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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Mark Trumbo, Fan Passion & Team Jerseys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ace (ās) noun

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

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

3) An expert in a given field.

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

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

6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

In their last 5 games, the Angels have:

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

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

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

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

Zack Greinke? Cool. Now Can the Trade Talk Craziness Die Down, Please?

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.

Angels Move to “Take Back the West”! …Let’s Just Forget About that Icky Saturday Part

What’s the best cure for the old “post All Star Break, my Angels have been playing in the Eastern Time Zone so I haven’t caught a game in more than a week and, oh by the way, they weren’t playing so hot” blues? Well, I don’t know about you, but heading down to the Big A the second the Angels got back in town to watch them beat their biggest division rival soundly worked for me! What a night, what a game! And what’s the best cure for the old “Rangers came back the next day and stomped all over the Angels” blues? I suggest having a selective short term memory – forget about Saturday’s game, relive Friday’s and hope for a better Sunday! So to that end…

The Big A’s Halo in it’s happiest natural state – lit like Christmas. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

All the way down the 57 freeway to the stadium on Friday night Seth and I kept hearing about a playoff atmosphere, and, to be honest, I mocked the radio more than a bit. A playoff atmosphere? Yes, the Angels were facing the Rangers, but for the first of the 13 games before seasons’ end and it’s only July. However, entering the gates it was clear that if the radio announcers were exaggerating, it wasn’t by much. I have never been to a playoff game — a deficiency I’d love the opportunity to correct this season! — but this was definitely close to what I imagine a playoffs atmosphere would feel like. The stadium was packed, the fans were pumped and, behold the icing on the cake, in an unannounced giveaway, the Angels were handing out ThunderStix:

I suggest rechristening these ThunderStix, TnT Stix! Because, let’s be honest, while all Angels will get their fair share of ThunderStix love, who are we going to clang the Stix the most for this season? Crack all the jokes you want, dear reader. I doubt you’ll come up with any we didn’t already make in the stands last night. ;) Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

As for the game? Well, this is how the serious playoff contending Angels play as opposed to that other team that shows up sometimes…sometimes, including Saturday. Jered Weaver set the tone early. He got the first batter out only to give up a home run to Elvis Andrus on the next at bat. But did he crumble? Hello, this is Jered Weaver we’re talking about. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time a Ranger crossed the plate that game. Weaver only really got into trouble one more time that game – bases loaded with one out in the 3rd and Josh Hamilton at the plate. But he got himself out of trouble by coaxing Hamilton into a double play. Inning over — hit the road Jack. ;)

Jered Weaver. What else does one need to say? Elvis Andrus hit a homerun off him in the 2nd at bat of the game. Many pitchers would have panicked. Weaver got mad and got even, pitching six shutout innings with only one walk. No other Ranger managed to cross the plate. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

It’s great to see Dan Haren back in the dugout, ready to come off his first DL stint ever. It’s not the same when he’s not huddled at the rail with one of the other pitchers – Garrett Richards in this case – talking about whatever it is they talk about. Here’s hoping your back is indeed all better and that you’re back to being the old tough as nails, unhittable Dan Haren, because the Angels really need you. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

This is my favorite view of Mike Napoli these days. No, not because it’s the rear view, you pervs! I mean the walk of shame back into the dugout after he strikes out! …a view, I might add, that Angels fans don’t see nearly often enough. 2 for 4 and both hits homers on Saturday?! Naps, you’re killin’ me! Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The Angels bats were more than ready to follow Weaver’s dominant lead, getting the one run back in the first inning and following it with five more as the game progressed. The TnT boys went off with clutch, productive singles in the early innings and then in spectacular fashion in later innings. Mark Trumbo’s 6th inning TrumBomb was, in essence, a line drive turned run seeking missile over the centerfield fence, much like the hit that made Big Papi bounce up and down like a gleeful child during the Home Run Derby. Mike Trout followed his lead the next inning with an opposite field bomb of his own.

Very few of my Mark Trumbo shots turned out. Too powerful to be captured on mere film? Anyway, both of the TnT boys went off so beautifully Friday night that maybe Kendrys Morales is pumping Trumbo for advice for later in the series? Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mike Trout begins his swing. When the TnT boys both go off in the same game, it is quite a sight to see! Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mike Trout and Michael Young move with the pitch. They tried to pick Trout off several times…emphasis on tried. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

As impressive as TnT was, they shouldn’t completely overshadow the rest of the Angels offense. Albert Pujols, looking every inch the Albert of old, went 3 for 4, advancing runners and scoring a run of his own. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar brought in two runs a piece with clutch hits and a productive out. And so on. I really feel like when the offense is functioning this well as a unit, the Angels are one scary team! So how about we see some more of this offense this week, okay guys?

Albert Pujols and Rangers first baseman Michael Young were extra chatty every time Pujols got on, which was often. The man had three hits. Go Pujols! Anyway, this shot was just extra funny to me. What could they be saying? Albert: “Hey, buddy. Did you see that awesome single right into the gap. I totally made Hamilton and Gentry dive and run for it!” Young: Yeah, buddy. That was really funny!” Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar chat during pitching change. I love it when the Angels offense is working well! Both guys knocked in two runs on Friday. I hope Aybar’s foot injury Saturday is of the quick healing, day to day sort, but it doesn’t sound like it. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Alberto Callaspo slides home to score the Angels 4th run of the evening. When Angels keep flying accross the plate like this, it’s a great game! Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Much has been made of the Angels “BlowPen” this season, the new version of the “Arson Squad” of old, but I feel like after a very rough initial start, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and some oft discussed key moves, they’ve had more good days than bad. Kevin Jepsen, of all people, has returned from his DL stint in pretty good form. And while it will take a lot more quality relief outings for the Angels Family to stop holding our collective breaths when he takes the mound, he was effective again. Things got a little too exciting when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in the 9th, I guess just to let us all know we shouldn’t take a five run lead for granted…um…thanks? Yeah, no. But still, no runs, no foul. Light that baby up and enjoy the Friday Night Fireworks!

Right there with you Jepsen. I have no idea how or why you’re pitching pretty well all o fthe sudden, either, but in this case I’d like to keep scratching my head for the rest of the season. Well done! Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

This is the scene of Mike Trout’s sliding near miss attempt to catch a foul ball for the game’s final out. (Like I said, the 9th was a lot more exciting than it needed to be.) Photos of the chalk outline have been submitted into evidence as part of the wall’s subsequent disability case. The gentleman on the right who’s pointing at Trout, then back in position, is reported to have uttered something incoherent about birds, planes and speeding locomotives. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Ernesto Frieri hangs out in the Bullpen. Yeah, Ernesto, it _was_ a great game but a couple of plays made me make that face too. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

And so the moral of our story is: Hand out ThunderStix…er…I mean TnT Stix every home game for the rest of the season!!! Oh, yeah. And, you know, quality pitching starts and effectively thundering bats are probably a good idea too! ;)

Friday night post game fireworks awesomeness! Hey, the Big A has to compete with Disney’s evening pyrotechnics just a few blocks over, so you know they’re good. Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Of Baseball in that Dreaded Eastern Time Zone and Post ASG Funks

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.

TrumBombs Away, an NL Shellacking, Mid West Boo Birds + Any Other ASG Thoughts that Come to Mind

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.

Angels Send Four to the 2012 All Star Game, But What About that Fan Vote?

(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.

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