that he is just that.
As much as I am happy with this deal – with the caveats and concerns mentioned above – I am even happier that it means a lot of this Angels crazy talk can die down now, because I was getting seriously twitchy for awhile there. I did not want James Shields, another pitcher out of Tampa Bay going through a rough patch. Yes, Shields is way more talented than Kazmir but still, I worry. And I did not and do not like Francisco Liriano for the Angels. I can’t see how he would be much of an upgrade from Ervin Santana. He’s plenty wild and crazy himself. Yeah, I know. After a while I was starting to sounding downright Suessical with my “do not likes” and “do not wants,” even to my own ears. Hmmm…I do not care if he hits a ton I do not care if his contract’s far from done. While I actually like green eggs and ham, I did not want that lazy, pouting HanRam. (So, thank you Dodgers for taking him right off the table early. Best of luck to you!)
You laugh, but just try having all of this goofiness in your head. Oh well, I will be better now that deal is done and as close to sane as I ever get about Angels baseball come August 1st. Welcome to the Angels Zack Greinke. Hopefully this is the beginning of a beautifully mutually beneficial partnership.
What’s the best cure for the old “post All Star Break, my Angels have been playing in the Eastern Time Zone so I haven’t caught a game in more than a week and, oh by the way, they weren’t playing so hot” blues? Well, I don’t know about you, but heading down to the Big A the second the Angels got back in town to watch them beat their biggest division rival soundly worked for me! What a night, what a game! And what’s the best cure for the old “Rangers came back the next day and stomped all over the Angels” blues? I suggest having a selective short term memory – forget about Saturday’s game, relive Friday’s and hope for a better Sunday! So to that end…
All the way down the 57 freeway to the stadium on Friday night Seth and I kept hearing about a playoff atmosphere, and, to be honest, I mocked the radio more than a bit. A playoff atmosphere? Yes, the Angels were facing the Rangers, but for the first of the 13 games before seasons’ end and it’s only July. However, entering the gates it was clear that if the radio announcers were exaggerating, it wasn’t by much. I have never been to a playoff game — a deficiency I’d love the opportunity to correct this season! — but this was definitely close to what I imagine a playoffs atmosphere would feel like. The stadium was packed, the fans were pumped and, behold the icing on the cake, in an unannounced giveaway, the Angels were handing out ThunderStix:
As for the game? Well, this is how the serious playoff contending Angels play as opposed to that other team that shows up sometimes…sometimes, including Saturday. Jered Weaver set the tone early. He got the first batter out only to give up a home run to Elvis Andrus on the next at bat. But did he crumble? Hello, this is Jered Weaver we’re talking about. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time a Ranger crossed the plate that game. Weaver only really got into trouble one more time that game – bases loaded with one out in the 3rd and Josh Hamilton at the plate. But he got himself out of trouble by coaxing Hamilton into a double play. Inning over — hit the road Jack.
The Angels bats were more than ready to follow Weaver’s dominant lead, getting the one run back in the first inning and following it with five more as the game progressed. The TnT boys went off with clutch, productive singles in the early innings and then in spectacular fashion in later innings. Mark Trumbo’s 6th inning TrumBomb was, in essence, a line drive turned run seeking missile over the centerfield fence, much like the hit that made Big Papi bounce up and down like a gleeful child during the Home Run Derby. Mike Trout followed his lead the next inning with an opposite field bomb of his own.
As impressive as TnT was, they shouldn’t completely overshadow the rest of the Angels offense. Albert Pujols, looking every inch the Albert of old, went 3 for 4, advancing runners and scoring a run of his own. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar brought in two runs a piece with clutch hits and a productive out. And so on. I really feel like when the offense is functioning this well as a unit, the Angels are one scary team! So how about we see some more of this offense this week, okay guys?
Much has been made of the Angels “BlowPen” this season, the new version of the “Arson Squad” of old, but I feel like after a very rough initial start, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and some oft discussed key moves, they’ve had more good days than bad. Kevin Jepsen, of all people, has returned from his DL stint in pretty good form. And while it will take a lot more quality relief outings for the Angels Family to stop holding our collective breaths when he takes the mound, he was effective again. Things got a little too exciting when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in the 9th, I guess just to let us all know we shouldn’t take a five run lead for granted…um…thanks? Yeah, no. But still, no runs, no foul. Light that baby up and enjoy the Friday Night Fireworks!
And so the moral of our story is: Hand out ThunderStix…er…I mean TnT Stix every home game for the rest of the season!!! Oh, yeah. And, you know, quality pitching starts and effectively thundering bats are probably a good idea too!
I know that East Coast fans complain about all of those late nights up watching baseball and bleary eyes at work the next morning when their teams play out here in the west. And I feel their pain, really I do. Even so, I can’t help but think that we West Coast fans have it worse when the situation is in reverse, or at least we do during the week. East Coast fans may choose to stay up late if they desire and their constitution allows it, but we West Coast fans cannot choose to skip work. Darned old Bill and Morty, those moochers we all pay off monthly, would protest most mightily. Like a lot of us, my job is not such that I can pay a lot of attention to the game at work, or I wouldn’t get anything done. So my choices when the Angels have a 4 or 5 p.m. PT start are rush home and hope to catch the end of the game, watch it on our DVR or give up completely and check the box scores/play by play and, of course, Quick Pitch later.
When our baseball obsession was less well developed, my husband and I used to opt for the DVR and try not to catch the sports report on NPR on the way home or, in his case, to notice if the halo was lit when passing by the Big A. Honestly, that was tricky enough, but now? Once you start gravitating toward sports radio, add Angels pages to your FaceBook, join twitter and blog, well…seriously, just try not having a clue how the game is going before you turn on that DVR. :) Watching the game on about an hour’s delay at that point is usually acceptable. This is baseball. Short of a blow out, anything can still happen when a game is an hour in. But starting from scratch when the game is nearly over and you already know the score? Yeah. Exactly.
So this season Seth and I find ourselves watching a lot of 8th and 9th innings when the Angels play away series, and trying to piece together the nuances of the rest of that particular game after the fact. Yes, the technology and broadcast options have improved significantly since the time of my youth, giving baseball fans valuable resources undreamed of when I was a child. But, even so, Game Day, Quick Pitch and the like are excellent for conveying big moments, but not so much so for nuances. And the end result is that when the Angels are two time zones away, I feel this weird disconnect from the team. It’s like trying to keep up with a good friend using only FaceBook comments when you’re used to hanging out in person. It’s a lot better than nothing, but really unsatisfying all the same.
Oddly enough, coming back from the All Star break, it seemed like the Angels were feeling their own disconnect. Between the starting rotation doing a mini rotation through the DL and guys getting back into the swing of things, in some cases literally, after four days off, the Angels who appeared in New York just didn’t seem quite like the same Angels who headed into the break, and the box scores showed it. The first game in Detroit was much the same. But, just as I am starting to come out of my own funk knowing that my team will be watchable at rational times starting Friday, the Angels launched a full on Home Run Derby of a victory Tuesday night against the Tigers signaling that their own funk may be blissfully, equally short lived. Hey, I know the starting pitcher was a rookie, but the Angels often fall prey to Yankees syndrome when faced with new pitchers and make them look like a Cy Young candidate upon their first meeting. So, progress!
Of course, what I did catch of today’s game told me that I shouldn’t be overly disappointed about missing the rest of it, so I guess neither of us are completely out of the woods just yet. *sigh* Hey Angels, you know how Bradley Wiggens slowed down his pace in the Tour de France the other day after the sabotage with the tacks so the affected riders could catch back up to their original places, and it was this beautiful, amazing display of sportsmanship that we should all applaud with enthusiasm? Yeah, well, this isn’t that kind of situation at all! This is the AL West pennant race and when the Rangers lose, you shouldn’t go out of your way to lose too. You should win! But I digress…
Even with today’s loss, I think that the Angels are on the right track and will be back to their pre-All Star Break selves by the time they arrive in Anaheim. The starting rotation is coming back together with Jerome Williams and Dan Haren coming off the DL just in time for the next round of games. The bats are clearly functioning – hello, 18 hits, 5 of them home runs just yesterday!! And, to be honest, after the first two awful innings, even in today’s loss it sounds the Angels looked more like themselves, just not soon enough. So, I am quite pumped for the series against the Rangers this weekend. I think it’s going to be something special to watch…and not just because they’re back in the Pacific Time Zone for awhile, though that certainly doesn’t hurt.
So in the current baseball world order, the AL absolutely dominates the Home Run Derby, the NL sometimes allows the AL to score during the All Star Game, but only when they’re feeling especially generous, and the NL also just pretty much owns Ron Washington. Do I have that about right? Oh what a difference a few years makes! And that’s a good thing actually. Sports trends, both winning and losing, are meant to be bucked and dynasties to be crumbled. In the end, it makes all of the teams work harder and the whole thing just that much more fun for the fans.
As for this year’s All Star Game, wow. And, by wow, I mostly mean yikes! And, to a lesser degree, *facepalm* While it did contain many memorable and touching moments, I’m sorry but out and out shellackings are always a snooze fest, especially for the fans rooting for the shellacked. I do understand what I perceive to be Ron Washington’s motivation to allow all of the starters an opportunity to hit before he removed them from the game, and to allow each starting pitcher to finish a full inning, but I just can’t get behind it. Trying to give everyone a chance to really play is an absolutely lovely sentiment…for Little League.
Yes, the All Star Game is an exhibition meant to delight the fans and give the players a chance to share the field with the best of the best among their peers. But it’s also supposed to be a good game. An entertaining game. A game both sides are trying their hardest to win. And then there is that tiny little matter of the All Star Game determining home field advantage in the World Series, the importance of which should be crystal clear to Washington after two very painful demonstrations in as many years. If the team you have on the field isn’t getting it done and you have a dugout full of All Stars at your disposal, you might want to flip some folks out before the 6th inning, or maybe get the pitcher off the mound before he allows that 5th run, even if it is only the 1st inning. I’m just sayin’.
Oh well, at least the Angels All Stars played well. And I do love hearing the MLBN analysts and other national media oohing and aahing over Angels players, especially when it’s so richly deserved this season. Of course, for Angels fans, the highlight has to be the Home Run Derby. TrumBomb. TrumBlast. Heck even TrumBoner. All of these phrases coined by Angels fans and our local media for our hometown hero have now reached the National consciousness as they tripped off the tongues of Derby commentators with increasing frequency and passion while a veritable TrumBlitz assaulted the walls and waterfalls of Kaufmann Stadium.
In fact, while Trumbo placed third in the Derby, I think it’s safe to say that after Monday night, the national baseball viewing public experienced the latter phrase themselves, at least a little bit. Don’t worry, America, you don’t need to call your doctor if it lasts for more than 4 hours. We’re going on two seasons out here in Southern California with only positive side effects. And the best thing about Trumbo’s Home Run Derby performance? What the analysts kept saying of Prince Fielder is just as true for Trumbo, that is his normal, everyday swing. All of those stupendous, crazy, I can’t believe he hit the ball that far and didn’t even fully extend his arms bombs? Yeah. Normal. Let’s just say that batting practices before Angels games are pretty epic.
Anyway, if you’re interested, I wrote more about Mark Trumbo’s Home Run Derby appearance and tackled the dreaded Home Run Derby Curse for the LA Angels Insider blog. If you get the chance, please check it out.
Sunflower & Show Me State Boo Birds
Yeah, I couldn’t very well write an All Star festivities article, however brief, without attacking this divisive subject, now could I? Here’s my 2-cents on Royals fans booing Robinson Cano for the entirety of his Home Run Derby appearance and I would love to get your take on it in the comments, along with your Trumbo Love and other ASG thoughts you may wish to share. My apologies to Billy Butler fans everywhere, but Cano clearly made the correct choices in assembling his Home Run Derby team. The AL team absolutely rocked with the lone exception of Cano himself. Where Cano Royally – pun well and thoroughly intended – f’d up is not in neglecting to include a Royals representative on the team, it was the fact that he had previously indicated he would like to include a Royals representative on the team, that he felt it was the right thing to do, and then neglected to include said Royals representative. Cano never should have made such a comment – or promise depending on your perspective – unless he had every intention of abiding by it.
Okay, so he messed up. Very painful lesson learned. But did the punishment really suit the crime? No, I think it was excessive. I understand why fans booed Cano. I understand why they continued to boo him and to applaud his mounting failure to hit the ball out of the park. I understand that this was funny on some level. In fact, initially, I was laughing. But fans carried the joke way too far. When it was obvious the Cano was floundering. When it became painfully clear that Cano’s poor father – whom I do not believe fans intended to harm or insult in any way – could no longer give his son a decent ball to hit, it was well past time to let up. If fans had booed Cano and yucked it up for the first 5 outs, maybe even the first six, and then stopped, they would have still made their point and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
You know how there’s a fine, fine line between an amusing heckler and an outright bully who makes fans from both sides uncomfortable? For the first four outs, Royals fans were on the amusing heckler side of that divide. But, somewhere between the 4th and 6th outs, they waltzed right over that line and into uncomfortable bully territory, which is even more unfortunate in light of that fact that the rest of the 2012 All Star festivities were 100% classy. While I think that, much like booing Cano for his entire performance, such a punishment would be excessive for this particular crime, Royals fans, don’t be surprised if Bud Selig says this is why you can’t have nice things for another four decades.
(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)
Angels fans woke up yesterday morning to the incredible news that the team will send, not one, not two, but four deserving players to Kansas City for the 2012 All Star Game: Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Trumbo will also lend his increasingly legendary bat to the Home Run Derby and fans still have the chance to send a fifth Angel to Kansas City! Ernesto Frieri is one of five American League players on the ballot for the Final Vote which concludes this Thursday, July 5th. Take that East Coast bias!
Of course, despite Angels fans’ best efforts, none of the honored players were selected in the fan vote. We have the players vote and managerial selection to thank for these well deserved recognitions. Now, obviously fans don’t vote for pitchers and the two most deserving Angels position players this season were each a bit of an odd case. Trout wasn’t called up until April 28th and consequently wasn’t included on the ballot. Trumbo was included on the ballot but as a third baseman, a position at which he only received eight starts none of which, admittedly, were of All Star caliber, unlike his mighty bat and starts in the outfield. But let’s be honest here, even in a season with completely normal circumstances for the highest performing players, can Angels fans ever rely on the fan vote to give their favorite team a fair chance?
Let’s talk about the fan vote. I vividly remember voting for All Stars as a child at Dodgers stadium. (Yes, you read that correctly. I was raised as a Dodger fan. But with time, adulthood and intensive ballpark therapy, I got better. ) All Star ballots were placed on all of the seats and my sister and I would run around in between innings, picking up every unclaimed ballot in our section (after the 4th inning, of course – you know, Dodgers game) so we could vote for every Dodger candidate as many times as possible. I also did the same thing for the Angels players on the AL side of the ballot. My grandfather, whom I adored, was a diehard Angels fan going back to the minor league Angels in the PCL days, so the initial seeds for my eventual love of this team were planted early.
As much as this is kind of an adorable story when we’re talking about a couple of passionate, very young fans in pigtails, it’s also an illustration of exactly what is wrong with the fan vote. How many adult fans approach the All Star Vote with any greater thought or analysis than my sister and I did when we were six and nine? Not nearly enough. Much like my sister and I as children, all too many fans vote for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back. Casual fans vote in droves for uniforms from either the Yankees, who literally have the most recognized sports brand in the word, or from any team that has recently burst into the extremely short memory of the public consciousness, usually with a recent World Series appearance.
This is not to say that the fan vote never makes appropriate selections. Deserving All Stars start every year. But among the deserving there are just as many controversies. Is Mike Napoli, currently batting .238, really the best catcher in the American League right now? Hasn’t Derek Jeter gotten in a few years recently based far more on that fact that he is a walking, talking baseball legend and deservedly so, rather than his current year’s performance? And so on. Not to mention the fact that the fan vote invites ballot stuffing with even less subtlety than the infamous Tammeny Hall political machine of old. While the players vote and managers’ selections are not immune to snubs either, participants seem better able to put away pettier considerations and make more of the right choices.
Unfortunately, MLB can’t do away with the fan vote all together. It’s an important tool for building casual fan interest in the All Star Game and in the second half of the season. As with any sport, there are a lot more casual MLB fans than diehards out there and all of our teams benefit when they come out to the ballpark frequently, catch the game on television regularly and spend as much money as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that MLB can’t change the All Star Game voting format as long as it remains compelling for the fans. With all schedule and format changes already in the works for next season, 2013 is the perfect time to change the format of the All Star Vote and reduce the impact of the fan vote.
Judging from voter turnout, fans enjoy the newer final vote process. Why not make the initial fan vote more like the final fan vote? For example, instead of voting for one player for each position, fans could vote for four players total with no restrictions on their selections. Fans can vote again in a longer format final vote, selecting another four players from an All Star Game manager selected list. In between the two fan votes, the player vote and managers’ selection process will have two more picks than usual (allowing non-fan dictated wiggle room to avoid some of the ‘there was no room him’ controversy) and managers will be allowed to determine their own starting line ups. Part of the fan draw will be tuning in to the All Star Game to see who has the honor of starting, as opposed to already knowing ahead of time. Perhaps a few hints can be given as the game approaches with starting pitchers announced a day or two ahead of time as a teaser.
Of course there will still be controversies. Opinions will always differ and some managers will always be better than others at picking the best players rather than just their own players. However I can’t help but think that, with recent examples of the benefit of home field advantage during the World Series fresh in everyone’s mind, a format that puts more of the All Star Game decisions in the hands of players and managers will lead to better choices. I’d suggest no longer having the All Star Game determine home field advantage for the World Series but, sadly, the likelihood of that even being considered is so inconceivable that it almost makes my voting format change suggestions look possible.