Results tagged ‘ Mike Scioscia ’

Angels vs. Royals: More Blah, but Then Victory!

Friday’s Angels looked much like Monday through Thursday’s Angels, only with much better fielding than on several of the previous days. While this was an improvement, it was not enough to yield a different result and they lost four to two. The Angels aren’t exactly getting killed on the field this season. Most of the losses have been close. But it does go to show that if you aren’t scoring many runs, then your pitching and fielding have to be absolute perfection game in and game out in order to compensate for it, and that just isn’t feasible for any team.

So, cut to last night’s seven to five victory over the Royals. What changed? Several very important things as it turns out:

The veteran bats came alive. I admit it. I was less than pleased when I saw Vernon Wells batting cleanup last night. But he waled on the ball, going three for four with nice solid base hits that moved runners around the bases and lead to Wells scoring a run each time he made it on base. Howie Kendrick also went three for four, with two RBIs. Bobby Abreu had a key hit and he and Torii Hunter worked counts into walks for needed bodies on base. I cannot tell you how nice it was to see all of them on in one game!

We put runners on base and scored runs in multiple innings. If you look at the typical 2011 Angels box score, the one to three runs scored by our heroes usually occur all in one inning, often early in the game and then they don’t score again. This has not been an effective strategy. Last night, the Angels scored four runs in the second – more than their game average already – added a fifth run in the third and then game back to put two runs on the board and regain the lead in the 8th.

Our fielding was stellar. The Angels fielding has been good for most of 2011, but last night it was just on fire and it was equally on fire all around the diamond. Double plays. Two beautiful plays at the plate, including one highlight reel play on a perfect throw from Torii in right. Great catches all over the field and heads up back up. 

We stole four bases! Stolen bases is one of many areas where sabermetrics and I have to agree to disagree. A team doesn’t have to be loaded with power hitters to win as long as they know how to consistently manufacture runs. The Angels know how to manufacture runs. This is one of Mike Sciocia’s specialties as a manager. They just haven’t been doing it consistently. Last night, the final two runs were the result of situational hitting, stolen bases and smartly taking advantage of a few Royals mistakes. This is a great sign and hopefully the beginning of a re-emerging trend. Now let’s just hope Alberto Callaspo, who pulled a hamstring during a successful double steal, is able to move from being day to day back to an everday player soon. This injuries trend is one that can stop any day now.

Looking at the season strictly from a numbers standpoint, one win by no means offsets six straight losses, even when the rest of the division helpfully loses again. But I never think numbers tell the whole story, especially in early June. They’re more like a guideline, actually. ;) This was a good solid win, a pretty win if you will, the end result of several missing pieces coming together for the Angels all at once while other team strengths continued. If the Angels can capitalize on the momentum from this game heading into interleague, I think they can start putting together enough wins for significance from any standpoint!

Friday (and Saturday!) Gourmet, Wine & Angels 

This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread? Well, the chefs – read, Seth and I – were tired after a long week and indulged in a bit of lazy cooking: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches with bacon and TJ’s guacamole (hence the lazy). Quick and dirty, but tasty. And the wine was amazing – Mitchella’s 2007 Cabernet which tastes of black currants and dark chocolate. Yum!

We were better rested on Saturday and grilled up a feast for the evening game. Tri-tip, rubbed with olive oil, crushed garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, which my husband grilled to that perfect state where the meat has an amazing crust, but is a gorgeous medium to medium rare throughout when you slice into it. Tri-tip is an absolutely glorious cut of beef that I am sorry to say we Californians have not shared much with the rest of the country. Trust me, you are very sad. You just don’t know it. ;) We served it with black beans, fresh tortillas and queso fresco and squash lightly sautéed with garlic and black pepper. Paired with Dead Nuts, Chronic Cellars luscious Zinfandel, Petite Sirah blend, it was a fantastic meal…and the Angels won, so if I were inclined to superstitions on that front I would say they prefer us to make more of an effort for the game, LOL.

The Day(s) the Angels Bats Stood Still (with runners in scoring position)

Okay, so that title could accurately describe most Angels games this season, including games we win. But, after scoring only 10 runs in the last 6 games (or the month of June so far, if you prefer), I felt it was particularly appropriate today. Mercifully, and quite improbably, the entire AL West lost on both Monday and Tuesday so this hasn’t hurt the Angels as badly as it could have, though it means we missed to stellar opportunities to gain ground on Texas and Seattle. I’m not seriously pushing the panic button yet, but Klaatu barada nikto already! Angels stop the team’s self-destruction now, while we still can without an extremely difficult slog uphill!

I spent the majority of Monday’s game against the Rays alternately begging, pleading and threatening in the direction of the TV for the Angels to just score some runs in the plural. No dice. Last night was sadly much of the same, but it was bittersweet. The loss was a blow, but any night at the ballpark, especially an unexpected one, can only be a good one. Yes, an unexpected night at the ballpark. My husband called me just before four yesterday, obviously very busy at work, and barely had time to listen to my excited “Hell, yeah!” response to his “If I told you we had the company seats tonight could you run into Pasadena and pick up the tickets?” before rushing me off the phone with an OkayThanksCallYouLater. Tease.

Except he wasn’t teasing. (Also, he wasn’t rude. We give each other leave to outright hang up on one another at work if necessary. Business is important and when it has to come first, well then, it does with no whining or hurt feelings.) Long story short – sales contest, Angels tickets reward, amazing company seats and your intrepid blogger’s mission, which she ecstatically chose to accept, was driving from Whittier to Pasadena for the tickets, to Azusa for the Angels gear and camera, to Brea to pick up the husband and then to Anaheim for the game. A journey of 75 miles, in less than 3 hours, in L.A. rush hour traffic…and we just made it inside the stadium by first pitch, whoo hoo!
The view from the seats – yes, that is home plate you see. We were ten rows back from the sign in front. Just, wow! I only wish we could have seen an amazing comeback from these seats. If I were ever so lucky as to be outrageously wealthy, I wouldn’t have a box, I would buy season tickets someplace like this – on the field, home team side, close to plate but still on the dangerous side of the net and as close to the front row as I could get.

The view from the company seats. I hope my husband is lucky enough to earn these again. :) Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dan Haren on the mound, executing the brief pause in his delivery. I call it the antici…..pation delivery. This was Haren’s first time back on the mound after the back pain that delayed his originally scheduled Saturday start – because he was able to pitch in the same spin through the rotation, it counts as a delayed start, not a missed start, so his personal record remains intact. He was really working for each pitch in the first four innings and my initial thought was that he started back too soon. But he worked back into a strong rhythm after that and looked as good as ever by the 5th. I guess the guy really did just need to get out there and pitch. My hat’s off to you Dan. Even with the rough patch, you pitched well enough to win.

Dan Haren on the mound, executing the famous - and wickedly effective! - pause in his delivery. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Bobby Abreu in left field. Because he is Mike Scioscia and this is what he does, but more so lately because of the team’s miniscule RISP, there have been quite a few lineup shakeups the last few weeks. Sorry Bobby, but last night’s lineup resulted in one of my least favorite outfield configurations – Bobby in left, Vernon Wells in center and Torii Hunter in right. We have absolutely zero speed on the left side of the outfield with this configuration and less speed than ideal in the center and on the right. Also, Wells is much better these days in the smaller area of left field and he just plain doesn’t play our center field wall well. The end result was a triple to left that should have been a double and a double to center that should have been an out, among other issues.

Bobby Abreu in left field, preparing to break with the pitch. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo and runner Casey Kotchman (At least, I’m 90% certain it’s Kotchman based on the order of the photos. Let me know if I am wrong) move with the pitch. This was partially just me playing with the camera from our close to the field vantage, but I like the photo. Mark Trumbo has been a bright spot in terms of hitting for power and continuing to produce during the team’s at the plate slump. It was a shame that his leadoff double turned triple by an error in the 7th was wasted.

First baseman Mark Trumbo moves positions with the pitch as Casey Kotchman takes a lead off the bag. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Hank Conger maneuvers behind the plate. This is partially another Kristen was playing with camera again (see the ball), and partially a Kristen really loves catchers photo. I can’t help it, most of my favorite players are catchers (or centerfielders…or short stops…or more or less anyone in an Angels uniform ;) ). What can I say? I admire the guy who calls the shots on the play, holds the pitcher together when things are getting rough, and faces down major league freight trains bearing down on him several times a game, while he blocks the plate like a badass. Catchers rock! And I think Conger is shaping up to be a very, very good one.

Catcher Hank Conger moves into position with the pitch as Reid Brignac decides to take this one. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz is one of many MLB officials who helps guage the direction the play is going with one hand on the catcher's back. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Joe Maddon says, oh and one other thing during an argument with the umpires. I still haven’t watched the replay myself, wherein it sounds like Johnny Damon was in fact out at the plate, as it appeared from my vantage pretty much right there, but it was a really close play. Great throw from Torii to the plate and great execution by catcher Hank Conger either way. And wow, Damon really is playing like his younger self again on the Rays.

"And another thing..." Rays manager Joe Maddon argues a close call at the plate. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Howie Kendrick at the plate with Bobby Abreu on deck. Howie, less than a week off the DL, had a strong ground rules double hit this evening and Bobby continued his streak at the plate, going 2 for 4, both of which were bright spots.

Howie Kendrick at bat with Bobby Abreu taking practice swings on deck. The Rays' John Jaso is catching. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii warms up before his final at bat. I really hate it when Torii strikes out and especially in the last inning, because you can see in his face how much not coming through bothers him. But he went 2 for 4 this game so maybe things are falling back into place for him.

Torii Hunter warms up before his final at bat as Alberto Callaspo warms up behind him. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Erick Aybar looking sheepish – as well he should after those plays at short. This photo montage wasn’t meant to be a litany of the Angels ills last night, but it’s hard to be a complete Pollyanna. Aybar is one of my favorite short stops most of the time. But every few games he starts making errors and missing plays such that it boggles the mind to think it’s still the same guy at short. This was one of those games, though he did help out with a hit to open the first inning and his outs at the plate came early enough in each inning that he was not one of the game’s rally killers.

Shortstop Erick Aybar does not look happy in the later innings of the game. Vernon Wells is seen behind him in centerfield. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Kevin Jepsen takes the mound. Jepsen had a refreshing outing for the last one and one/third innings – one hit, one intentional walk (I hate this play, and question it almost every time even though I know it is well accepted strategy.) and one very well timed and important strike out. When Jep pitches like this, I love to see him on the mound. Even though he is no longer number 65, he’s started walking out to Rob Zombie’s Thunderkiss ’65 again which is always a fun one to hear, especially if it helps Jep bring back the swagger of some of his better outings in years past.

Reliever Kevin Jepsen begins his pitch as second baseman Howie Kendrick moves into position behind him. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And that was my impromptu evening at the ballpark. Yay for the ballpark. Sob for the loss. Hopefully the Angels bring their clutch bats to the final game because I am about to leave for the game…with more planned tickets this time.

Friday Gourmet, Wine & Angels: Let the Wild Interleague Rumpus Begin

Now that was the way to come back from a bad couple of weeks. Nine runs on ten hits to beat the Braves 9 to 0. Ervin Santana pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout and was just plain nasty, striking out seven and walking no one, throwing both his slider and breaking ball for strikes. Not a single Brave made it to second base. It was beautiful.

Our bats were back and the rookies in particular were in fine form. Mark Trumbo had a fantastic game with a couple of stellar plays at first, a three-run homerun and two additional hits, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Alexi Amarista went hitless but continues to impress in the field with several great plays and one leaping catch that did not look possible…until he did it. Hank Conger had a great night behind the plate and Peter Bourjos (okay, technically no longer a rookie, but only just barely) was able to put those quick feet to use yet again in center and on the base paths, with one hit, one hit by pitch and two runs scored.

The veterans were not left out of the fun either. Torii Hunter, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu all had hits. Torii had a great night in right field and even managed to make fun of his own blunder against the Mariners. He pretended, quite convincingly, to lose the ball in the twilight on a routine pop-up before catching it effortlessly, but not before frightening Santana, Bourjos and Mike Scioscia. Well played Torii! We were cracking up over here.

 Oh, and I have decided that Ervin Santana is Hobbes. Outside of the game, he is charming, funny and downright sweet seeming in interviews. The term affable comes to mind. Much like the warm fuzzy side of Calvin’s imaginary companion. On the mound with his game face on, however, Santana’s face settles into an intense predatory smile and, though his eyes are completely hidden in the shadow of his cap, I always expect them to glow from underneath, like Hobbes in pouncing mode with the opposing team’s batters in the role of the unsuspecting Calvin just home from school. I love it!

So, this week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: grilled turkey and brie sandwiches topped with apples, pickled red onions and baby greens tossed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and accompanied by Rio Seco’s (the baseball winery) MVP reserve, a flavorful Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot blend perfectly themed for the evening. It was delicious but, even better, it was a great game! Keep it up gentlemen, this could be the beginning of a wonderful trend!

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I realize that I am in the minority on MLBlogs, but I actually like Interleague play…and not just because the Angels usually rock it. I understand it’s not traditional. I understand that many of the rivalries are manufactured. I understand it can lead to uneven match-ups across a given division, but I don’t care. It’s just plain fun to watch the kind of crazy scenarios we played out as kids – the Angels catching balls against the backdrop of Wrigley’s ivy, the Dodgers dealing with the green monster – come to life.

Part of my attitude may come from the fact that Interleague play developed during the period of my baseball discontent and self-imposed exile from the sport. I didn’t watch it develop like the rest of you. I just checked back into the game in 2004 and *poof* we have Interleague play now. I am enough of a purist that, when I came back to baseball, I hated the new three division league structure, I hated the addition of wild card teams to the playoffs and I hated the whole stupid pitch count thing, but I enjoyed Interleague play. Go figure. Incidentally, I have come to accept three divisions and wild card teams, though it happened slowly and grudgingly, but I still do not like pitch counts and overspecialization among pitchers at all.

Angels Tame Hot Streaking Tribe Winning 2 Out of 3

The Angels took two out of three against the first-place Cleveland Indians and gave Mike Scioscia his 1,000th win as a manager, while all of Major League Baseball donned the now traditional pink accessories for Mothers’ Day in support of Breast Cancer. Not a bad weekend, eh? Outside of baseball, it’s actually been a weird weekend for me. I brought a lot of work home, we had my in-laws over for Mothers’ Day and we got to go to the game last night (Yay!), so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for extras including, sadly, blogging. We didn’t even do our usual Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels. We watched the game, but it was more of a Friday leftover (but still delicious) taco salad, Kristen building PDF forms for work and Angels kind of affair…though we did enjoy Pasoport’s lovely Ruby port for an extra innings dessert.

I remembered to bring an actual camera to Saturday’s game instead of just my Droid, so I figured in lieu of a more detailed write-up of the games, I’d just share some of the photos I took. It was mostly a good game with lots of scuffling back and forth, and right up until Maicer Izturis’ uncharacteristically terrible decision to run to third in the 8th, I thought the guys might pull this one off. Unfortunately no, so I was greeted with this very sad, very unlit Halo when we 20110507 Angels vs Indians - Sad Halo - for blog.jpg left the stadium. I mention the Halo a lot but it occurs to me that you might not all know what I’m talking about. The Giant A you see before you is the Big A’s namesake and was the stadium’s original scoreboard. It was moved to the parking lot and transformed into an electronic marquee when the stadium was renovated in the late 1970’s to accommodate the Rams. When the Angels win, the Halo around the top lights up, which is why so many Angels fans great a win with loud variations on Light that baby up!

We had the exact same seats we had for the last game against the Indians, oddly enough. First row of the top level, two sections behind third base. What a difference a few megapixels and a real zoom makes! This is Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar stretching and goofing around with, I believe, Orlando Cabrera before the game. I know old school rules outlaw fraternization between opposing players, but I actually like seeing the players hang out together before the game, then put their game faces on try to outdo their buddies:

20110507 Angels vs Indians - Aybar Izturis & O Cabrera 1 - for blog.jpg

I was pleased to capture this shot because you can the first long stride of Jered Weavers delivery (the right foot then lands right at the base of the mound or slightly off of it and angling towards first during his release, pretty cool stuff) and Mark Trumbo and Izturis moving into position at first and third. Weaver looked a little off all night, like he had to work for each pitch. I think he is still recovering from the weakening effects of his stomach ailment last weekend. I have no doubt he’ll be back on top again soon:

20110507 Angels vs Indians - Weaver Infield View - for blog.jpg

Angels players hang out on the bar of the dugout in the bottom of the first. I believe that is Tyler Chatwood to the left of Bobby Wilson (#46). Chatwood pitched a great game Friday night, but was unable to earn the win – he needs to work on his walk to strike ratio. Fernando Rodney was lights out on Friday and definitely earned the win…and then he almost blew it for the Angels on Sunday. I wish he could figure things out.

20110507 Angels vs Indians - Angels Dugout - for blog.jpg

Mark Trumbo (in the on deck circle) and Howie Kendrick (the RBI) congratulate Vernon Wells on his two-run homerun. He’s coming around. It’s taking a little while, but he’s coming around:

20110507 Angels vs Indians - Wells Homerun - for blog.jpg

Bobby Abreu takes a swing. It seems like such an obvious thing to say but, looking at the last several games’ stats, when we hit the ball with runners in scoring position we win. When we don’t we don’t. The Angels had 8 hits in Saturday’s losing effort compared to 6 in Sunday’s winning one. Its not the hits, it’s the hitting when it counts:

20110507 Angels vs Indians - Bobby Swings - For Blog.jpg

Mark Trumbo shown in one of what would be the many attempts to pick off Grady Sizemore at fist. Our fielding this game, and indeed in the rest of the series, was very good with the Angels committing 0 errors:

20110507 Angels vs Indians - Trumbo & Sizemore - For Blog.jpg

The photo I wish I had? The Kiss Cam focusing on the Indians Bullpen! Basically, in the middle of the 6th inning, the cameramen focus on couples throughout the stadium, showing them on the Jumbotron in a heart- shaped frame and any couple who finds themselves in said predicament is supposed to kiss. 90% of the time, I think it’s annoying. I generally do not like any of the gimmacks geared towards the fan with no attention span. Watch the game, okay. But every now and then something funny happens with the Kiss Cam. At the Angels vs. Indians game I attended in April, the Kiss Cam panned into the Indians bullpen for the final shot, focusing tightly on two relievers (and I wish I could tell you who) who were in a deep discussion that took on overtones of “A Talk” with the Kiss Cam added context. The fans laughed uproariously and the relievers didn’t even seem to notice until the last second when they just looked surprised before the Kiss Cam faded to black. This game, the Kiss Cam again panned to the Indians Bullpen (I have no idea what the story is, they don’t do this with any other team). But this time the relievers (I assume the same ones) were ready for this treatment and one of them pretended to slap the other one, who jumped back and pretended to cry while the first reliever pretended to look huffy. Well played gentlemen! You are excellent sports!

So, all in all, a few things to work on in coming games, but still another great series! Congratulations to Scioscia on his 1,000th win as a manager! I wish I had been there to see it. I am looking forward to the coming series against the White Sox. They’re coming into Anaheim on a few wins, so we should see some good baseball…and I have tickets to Tuesday’s game. Can’t wait!

Angels’ Texas Two Step – Big Misstep, Stomp

So the little bird we were counting on to fly in at the last minute and tell the Angels where the Rangers rumored jewel encrusted armor might have a crack or two (Psssst, it’s right over the heart…er…pitcher’s mound, a concept we should well understand.) was apparently delayed a day by bad weather. But, once that bird did arrive, ooooh boy. 15 hits. 15 runs. 12 RBIs. Nice. Almost too nice to be entertaining…almost. *grins*

So, about Monday. Even if the aforementioned bird had arrived, C.J. Wilson is definitely not the weak point in the armor I was talking about and he was pretty on. To make matters worse, it was not the good Ervin Santana who took the mound for the Angels. It’s not Scioscia’s fault. It’s so hard to tell until you get a few innings in. Both the good controlled Santana and the bad out of control Santana have dark goatees – in clear violation of the evil twin statutes in the Marvel accords, I might add. What’s a manager to do…other than, oh I don’t know, pull him a little earlier? I know, I know. Then we have to roll a D-10 to see if the Bullpen self destructs. In this particular game, however, the Bullpen did a fine job, especially Rich Thompson. It’s possible they might even have saved us if it weren’t for the bats. Not to take anything away from C.J. Wilson, who clearly pitched a great game, but it’s not like we can’t hit him. We were hitting him, in fact. Just not with runners in scoring position. 10 hits. 1 run. But, enough about that.

Cut to today and you have a completely different game. Matt Palmer had an excellent second start. If he keeps this up, I will have even less worries about the starting rotation once you get past Weaver and Haren. And the bats, especially the junior bats, were on fire. Mark Trumbo, Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos combined for nine of the 15 hits and two of the three homeruns. Trumbo had four RBIs! Conger rocked at the plate! And Bourjos? Yes, it was a single and an error not a real infield the park home run but how many other ballplayers could get all the way home on that error? A few, but not many. The sight of him tearing around second and then third? He is so fast that it looked like a special effect. Vernon Wells, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis also continued their hitting streaks and our fielding was spot on. Of course, the Rangers also committed four uncharacteristic errors and pretty much crumpled after the fourth inning, which didn’t hurt matters any. In fact, it almost took the fun out the game…almost.

But about the kids? I’m extending my Chatwood plea to all of them. Can we keep them, Sosh? Please. They’re young. They won’t be much trouble. Can we, can we? Well, they’re all safe for the first round of returns from the DL, at any rate. Erick Aybar came off the DL this evening and I am pleased with the corresponding roster change. Brandon Wood has been designated for assignment. The assumption is that he won’t pass waivers and will cease to be an Angel sometime in the next three days. Wood seems like a nice kid. He’s got pretty good moves at short stop and I wish him well wherever he lands, but it’s time. It’s more than time. The Murphy’s Law corollary pertaining to baseball changes of scenery being what it is, expect Wood to become a 2011 batting champion runner up somewhere else, ha ha ha.

So, there you have it, two very uneven games. They killed us once, we killed them once and we’re still tied for first place…an unimportant April 19th 1st place, but still. Tomorrow, the rubber match, with our hero, Ace #1, Jered Weaver – as opposed to our hero, Ace #2 Dan Haren :) – appearing on the mound for the Angels. He will duel it out with Matt Harrison, a Nolan Ryan favorite and all around tough customer. Hopefully both teams really show up this time and make this the game it should be…with the Angels ultimately winning, of course. This could be a heck of a game.

Angels Weekend: Of Brooms, a Youth Uprising & the AL Central

It was quite the busy weekend at my house. In addition to the usual Pilates class and errands, we made pickled red onions, scoured the house, rearranged the furniture upstairs and did a lot of sweeping…oh, yeah, wait. That last part? That wasn’t Seth and I. That was the Angels!! ;)

Sorry for the brief bragging indulgence but, did you see us play last season? I think we can all agree, I’m due. So, suffice to say, it was a good weekend. Tyler Chatwood? I was a little apprehensive about his second major league start, especially when he’s definitely pitching to contact and the While Sox can hit. But, wow, can the kid pitch! And what confidence and poise on the mound. If he starts getting hit, he regroups, recovers and moves on. Can we keep him Sosh? Pleeeeeease. Can we? Can we?!

Another weekend revelation? Hel-lo Hank Conger. After Spring Training, Conger stayed on the 25-man roster primarily because of the large number of Angels on the DL. Everyone has been referring to him as the Angels third catcher, the assumption being that when a few of the regular players come off the DL, Hank will go back to the Bees, leaving Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to duke it out for the primary catcher’s spot. Hank, however, has seized this brief opportunity with both hands in a death grip and sprinted with it. Seriously, each appearance has been better than the last. The pitchers seem to love him. He calls a good game. He catches guys stealing. He caught Juan Pierre stealing. That’s not easy. And he’s hitting and seems a little stronger with each plate appearance. I think it’s time to stop calling the kid the third catcher. I think it’s time to just call the kid the catcher. Let Mathis and Wilson duke it out over who gets to stay up when everyone comes back off the DL…except this is Mike Scioscia’s Angels, so all three may very well wind up staying up. I’m rolling my eyes right now, but it’s with affection.

Other high points? Dan Haren is now 4 and 0. Like Jered Weaver, he didn’t have his best start and now has an E.R.A. over 1 but, also like Weaver, not his best start is still pretty darned good and was good enough for the W. Maicer Izturis had a very hot bat. Mark Trumbo is a beast at the plate and is getting darned good at pulling off a tag out of nowhere at first, which is good because the rain wet ball wasn’t exactly helping with those throws to first. I. Love. Our. Outfield. Have I mentioned that before? Vernon Wells is continuing to gain momentum at the plate and in left field. The bullpen did really well. Jordan Walden almost blew his first save in spectacular fashion but this kid has a closer’s ice water in his veins. He loaded up the bases, then settled down and got the outs he needed without flinching. I wish I could say the same. I flinched, twitched, paced around the room, swore a blue streak and generally was not a pretty sight until he calmed down and got that last out. But as long as he doesn’t make a habit of getting himself into a jam in the first place, it’s nice to know that Walden can get himself out of a jam.

The Angels had a great weekend and Texas got beaten up by the Yankees so now we’re tied for first. Tied. For. First! Yes, it’s April 17th. I realize that standings at this point mean absolutely nothing. First place and a couple of bucks still won’t buy you a grande latte at Starbucks – those suckers cost $3.50. But after every major sports publication picked the Angels to finish in third place, well out of second, being tied for first with the red hot Texas Rangers feels pretty darned sweet right now. *toasts the Angels with a glass of Malbec* Oooookaaaay. I was going to drink that anyway. It went with dinner, gorgeously in fact. But it tastes just that much better after being raised in honor of the Angels.

Starting Monday, the Angels face the aforementioned red hot Texas Rangers. The red hot AL Champion Texas Rangers. I’m a little nervous. I’m a little excited. Well see how it goes. They’re tough. Really tough. But here’s the thing. We beat them a few times last year when the Angels were far, far from their best and the Rangers were still red hot. So…can we beat them? Yes. It sure won’t be easy, but I believe we can. Will we beat them? I sure hope so, but it’s far from a given, and we’re heading into the bottom of our starting rotation, though Ervin Santana has certainly had some success against Texas. You have to play the games to find these things out, fortunately, because I already know where we stand on paper. I don’t think this series is truly make it or break it time for the Angels. Again, its only April. But this series is an important test even so. Go Halos!!

Friday Night Wine and Angels: Rain Only Delays the Win

This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball…except when it’s pouring rain and even making the simplest of catches or making contact with the fattest of meatball pitches can become fodder for a Keystone Cops remake. So Friday’s 4 – 3 victory against the White Sox was interesting, entertaining, maddening at times, and very, very wet – seriously, my hat is off to all of those tough Chicago fans who stayed for the whole game – but ultimately a win! This breaks the Angels seven game losing streak against the White Sox which makes me very happy indeed.

Jered Weaver did not have one of his better games but a less than great start for Weaver is still a pretty darned good start in the grand scheme of things and, when the Angels give him run support as they did last night, is usually enough to secure a victory. I was a little worried in the third inning, after he gave up a handful of hits and the infield and outfield each blew a play in rain aided, blooper reel worthy fashion. But then he stalked, nay stomped, off the mound with a string of curses at himself that required no lip reading expertise to interpret and I knew we’d be okay. When Weaver gets angry, he usually channels it back into the pitching with wicked effect.

The Angels still need to work on RISP and some guys had quiet bats, but Maicer Izturis was on fire, going 3 for 5 with a two RBI double. Mark Trumbo continues to hit well. Vernon Wells found his bat for the second game in a row and Peter Bourjos continues to show how speed can create a hit where you didn’t think one was possible. I got a kick of Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher basically overriding the umpires’ second, hesitant, rain delay call in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Angels back out into the field to warm-up and even tossing Jordan Walden a baseball themselves until the umpires changed their mind and told the grounds crew to stop rolling out the tarp they only just wrestled into position.

So, about the Angels’ bullpen? I am sitting here icing my knee after the Saturday edition of my thrice weekly beating as I type this and I. Hate. Ice. Hate it. I do the ten minutes on, ten minutes off thing for an hour several therapist friends recommend because I can see the therapeutic benefits, but it never fails. The burn gets so stabbingly painful that I want to start clawing the furniture and chucking the ice bag across the room at nine minutes on the dot. Every. Single. Time. And, yet, I still think I would rather spend large parts of the 8th inning in a complete ice bath than watch Fernando Rodney play 8th inning set up guy again. I keep hearing how much Rodney has improved since he adjusted his mechanics but I am not seeing it. No, he didn’t allow a run, but he walked a guy and allowed a hit and we had to get the last two outs with runners on 2nd and 3rd. But, he got out of the inning and then Jordan Walden went one, two, three. It’s a wonderful new feeling to have a closer who closes.

Even with the rain abetted clumsiness and eight inning drama, it was a fun game to watch and this Friday saw the “season premiere” of Seth’s and my Friday Night Ritual – a nice dinner, a good bottle of wine and the Angels game, usually on delay so our commutes dont deny us a single pitch. This Fridays spread? Gourmet a’la lazy chefs – crostini with pea mint pesto or mushroom tapenade, prosciutto and apples with Chronic Cellars’ excellent red blend Sofa King Bueno chosen because the Chronic guys aren’t lying. The wine really is Sofa King Bueno.

And now the ice is finally off my knee – Yay!!! – and I am ready to enjoy watching what the new kid can do on the mound in his second start. Play Ball! …when the rain stops of course.

New Closer, Move Down + Angels Win!

It will be fun going to the Big A on Friday for the Angels Home Opening Day for all of the obvious reasons, but now I have an additional one. I can’t wait to talk closers with Barbara, whom I doubt I am alone in calling my favorite usher. A diehard Angels fan, Barbara is kind of our den mother in the Right Field Pavilion, smiling, chatting baseball and shaming drunken idiots into behaving themselves as needed to ensure a good game for all. We hashed out all the problems of the bullpen and our closing situation many times over the course of the season and, of course, like armchair managers everywhere, we had all of the answers. And both of us wanted the Angels to just bring Jordan Walden in to close already. I imagine she is as thrilled with today’s news as I am.

That’s right, it’s official. Mike Scioscia told reporters today that Jordan Walden is the Angels closer while Fernando Rodney works out his issues. This is an open ended decision. If Rodney recovers, he might join the regular bullpen or he might resume his closer role. If Walden seizes this opening and runs with it like I believe he can, he may be the Angels closer for the rest of the season. Quite possibly because the 23 year old Walden does not look old enough to convincingly order champagne ;) – even with the beard – he instead celebrated his new role this evening by retiring the side in the 9th inning to cement the Angels 5 – 3 victory over the Rays. Good show, Jordan. I raise my glass to you.

I am a realist. I know this is a lot of responsibility to put on a 23 year old arm and psyche and I am sure there will be rough outings here and there. But, so far, the kid does extremely well under pressure and between last season, spring training and this week, Rodney was getting to the point where he walked batters every appearance, increasingly with disastrous results. As long as the quality outings are in the majority, we’re significantly ahead of where we were this weekend. If Rodney recovers, the Angels can find any one of a number of uses for him. If he doesn’t, better to eat his check then deal with the blown saves. Seriously.

As for the rest of this evening’s game? (Okay, it was an evening game for us. If we want to actually watch the east coast games, we have to DVR them and watch them when we get home from work.) The bullpen still needs some calming down. Mr. Kohn, please settle down. You are often amazing but enough with giving up the homeruns already. It is anxiety inducing, not to mention letting my geek show just a little too much, to be shouting “Khaaaaaaaaaan!” loudly enough for my neighbors to hear so many days in a week. Other than that, it was a great game. Jered Weaver pitched a good one – 6 strikeouts over seven innings. Three walks though, which is unusual but didn’t cost us too badly in the end. There’s a reason we have phrases like mid-season form. He’s getting there.

Young catcher Hank Conger got the start and his first major league homerun. Howie Kendrick continued his hot bat streak and we’re scoring runs early, something we failed to do most of last season. Four stolen bases, a couple of great fielding plays, oh, and the season is now official – we had one truly terrible umpire call. Maicer Izturis made a diving catch and clearly caught the ball but the second base ump ruled that the ball hit the ground first. It was annoying, but ultimately didn’t cost us anything. In those situations (where it doesn’t cost anything), it’s actually funny to watch Scioscia’s usually impassive face become extremely animated and expressive. My husband and I frequently make humorous suggestions as to what Scioscia and the umpire might be saying to one another. Although, in this case, you could read Scioscia’s lips loud and clear several times.

We need less excitement from the bullpen. We need to start scoring runs in the middle of the game too. We have improved but still need to do better with runners in scoring position. We need to do something about Scott Kazmir. But, hey, we won. We have a fix in place for the closer situation. We have Scott Downs coming off the DL any day now. We’re hitting and we’re working on those other issues. Optimism, returning. What a difference a win makes but, more importantly, what a difference a closer going one, two, three makes.

Hits, Misses, News, Announcements and General Goofiness

My plan for this evening was to post a lot of photos and fun stories from today’s Angels Fanfest and exhibition game against the Padres. Unfortunately, I missed them both. My husband and I have been burning the candle at both ends and at a couple of points in the middle just for good measure for a few weeks now and this morning it finally caught up with him – he woke up too sick and headachey to do anything. I am a diehard baseball fan but I am a diehard wife first…okay, that makes me sound like a car battery or like I should be saying yippee ki-yay mother etc., but you get the general idea. Suffice to say, we stayed home, I took care of him and I wound up watching the game on the living room sofa, whooping and cheering between a snoozing husband and two snoring cats – yes, they snore. Louder than most people. It’s a little disturbing. As disappointing as this was, it really only means 12 extra days until I get to hear my first actual crack o’ the bat since September. That’s not so bad at all.

The game itself was as fun as a blowout beating up on a mix of the other team’s A, B and C squads can be – which is to say fun, it being baseball and all, but not outrageously so. Still, Dan Haren pitched a great five innings. It was great to see that he is definitely in April and May shape. Hisanori Takahashi, Kevin Jepsen and the other relievers looked more than ready for prime time themselves. Mark Trumbo is still hitting like a beast, even inside regular season height walls. He had a three run homer and an additional hit today. Peter Bourjos, Jeff Mathis and Alberto Callaspo also collected two hits each, including a nice triple from Bourjos. Hopeful signs for a great season, all. Mike Trout looked good but it was an uneventful game for him so I didn’t see much of him from my living room vantage point, another small disappointment.

There was, however, one definite consolation to watching the game at home – Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells were not playing today and joined Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza in the announcer’s booth for two innings. Whether it was Wells giving Torii grief about his age – he is clean shaven this year because there was apparently a lot more silver in his beard than he liked – or Torii suggesting that Wells can’t bunt because he would hurt himself running hard to first, those two guys crack me up. They were also serious at times and it’s great to see them locked in and so psyched for the season. If I had to make the rough decision and pick a favorite current Angel, it’s Torii and I can tell Vernon Wells is going to become a favorite of mine as well. I know that clubhouse chemistry alone does create a winning season. But I think it is the important x-factor that makes a team’s strength greater than just the sum of its parts. I am thrilled that Wells seemed to fit so effortlessly into the work hard, act goofy Angels clubhouse that I love so much. Wells mentioned that Mike Scioscia’s group dinner tab Spring Training assignments definitely helped him make friends quickly, he he.

After the game, Mike Scioscia officially announced the Angels Opening Day pitcher. It’s Scott Kaz…I’m totally kidding. Of course it’s Jered Weaver. I would say, as predicted here on this blog, but this decision was pretty close to a given. In the same press conference Scioscia also announced that Joel Pineiro will definitely start the season on the DL. The Angels will go with a four man rotation – Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir – using the extra days off in early April as the 5th starter’s spot, until Pineiro is scheduled to come back and pitch in the April 8th home opener. I think this is a great short term solution and I am now certain Pineiro will be healthy enough to start on April 8th. I have tickets for that game, as I’ve mentioned, and I have uncanny luck for being at games where it’s either a pitcher’s first start off the DL or first start with the Angels.

Angels Bats Are Back, but I Have Questions about the Rotation

The Angels continue to hit in spectacular fashion, both those you would expect and those you would not expect. 39 hits and 31 RBIs in the last three games, even with the loss to Milwaukee? Whooooo hooooo! Granted, batting averages don’t really count for much in Spring Training because the pitching takes so long to get into season shape and the number of minor league pitchers each batter sees. However, the bats seem to be warming up more as the pitching warms up and this I will take as a hopeful sign for the season.

Starting rotation issues, however, are giving me concerns where I did not expect to have any just two weeks ago. Now it sounds like Joel Pineiro will spend a few days on the DL at the beginning for the season. I understand. I want him to pitch strong for as much of the season as he can and back precautionary decisions especially now before the season starts. So much for the 4th rotation spot, for now…though after Scott Kazmir’s last start, who knows?

Which brings us to our 5th starting rotation spot…well…How do you solve a problem like Scott Kazmir? And, yes, that did emerge from my head set to a Rodgers and Hammerstein approved tune. Thanks – or blame, depending on your point of view – to Red State Blue State. I wanted Kaz to regain his old form. I was really pulling for him. There were hopefully signs in several of his Spring Training starts – more control in one game, more strikes thrown in another, more consistency, etc. But it never all came together in one game, which in and of itself already has overtones of 2010. Then, on Thursday against the Brewers, he incurred eight hits and ten runs in five innings pitched. Owwwww-ch. And yet it still sounds like Kaz is our 5th starter. Which leaves us where exactly? Praying for rain every 5th start? That would be one baseball tradition I would prefer not to embrace.

Matt Palmer did pretty well today, pitching to contact with the infield and outfield living up to their capabilities. Hmmm…is he an alternative plan or is he bullpen bound, no ifs, ands or buts? Oh well, I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday after the game, when Mike Scioscia has promised he will announce the starting rotation, the 25 man roster and the opening day starters…because waiting for Wednesday evening would have been too last minute, she says with extreme affection.

In other news, preparing to buy tickets for a few games in Northern California has given me a renewed appreciation for buying Angels tickets down here in Southern California. On Stubhub you pay more than full price for even generic Giants and A’s tickets. Even now before the season has started. It is actually better to go through Ticketmaster for Giants and A’s tickets. The horror!! The Big A is so large and enough of our season ticket holders so unable to attend every game, that I can usually grab tickets at season ticket prices or even cheaper now or the week of the game off Stubhub or Craig’s list. Games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are notable exceptions to this rule. But even so, wow. I had no idea I was so spoiled, but I’ll take it!

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