(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.
I probably should not let my mood rise and fall based on the results of the latest Angels game. That way lies a certain sort of madness I suppose…or perhaps just strong fanaticism. But darned if I wasn’t more than a little mopey after last weekend’s debacle. And, now that the Angels have won two in a row with strong bats making an appearance, darned if I’m not grinning from ear to ear…of course the fact that we’re leaving for San Diego tomorrow morning to catch the Angels/Padres series might have something to do with my mood as well. But before we embark on what I hope will be a nice long streak of giddy making wins, there is a little unpleasant business this blogger should attend to:
Bye Mickey Hatcher
The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher Tuesday evening and, I have to admit, I’m pleased. Oh, not for the reasons you might think. This isn’t another ‘Dancing in the streets, Ding Dong the Hatch is Gone’ Angels blog post. I was never particularly in the ‘Fire Hatcher, he’s the bane of our existence’ camp. Look, since 2010 the Angels offense has been dismal to put it kindly and Angels fans readily place the blame on Hatcher. But the thing is, before the 2010 season the Angels offense was pretty darned good for a few years there, at least from a batting average and overall effectiveness standpoint if not from a frightening power standpoint. I vividly remember a few games late in the 2009 season where the entire Angels starting lineup was batting at or over .300. Crazy good! And if we’re going to blame Mickey Hatcher for the bad times, doesn’t it only stand to reason that we credit him for the good times? I mean, it’s not as if either apex of the pendulum was a brief moment in time such that one might characterize it as a fluke.
But, here we are in May 2012 and while the offense had shown brief flashes of teasing hope heading into Tuesday, it still looked like the third season in a row of wildly swinging but otherwise quiet bats. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Angels lack of recent championships occurred simultaneously with the lack of offense. Do I think this is Hatcher’s fault? No. I don’t think he “ruins” swings or there would be no way to explain the seasons before 2010. And ultimately whatever the hitting coach is or is not doing, whatever the team’s strategy and hitting philosophy, the burden is on the players to get in the batter’s box and make contact with the ball.
But I also think it’s clear that Hatcher wasn’t equipped to fix the current situation or we would have seen strong signs of a breakthrough long before now. Over the weekend against the Rangers you could see how much the team has internalized the situation as they started to noticeably despair the moment the Rangers pulled ahead. When a problem gets this convoluted and existing personnel can’t solve it, it’s time to bring in fresh ideas and a new point of view, not because existing staff are to blame for causing the problem or aren’t good at their job under normal circumstances but specifically because they are no longer an effective fit for the job under the current circumstances. On the one hand, I’m sorry to see Hatcher go. He’s a good guy who cares a lot about the team and the team in turn owes him thanks for the good years. But on the other hand I am pleased that Jerry Dipoto recognized the severity of the offense problem and didn’t let the team flounder for another full season without trying something radical. Do I think this solves the Angels problems? I certainly hope so!! But bringing in a fresh point of view is never a guarantee of good results.
Regardless, the Angels offense sure looked good Tuesday and positively exciting on Wednesday to the joy and relief of Halos fans everywhere. Now, a lot of fans are already cheering on new hitting coach Jim Eppard, freshly promoted from AAA Salt Lake City, and congratulating him on our seemingly revitalized bats. But, seriously people, that’s just plain silly. However good Eppard may eventually be for the team, no one walks off the plane and magically turns two plus seasons of weak offense around in less than 24 hours. It could be a sort of placebo effect, relief over someone finally making a radical move to help, just one of those inexplicable things or even some delayed positive result of Hatcher’s influence, though that would be sad considering the situation. Whatever the reason, hitting is contagious and I sincerely hope that Eppard’s fresh presence, methods and point of view are able to help coax this initial hitting outbreak into a full blown virulent offensive epidemic…or, you know, just not stand in the way while it happens of its own accord because, sometimes, that is the most effective thing a leader can do.
Keep it going guys! Interleague is nigh and you know what that traditionally means for the Angels!
Have You See This Centerfielder?
Wednesday was Peter Bourjos bobble head night but somehow I really think that Bourjos would have preferred to be in the lineup than the subject of the evening’s promotional giveaway. I know I would have preferred it. Not to take anything away from Vernon Wells’ two great defensive plays on Monday or his hits this evening, but I would still also really like to see Bourjos and Mike Trout in the same outfield and the same lineup – an outfield with quicker, better defense every time, not just sometimes. And to add insult to injury, not only was Bourjos not in the lineup for the 14th time in the last 18 games, but he was handing out his own bobble heads at the front gate. Oh, I’m sure meeting and shaking hands with Bourjos was a very nice thing for the fans, but really? They had him handing out bobbleheads at the front gate? What’s next? ‘Hey, Petey, while you’re not doing anything would you mind taking over for the bat boy for a few innings?’
Yes, Bourjos started off the season in a hitting slump like, oh gee, I don’t know, most of the rest of the team. But he alone has not been given the chance to work his way through said slump with playing time. Surely they can find better use for a kid who was on the short list for a Gold Glove in his first full season in the majors than occasional pinch running duties. Why wouldn’t we want to make every effort to allow he and Mike Trout to grow together into one dynamite outfield duo? Of course, as I finish this post it looks like he’s in the lineup today – yay! – so maybe this is the sign of better things to come?
Monday Night’s Shutout by the A’s
As you can probably tell from the photos, we were there. It was about as pleasant as you might imagine.
The Good – Hey it was a night at the ballpark and our friend scored her mother’s company seats so we were sitting pretty in the Diamond Club right behind home plate for free. That part wasn’t just good, it was downright giddy making.
The Bad – We were shut out. 5 – 0. By a division rival. I don’t think any more details are really necessary.
Still, there were signs of hope that I think were the logical precursor to the last few nights’ offensive productivity. Namely that the Angels were hitting the ball – right at the A’s for an out in many cases, but there was still some solid contact going on and a few cases of robbery by an excellent play. There was also less wild swinging. Albert Puljos in particular looked more comfortable and, up until the very last at bat where he swung at one so high and one so low that Vladdy would have been saying ‘Really?’, had good discipline and good contact…just at people and robbed in one case. Looking at him Monday I felt we would be seeing more of the old Albert later this week and, indeed, we have. Keep it going! I am rooting for you!!
And here are a few more random game photos just for kicks. No on to the today’s White Sox game, the Padres and, hopefully, a lot more winning! Go Angels!!
When the weekend began, I was annoyed. Here were the Angels entering this must-watch first series of the year against the arch-rival Rangers, and I was stuck with the piles and piles of work I brought home in order to meet a tight deadline. Oh, I still had every intention of watching the games, just over the top edge of my laptop while I rewrote course catalogs for new states. Of course, you all saw what happened…the box scores and sports news recaps if nothing else. As it turned out, aside from Saturday, my work was far more entertaining and less frustrating than watching the Angels…and, for the record, anytime anything compares unfavorably to wrestling with Massachusetts state regulations, that’s really saying something. Ugh, indeed!
I think Angels fans were looking to this series for the answer to one of the biggest questions of our season. I know I was. So, can the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? You may be surprised at my answer but, yes they can, and win. Just look at Saturday. The Rangers weren’t asleep at the wheel, the Angels just actually showed up and played and it was a good close game.
However the frustrations and, let’s face it, colossal beat downs of this series replaced that question with a far more relevant one – will the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? I don’t think we have a definitive answer to that one yet, but Friday and Sunday sure didn’t put a hopeful spin on things.
Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen. And this team? I just don’t know. I see some guys, mostly the younger guys, continuing to fight hard even when the score looks impossible and I see other guys starting to go through the motions when the game gets tough.
I prefer to look at some of the good examples. Take Jered Weaver. He had a terrible outing and his temper flare in the dugout after gaving up the grand slam to Nelson Cruz is now all over MLBN and ESPN. But you know what? I like his fire. No, he wasn’t able to get it back together when he got back to the mound in the next inning, but terrible starts happen. He didn’t give in, he got mad. When he finally left the game, singing along to Hit the Road Jack, the calmly livid look on his face reminded me very much of the his expression right before he threw the infamous pitch during that game against the Tigers last season. No, I don’t think this means opposing batters need to think about hitting the decks the next time Weaver takes the mound, but I do think it means he’s about to take care of business. And I’ll bet that in his next outings and, especially the next time he starts against Texas, things will be very different. We need to see more guys with that passion and resolve.
Mark Trumbo looks frustrated these days. Given a few seconds and even less effort, I think we can all come up with a whole slew of reasons why that might be. But he turns that frustration on the ball and knocks it deep into the stands. There are a lot of guys who are frustrated right now, but I want to see more of them channeling it like that. I also want to see more speed and defense in the outfield. Yes, Vernon Wells got a timely hit on Sunday and we’re grateful. But Peter Bourjos got a timely bunt that also led to runs on Saturday and which outfield had better defense which, let’s face it, we’re going to need against most of our competitors – Wells, Trout and Hunter or Trout, Bourjos and Hunter? (Yeah, I know Trumbo was actually in right on Sunday, but the Wells/Trout/Hunter combo has been more regular.) Which outfield had more fighters? Exactly. Now let’s hope Mike Scioscia comes to the same conclusion.
And there’s one more thing I think the team needs to do, stop worrying about championships, rankings, October, all of it and just play today. And then when tomorrow becomes today, they need to just play today again, and so on. It feels like everyone is pressing so hard for what could be at the end of the season, for what they feel should be that they are no longer able to just be and the end results are anything but pretty. And, from a sanity perspective, I think that goes doubly for us fans.
Money can make people do some pretty strange things and that in turn can lead to awful decision making. And the more money we’re talking about, the more things can get even stranger and the decisions even worse. This proportional relationship explains but in no way excuses baseball GM thinking, which at times provides us with arguably some of the most ridiculous occurrences of this phenomenon. Allow me to explain by putting a, completely random of course, GM big money/bad decision situation into everyday terms. Say I went shoe shopping and on a bizarre whim committed…oh, let’s pull a completely random number out thin air here…let’s say $86 million give or take on some sort of weird four season…er…month…four month payment plan. I mean, personally, I usually spend more like $40 to $60 on a pair of shoes and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than a bill on a pair but I have heard of Manolo Blahniks and the like – hello, I do have two X chromosomes! – so I suppose that $86 million might be reasonable for someone else.😉
Now let’s say these shoes just plain turn out to be bad shoes. I mean, they’re certainly nice, personable shoes…er, I mean pretty. That’s it, pretty. They look good on my feet. But other than that, they’re bad shoes. They give me blisters, pinch my heels and make my feet ache. Every now and then it finally seems like they’re starting to get comfortable but then they don’t allow me to walk for any length of time before all the blisters and pinching start up again. And, to top it all off, they’re not just affecting my feet. When I wear these shoes, more often than not, they wreak havoc with the whole starting lineup…er…my back. My back and, actually my legs. Now these shoes worked out okay for a friend of mine but, as anyone can tell you, she’s much more hitter friendly…er…I mean she has much, much better arches.
So what should I do about these shoes? I mean, I committed all of that money to them, so I suppose I should just keep wearing them until I’m crippled right? There’s no way I could eBay the silly things. Who else would be crazy enough to commit so much money to them. And, in the mean time, other, better, more reliable shoes are just sitting there riding pine – in my closet that is, it’s one of those new fangled pine closets – and gathering dust. So, just to be fair, I should probably trade those better, more reliable shoes for another aging reliever and a few sticks of used bubble gum right? …er…I mean used gym socks, old flip flops and a couple of packs of mothballs. Suffice to say, this is completely ridiculous and I am thrilled that Major League GMs don’t get to make my sartorial decisions for me.
So, baseball. Because this blog is about baseball after all, not about shoes, crazy monitory decisions or strange, badly used literary devices…okay, maybe it is frequently about strange, badly used literary devices, but I digress. Peter Bourjos. The trade talk has been flying through the rumor mill again like crazy and, coincidentally or not, he’s riding the pine again tonight. I know his bat has been terrible so far this season. I also know that, so far, when Sosh puts him back in for a game, he hits…and then is benched again, which isn’t exactly sensible or positive reinforcement. I also know he started out slow last season and finished out 2011 hitting a respectable .271, a figure we sure wish Vernon Wells had achieved. And his defense? Oh my word, his defense!! So this makes no sense to me.
As far as Bourjos’ latest replacement goes, I love Mike Trout. I want him to stay in the lineup, batting leadoff, and in the outfield every game. But I want to see Peter Bourjos in the outfield with him instead of Vernon Wells. Bourjos is younger. Bourjos is faster. Bourjos catches everything in sight! Bourjos made changes at the plate last season that lead to a respectable batting average and appears to be on the verge of doing the same thing this season while Wells is, at best, one step forward, two steps right back to last season. Keeping and playing Bourjos and Trout together would mean many more seasons of an amazing outfield combination that can’t even see their peak approaching from where they stand, as opposed to aging outfield.
If the team hadn’t committed so much money to Wells, I don’t think we’d even be having this conversation. But they did and we are. However, I don’t think any amount of money justifies the team cost of continually not using the best tool we currently have available…and it certainly doesn’t justify trading that tool for another bullpen arm. Since I first saw Bourjos play in 2010, I have been dying to see a regular outfield with Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Torii in right (for as long as Torii’s an Angel and I do hope that’s longer than this just this season). I just hope Jerry Dipoto wants to see the same thing.
* * * * *
And now the highly anticipated Angels/Rangers game is about to begin! Go Halos!!! Of course…I’ll be catching it delayed by about an hour and 15. Seth doesn’t get off work until 6 and the Friday Night Ritual just isn’t the same if I start the game without him – besides, he’d wait for me. In the mean time, I’ll be preparing the Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels spread – blue cheese bacon burgers with fried leeks and fresh tomatoes. Wine still to be determined, but definitely, definitely red. I’m thinking something in a Syrah.