Results tagged ‘ Fielding ’

What If: One Angel Fan’s Lament

It’s been awfully hard to write about the Angels this season, largely because they’ve been…well…pretty awful, but not 100% of the time. And I do so hate to put up a thoroughly ranting post, no matter how well deserved, just as the team is in the middle of doing something unexpectedly good the next day. Hey, every fan’s just a little bit superstitious, right?  (A truth that could have easily been included in Avenue Q, right alongside the Internet is for Porn and such.) And, I equally hate posting commentary filled with praise and slowly rekindling hope just as the team proceeds to dash those hopes by ending whatever modest streak they had going in spectacular fashion, yet again. I suppose I should try to analyze this mess but, while I like SABR just fine and was more than a bit of a math geek back in my school days, that doesn’t exactly make for my kind of writing. Besides, when I start thinking about the Angels 2013 season, instead of analysis, I find myself mired instead in the midst of so very many sad little what ifs…so, finally, I decided to just go with that.

The 2013 Angels: What if…

…The Angels’ Hot Stove pitching maneuvers didn’t remind me quite so much of Shel Silverstein’s poem Smart?

…Albert Pujols had been given or insisted upon (because I’m still not clear on who was the most stubborn in this case) a chance to really rest and heel his foot issues early on in the season…or had accepted/been assigned the DH role from the beginning.

…Jered Weaver landed a bit differently in Texas back in April and hadn’t broken his arm? Of course, broken arm or not, hitting the DL at that point might have been necessary anyway. He was having a rough time pitching and many speculated he was already injured.

Heck, what if at least half a dozen what ifs regarding injuries this season — step right on up and pick your favorite!

…The offense stranded just a few less guys on base each week…hit into just a few less double plays each week…fired on all cylinders a few more times each month.

…Angels fielding looked like…well, for lack of a better phrase…Angels fielding, real Angels fielding I mean, a few more times each month.

…Run support, quality starts and effective bullpen pitching weren’t such strangers from one another.

…Among Josh Hamilton’s many considerable talents, was more of an ability to take a pitch from time to time.

…Going to the bullpen made me think “roll a pair of 10Ds to see if bullpen self destructs” a little less often.

…The starting rotation didn’t make me think quite so often of Wayne Campbell’s gun rack…because, seriously, do two regularly functioning pitchers really necessitate anything quite so grand as a full rotation?

…I had an easier time writing angst/my ability to write about the Angels wasn’t so proportionally tied to the team doing something remotely approximating well. *snerk* Hey, then I might actually have had a consistent blog going this season.

…Waxing metaphorical on the current state of the Angels farm system didn’t have me looking more at post Dustbowl imagery than that of a thriving agricultural center.

…The team had played just a few more really good, fun to watch games each month because, let’s be honest here, they have actually managed to play a few like that here and there, a scant couple of which might even be described as epic.

What if. What if. What if. None of mine are colossal what ifs. Most are, in fact, quite small instances of what if this or that had happened just a little more or less often. Most of the bones of a contending team are in the clubhouse right now, so I can’t help but think that’s all it would have taken for this Angels team to at least be looking at .500 from more of a northern vantage point, possibly even to have realistic thoughts about an October. But neither the season not the players played out that way.

So, I leave you with one last what if, a what if that can’t help but pop into my mind during Angels seasons both good and bad. What if my grandfather, a lifelong, diehard Angels fan, were alive to see this year’s team and hear all of my what ifs today? I mean, this was a man who began his fandom attending and frequently sneaking into PCL Angels games during the Depression and who never failed to listen to the Major League incarnation of his beloved team on the radio in all the time that I knew him. Well, I definitely think he’d be shocked by recent contract expenditures though less so and certainly significantly less pleasantly so than he would be by that gorgeous World Series Trophy. I think he would be disappointed in this season, but I also think that, having lived through so many terrible seasons I could probably expect some comments to the effect that at least today’s fans have a real reason to hope for great things most seasons.

Now, do I feel that sharing this thought is supposed to make everything all better? That just because the Angels have quite the long history of seasons ranging from disappointing to god awful, somehow one more utterly terrible season is no big deal? Absolutely not. But the thought of this imagined lecture which I can almost hear in his voice, does give me some perspective and, if I’m to be honest, a bit of a smile – you know, memories of our grandfathers and all that. This season is terrible. Barring a miracle, it is also over. And that is disappointing on a scale that will no doubt have us all speaking of the team of 2013 in dark, bitter tones to our own grandchildren. But for all of that, it is just one season. And, unlike with the Angels teams of my grandfather’s day, once a few gaffes have been corrected and hamstringing contracts dealt with, a hopefully wiser front office will actually have the means to put together a contending team again. It may not be next season. It may not be the season after that – though I sure hope it doesn’t take that long. But it will happen. And that’s more than fans of Grandpa’s era could say with anything more than the most wishful of thinking.

Fiasco? Disaster? Just hold off on that a bit. These Angels are mighty fun to watch!

There’s a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is merely the absence of success. Any fool can achieve failure. But a fiasco, a fiasco is a disaster of epic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to other’s to make other people feel more alive because it didn’t happen to them. ~ Drew Baylor, from Elizabethtown

Oh my goodness, we’ve got ourselves a natural disaster. ~ Crash Davis, from Bull Durham

I’m sure that at this point you think I must have chosen these quotes to illustrate the Angels 2013 season. I mean, let us review the facts, shall we? Angels blog. Angels fan blogger. It’s July and the Angels are still 3 games under .500. And, that in and of itself, is sadly a vast improvement in the midst of a season that can be classified at best as disappointing. How could I have chosen these quotes for any purpose other than to represent the Angels 2013 season?

Well, not so fast actually. When I originally started writing this post, in the middle of the Angels eventual sweep by the Pittsburg Pirates…okay. Yes. That was more than a week ago. What can I say? Writer’s block, she is quite the stone plated B and being absolutely livid with one’s team doesn’t do a whole lot to alleviate the situation…that, and, when you only seem to be capable of eking out a few sentences at any given time, the writing you need to do for work comes first. Those are the rules. But I digress…

When I originally started writing this post, in the middle of the Angels eventual sweep by the Pittsburg Pirates, I picked those quotes out specifically because they’re the sort of quotes I imagined everyone else would apply to the Angels, but I disagreed…sarcastically, naturally. Because, yes, being 33 and 42 on June 22nd was horrendous. But, seriously? Fiasco? Natural Disaster? No. Anyone actually watching the Angels play could tell you that these terms sounded far too interesting and entertaining, even within their negative context, to describe the lackadaisical, half-hearted, completely lacking any fight whatsoever, Angels play interspersed with all too few splashes of brilliance we fans were suffering through.

Well, happily many things have changed since then. I stand by my assessment that those quotes don’t really apply to the 2013 Angels…and now with 85% less sarcasm! The Angels won a few more, lost a few less and then went streaking for seven games and counting! Yes, the team still has its problems – not the least of which is the fact that they’re still under .500. No, this streak is no guarantee about the direction the team will take for the rest of the season. And, no I am certainly not leaving my calendar free for the entire month of October in anticipation or anything…well…er…at least not to any greater degree than usual. Hey, fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. And Angels blogging baseball geeks gotta watch as much of the playoffs as they can. ;)

But, here’s the thing. I really don’t care about any of that at the moment. Watching the Angels play right now is fun. Big offensive innings are fun. Sweeping teams instead of getting swept is a blast. Brilliant plays in the field like the one Mark Trumbo initiated yesterday make me stand up in the middle of my living room and cheer, giddy little kid happy. And watching the team win while playing actual, honest to goodness Angels baseball? Well that’s a veritable barrel of rally monkeys, that is. No, this isn’t the season any of us wanted. And I’m still not ready to apologize for my words in my last post – though I’m waiting guys; make me eat crow and I’ll be a happy woman. But at the moment this is at least an Angels season I want to watch and, for a while there, that’s something I didn’t think I was going to get to say. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes just getting to see a lit halo for several nights in row is what you need.

The 2013 Angels and the Baseball Fan Masochism Tango

We baseball fans are a masochistic bunch. Oh, I’m not saying we that seek out pain, per se. I mean, who among us wouldn’t prefer a winning scenario for our team? But in those seasons where, despite our desires, the painful losses just keep piling up, we do tend stick around…and stick around…and stick around some more…and then some. Watching. Rooting, even if sometimes with more than a tinge of disappointed sarcasm. Hoping, even if at times, deep down, we suspect our hope is misplaced. In any other season, I might choose to call this fan behavior stubborn loyalty or even optimism, occasionally to the point of idiocy. But, this season? Yeah, I’m sticking with masochism. You’ve all had seasons like that, I’m sure, so the term stands.

The Angels started off badly in 2013 and, despite rare rays of hope temporarily piercing the gloom, it’s only gotten worse…and here I am, still watching. Yet, oddly enough, the first time I started really contemplating this whole fan masochism thing was in the final innings of the Angels terrible, horrible, no good, really fucking long, loss to the A’s on the 29th and 30th of May. That game was all kinds of ugly from the very beginning. For every wonderful thing, spot on thing the Angels did – Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo outright raking and hitting a bomb a piece, Jerome Williams long relief performance, plenty of 2-out derring-do – they committed at least 2 outright crimes against baseball – mass LOBster infestations, instances of crap fielding that would make a AA team blush and meatballs pitched to Brandon Moss.

Heading into extra innings as the visiting team, the deck is always a little stacked against you from the beginning. But this game? Honestly, I knew the Angels chances of pulling off a win were slim, owing to the evening and, eventually, morning’s ratio of shoddy play to good. And I knew that those chances grew slimmer with every inning as the mistakes piled on and more time on the field made one colossal, final mistake more and more likely. And, yet, still I watched and tweeted my support and sarcasm – because with me, even at the best of times, those are two are pretty inseparable concepts. Past 11 p.m. Past midnight. Past kissing my husband goodnight and heading back downstairs so I wouldn’t keep him awake with my cheers and shouting (he had an early meeting scheduled and is generally smarter than me about these things anyway). Past one in the morning all the way to the end of the game some 19 innings and six hours and 32 minutes after it started. And, here’s the thing. Remember how I said I was tweeting? Yeah, well, so were a lot of other Angels fans all the way through to the end. Several of them California transplants living in later time zones. Diehard Angels fans and complete and utter baseball masochists, the lot of us.

After that no less deflating for being more than somewhat likely defeat, I promised myself that I would take a little rest from the Angels and not watch the game the next night…er…later that night. I mean, a lady’s got to catch up on her sleep at some point, right? Apparently many of the other #AngelsFamily diehards who were awake right along with me through 19 innings decided the same thing…a fact of which we are all aware because, in a completely shocking, surprise…drumroll, please…yup, you guessed it…we were all watching the next game from the very first pitch until the end. Another game the Angels lost, I might add. Yeah, like I said. Baseball masochists, the lot of us.

And, here I am, still watching whenever possible, my membership in the league of masochistic baseball fans having become fully apparent to me round about the first pitch that Tuesday evening game after the 19 inning marathon. I asked Seth to text me updates while I was away at a work conference in Las Vegas this weekend, and he happily obliged…even though the team only went one for three. I came home as quickly as I could last night and this evening…to make sure I caught the losses. I will probably do the same for Thursday’s game…and this weekend’s and beyond. The Angels are my team. I am their fan. And, willingly or unwillingly, we baseball fans are a masochistic bunch.

And if, for the most part, I’m avoiding MLBN as opposed to my usual downright addiction to the daily lineup of whatever part of Intentional Talk/MLB Tonight/Quick Pitch/etc. my schedule allows me to catch? Well, maybe my baseball masochism does know a few bounds. Right now I just don’t want to hear the daily Angels post mortem. I mean, when a team with this much talent performs this badly — tying a clubhouse record for terrible starts no less! — it’s definitely news. Although, considering the questionable pitching situation the Angels had even before the injuries, I seriously have to ask just how shocking a news story it is but, by all means, carry on. I just don’t need to hear it right now. I already know how bad it is, thank you very much.

So, in the middle of all of this baseball masochism, am I also pessimistic? I don’t know how this works for others suffering from my condition, and perhaps a few of you could enlighten me, but for me the situation is dire beyond the point of either pessimism or of optimism. Right now, the Angels are like a family member who has contracted a terrible illness, something very serious but not life threatening, like those poor folks who’ve been in various stages of bedridden with this year’s flu for three weeks or more. In a situation like that, you really have to concentrate on the here and now, on getting the patient back up and on their feet, before you can even begin to worry about niceties like the work event next week, that great party they’re supposed to go to in two weekends, or the hiking vacation you have planned together next month. Right now, I can’t even think about June, July and so on for the Angels, let alone September and October. I’m still reeling from April and hoping the team can start playing to their capabilities before the rest of May drifts by in a sea of L’s and games below .500, as well. *sigh* Come on Angels, dazzle us.

The Crack of the Bat! The Slap of the Glove! The Long Uncomfortable Silence of the Error?

Okay, so it’s only Spring Training. The sights and sounds of the game are never going to be the same in Spring Training as they are when the real deal begins. Still, after so many long days without, they sound pretty darned musical to me. So, after two entire Angels games, one of which only aired on the radio and one we watched this evening via that faithful friend of the working stiff, the DVR, I have a few thoughts.

 

It’s only Spring Training. And believe you me, if it were going badly I would absolutely be emphasizing how much Spring Training games don’t really mean anything, a fact I don’t forget just because things are going well. However, it makes me really happy to see:

  • Albert Pujols and that gorgeous swing looking good from the first at bat.
  • C.J. Wilson looking like he’s in season shape already or pretty darn close to it.
  • The regular infielders doing their regular season thing in the field and at the plate.
  • One possible incarnation of the outfield doing their regular season thing in the field and at the plate.
  • Alberto Callaspo belting the ball and playing his position with an “Ahem. I’m still here!” swagger and chip on his shoulder.
  • Angels infielders turning two in March with a decidedly May kind of ease and precision. Have you ever noticed that the sound of the ball slapping the glove during a solid 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 is just a little different than it sounds during any other play? Three fast, solid thunks in precisely measured succession. It’s a lovely sound!
  • Power from the catcher’s position!! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spring Training ball parks. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. I have now seen current Angels catchers look like they actually know what they are doing in the batter’s box in two back to back games. And after last season? Yeah, that’s a big deal.
  • Angels ball players looking relaxed, rejuvenated, and very at ease with one another…until they start talking about the coming season and then there is a fire in their eyes. Love that!

Meh. It’s only Spring Training:

  • Oh my word, the errors. With every team, in every game. Balls zinging out of gloves. Sailing lazily past gloves. Dropping softly at the outfielders’ feet… Throws going into the outfield. The backstop. The dugout. The stands… And some of the pitching and hitting? Ugh. Yes, this is why we have Spring Training but it is also why Spring Training will never be as good as the regular season.
  • I’m not particularly impressed with most of the Angels kids so far. Not last season’s rookies or Mike Trout who spent a fair bit of time in the Bigs last year. I think my appreciation of their efforts and the breath of fresh air they bring has been thoroughly documented on these virtual pages. No, I mean the younger prospects. I really like Alexi Amarista whose gutsy, athletic, maximum effort style of play in a diminutive package reminds a bit of Dustin Pedroia. And I like Andrew Romine who has demonstrated great instincts and a gift for pulling plays out of thin air in the past. Other than that, I don’t see anything that impressive yet…of course, I wasn’t that impressed with Tyler Chatwood last Spring Training, so I can’t claim to have the best eye for the subtle nuances of a rookie-to-be’s performance.
  • The usual: No one stays in the game for very long, even when they’re doing well. Small stadiums make for quiet games. Even the announcers…heck, even the sound and picture quality seem to be in training right along with the players.

 

We got to watch baseball. Real, current – if not precisely live – baseball over dinner for four days running now. And this evening my husband looked from the game to me with a very contented smile, all of the strain of the day gone from his face, and sighed. This is a nice evening, he said. It’s great to have the back game on. I couldn’t agree more…and that part needs no Spring Training specific header. That part is universal.

Stomped by Texas for Three Games Straight, Is There Any Hope For Our Boys in Halos?

The 2011 Angels can’t score to save their lives and they can’t hit when it counts. Veteran bats have only come alive in alternating streaks all season – much like Torii Hunter’s slumbering bat waking with a vengeance into his current 15-game hitting streak – and the rookies and the gap hitters are pretty much carrying the line-up. The problem with that is that we can get guys on base, but we can’t bring them home, facts I haven’t shied away from mentioning all season.

Alberto Callaspo prepares to pop out while Bobby Abreu, in the on deck circle, takes practice swings before he grounds out. Callaspo's mini-slump is new. He has the second highest batting average on the team just behind Howie Kendrick. But Bobby's absentee bat has been one of several veteran disappointments on the team this season. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jeff Mathis prepares to strike out for the second time this evening as Peter Bourjos takes practice swings on deck. We're used to Mathis' sub Mendoza average by now, but it sure hurts when isn't the only automatic out in the lineup any more. Bourjos, on the other hand, went 2 for 4 with an RBI, one of the rookies tryign very hard to pick up the slack in the lineup. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And yet, the Angels have been in the thick of the division race, winning series and beating top teams all season long pretty much on the strength of their pitching and fielding alone. Two weeks ago, we were a mere game out of first place! So what happens when the pitching inevitably falters for a few games? Last week happens, with the disastrous road trip to Toronto and the Bronx. And if the fielding gets lax too? Well, then you have what could have been a season making series against the Texas Rangers turn into what we’ve seen on the field instead the last few days – something that could very well be season breaking if the Angels don’t pull it together and play their hearts out from tonight on through the rest of the season.

Pitching Coach Mike Butcher joins Tyler Chatwood and Jeff Mathis on the mound. It was clear from the first pitch that Chatty wasn't himself this evening. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Another end result is that I, consummate baseball optimist, constant cheerleader and the self-proclaimed Pollyanna of Angels baseball actually started to despair for a few minutes Tuesday night. Tuesday was my husband’s birthday and his boss gave him the company seats, the OMG! company seats, on the field, in the first section on the dangerous side of the home plate screens, 10 rows back from the action. Awesome boss, yes? But sitting there, seemingly inches from the field, watching Erick Aybar lazily glance at the second playable line drive in as many innings shoot uncontested into the outfield for extra bases, in a game where our young starter was clearly struggling and needed all the backup he could get, I thought, “Well, that’s it then. If the Angels have just given up, the season is over.”

Erick Aybar looks embarrassed, as well he should after his half assed fielding earlier, as he and former teammate Mike Napoli chat during a pitching change. What could they be saying to one another? Naps: It's okay Erick, _we_ appreciate your fielding today *snerk*. Aybar: D'oh. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Russell Branyan and Peter Bourjos in the dugout during the Angels at bat. I know just how you feel, Russell. I know just how you feel. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

In fact, I think I waited this long to post our photos from the game, indeed anything about the Rangers series, in the hopes that Wednesday would give me something more cheerful to talk about. No dice. At least the lollygagging fielding was over by Wednesday, but not the gaffs. Balls were being thrown all kinds of places that weren’t anywhere near a glove. Erick Aybar decided to make an effort again for us Wednesday, but alternated between not being able to keep balls in his glove and not being able to get them out in time to actually throw them – which given the throwing situation might, in hindsight, have been a blessing in disguise, I don’t know – all night. Santana pitched a great game, but with the usual insufficient run support, and now with insufficient defense, it’s no surprise we lost.

Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick chat as they take the field and Howie confirms that Aybar's fielding was indeed half-assed this game. 'Hey, look at my uniform, I might have missed, but I at least dove for the ball'...or, you know, something like that. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, are we done? The commentators all seem to think so. This was an important series, no doubt about it. We could be. If we can pull tonight off, we’re still six games out of first place in mid-August and that’s a tall order. But I did say my moment of despair was brief and, like it’s underlying message, I’m not giving up unless the Angels have given up…and even then I probably won’t give up unless winning becomes a mathematical impossibility, not a mere improbability, an impossibility. I’m stubborn like that. Monday and Tuesday notwithstanding, I don’t think the Angels have given up. Wednesday they still played badly but there were improvements – our pitching was back on track and the defense was at least hustling. And, here’s the thing. We were only one game out of first two weeks ago with only a handful of head to head games against the Rangers under our belt. We have seven more coming up including tonight. So, come on Angels, this division just got a whole lot tougher, but it’s still winnable.

So, tonight and going forward through August and September, we need to see a lot less of this – big bats taking knocking our pitching for extra bases -:

Mike Napoli begins a swing as Jeff Mathis positions himself for the ball. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yorvit Torrealba at bat with Jeff Mathis catching. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Ian Kinsler takes a swing and fouls it off. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And a lot more of this, namely Angels in scoring position who then actually score and Angels on the base paths who just earned RBIs. And, I know I’m being extra, extra demanding here, but how about in several of the innings leading up to the 9th inning too?:

Howie Kendrick leads off third as Michael Young moves with the pitch. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter on first after knocking in a run with a single in the 9th. Mitch Moreland is playing first for Texas. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

We need to start hitting pitchers who are hittable, and not right into double plays either. Derek Holland pitched a good game, but he was hittable:

Derek Holland begins his wind up. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

No more injuries please!!! Everyone stay healthy:

Torii Hunter tells Mike Scioscia and a trainer 'Hell, no, you aren't taking me out of this game.' or words to that effect after fouling a pitch off of his own foot in the 7th. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

It’s unfair to but so much pressure on our starting pitching, but that’s just the way things are this season, especially with the #4 spot in the rotation in such a state of flux, the rest of the rotation needs to be lights out as often as possible. With Garrett Richards unfortunately timed injury, they’re reinstating Joel Pineiro as a starter…oooooh boy. I just don’t know about that one. Prove me wrong, okay Joel? And the bullpen needs to be equally spot on. So why did we send this guy back to AAA?:

Trevor Bell, up from Salt Lake City just for this game, takes the mound in the 3rd. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And why do we keep putting this guy in, in crucial situations? Tuesday was fine. Fernando Rodney pitches best when we’re already behind and don’t want to fall further behind, but I still don’t like seeing him take the mound:

Jeff Mathis tells reliever Fernando Rodney, would you stop walking batters and pitch a GD strike every once in a while...oh...maybe that's just what I want to tell him. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And the fielding needs to be error free and full of hustle:

Mark Trumbo and runner Mike Napoli move with the pitch. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo fields the ball cleanly and Ian Kinsler is out at first. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 
Thursday Night Addendum: Holy Trumbo Walk Off, Bat Man! That was awesome! This doesn’t change anything I said in my initial post – this division is still winnable for the Angels, but it’s going to take a lot of work and I will be rooting for them the whole way…but it sure makes me a lot happier about all things Angels and I think the team needed that even more than the fans did. Light that baby up! Shall we return the favor in Texas in a few weeks? Yes please!
 

The Red Sox Game – We Finished It Right!

Back to back wins. Now that is the way to end our season match-ups against the Red Sox! Wednesday night was downright magical. I am used to watching the Angels east coast games on delay, so it was a nice treat for me, if not for the players, to hear that the game was just resuming from a 2 and a half hour rain delay as I was turning off the freeway from my evening commute. So we got to watch a full game’s worth of innings live – that game went late! Then today, to catch snippets of the game on the radio and know that my tired Angels were apparently a lot less tired that the Red Sox with Pawtucket reinforcements? Well, that was even better.

Coming home to watch losses on Monday and Tuesday was just a downer. I wasn’t particularly down on the Angels season prospects, mind you. Outside of games involving teams from Boston (and Kansas City) they’ve been playing really well this season. But getting pummeled is always a downer, especially when you know the outcome could have been different.

These last two games though? Wow! Heads up plays. Stellar pitching. Bats, bats and more bats! Hey, this visiting team on the field? They looked suspiciously like my Angels! Way to go guys! Way to recover. And, Mr. Vernon Wells, I am glad to see you get your swagger back, sir, and deservedly so. Seriously, another home run over the monster. A couple of great plays against the monster. And I love the way he runs the bases when he’s on a roll. Just when I think he was a little too daring, he reaches the bag standing up or with an unhurried slide just ahead of the ball. Of course, when I talk about base running, I have to mention Peter Bourjos, who recovered nicely from two bad games and lit up the basepaths – and, apparenlty, Kevin Youkilis! – with his speed.

Torii’s hitting again, warming up with the summer weather as predicted – even though it was cold and wet in Boston. Heck, everyone was hitting these last two games, including Bobby Abreu with the game winning hit among others, and Mark Trumbo with another shot over the monster. I have to give love to the bullpen too, which more than rose to the occasion. I am starting to love seeing Scott Downs and Rich Thompson striding out to the mound. And Trevor Bell was lights out, shutting Boston down for the last four innings Wednesday. And the fielding! Did anyone else see the play at the plate? Perfect throws from Wells and Aybar to Jeff Mathis at the plate who positioned his feet and body so perfectly, that he rolled Marco Scutaro with the tag and brought his sliding feet to a halt against Mathis’s own feet three inches shy of the plate. And the way, Mathis then popped up instantaneously to stare Youkilis down at second. Chills. I have a major soft spot for catchers, as I may have mentioned in this blog a time or ten, so this was my favorite play of the series – absolutely gorgeous to watch.

So, do I think this means the Angels are past their troubles with the Red Sox and can play them on even footing from now on? Would that I could say yes, but I think the weird, uneven rivalry goes back too far for that. However, this is a great start. It leaves the team in the right mood going into their next home stand and sets the proper tone for all future encounters with the dreaded Red Sox – who I was amused to hear serenading Youkilis with Biz Markie’s Just a Friend at every at bat. Now that’s man-crushing open and unrestrained, and quirky to boot, and I have to admire them for that, even as the incongruity of it all amused me to no end.

Spring Has Sprung, the Pitches Are Zinging and the Bats are in Bloom

Silly as it sounds, after Sunday’s game I felt somewhat deflated. But two better spring training outings for the Angels was all it took to return the buoyancy to my mood. First and foremost, the regular pitchers and most of the core bullpen candidates both days looked good – a little rust here and there, a couple of instances where the pitch placement could still use a little work, but on the whole very good.

I got to see the debut of our most likely new outfield configuration – all centerfielders, all the time with Vernon Wells in left, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right. I loved it! Between the three of them they cover a lot of ground and seem to work well together. Bourjos seemed to have a little trouble calling off Wells at first, but he came around much like he did last season with Torii and Bobby Abreu.

I think I have now seen the real Mike Trout and I too am impressed. That was a heck of a catch at the end of this afternoon’s game and he made it look absolutely effortless. And when he does get the bat on the ball, you can see the power there. I like this all centerfielder outfield idea and think Trout will fit in just fine when the time comes to replace one of the centers currently in the corners.

We’re nailing the double plays!! One of the first indications I had that things were amiss in 2010 was how few and far between the jaw dropping double plays, once an Angels hallmark, had become. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the guys nailing that 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 again! Also, the fielding so far has been error free, which is especially nice to see so early in spring training.

We have bats! Everyone who should be hitting has had at least one good solid hit in the last three games (remember, each player in question has only played about one full game worth of innings in those three games) except Torii, and Torii’s bat usually doesn’t really heat up until late April. I would jump for joy if it happened earlier, of course, but I’m not going to panic when it doesn’t. Yes, this does mean that Jeff Mathis, Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and even Brandon Wood all had hits – Wood’s a hard hit double in his spring training debut today. I don’t know if this will last in all cases but it sure was good to see.

Certain old bad habits were still evident. Eighth and ninth inning excitement: Monday’s game against the A’s was 8 to 2 Angels going into the eighth inning and the final score was 8 to 7. Stranding runners on the bases: seven runners were left in scoring position in today’s game against the Reds. Failing to strike again: today’s game was another score in the first inning and never again outing. Aybar’s base running: he’s like the little girl with the little curl and today’s game was one of the horrid outings. But I’m not really concerned about this, this early on. These observations, good and bad, are all based on one two-game snapshot and I think early spring training games, where the pitchers change every one to two innings and all of the regular position players are out of the game by the 6th inning, are not the best representation of how the regular season will progress. I’m just grounding myself by taking note of the worrisome things along with the hopeful ones.

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The baseball fever is so thick in my house that my husband actually convinced me to go play catch with him in the park the other day. Seth never played baseball growing up, not beyond the usual neighborhood pick-up games. I played softball in the local park and rec ponytail league from t-ball up through the beginning of high school but I haven’t touched a glove with any intent beyond catching a ball at batting practice in more than 15 years. So it was odd that he would ask and odder still that I would accept. I think that maybe seeing all of the young minor leaguers play a day game in such a small setting brings more nostalgia for the games you played in your own youth than a regular baseball game.

Playing catch? It’s not like riding a bicycle. Not after more than 15 years anyway. My arm is so much spaghetti, it’s embarrassing and, after this much time, it actually stings to catch the ball bare handed. But I’m still reasonably reliable with the glove and was even able to jump and stretch high to catch a few like back in the old days. And the unmistakable thunk of a perfect throw landing solidly in his glove the few times I managed a good one is absolutely addicting – childhood, laughter and fun all bottled up in a single sound. Yes, I will do this again. It was a lot of fun and I am way too stubborn not to give it another try. Besides, I’m not talking trash here but, um, I’m not the one with the sore shoulder today…he he he.

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