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.
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.
As I mentioned just before the Freeway Series, part one, I had the opportunity to crash Matt’s Think Blue Weekly PodCast for the Freeway Series episode. At the end of the Podcast, Matt, his podcast partner and I all made predictions about the Freeway Series outcome. My prediction? The Angels will take the series 4 to 2 and, would you look at that? Actually, if we had not been so pressed for time at the end, I was also going to predict that the Angels would drop one game at each stadium (yup and, sadly, I attended both of them) and that those games would be the one pitched by Santana (yup, though not for the reason I expected) and the one pitched by Garrett Richards (well, we can’t be right about everything. Richards wound up pitching two Freeway Series games because of a few starting rotation oddities, earned wins in both appearances and looked pretty darned convincing while doing it).
But the most important prediction of all was that it was going to be a fun series and, indeed, it was, the highlight of another Angels dominate interleague season and continued Freeway Series bragging rights. Sorry Dodgers! …except, you know, not really.
Anyway, here are a few important Angels trends that either emerged or intensified during Interleague:
Mike Trout is a beast! No. You’re not listening to me. Mike Trout. Is. A. Beast!! Seriously, even more so than we already knew. Called up on April 28th, Trout took off running – very, very fast indeed – coming into his own almost immediately. Then somehow during interleague play, he played even better. The 20-year old rookie lead all AL players during this time with 30 hits, 21 runs scored and 15 stolen bases, dropping onto the AL batting average leaders list like a bomb in 2nd place on the first day that he qualified. He has since moved into first place just above Paul Konerko. So, in response to that weird Bleacher Report ‘hey, could the Dodgers trade for Mike Trout’ talk over the weekend, I sincerely hope that I speak for Jerry Dipoto when I say, ‘that’s a clown question, Bro, now excuse me while I laugh uproariously.’ (Editor’s Note: Thank you, Bryce Harper, for gifting us all with this decidedly not cliché gem. I hope you keep your spirited way with words throughout your career.)
The starting rotation is taking the rotation part of their name a little too literally for anyone’s tastes, but it’s all working. Jered Weaver is back off the DL and looked great in his first outing. Ervin Santana had a few rough at bats at the beginning of his last outing, then got mean and delivered a 10 strikeout gem that should have won him the game. Unfortunately, Jerome Williams was hospitalized with breathing problems after his last outing and went on the 15 day DL. Although it sounds like Williams is ready to come back roughly as soon as he is eligible, this still could have been a disaster without Garrett Richards stepping in to fill his shoes. Like I said, it’s an overly rotating rotation, but it’s working.
Angels bats are hot, hot, hot…except when they’re not. When they’re not, other things don’t click well either and the team has a hard time winning. Fortunately, the downswings through spells of cooling bats seem to take a lot less time to recover from these days before someone – Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, etc. – gets hot again and brings the rest of the offense back online with them.
Oh the errors, when they happen they happen in groups. The Angels have several players getting limited playing time at the moment and when they come in, not shockingly there are some issues with rust and errors. Peter Bourjos seems to be able to do this right, bounding around the outfield, running down every ball in site like a happy puppy whose owners finally let him really run, in those late innings and occasional games where he gets a start. Though, even in the case of Bourjos, there’s a little bit of rust on that fine arm. Anyway, this situation is partly to blame for Maicer Izturis’ errors in the Saturday game. Why Sciosia didn’t stick with Alberto Callaspo who had a great game on Friday makes little sense to me. I am absolutely not advocating a return to the ever varying, magic 8 ball, lineup, but it would be nice if something could be done to keep the utility guys ready to come in and play off the bench. Food for thought as we move into July.
The bullpen not only wasn’t scary, they were good. Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Latroy Hawkins were already good. But now Frieri and Downs have the best combined ERA for any pitching duo currently in the majors (with the requisite number of innings pitched, yada, yada, yada). But it isn’t just those three stalwarts. Hisanori Takahashi, Jason Isringhausen and Jordan Walden all delivered consistent solid innings as well, a trend which could make all the difference in the months ahead.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Angels are still 4.5 games behind Texas in the AL West. (Though, hey, at least for the moment they’re 1st in the running for the 2nd Wild Card spot.) Now, 4.5 games may seem like it’s still a lot, but here’s this thing, even if you aren’t buying the ‘we’re only just getting to the All Star Break’ argument, the Angels still have 12 games left against Rangers including, per recent tradition, the last three of the season. Suddenly, 4.5 games doesn’t seem like much, does it?
And now we conclude our time here on this post with, Fun With Captions! (In my mind, that has a Pigs in Space worthy bit of theme music heraldng it, just so you know. ):
(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.)
It all started with an absolute dearth of run support — because if what the rest of the Angels’ starting rotation experienced early in the 2012 season was a lack of run support, then clearly we must resort to stronger vocabulary when describing the strange case of Ervin Santana. In his first six starts of 2012, the team scored exactly three runs for Santana and all three of those came during his rocky first start against the Royals. The end result was an 0 and 6 record that belied his steady improvement over that time period which culminated in two quality starts, including the final game of that stretch wherein he struck out 10.
Unfortunately for Santana and our impressions of his season, his quality starts only overlapped with the Angels improving offense for two wins in May before his control slipped again. Then Santana began having entirely different issue with runs, namely with giving them up, frequently in the form of early inning bombs launched solidly into the stands. After a dismal performance in Colorado that can only partially be blamed on the stadium’s notorious altitude, fans had all but forgotten any quality starts.
But just as more and more fans were calling for a change, ‘Hey, that Garrett Richards kid looks pretty good. Once Jered Weaver comes off the DL, couldn’t we…’ Santana threw everyone a curve, pitching a one-hit shutout against the D-Backs that for six and two-thirds glorious innings was perfect in every sense of the word. Okay, so what do you do with a conundrum like that? It’s the strange case of Ervin Santana, indeed.
We all know the Angels’ most likely answer. Sometime this week, perhaps even as I post these thoughts, Jered Weaver will come off of the DL and Garrett Richards will head back to AAA. The Angels typically back the veteran, but in this case I don’t think fans should take issue with the decision. Yes, the four games leading up to Saturday’s gem were ugly, but Saturday didn’t happen in a vacuum. Lost amid the Angels’ April and early May offensive woes were enough strong starts to indicate that Santana’s latest flirtation with control issues, however hot and heavy it may have seemed, is just the same old on again, off again fling he’s had his entire career and not an all encompassing, season long relationship.
Looking at Santana’s record for the last four seasons, he heats up with the weather, giving the Angels strong Julys and Augusts, even during seasons where he’s struggled. I’m not saying that every start is going to be sunshine and rainbows from here on out but, given the near perfection we just witnessed, I think the Angels would be foolish not to at least see what late June and July have in store. If this weekend turns out to be an aberration and Santana’s control reverts to Colorado-like performances, it’s not like they can’t bring Richards (who pitched his own weekend gem) back up again.
Besides, we Angels fans know how our team has a tendency to torture…er…thrill…um, er…thrillingly torture?…us with more excitement in the eighth and ninth innings than is strictly necessary even at the best of times. Smart fans stocked up on plenty of antacid back in March. You know, just in case…
One of the best things about starting this blog has definitely been my interactions with fellow bloggers. You are all amazing, inspiring writers and a lot of fun to read, the perfect accompaniment to any baseball season good or bad. And, in the last few weeks, two fun opportunities have come my way as a result of these interactions.
Our colleague Matt, who writes the kickass Dodgers MLBlog Dodger Familia Thoughts, hosts a Live Radio/Podcast called Think Blue Weekly on Blog Talk Radio. He has invited me to join him for a special Freeway Series episode this Sunday at 8 pm PT. So, if you would like to hear me embarrass myself in public – I’m very much a blogger not a talker – or, more importantly, check out Matt’s work, tune in at this webpage http://www.blogtalkradio.com/think-blue-weekly on Sunday.
In other news, in addition to this blog I am now a columnist with L.A. Angels Insider, a much larger, well respected member of the Halosphere. Please check them out!
As for the Angels, ah, Interleague! Interleague play is back in full swing for 2012 which means, of course, that the Angels are on a tear. I’m one of those odd duck baseball fans who actually enjoys Interleague play – teams playing at highly unusual venues, DC/Marvel comic mash up worthy matchups, AL pitchers batting, need I say more? The fact that the Angels happen to kick ass at Interleague play is merely the icing on the cake – rich, delicious, cream cheese butter cream icing thickly slathered over every inch of the cake’s exterior and in between each moist layer, mind you, but the icing never the less.
Just a couple of random thoughts from the weekend:
- So far Colorado has been good for most Angels batting averages but it has truly been the Trouty and Torii Show! Those two need their own theme song to accompany a montage of their hits and feats of daring do from the series so far. Maybe it could be kind of like M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, only punctuated with the sounds of clobbered baseballs flying off of wooden bats instead of machine guns.
- Sometime closer, sometime setup man Ernesto Frieri has proven that he is in fact human, having given up two hits as an Angel now, but continues to blow away the competition. Okay, so two guys reached first. It’s not like it did them any good. Listening to MLBN rehash Brandon McCarthy’s ‘Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ tweet it occured to me that what he should have tweeted was ‘Frieri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ because unlike Siri, Ernasty knows how.
- So Albert Pujols can play third and Kendrys Morales looked pretty darned good at first, all things considered. Neither is a great long term option at this time. Besides, I seem to remember hearing something about Pujols’ throwing elbow having issues when he spends too much time at third. Cardinals fans or other longtime Pujols fans, care to confirm, deny, or otherwise elaborate? But it’s nice to know that the Angels do have this option. And, yes I’m a softy, but seeing Kendrys’ huge grin over getting to play in the infield once again, however briefly, was touching and sweet.
- LaTroy Hawkins is back from the DL and he looked pretty darned good! Welcome back good sir. The bullpen has been trying valiantly in your absence with some definite success – and some scarier moments I’d rather not remember sufficiently to write about them – but we need every good arm we can get! And Jered Weaver is expected to throw off the mound on Monday and return from the DL on schedule. Reportedly his back feels fine now. I pretty much want to just type ‘yay’ over and over again with many, many exclamation points, filling this page The Shining-style but, you know, in a psycho happy way instead of just a psycho way over that bit of news, but I’ll spare you…for now. Once he’s officially back with the team, I make no guarantees.
Wednesday evening, as Mark Trumbo’s broken bat fly ball arced into the glove of Yankee left fielder Dewayne Wise for the game’s final out, I experienced a brief flush of disappointment. But a rush of pride followed so quickly on disappointment’s heels and so powerfully, that I stood up in my living and gave the Angels a standing ovation of one. No, this is not my usual reaction to an Angels loss, far from it. But after that streak? A thrillingly fun eight game winning streak that was revitalizing to players and fans alike? I could do no less.
When I’ve worried and complained about the Angels this season, it’s primarily been about the team’s lack of fight – their missing swagger and the propensity of all too many players to seem as though they had given up the minute the Angels fell behind. Well, 8 wins and 40 runs on 75 hits with plenty of successful comeback moments later and that sense of defeat is gone. Everyone is fighting hard to win and the team has well deserved swagger to spare. In short, these are the Angels we have been waiting for all season. Judging from the grins and playful, loose expressions on the field, these are the Angels the players have been trying to be all season too. Now if that doesn’t deserve a standing O, then I don’t know what does.
So now the streak has come to end, as all great streaks eventually must, and I am still filled with a sense of possibility for this team. I mean, seriously – from last place to second place while cutting a significant swath through the number of games by which we trail Texas all with one streak? If the Angels keep playing like this, anything is possible, though I would still advocate a play for and enjoy each game as it comes philosophy. Hey, ‘we gotta play it one game at a time’ is cliché for a reason.
After the Angels last series against Texas, I wrote “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 I still absolutely believe this to be true. But while the conclusion I drew a few weeks ago was one of disappointment and questions, today I can’t help but smile and feel that the Angels are meeting this criteria.
In the month of May we lost Jered Weaver, Chris Iannetta, LaTroy Hawkins, Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans to the DL and Torii Hunter to family issues back home (which is having your priorities straight in my book). Losing your ace, your primary catcher, one of your more reliable bullpen arms and the majority of the outfield would have been enough reason for any team to crumple. Instead, these Angels rose to the occasion, bringing us to our feet like we’ve been dying to do all season. How the team continues to play with these missing teammates is going to be another test. The starting rotation in particular has some big shoes to fill with Weaver on the DL – literally as well as figuratively, he is 6’ 7”. But unlike I might have felt in early April, I feel strongly that these guys are up to the challenge. And, honestly, the way the team handled the loss on Wednesday spoke volumes more to me even than the way they handled their wins through the streak.
Ervin Santana started out shaky and then went from shaky to downright bad in the 3rd, giving up 5 runs. Again, bad starts happen even to great pitchers. It’s all in how the team responds, and this team responded by fighting their heart out. Some clutch hits here, a Trumbomb there, a couple of heads up defensive plays over there and suddenly the Angels have tied it up, are very much back in the game and Santana has sufficiently remastered his control to give the team 1-2-3 innings in the 4th and the 5th before retiring. Yes, we wound up losing that one, but when a team shows that much fight and spirit to the end in a near win, there are going to be a lot more actual wins in their future.
And now we find ourselves face to face with Texas for another series, this time at the Big A. I don’t know about you, but I am so excited I’m having a hard time working today – but I’m pushing to get stuff done anyway. I have tickets for Saturday’s game and am likely to cave on my self-imposed one game per home stand rule and nab tickets for Sunday’s game as well given even the slightest push. This series is not do or die yet, but the Angels certainly have an opportunity to make a statement here. I have no idea what the outcome will be but, as long as these Angels are the team that takes the field, we are all truly looking forward to three great games!
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.