August 2012

Insanity and the Diehard Baseball Fan

Insanity and baseball fans, two concepts that have nothing at all to do with one another…or do they? Remember, “fan” does come from the term fanatic and fanatic comes from the Latin fanaticus, which means a sort of mad, overzealous enthusiasm pertaining to a temple or other sacred place, temple being fanum in Latin. And you know what? I can still see it. Granted, I am more used to hearing ballparks described as America’s cathedrals, but I think temples is an equally apt description. It is, however, a bit cumbersome for a modern definition. The literal definition of lunatic is someone who becomes crazed by and howls at the moon. I tend to think of a fanatic as one who howls at the television set.

My point is simply this. We baseball fans may be mild mannered, well adjusted people in every other aspect of our lives (or we may not), but when it comes to the team we love, we’re all just a little bit cracked…okay, more than a little bit. Check my logic here…

Moving briefly back to the television set, how would describe your relationship with your TV when your team is playing. Personally, I would characterize mine as loud…and so, no doubt, would my neighbors. Now, do you think this whole yelling at inanimate objects thing is rational behavior? Oh, but of course we aren’t really yelling at the inanimate television set itself, now are we? That’s right, we’re yelling at the tiny images of baseball players on the screen…tiny images of baseball players who can’t hear us…because they’re just images, not actual people. You’re right. That does sound so much more rational. ;)

What about believing in the magical power of random objects to affect to affect the outcome of events? Generally, I think most of us would agree this is not a rational thought. When it comes to baseball however, we have lucky shirts, lucky socks, rally caps, the list goes on. And even though on some level we understand that these objects have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the game, who among us hasn’t left the stadium after a painful loss thinking, amidst all of our ‘players/managers/umpires coulda, shoulda, woulda thoughts,’ something along the lines of ‘Next time I’m wearing my lucky hat’ or ‘I knew I shouldn’t have worn this jacket. It’s blue.’?

And do I even need to bring up the rituals? Yeah, why not. We baseball fans often have “lucky” rituals that rival even those held dear by some of the players. Watching the game from a particular bar, or a special seat at the stadium. Partaking in a specific meal or eating only at specific times during the game. I’ve heard it all and I’m sure we all have stories we could share. Myself, I have a special love for punk music that’s heavy on the bagpipes with a dash of fiddle and I’ve been enjoying it immensely today…because this is the first time I’ve listened to it in weeks. See, from about a week before the Angels start playing the Red Sox until they finish playing them for the year, I cannot bring myself to listen to the Dropkick Murphys or anything that sounds even remotely like them. When someone who wouldn’t understand, read a non-baseball fan, asks, I say it’s because it feels disloyal to listen to such Red Sox loving and beloved band. However, the honest answer is that it would feel like I was thumbing my nose at the baseball gods which, much like spitting into the wind and tugging on Superman’s cape is one of those things you just don’t do. Now, when I’m being rational, I know that my musical taste has no impact whatsoever on unrelated events, but once we start talking about baseball… Oh, and yes, of course the baseball gods exist and are a completely rational concept. Why do you ask? ;)

Oh, and there are plenty of other ways in which baseball fans are not, strictly speaking, sane in their love of team. In fact, I’m sure you’ve thought of a few yourself while reading this. So I’m going to leave it that, point proven, mischief managed…except for one more thing:

So, my Angels. Yes, they’re 8.5 games out of first. Yes, even after sweeping the Red Sox for the season series – and oh how sweet that was! – they’re 4 games out of Wild Card contention. Yes, it’s the last day of August and the Angels only have 30 games left to play in the regular season. And, no, I have not given up on the Angels making the post season at all. Is that more than a little irrational bordering on crazy? Perhaps. But, hello? Baseball fan! Did you not just read my post? Crazy and irrational is at the very core of our being.

 

 

 

Hey, These Angel Guys are Pretty Good Again! + Bartolo, Melky, What the Hell Were You Thinking?

So, don’t look now but after a home stand that can best be described with adjectives such as embarrassing, depressing and maddening (and that’s only if one has accepted the challenge of trying to describe it without resorting to profanity) the Angels are looking pretty good again, sweeping the Red Sox at Fenway and starting their battle with Detroit on the right foot. Did they need to get out of town? Did someone finally say just the right thing in a closed door meeting? Are there life sized cut outs of the MLBN analysts who’ve written the Angels off lurking somewhere in the clubhouse with “You Guys Stink!!” voice bubbles and sectioned, peel away suits and ties? Whatever it is (and if it’s that last item, pray that no one decides to tweet photos. *shudders*) I don’t care just so long as they keep playing to win, and hopefully continuing to smooth over a few still rough edges as they go.

Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and Zack Greinke all looked like more like themselves again (in Santana’s case, it was his Dr. Ervin self, thankfully ;) ). Sadly, so did C.J. Wilson – his post All Star Game Break self that is. He’s got to find a way to deal with that and he’s a smart guy so I still have hope, if not for this season than for next. But the offense picked Wilson up like a good offense should and, in truth, has looked great this whole road trip so far. As for the Bullpen…well…they’re trying. Yes, I know, sometimes very. But other times they’ve been stellar. I still feel like we’re in a “roll a pair of D-10s to see if the bullpen self destructs” kind of situation each time a new reliever comes out, but as more of the rolls, so to speak, come up positive so, more and more frequently, does my attitude each time they take the mound. Keep it up guys, it’s certainly no longer “a long season” be there’s still just enough season left to make a real go of it!

And now for something completely different, we pause for a brief steroid rant…

So, let me get this straight Bartolo Colon. You decide to get stem cell therapy to rejuvenate your arm, a therapy so new and unorthodox that MLB officials are all over it, studying the procedure and checking out the doctors, to make sure it doesn’t involve anything that is against the rules. And you have to know that between the new therapy itself, your amazing displays of youthful prowess on the mound and the fact that you keep touting the therapy, MLB will be watching you like a hawk. I would assume there were even extra mandatory drug tests involved but even if they were just the usual number of drug tests, in the middle of all of this you decide that taking outlawed Performance Enhancing Drugs is a smart thing to do?? *facepalm*

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like at this point in our story Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should be piping up with confused, questioning looks and a hearty “it slipped in”? Nah. That would make the “logic” Bartolo applied in arriving at this bonehead decision sound too intelligent. So I’m just going to go back to my original pronouncement over Twitter: Dumbass! And don’t even get me started on Melky Cabrera and his “associate”. A fake website to prove that the PEDs you took could have been taken accidentally? Only if former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, he of the imfamous series of tubes, was in charge of the investigation would this have stood a chance in hell of working. But even then an intern or, you know, a child with a few minutes of time on their hands, probably would have figured it out. So, I say thee Dumbass again.

Gentlemen, an old friend has a saying that I particularly like. “If you can’t be good, be good at it.” Now, when it comes to steroid use, I strongly believe that you should be good and just not take the junk in the first place. However, once you’ve made the, at least in this case misguided, decision not to be good, could you at least try to be smarter about how you go about doing it?! Because this level of dumb crime would have been rejected by the Scooby Doo staff writers as too unbelievably stupid for the kiddies to buy.

Of Mark Trumbo, Fan Passion & Team Jerseys

Rather than dwelling on a significantly less than stellar game in this post, I would prefer to share a cute fan story. (Besides, Weaver’s on the mound tonight, so I’m sure tonight will be much better!) Cut back to December of this past offseason. My husband Seth and I were talking a lot of baseball. Oh, we do that during the season too, but we tend to talk about it even more when there’s no actual baseball to be had. Neither of us had been keen on the idea of the Angels signing Albert Pujols when it was just so much chatter and speculation because, while he is an amazing player, we were concerned about what that huge contract would do to the team long term. Once the deal actually happened, and news went public about the Angels new deal with Fox, however, we were ecstatic. That was like having your cake and eating it too. But then the Mark Trumbo trade talk started and it sounded serious…

Mark Trumbo at bat. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

It wasn’t a matter of not wanting Pujols on the team and it certainly wasn’t a matter of thinking Trumbo should play first instead of Pujols. I mean, come on. We’re talking about Albert Pujols. Of course we wanted Pujols to play 1st. My point, argued quite loudly and passionately even if it was only to a room consisting of just Seth and I and our two giant cats, was that if offense has been a problem – and ooooh we all know it had been a problem – no matter how big a bat you just signed, the idea of trading away one of the only other productive bats in the lineup is ludicrous. A functional offense requires several big, productive bats so, somehow, you need to find a place in the lineup for all of those bats.

Now when it comes to our shared baseball fandom, both Seth and I are passionate Angels fans but I’m usually the loud, ranty, speech giving one. Seth isn’t an overly reserved fan by any means. He yells and cheers. He understands, appreciates, and loves. But he does not, strictly speaking, rant…usually. And he does not normally latch passionately on to a specific, favorite player. I tend to reel off a list of about six to twelve Angels when asked about my favorite current player and Seth has a similar, somewhat but not completely overlapping list. So imagine my surprise when Seth literally stood up and passionately declared:

“If they trade that kid, after everything he did for us last season…*indignantly incredulous pause*…if they trade that kid, I am going to buy his first All Star Game jersey – of which there will be many!! – and wear it to every. Single. Angels game. We go to.”

Oh, really? (Not to mention, ‘Oh my! Crash…’ ;) ) Yeah, I literally applauded him when he finished. It was beautiful! So, when July rolled around and Mark Trumbo, still every inch an Angel thank you very much, made his first All Star Game, you know what I had to do, right? Exactly! August 16th was Seth’s birthday and when he unwrapped my present he found a bright blue, All Star Game 2012 batting practice jersey with the number 44 and Trumbo on the back. I wish I’d taken a photo of his smile, but I was too busy enjoying the ensuing bear hug.

Mark Trumbo ASG Jersey. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Folks out there in long term relationships? I am sure you will nod and smile right along with me when I say that no matter how much you love your S.O. and no matter how well you know them, you are not going to ace every present you give them. I mean, come on, every birthday present? Every Christmas present? Every anniversary/just because/whatever else you celebrate with gifts present? Even if you are an absolutely brilliant gift giver, some of them are bound to be only so so and one or two will even outright bomb. But this birthday? Oh yeah. I aced it! ;)

What a Difference a Win Makes! …Especially After the Angels’ Terrible Week.

“I love winning, man. I fucking love winning. You know what I’m sayin’? It’s like, better than losing!”

…because truly there is an appropriate Bull Durham quote for just about every situation in baseball and in life and that little gem is my quote for today for obvious reasons. Coming off of an awful weekend at the end of a terrible week, Angels players and fans alike badly needed last night’s victory over the Indians and, if my sigh of relief was any indication, the whole of the Angels family slept a lot more relaxed last night than they have in days. Why was this win so cathartic? Well, let us review.

It was the week so bad even Jered Weaver couldn’t salvage a win!!!

Jered Weaver was not at his best, but not at his best is still a quality start. The team needed to pick him up and didn’t. Let’s hope games like that are all behind us now. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Doesn’t that sound like it should be the tag line from an episode of the Twilight Zone? Trust me, I was at Sunday’s game and that description is apt. It wasn’t horror movie scary – my understanding is that that would better describe Saturday’s game during which, in hind sight, I am glad I was busy – but it was disturbing and surreal down to the umpires’ calls.

Mark Trumbo began finding his swing again on Sunday a most welcome sight for fans even if it didn’t lead to any runs. Quiet Angels bats were a huge part of the problem Sunday and have done as much damage this season than starting pitching or the bullpen. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mariners ourfielders Trayvon Robinson, Michael Saunders and Eric Thames wait out a pitching change. You wanna talk surreal? Isn’t it beyond weird not seeing Ichiro out there? Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

In a nutshell, Jered Weaver had a bad day. Big deal. It’s bound to happen a handful of times in any given season. And it wasn’t even that bad of a day, if you think about it. He gave up three runs. Okay, for Weaver, that’s a pretty bad day because usually any team getting more than one off him should consider it their lucky day. But, still. Three runs. This was a quality start, a winnable game…unless, of course, your team had to beg, borrow and steal just to get one run. Can’t win if you don’t score. And then the Bullpen, who had performed admirably in a string of games leading up to this point, gave up another run just to add insult to injury.

Mark Trumbo fields the pickoff attempt as John Jaso dives back to first. This would have been a much better photo if I could say we got him out or the Mariners stranded him but, no, he went on to score another run, his second that day. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Bobby Wilson takes a swing – included because Bobby Wilson got a hit which always makes me happy (I tend to root extra hard for guys who bust their ass trying to be an everyday player), I was there and, just take a look, his swings that at bat were gorgeous. …Sadly he was out moments later on a fielder’s choice. Story of the game. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, Weaver suffered only his second loss of the season. The loss would not even be worth noting beyond that fact if it wasn’t a mid August game in the middle of an Angels slump fit to give any fan pause…if it wasn’t for the fact that poor Angels pitching had been contributing to team losses at an alarming rate including throughout the week leading up to this game and then the team turned around and squandered a quality start…if not for the fact that fans could watch the division and wild card race distances growing with each game. But it was all of those things, oh and then the Angels turned around and did pretty much the same thing on Monday with C.J. Wilson on the mound. Ugh!

Ernesto Frieri fires one towards the plate. Ernasty was a little less than truly nasty Sunday, giving up a run. This is a problem that has plagued every member of the bullpen on an off all season. Fortunately, by Tuesday’s game he looked just like his usual nasty, bat missing self. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Howie Kendrick leads off third after hitting a triple. With a hit and a walk that eventually scored the Angels’ lone run for the day, Kedrick had a pretty good game. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, it was a week and a weekend so bad that many Angels fans declared the season over in frustration. I left the game Sunday tweeting something to the effect of ‘I have never declared a season over until making the post season becomes a mathematical impossibility and I’m not about to start now’, and I stand by that. However improbable it may seem, I have hope unless it becomes literally mathematically impossible. So with that context, imagine my joy at seeing everything working right for the Angels last night, even with a few bobbles. Zack Greinke looked great. And if he gave up one too many runs for a quality start, no matter, the offense and some great fielding picked him up and even offset a scary bullpen moment from the usually reliable LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, it was probably more cathartic for fans to see a win that happened with a few mishaps because it was starting to feel like the Angels couldn’t win unless they had near perfection on their side. True, it’s only one win. However, the way the team looked making it happen I see much more of that in the Angels future. Which brings us back to my post’s opening quote…because…well…seriously, could anyone capture the feeling better than Nuke LaLoosh did? I think not!

So, on that note, let me leave you with a few photos that will make you smile…well, they make me smile :) :

Totally inspiring: the Angels division and World Series champion flags fly proudly in centerfield. I think the team needs a few more of these, how about you? Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mike Trout takes off for second base as Mike Carp lookes on…ultimately it was a foul ball, but Trout still leads the league in stolen bases and entertaining facial expressions. Trout was in a mini slump at this point. Even his swing looked wrong but, if Tuesday night was any indication, even Trout’s slumps are crazy fast. He seems to have regained his swing and overcome his difficulties. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mark Trumbo mostly kept a straight face but he had John Jaso cracking up on first base. Given the amount of laughter they could only have been talking about Plate Umpire Mike Eastabrook’s strike zone. Seriously? He tossed Mike Butcher? In the 1st inning? Butch never gets tossed. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Angels Aces: Both Smokin’ and Not So Much So Lately

Ace (ās) noun

1) A playing card, die, or domino having one spot or pip.

2) A military aircraft pilot who has destroyed five or more enemy aircraft.

3) An expert in a given field.

4) A starting pitcher who confounds opposing batters deep, deep into the game, giving his/her team everything they need to win.

5) A starting pitcher with the power to bring his/her team’s losing streak to a crashing halt with the power of one start.

6)

Jered Weaver, Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Yeah, that last one’s my favorite definition too!!

Jered Weaver is having a Cy Young worthy season so far and currently leads the league in wins, E.R.A. and WHIP – though he is uncharacteristically lagging in strike outs – and if it weren’t for that one awful start in Texas his lead in each of those categories would be sizable indeed. Oh yeah, and then there is the little matter of that No Hitter. Jered Weaver is an Angels Ace and then some!

So what’s the problem? Well, as any Angels fan can tell you, going into the season we all thought our team had Weaver plus another 2.5 starting pitchers who could fit the definition of Ace – the 1/2 ace being Ervin Santana because, well, some years he’s ace-like, other years he’s really not. And the season sure started out that way. No, really. It absolutely did! Remember? C.J. Wilson had as many or slightly more wins than Weaver throughout April and May, and poor Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were pitching their hearts out but seemingly couldn’t buy runs from our offense to save their lives? The Angels scored three runs for Santana in his first start and not a single run after that for his next five starts? Okay, good. I see this is starting to ring a bell.

Then Mike Trout came up from AAA, Albert Pujols became comfortable at the plate and how, and the offense got hot. So naturally the Angels’ stellar starting pitching began to…suffer just about every Murphy’s Law calamity in the book. Hence the problem: what started out looking like four Aces and a more than decent number five starter became one Ace and four clubs…as in balls clubbed over the fence both at a fair clip and in startling quantities. Queue the little girl from Strictly Ballroom: My, that was unexpected!

So what do you do with a situation like that? Well, lately the answer is ‘not win a whole heck of a lot.’ Granted, the starting pitching situation is far from being the Angels only problem at present but it is a pretty big one. Fortunately, it’s one I think could right itself in the next few starts. Not definitely will, but could – and I’m 75% certain that ain’t just my inner Pollyana talkin’. Check my logic. Clearly there are no problems with Weaver. And as for newly acquired and thus far winless Angels starter Zack Greinke? Well, the winless part isn’t entirely his fault and, more importantly, he’s Zack Greinke. He should settle down eventually and be just fine…though also scoring runs for him when he pitches well would still be a nice gesture on the part of the offense. Haren looks much healthier and is pitching much better since his DL stint and seems more willing to listen to his body, witness his delaying his 2nd start back. To my eye, he’s still not getting the full back extension at the point of release that he used to. (And there are probably other changes I don’t see. I am sooooo not a pitching coach.) I suspect this is a question of unlearning the newer mechanics his back troubles dictated he adopt for the first half of the season. I have hope that this can happen quickly provided he doesn’t reinjure himself.

Now Santana and Wilson are the big questions marks for me. Santana actually did look a lot better in his last start which was intentionally limited to 15 outs. This thrilled me to no end, but I’m aware it’s a small sample size. Tonight’s game will be very telling. As for Wilson, he’s had problems with fading in the second half for as long as he’s been a starter – ask any Rangers fan. If I were C.J. Wilson, knowing this, I would curtail my non baseball hobbies starting after the All Star Break through Halloween. It couldn’t hurt and very likely might help. We know the closed door meeting he just had with the managers was supposedly about finding the strike zone rather than nibbling, but I wonder if it didn’t touch on this subject as well? If it didn’t, they really should be discussing this and soon. This also seems like a fixable problem if everyone, including C.J., has the right attitude about it.

Anyway, the Angels are just plain frustrating right now – a subject I touched on with a bit of whimsy at L.A. Angels Insider, if you’re interested. But they are far from being hopeless and if the starting pitching can get back to realizing its potential soon, suddenly the Angels become post season hopefuls all over again.

 

Editor’s Note: It is still a small sample size but Ervin Santana looked pretty good to me last night. Oh, he did have one very bad inning to be sure, but he started out with a 1-2-3- inning and then recovered from the bad one to not allow another run for the next 4 and change. Oh, and the Bullpen also had a great night. So. We’ve got that going for us… ;)

The Late July/Early August Angels’ Jekyll and Hyde Routine

In their last 5 games, the Angels have:

  • Scored 46 runs!
  • Allowed the opposing team to score 44 runs.
  • Hit 15 home runs!
  • Allowed the opposing team to hit 10 home runs.
  • Struck out 30 batters!
  • Were struck out 48 times.
  • Came from behind to tie or pull into the lead so many times, they reminded me of the 2009 Angels who were among the league leaders in that regard.
  • Blew the lead so frequently that none of those comebacks amounted to anything.
  • Beat the division leading Rangers 2 times, one of which was more of a good old-fashioned shellacking.
  • Lost to the division leading Rangers 2 times and the White Sox once, just for good measure.
  • Left 40 guys on base.
  • Went to the bullpen 16 times – 4 times apiece in the last three games.
  • Moved out of 3rd place (yay!) to tie the A’s for 2nd.
  • Shot past the A’s to a 2nd place that was just 3 games out of 1st place.
  • Sank right back into 3rd place one game further out of 1st than they started.
  • Brought me to my feet cheering repeatedly.
  • Sat me right back down again in exasperation complete with loud expletives and an annoyed fist bump on the table for good measure repeatedly.

Wow! There is an inordinate amount of both !!! and #$@! in that list. Come to think of it, I suppose this is true in different ways both for Angels fans and for fans of the opposition. So what on Earth are we supposed to make of a crazy, simultaneously hot and cold, brilliant upside, scary downside team like this? I would say that the Angels really need to get key players back off the DL in top form, or top August form at any rate, and figure out what’s broken with the starting rotation and fix it. This list just illustrates what those who have been watching the games already know – so many important pieces, essential to having a shot at the post season are already present, accounted for and how in the way the Angels are playing right now.

However, the sick and amazing bullpen of a few weeks ago has become a sick and ailing bullpen in the absence of Scott Downs. As much as Andrew Romine looks like he can fill a big league short stop’s shoes in a few seasons, the defense and the base paths are both missing Erick Aybar. Recent, blessedly brief, stints with various strains for Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo did the lineup no favors. And the starting rotation is kind of, sort of, maybe just starting to come together…maybe. But Dan Haren did push back another start due to back issues. (On the one hand, way to go Danny for admitting you’re hurting and taking the steps you need to fix it. On the other hand, ouch. We need him back strong and we need him back now.) Ervin Santana is restricted to three innings until he can get his head straight. And Zack Greinke, if the small sample size of the last two starts are any indication, is still working through his home vs. road issues, though I do admire a pitcher who toughs out a bad few innings and finishes strong.

The other thing I would take from this Jekyll and Hyde list is that the Angels season future is unclear. I know that a lot of folks saying it’s over now, that this Rangers series was the “the moment” and the Angels blew it. But I don’t buy that. Oh, I believe in momentum, but I also think that trying to pick out what “the moment” is in any season as it’s happening is impossible. It’s a little too much like writing history as it happens. Oh, plenty of people do write history as it happens and I can tell you as a history major that historians do value such analysis…but as primary source documents not as their intended purpose. The 2012 season is moving quickly. But we do have two solid months of baseball left and, for the Angels, much of that baseball will be played in the AL West. If they can get some guys back or start playing around their absence with more grace, well, anything is still possible.

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