Results tagged ‘ Mark Trumbo ’
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…
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:
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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
So in the current baseball world order, the AL absolutely dominates the Home Run Derby, the NL sometimes allows the AL to score during the All Star Game, but only when they’re feeling especially generous, and the NL also just pretty much owns Ron Washington. Do I have that about right? Oh what a difference a few years makes! And that’s a good thing actually. Sports trends, both winning and losing, are meant to be bucked and dynasties to be crumbled. In the end, it makes all of the teams work harder and the whole thing just that much more fun for the fans.
As for this year’s All Star Game, wow. And, by wow, I mostly mean yikes! And, to a lesser degree, *facepalm* While it did contain many memorable and touching moments, I’m sorry but out and out shellackings are always a snooze fest, especially for the fans rooting for the shellacked. I do understand what I perceive to be Ron Washington’s motivation to allow all of the starters an opportunity to hit before he removed them from the game, and to allow each starting pitcher to finish a full inning, but I just can’t get behind it. Trying to give everyone a chance to really play is an absolutely lovely sentiment…for Little League.
Yes, the All Star Game is an exhibition meant to delight the fans and give the players a chance to share the field with the best of the best among their peers. But it’s also supposed to be a good game. An entertaining game. A game both sides are trying their hardest to win. And then there is that tiny little matter of the All Star Game determining home field advantage in the World Series, the importance of which should be crystal clear to Washington after two very painful demonstrations in as many years. If the team you have on the field isn’t getting it done and you have a dugout full of All Stars at your disposal, you might want to flip some folks out before the 6th inning, or maybe get the pitcher off the mound before he allows that 5th run, even if it is only the 1st inning. I’m just sayin’.
Oh well, at least the Angels All Stars played well. And I do love hearing the MLBN analysts and other national media oohing and aahing over Angels players, especially when it’s so richly deserved this season. Of course, for Angels fans, the highlight has to be the Home Run Derby. TrumBomb. TrumBlast. Heck even TrumBoner. All of these phrases coined by Angels fans and our local media for our hometown hero have now reached the National consciousness as they tripped off the tongues of Derby commentators with increasing frequency and passion while a veritable TrumBlitz assaulted the walls and waterfalls of Kaufmann Stadium.
In fact, while Trumbo placed third in the Derby, I think it’s safe to say that after Monday night, the national baseball viewing public experienced the latter phrase themselves, at least a little bit. Don’t worry, America, you don’t need to call your doctor if it lasts for more than 4 hours. We’re going on two seasons out here in Southern California with only positive side effects. And the best thing about Trumbo’s Home Run Derby performance? What the analysts kept saying of Prince Fielder is just as true for Trumbo, that is his normal, everyday swing. All of those stupendous, crazy, I can’t believe he hit the ball that far and didn’t even fully extend his arms bombs? Yeah. Normal. Let’s just say that batting practices before Angels games are pretty epic.
Anyway, if you’re interested, I wrote more about Mark Trumbo’s Home Run Derby appearance and tackled the dreaded Home Run Derby Curse for the LA Angels Insider blog. If you get the chance, please check it out.
Sunflower & Show Me State Boo Birds
Yeah, I couldn’t very well write an All Star festivities article, however brief, without attacking this divisive subject, now could I? Here’s my 2-cents on Royals fans booing Robinson Cano for the entirety of his Home Run Derby appearance and I would love to get your take on it in the comments, along with your Trumbo Love and other ASG thoughts you may wish to share. My apologies to Billy Butler fans everywhere, but Cano clearly made the correct choices in assembling his Home Run Derby team. The AL team absolutely rocked with the lone exception of Cano himself. Where Cano Royally – pun well and thoroughly intended – f’d up is not in neglecting to include a Royals representative on the team, it was the fact that he had previously indicated he would like to include a Royals representative on the team, that he felt it was the right thing to do, and then neglected to include said Royals representative. Cano never should have made such a comment – or promise depending on your perspective – unless he had every intention of abiding by it.
Okay, so he messed up. Very painful lesson learned. But did the punishment really suit the crime? No, I think it was excessive. I understand why fans booed Cano. I understand why they continued to boo him and to applaud his mounting failure to hit the ball out of the park. I understand that this was funny on some level. In fact, initially, I was laughing. But fans carried the joke way too far. When it was obvious the Cano was floundering. When it became painfully clear that Cano’s poor father – whom I do not believe fans intended to harm or insult in any way – could no longer give his son a decent ball to hit, it was well past time to let up. If fans had booed Cano and yucked it up for the first 5 outs, maybe even the first six, and then stopped, they would have still made their point and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
You know how there’s a fine, fine line between an amusing heckler and an outright bully who makes fans from both sides uncomfortable? For the first four outs, Royals fans were on the amusing heckler side of that divide. But, somewhere between the 4th and 6th outs, they waltzed right over that line and into uncomfortable bully territory, which is even more unfortunate in light of that fact that the rest of the 2012 All Star festivities were 100% classy. While I think that, much like booing Cano for his entire performance, such a punishment would be excessive for this particular crime, Royals fans, don’t be surprised if Bud Selig says this is why you can’t have nice things for another four decades.
(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)
Angels fans woke up yesterday morning to the incredible news that the team will send, not one, not two, but four deserving players to Kansas City for the 2012 All Star Game: Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Trumbo will also lend his increasingly legendary bat to the Home Run Derby and fans still have the chance to send a fifth Angel to Kansas City! Ernesto Frieri is one of five American League players on the ballot for the Final Vote which concludes this Thursday, July 5th. Take that East Coast bias!
Of course, despite Angels fans’ best efforts, none of the honored players were selected in the fan vote. We have the players vote and managerial selection to thank for these well deserved recognitions. Now, obviously fans don’t vote for pitchers and the two most deserving Angels position players this season were each a bit of an odd case. Trout wasn’t called up until April 28th and consequently wasn’t included on the ballot. Trumbo was included on the ballot but as a third baseman, a position at which he only received eight starts none of which, admittedly, were of All Star caliber, unlike his mighty bat and starts in the outfield. But let’s be honest here, even in a season with completely normal circumstances for the highest performing players, can Angels fans ever rely on the fan vote to give their favorite team a fair chance?
Let’s talk about the fan vote. I vividly remember voting for All Stars as a child at Dodgers stadium. (Yes, you read that correctly. I was raised as a Dodger fan. But with time, adulthood and intensive ballpark therapy, I got better. ) All Star ballots were placed on all of the seats and my sister and I would run around in between innings, picking up every unclaimed ballot in our section (after the 4th inning, of course – you know, Dodgers game) so we could vote for every Dodger candidate as many times as possible. I also did the same thing for the Angels players on the AL side of the ballot. My grandfather, whom I adored, was a diehard Angels fan going back to the minor league Angels in the PCL days, so the initial seeds for my eventual love of this team were planted early.
As much as this is kind of an adorable story when we’re talking about a couple of passionate, very young fans in pigtails, it’s also an illustration of exactly what is wrong with the fan vote. How many adult fans approach the All Star Vote with any greater thought or analysis than my sister and I did when we were six and nine? Not nearly enough. Much like my sister and I as children, all too many fans vote for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back. Casual fans vote in droves for uniforms from either the Yankees, who literally have the most recognized sports brand in the word, or from any team that has recently burst into the extremely short memory of the public consciousness, usually with a recent World Series appearance.
This is not to say that the fan vote never makes appropriate selections. Deserving All Stars start every year. But among the deserving there are just as many controversies. Is Mike Napoli, currently batting .238, really the best catcher in the American League right now? Hasn’t Derek Jeter gotten in a few years recently based far more on that fact that he is a walking, talking baseball legend and deservedly so, rather than his current year’s performance? And so on. Not to mention the fact that the fan vote invites ballot stuffing with even less subtlety than the infamous Tammeny Hall political machine of old. While the players vote and managers’ selections are not immune to snubs either, participants seem better able to put away pettier considerations and make more of the right choices.
Unfortunately, MLB can’t do away with the fan vote all together. It’s an important tool for building casual fan interest in the All Star Game and in the second half of the season. As with any sport, there are a lot more casual MLB fans than diehards out there and all of our teams benefit when they come out to the ballpark frequently, catch the game on television regularly and spend as much money as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that MLB can’t change the All Star Game voting format as long as it remains compelling for the fans. With all schedule and format changes already in the works for next season, 2013 is the perfect time to change the format of the All Star Vote and reduce the impact of the fan vote.
Judging from voter turnout, fans enjoy the newer final vote process. Why not make the initial fan vote more like the final fan vote? For example, instead of voting for one player for each position, fans could vote for four players total with no restrictions on their selections. Fans can vote again in a longer format final vote, selecting another four players from an All Star Game manager selected list. In between the two fan votes, the player vote and managers’ selection process will have two more picks than usual (allowing non-fan dictated wiggle room to avoid some of the ‘there was no room him’ controversy) and managers will be allowed to determine their own starting line ups. Part of the fan draw will be tuning in to the All Star Game to see who has the honor of starting, as opposed to already knowing ahead of time. Perhaps a few hints can be given as the game approaches with starting pitchers announced a day or two ahead of time as a teaser.
Of course there will still be controversies. Opinions will always differ and some managers will always be better than others at picking the best players rather than just their own players. However I can’t help but think that, with recent examples of the benefit of home field advantage during the World Series fresh in everyone’s mind, a format that puts more of the All Star Game decisions in the hands of players and managers will lead to better choices. I’d suggest no longer having the All Star Game determine home field advantage for the World Series but, sadly, the likelihood of that even being considered is so inconceivable that it almost makes my voting format change suggestions look possible.
Wednesday evening, as Mark Trumbo’s broken bat fly ball arced into the glove of Yankee left fielder Dewayne Wise for the game’s final out, I experienced a brief flush of disappointment. But a rush of pride followed so quickly on disappointment’s heels and so powerfully, that I stood up in my living and gave the Angels a standing ovation of one. No, this is not my usual reaction to an Angels loss, far from it. But after that streak? A thrillingly fun eight game winning streak that was revitalizing to players and fans alike? I could do no less.
When I’ve worried and complained about the Angels this season, it’s primarily been about the team’s lack of fight – their missing swagger and the propensity of all too many players to seem as though they had given up the minute the Angels fell behind. Well, 8 wins and 40 runs on 75 hits with plenty of successful comeback moments later and that sense of defeat is gone. Everyone is fighting hard to win and the team has well deserved swagger to spare. In short, these are the Angels we have been waiting for all season. Judging from the grins and playful, loose expressions on the field, these are the Angels the players have been trying to be all season too. Now if that doesn’t deserve a standing O, then I don’t know what does.
So now the streak has come to end, as all great streaks eventually must, and I am still filled with a sense of possibility for this team. I mean, seriously – from last place to second place while cutting a significant swath through the number of games by which we trail Texas all with one streak? If the Angels keep playing like this, anything is possible, though I would still advocate a play for and enjoy each game as it comes philosophy. Hey, ‘we gotta play it one game at a time’ is cliché for a reason.
After the Angels last series against Texas, I wrote “Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen.” And I still absolutely believe this to be true. But while the conclusion I drew a few weeks ago was one of disappointment and questions, today I can’t help but smile and feel that the Angels are meeting this criteria.
In the month of May we lost Jered Weaver, Chris Iannetta, LaTroy Hawkins, Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans to the DL and Torii Hunter to family issues back home (which is having your priorities straight in my book). Losing your ace, your primary catcher, one of your more reliable bullpen arms and the majority of the outfield would have been enough reason for any team to crumple. Instead, these Angels rose to the occasion, bringing us to our feet like we’ve been dying to do all season. How the team continues to play with these missing teammates is going to be another test. The starting rotation in particular has some big shoes to fill with Weaver on the DL – literally as well as figuratively, he is 6’ 7”. But unlike I might have felt in early April, I feel strongly that these guys are up to the challenge. And, honestly, the way the team handled the loss on Wednesday spoke volumes more to me even than the way they handled their wins through the streak.
Ervin Santana started out shaky and then went from shaky to downright bad in the 3rd, giving up 5 runs. Again, bad starts happen even to great pitchers. It’s all in how the team responds, and this team responded by fighting their heart out. Some clutch hits here, a Trumbomb there, a couple of heads up defensive plays over there and suddenly the Angels have tied it up, are very much back in the game and Santana has sufficiently remastered his control to give the team 1-2-3 innings in the 4th and the 5th before retiring. Yes, we wound up losing that one, but when a team shows that much fight and spirit to the end in a near win, there are going to be a lot more actual wins in their future.
And now we find ourselves face to face with Texas for another series, this time at the Big A. I don’t know about you, but I am so excited I’m having a hard time working today – but I’m pushing to get stuff done anyway. I have tickets for Saturday’s game and am likely to cave on my self-imposed one game per home stand rule and nab tickets for Sunday’s game as well given even the slightest push. This series is not do or die yet, but the Angels certainly have an opportunity to make a statement here. I have no idea what the outcome will be but, as long as these Angels are the team that takes the field, we are all truly looking forward to three great games!
Focus. It’s essential, both for winning the game at hand and for reaching the post season. Completely out of sorts after the last three games, on Tuesday morning I was going to argue that Angels had hopelessly lost all focus.
Fortunately, I’m a moody writer in the reverse of tradition – I hate writing when I’m in a bad mood – so I had Tuesday’s gem to remind me that the prognosis is far from hopeless before I posted. The Angels have lost focus, it’s true, and for several seasons now if we’re being honest. But, they are working to regain their focus and we saw some of the fruits of that effort last night. Still, I think that Mike Scioscia’s comments after Monday’s game are correct. When you get mired in problems this deep, you aren’t going to fix them overnight. And, while my out of focus image is a pun-ny visual I also think it’s an apt analogy. As you focus the lens on a camera, your view bounces from terrible, to good, to blurry again, and back through good directly to bad a few more times until finally it’s just right.
The Angels aren’t fully focused yet and, while I hope Tuesday was the beginning of a fun winning streak, especially with Weaver on the mound today, I also imagine we’re in for a few more shifts through frustrating play before they do achieve complete focus. Batting averages are going up, or starting to go up again as the case may be. The bullpen’s been looking downright good lately. Situational hitting…is still a work in progress. Even when we win, LOBster is still far too much in season for anyone’s tastes. But the team’s overall record is improving – three steps forward, two steps back but, still, improvement. Much like focusing the camera, some of the interim results may give you a headache watching them, but ultimately we seem to be headed in a better direction.
And, once the Angels have finished focusing, what will the picture look like for late September? I know what we all want it to be but, honestly, I don’t think you can ever have more than a hopeful idea until you actually get there even in seasons where the team is doing well. Besides, I think focusing so hard on the end of the season before it even really began is the underlying reason the Angels got so very out of focus to begin with. Focus on the end of May first and then worry about June and so on. Although the end of the season is no longer as far away as any of us would like, it still really is a long way off yet.
The Hopefully Annual Baseball Extravaganza San Diego Edition: Part 2
After Sunday’s all too costly game – wishing both Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans full and speedy recoveries! – I didn’t have the heart to post about the end of our San Diego trip. But a one hit shutout does a lot to improve one’s outlook on things and scanning through my photos I was reminded of all of the positive things we fans can focus on right now while the team is getting it together. Hey, last season I was the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels Baseball, best get back to it, right?
1) Starting Pitching, of course. So there have been a few issues getting started, but ultimately the staff is strong top to bottom as they reminded us this week – Weaver more than bounced back from Texas on Friday. Haren looked much healthier and definitely pitched to win, as did Santana and Williams. (And can you believe we have a guy this good as our 5th starter? The more I watch his calm presence on the mound, the more I adore him). And then there was C.J. last night. ‘Nuff said. If the rest of the team is willing, clearly our starters can get us there.
2) The kids. I simply can’t say enough good things about what Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout bring to this team – and Trout especially was on fire at the plate throughout this series. While I absolutely did not want it to come about because of injuries, especially injuries like these, I am eager to see if, with playing time, Peter Bourjos can bounce back to last season’s batting average. If he can, having the combined dynamic speed and talent of Trout and Bourjos in the outfield and terrorizing the base paths is certainly cause for celebration, no Pollyannas required.
3) Kudos to the Bullpen. They’ve been looking pretty darned good lately, no? I think the shifts and changes have ultimately been good for the team. I’m thrilled with the addition of Ernesto Frieri to the pen. To a man, the relievers appear to be making whatever adjustments and corrections they can to help keep us in the game and the improvement has not gone unnoticed.
As for the game itself, it was a tough loss, but largely because leading up to that point the game was so good – a two run tie until the bottom of the 7th and the Angels fought hard to get on top again. There were frustrating wasted opportunities at the plate – though certainly not from Eric Aybar! What a game he had! But defensively the team was amazing and that catch of Trout’s to keep us in the game? Wow! I just wish it had ended differently.
And, a few more words about Petco itself – our seats were in the club section right behind home plate with a fantastic view of one gorgeous ballpark. A lot of the photos I’ve included in this post are warm up photos and that is largely because at Petco Park all of BP and the warm up sessions are easily viewable from the concourses at all levels and, for the most part, fans are allowed easy field section access until the end of batting practice, something that is only possible with the more open designs of the newer stadiums. I am absolutely against all of this moving to L.A. talk, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few modernizing upgrades to the Big A in Anaheim.
Something else I would like to point out is that I love the Padre’s sense of community. It was heartwarming to enjoy National Anthems played by a local school band on Friday and to have a local military color guard on Saturday.
Suffice to say it was a great a trip and I will jump at any chance I get to catch a game at Petco Park again.
Like many baseball fans, Seth and I have a goal to eventually enjoy a game at every major league baseball stadium and ideally some of the minor league stadiums as well. Economics and vacation time has thus far limited our progress to slow and local but, hey, progress is progress! Last season we took in a gloriously old-fashioned single admission double header at the Oakland Coliseum and experienced the Dodgers Giants rivalry at AT&T Park. This season we headed down the 5 freeway in the other direction and are currently enjoying the beginning of Interleague play as the Angels take on the Padres at Petco Park.
A Word About Petco Park: Gorgeous!
Okay, when can I ever limit myself to one word? Add to that enjoyable, friendly and in general a first class baseball experience. Everywhere we went, our clearly not rooting from around these parts red attire prompted staff to smile and welcome us to the park, a nice touch we have never experienced before. We enjoyed nice conversations with friendly ushers during batting practice and the game – baseball fans everywhere love talking about their team, their stadium, their experiences and I love to listen. The fans in our section were equally lovely, despite the fact of the Angels winning. And with recent Padre Ernesto Frieri sitting right in front of us in an Angels uniform (Ah, our seats! I’ll get to those is a minute.) and the other half of that trade, Alexi Amarista playing second, we had plenty to talk about.
Batting Practice and Bullpen Sessions, Oh My!
Taking in batting practice is one of my favorite ways to start a ballgame experience and yet, even as often as we go to the ballpark, this treat is a rare one for us. Working hours being what they are, even on the weekend, and L.A./Orange County traffic being what it is, if we’re lucky we get to the game about 20 minutes before first pitch and if we’re not, we get there somewhere during the 1st inning. So it was a nice vacation luxury to walk through the gates shortly after they first opened. Petco Park was designed with wide concourses that have great views of the field for most of their stretch, so we roamed freely about from the outfield above the beach bleachers, to our bullpen adjacent seats to home plate and back.
So, About Interleague Play…
Although it certainly isn’t the popular view, I actually enjoy and look forward to Interleague play. Maybe it’s because I was raised on the Dodgers and the National League. Maybe it’s because my team of choice has such a natural, longstanding and fun Interleague rival in the Dodgers? Or maybe it’s just that my personality is as slightly skewed from the norm in my baseball fandom as it is in everything else? Whatever it is, I look forward to seeing all of the unusual matchups Interleague play has to offer. Hello, odd visuals like the Angels playing against the storied ivy draped backdrop of Wrigley Field? How can that not be fun? Or, at least, that’s what I think. Besides, watching American League pitchers bat is a seasonal novelty I will never tire of and some guys surprise you:
As if All of This Preamble Wasn’t Enough, the Game Rocked…
The Angels played well and that was especially nice to see after Thursday’s game against the White Sox. Yes, I know, the Padres are struggling but so are the Angels and the struggling Royals just swept the unstoppable Rangers so you never can tell how these matchups will turn out once you take them from paper to the field. I was proud of our guys! Jered Weaver looked great – and not just with his bat . Our bats were present and made that presence known. Our defense had more than moved on from Thursday’s gaffs – hey, who put that sun up there in the sky? *facepalm* – and the bullpen rocked. All that and a W – what more could a fan ask for?
Okay, Now That’s Funny!
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I prefer my blog entries, my friends and, indeed, my baseball with a rollicking sense of humor, the more off kilter the better. I love baseball’s crazy prank traditions, overly complex and fabulously silly rookie hazing rituals, and the goofy things that stadium personnel do to the opposing team. This evening it was the Padres Jumbotron Angels player slides that had me cracking up:
Big A Jumbotron programmers can be funny too, just usually at the Angels expense. For example, when our pitchers load the bases with only one out or no outs, it’s not uncommon for the stat to tell us how rarely the batter hits into a double play or how prone he is to grand slams. Ummm…thanks guys?
Anyway, that concludes Part 1 of our excursion. We have great seats for today’s game too and I am really looking forward to it – Go Angels!!
When the weekend began, I was annoyed. Here were the Angels entering this must-watch first series of the year against the arch-rival Rangers, and I was stuck with the piles and piles of work I brought home in order to meet a tight deadline. Oh, I still had every intention of watching the games, just over the top edge of my laptop while I rewrote course catalogs for new states. Of course, you all saw what happened…the box scores and sports news recaps if nothing else. As it turned out, aside from Saturday, my work was far more entertaining and less frustrating than watching the Angels…and, for the record, anytime anything compares unfavorably to wrestling with Massachusetts state regulations, that’s really saying something. Ugh, indeed!
I think Angels fans were looking to this series for the answer to one of the biggest questions of our season. I know I was. So, can the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? You may be surprised at my answer but, yes they can, and win. Just look at Saturday. The Rangers weren’t asleep at the wheel, the Angels just actually showed up and played and it was a good close game.
However the frustrations and, let’s face it, colossal beat downs of this series replaced that question with a far more relevant one – will the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? I don’t think we have a definitive answer to that one yet, but Friday and Sunday sure didn’t put a hopeful spin on things.
Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen. And this team? I just don’t know. I see some guys, mostly the younger guys, continuing to fight hard even when the score looks impossible and I see other guys starting to go through the motions when the game gets tough.
I prefer to look at some of the good examples. Take Jered Weaver. He had a terrible outing and his temper flare in the dugout after gaving up the grand slam to Nelson Cruz is now all over MLBN and ESPN. But you know what? I like his fire. No, he wasn’t able to get it back together when he got back to the mound in the next inning, but terrible starts happen. He didn’t give in, he got mad. When he finally left the game, singing along to Hit the Road Jack, the calmly livid look on his face reminded me very much of the his expression right before he threw the infamous pitch during that game against the Tigers last season. No, I don’t think this means opposing batters need to think about hitting the decks the next time Weaver takes the mound, but I do think it means he’s about to take care of business. And I’ll bet that in his next outings and, especially the next time he starts against Texas, things will be very different. We need to see more guys with that passion and resolve.
Mark Trumbo looks frustrated these days. Given a few seconds and even less effort, I think we can all come up with a whole slew of reasons why that might be. But he turns that frustration on the ball and knocks it deep into the stands. There are a lot of guys who are frustrated right now, but I want to see more of them channeling it like that. I also want to see more speed and defense in the outfield. Yes, Vernon Wells got a timely hit on Sunday and we’re grateful. But Peter Bourjos got a timely bunt that also led to runs on Saturday and which outfield had better defense which, let’s face it, we’re going to need against most of our competitors – Wells, Trout and Hunter or Trout, Bourjos and Hunter? (Yeah, I know Trumbo was actually in right on Sunday, but the Wells/Trout/Hunter combo has been more regular.) Which outfield had more fighters? Exactly. Now let’s hope Mike Scioscia comes to the same conclusion.
And there’s one more thing I think the team needs to do, stop worrying about championships, rankings, October, all of it and just play today. And then when tomorrow becomes today, they need to just play today again, and so on. It feels like everyone is pressing so hard for what could be at the end of the season, for what they feel should be that they are no longer able to just be and the end results are anything but pretty. And, from a sanity perspective, I think that goes doubly for us fans.
Mike Scioscia left Albert Pujols out of the lineup today, a common Scioscia tool to give a struggling player a day away from the grind to mentally refresh for, hopefully, a new approach. So I don’t think I can avoid it any longer. Apparently it’s high time for the obligatory what’s wrong with Albert Pujols post. Well, I do blog about the Angels, after all, so you know that tackling this topic is practically a contractual obligation.
As you may or may not have noticed, although I do comment on Pujols from time to time, I’ve pretty much avoided arm chair batting coaching, ranting, raving, advising, foaming at the mouth, begging, pleading and/or keeping a running lack of homerun tally anywhere even remotely in his general direction. It’s not that I don’t care, far from it. It’s just that I am absolutely certain he’ll come around eventually, though I am coming to realize that eventually may be a lot later than I originally thought, and while his slumbering bat is certainly a problem, fixating on it fixes nothing and ignores a whole host of other problems that have been far thornier for going on three seasons now.
As for what’s wrong with Albert? Well, there’s the new league/new ball parks/new opposing pitchers theory. At least in the short term that was probably part of it. Angels blogger True Grich suggests that moving away from his wife and children, who are remaining in St. Louis for the time being might have a lot to do with things. I can’t say I disagree. I mean going for long periods of time without…companionship, someone to lighten up your off time, hugs from the kidlets, comfort, laughing together, someone to talk through the bad stuff with and anything else that one might add after those ellipses, when one was used to enjoying those things on a regular basis would throw anyone for a loop, especially when things aren’t going well. MLB Network recently compared the dimensions of Angels stadium to Busch stadium, pointing out that Pujols’ Angels stadium on the warning track fly outs would simply have been out of the ballpark at Busch stadium. Well, honestly, I’d been wondering about this very thing and given that many of Pujols’ homeruns weren’t of the tape measure variety, I can see how this would seriously mess up a person’s swing for a while.
I think all three of these things are part of the problem, but I actually think that the main problem is the homeruns, or rather that homeruns have become the fixation. When he is more himself, Pujols hits for average and for power, which means that he hits a lot of singles and doubles and those figure heavily into his RBI and run totals. He keeps saying he isn’t a homerun hitter that he’s more of a doubles guy and this is true in the same sense that Jered Weaver says he’s not really a strikeout pitcher. Strikeouts aren’t Weaver’s primary goal, they just happen a lot when he’s on his game. Ditto for Pujols and the homeruns. When he’s on his game and hitting well, the homeruns just come along with all of other hits.
But ever since the Angels signed Pujols, the fixation has been on his eventual homerun total and when he was going to hit the first one. This wouldn’t be a problem if Albert himself wasn’t also fixated on that first homerun and obviously swinging for the fences. Which came first, the Angels’ expectations or Pujols’ pressure on himself? I don’t even think it matters but somehow he needs to start believing his own words again and just focus on hitting the ball and the rest will come. Heck, homeruns are a wonderful, highly productive tool in the lineup, but if Pujols gives us an around .300 batting average and high RBI and run total, I personally wouldn’t care about how many of those hits were specifically homeruns.
I really hope that taking a day off has helped Pujols clear his head…or reach the point where he’s frustrated enough to brute force stubborn his way through his problems. But I don’t think it would hurt to also arrange a visit from his family, wipe the homerun thoughts completely from his mind and watch a tape of that MLBN segment, you know, just in case.
In the meantime, it’s sad to hear everyone on the team talking about Pujols in terms that are the very definition of Mendoza line – Yes, he’s struggling at the plate, but he’ll come around and in the mean time look at that defense. – but I’m afraid that’s just the way it’s going to have to be until he figures it out and comes around. The fact of the matter is that his defense is out of sight and do we really want to be the team who decided after less than two months that a.326 lifetime batting average over 11 seasons and one+ month (even after all of this ick) is somehow a fluke? Because even if takes most of this season for Pujols to get back to his usual form, it will be worth it in the long run…that said, if it does take most of the season, I may have to rethink my no ranting, raving, whining and/or foaming at the mouth policy. I’m just saying’.
* * * * *
Now, on to something happier. After two games in a row that made me think temper tantrums are seriously wasted on the young, the Angels offense finally showed back up, thanks primarily to a significant youth uprising. Mike Trout sent his first homerun of the season sailing over the wall. Mark Trumbo hit a Trumbomb that may just now have landed, I mean we’re talking into right into Big Papi 2010 Homerun Derby territory. C.J. Wilson pitched a good game tonight, the defense was on and the Angels offense pushed and pushed again, forcing and then taking advantage of several Blue Jay errors. It was like watching Friday’s game but in reverse and, you know, fun! If Trumbo, Trout and Kendrys Morales (who also had a big night) aren’t all in the lineup tomorrow after the night they had then I truly will think, love Scioscia though I do, that there is an evil Magic 8 Ball making all too many of the lineup decisions.
So, Kristen. How was the ballgame?
Oh, it was nice. Fun. You know. They threw the ball, caught the ball and hit the ball. Couple of good plays. Just another Halo victory, as the announcers say. Oh…yeah…there was one other thing…
OMG!!! OMG!!! Jered Weaver threw a no hitter!!! And it was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my entire life. He was so on, he made it look effortless. I am still bouncing with excitement as I type this hours later and might quite possibly still be cheering were it not for the fact that I am hoarse from all of the cheering I did at the game – my neighbors are grateful and they don’t even know it, he he. Congratulations, Jered! This was beyond well deserved!!!
So, yeah. That was the first no hitter I’ve ever seen in person, a thought I heard echoed by many, most of whom are older than I and have therefore seen a great deal more live baseball, as the jubilant crowd lingered, mingled and eventually meandered their way out. It was just so magical that I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave. I know I had to pry myself away from the rails. So, now I am going to try to string together a few coherent thoughts about the game and the Angels beyond just exclaiming Wow!! over and over again, but I can’t make any promises on that front. As I said before, I’m pretty giddy.
So, as you may have heard a place or two…or ten…thousand, the Angels had a rough April. Enough pieces were there for a winning team, but those pieces just weren’t working together or at the same time. The team desperately needed not just a spark, but several sparks in rapid succession, sufficient to get a fire a going. So, starting Friday, the team makes several needed changes. Spark. Last night Jerome Williams pitched a gem, a complete game, three-hit shutout. Spark! And the offense started to pick up – Hello Torii ‘Homerun’ Hunter and Howie ‘one double shy of the cycle’ Kendrick! Spark!!
Then Jered Weaver takes the mound and flat out deals – 9 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. He threw 77 of his 121 pitches for strikes. Spark! Spark!! Spark!!!
And to top it all off, finally gifted with a lineup that simultaneously contained all of the teams’ best hitters, the Angels offense just went to town. Nine runs on 15 hits?! Baseballs were flying over the wall, zinging into the outfield, sneaking through the infield. It was a sight to behold. Spark! SPARK! Whooooosh. Conflagration? I hope so. We’ll find out this series when we face the Blue Jays.
Yes, we could look at sweeping the Twins as just the Angels beating up on a team that had an even worse April than we did. The Angels just did what they were supposed to do, big deal – except that in this case it is. The Angels did what they were supposed to do, which means that all of those sparks are starting to catch fire. Hip hip and ten thousand huzzahs. Keep it going boys and soon everyone’s going to catch on fire. So, Dan Haren. Weaver one upped Williams. You’re a competitive fellow. How about it? Care to try for the one up like you did last season? It could be fun!
So back to this whole no hitter thing. Being there was almost indescribable, but I’ll try. The crowd was sparse. Way too sparse for my tastes. Blame the aforementioned April woes combined with a weeknight game on a night that really looked like the morning’s rain might resume at any moment despite what the weather reports said. But by the fifth inning this small crowd was so excited, so invested in every pitch, that the feeling was absolutely electric and it filled the stadium.
Everyone knew what was going on. Ball players like to say they never look at the scoreboard but the fans make no such pretenses. And we all kept looking at each other, giving thumbs up and high fives. Bouncing up and down. Cheering. Pumping our fists and banging on the empty seats. All jumping out of our skins to shout out loud that which tradition forbids us from so much as whispering before the outcome of the final pitch…well, except for these two obnoxious ladies who from the 6th inning on would not shut up with the “Catch it Torii, catch it. Don’t spoil the no hitter!” “Way to go Pete, you saved the no hitter!” and so on. Look, I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe that saying no hitter during a no hitter, unless of course the person you’re saying it to is the pitcher in question, will have any impact on the game. But there are some traditions you just don’t break, and this is one of them. For the most part, they were simply ignored. And after that final out, the crowd went nuts chanting “Weaver, Weaver!” and jumping up and down.
And can I just say how heartwarming it was to see our hometown hero who made it clear in no uncertain terms last season that he loves this team as much as we do, accomplish so much at home in front of friends and family! Watching him exchange emotional hugs with his parents and then sweep his new bride – who has a great name, by the way, even though she spells it funny – up into an embrace before the press conferences began? This was a slice of what baseball used to be.
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And the absolute icing on the evening’s seriously delectable cake was our seats. Some season ticket holder with a very exclusive location just couldn’t make the game this evening – bet they’re kicking themselves now, don’t you? – and put their tickets up for sale online. I really will never be able to thank them enough because not only were Seth and I there for this amazing game, we watched it from the front row of the Knothole Club, the Club level restaurant in right field just to the “It’s outta here!” side of the foul pole. The view? The service? The food? Amazing! This game made its own ballpark experience. We would have enjoyed ourselves in even the cheapest of cheap seats. But having the rare opportunity to enjoy such luxurious surroundings and a perfectly unobstructed view of the magic on the mound made it even better.
I was going to bite my tongue and just post my photos from Sunday’s Fan Fest and ensuing disappointing game. I was going to refrain from ranting and just see how things worked out for a little while longer, really I was. And then, this evening. Yuck!!! …only, I didn’t say yuck.
< rant >
Yes, Ervin Santana gave up five runs, four of them solo homeruns. Yes, the team was facing David Price. But five runs should not be an insurmountable deficit, especially with these bats in the lineup. The offense needs to find their swings, find their chemistry and start producing and, although it’s only April, they need to do it quickly before we fall too much farther in the hole. But one thing that would seriously help is a having a set lineup.
Look, I love Mike Scioscia and am absolutely not part of the crowd calling for his head, but the another day, another lineup thing has got to stop. 15 different lineups in the first 17 games is Lewis Carroll levels of ridiculous without any of Lewis Carroll’s awesomeness to me…hence my rusty attempts at cartooning. (Be kind. This is the first time I’ve put pencil to drawing pad with any greater cartooning intent than amusing my niece and nephew in years. *nervous giggle*)
Think about it, 15 lineups and none of them have worked? How do we really know that? I mean, did they really not work, or did they just not work that day? Because expecting to be able to assess a lineup accurately after just one game is kind of like going speed dating and expecting a marriage proposal from someone by the end of the evening. And if all Scioscia is trying to do is find a lineup that produces, why didn’t he stick with any of the lineups he used in games the Angels won? Clearly I’m not a baseball manager, but does this make sense to anyone?
We have pitchers with radically different styles and, apparently, way more depth than is good for us. I understand this. So if Scioscia can’t come up with just one lineup to stick with – and I do get that – than how about one lineup for fly ball pitchers and one lineup for ground ball pitchers or something like that? Restricting the crazy lineup roulette to two or three in some sort of regular rotation would surely be an improvement.
Again, I have no delusions of grandeur that I am some sort of baseball managing genius but certain things just seem obvious, especially after a few games. Albert Pujols should not be DHing, at least not this year, next year or any year so long as keeps making those outrageous defensive plays. Good God damn, that man can move. Young guys like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos, who have a set position they aren’t experimenting with or trying out for should not sit out a game to “rest” unless there are legitimate reasons they need to rest and by that I mean illness and injuries. And they should have a static position in the lineup to go with their regular playtime. Howie was hitting! He was hitting a ton. Then he sat out a day and now he’s not hitting anymore. Yes, he should do his best to maintain his own rhythm but shouldn’t the lineup support him in this endeavor?
Also, Mark Trumbo needs to be in the lineup as often as possible, and Kendrys Morales needs to be in it more often than not. And leave Torii Hunter in right. Yes, I realize that doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room. Scioscia is left with flopping Trumbo, Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo at third; Trumbo and Vernon Wells in left; and Kendrys and Bobby Abreu at DH, because let’s be honest here, neither of them should be playing anywhere on the field right now. But he doesn’t need a whole lot of wiggle room with only two or three lineups on a regular schedule, now does he?
</ rant >
Am I sure the Angels will turn it around eventually? Absolutely. Am I sure it will happen in enough time to matter? Not completely, no. Especially not with the rate at which Texas is tearing through the opposition. I’m not giving up by any means – Hello, it’s April! – but something needs to change and fast…seriously guys. Don’t make me turn this blog around and start cartooning again.
And, while we’re at it, Torii and Vernon (Because, yes, of course the Angels read this blog. Why do you ask? ), quit messing with Peter Bourjos’ walk. I don’t know for certain that that is what’s messing with his swing, but something sure is so you might as well cool it just in case.
Okay. Now </ rant >