Results tagged ‘ Outfield ’

Early Spring Training Thoughts Bouncing Through My Brain

Spring Training has sprung and with an array of early news beginning to trickle out of the camps, I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my brain, none of which was really a post in and of itself – much like a kid at the Lego store. Ooo, shiny! …Ooooo, shinier!! …Oooooooooo…you get the general idea. Instead of trying to force too much concentration to interfere with all of the excitement, here are some of the things that are pleasing, concerning, amusing, and annoying me right now:

  • They’re all there now, in Arizona – okay and in Florida too. Actual ballplayers running actual drills! Live baseball footage on MLBN, even if it’s only batting practice, bullpen sessions and drills, makes me a very happy girl.
  • Peter Bourjos says that the hip he was rehabbing over the winter feels 100%…but it’s a bone bruise and he’ll still most likely have surgery after the season is over. Ummm…so why didn’t he take care of this this offseason? Apparently, he didn’t get the MRI until around Thanksgiving so there wasn’t enough time. Ummm…okay. I think. So those rumors that Bourjos is actually part golden retriever? Hip issues certainly aren’t doing a lot to dispel them, kid. All joking aside, I am crossing my fingers that he stays as close to whatever approximates 100% for ballplayers throughout the season. I want Mike Trout to join Bourjos in the outfield ASAP, not come up to replace him during a DL stint.
  • Live games start this Saturday and Angels individual game tickets go on sale this Saturday. That makes this Saturday kind of like Christmas…well…until Opening Day and then that’s even more like Christmas…until a game comes along where I have particularly good seats and it’s a particularly exciting game and then that’s more like…   Hey, they say we’re supposed to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year, right? ;)
  • Mark Trumbo took a line drive to the face – as you do when you’re learning a new position – but doesn’t want to have the doc take a look at his nose. My husband will laugh uproariously at me when he reads this, but you have doctors on staff for a reason, right? Your foot? Bourjos’ hip? Go see the doc, you know, just in case. But way to really go for it at third! And way to be flexible and roll with the changes.
  • C.J. Wilson is really growing on me. I think Terry Smith asked him the perfect questions this afternoon to draw out his love of baseball in addition to his love of his extra-curricular activities. I thoroughly appreciated what he had to say about baseball, about loving the challenge, living for the competition and his gratitude for his adult successes after a childhood of never being the big, highly athletic kid. Very cool stuff. Hearing that, I am reassured that he does have his mind on the game and am leaning back towards, he’s so well rounded. Isn’t that cool! And, hey, a writing major. I did not know that, but gotta love those crazy writing types…especially when they finish a season with more than 200 strikeouts.
  • When did “effort” become a verb on MLBN, as in ‘I efforted that,’ ‘we’re in the process of efforting that’? I first noticed Greg Amsinger using it last week and now it seems to be a thing.  Okay, the English language, cobbled together, mismatched, uneven, patchwork quilt of a thing that it is, lends itself well to a certain fluidity. And I love words. I love playing with them with even more – I know, you are all shocked! – and I frequently find myself applauding the creative prose of sports announcers. But, efforting? No please. Stop it right now.
  • It’s February 29th. Happy Birthday, Frederic! Still nose to the grindstone on that apprenticeship? ;)

 

Keep Him In Coach. We Need Him to Play.

Hel-lo gor-geous bats! Where have you been all my season? Well, looking at the stats for the last few games, they’ve been in AA Arkansas with Mike Trout. Check this out:

The Angels have played ten games since Mike Trout was recalled from the minors and in that time they are 5 and 0 in games where Trout has started and 2 and 3 in games where Trout did not play or entered the game as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning. And one of those losses? That would be Friday night against Texas. Upon entering the game in the 8th inning, Trout continued a rally begun by Howie Kendrick. His hit moved Howie into position to score on Mark Trumbo’s line drive single and set the stage for Russell Branyan’s three run homer. Imagine what could have been if Trout had started the game?

No, I’m not saying Mike Trout is the chosen one, a one man offense here to single handedly save the Angels. But I do think he is proving himself to be the missing spark this team needs. It’s not that the Angels don’t have any bats, it’s that we don’t have enough bats and that there are far too many dead spots, all but guaranteed outs, dotted through the lineup in between them. How many times have we watched a mini rally start only to die without a single man scoring? Or bases loaded with one out turning into one measly run followed by someone grounding into a double play? This happens to every team, but it happens to the Angels so often that we’ve grown to expect it every inning this season. How excited do we Angels fans get when the team scores just four runs? ‘Nuff said.

Mike Trout waits in the hole in his second major league game. Angels vs. Mariners, July 9, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

But what if we had just one more clutch bat in between our existing bats, someone to keep the offensive outburst going once Macier or Bourjos or Howie starts it? Someone to knock Torii Hunter in when he gets on base? Heck, just one more guy not grounding into an inning ending double play? Well, we’d have our sweep of the Orioles, or last night, or our win against Texas on Saturday, or what Friday night against Texas very easily could have been if we’d had just one more clutch bat in the game a few innings earlier.

Yes, Mike Trout is young, not even a month past 20. But he doesn’t seem overwhelmed in the slightest. In addition to his bat makes good decisions in the outfield, has a fantastic glove, runs great routes for the ball and, with his speed, is a perfect complement to Peter Bourjos in the outfield and a terror on the base paths. And the frightening part is, he’s still growing into his skill set and showing a lot of improvement, even just since his last trip up to the majors. His arm looks a little stronger and then there’s that bat! Trout returned to the majors with a .163 batting average – hey, he only played in a handful of games on either side of the All-Star Break and, like a lot of rookies, it took him a few at bats first to connect and then to stop hitting it right at people. After five additional full games in the majors and two single at-bat pinch hit appearances, Trout has dramatically increased his batting average to .246. Between that and two homeruns and five RBIs last night, making Trout the youngest Angel to have a two-homerun game, I think it’s safe to say he is no longer overly impressed by Major League pitching. What do you think?

So, this post was originally going to be a plea to Mike Scioscia to put Mike Trout back in the lineup tonight. Because, of course, he reads this blog and takes my opinions into careful consideration before making lineup decisions, why do you ask? ;) But, much to my delight, they just posted the lineup and Trout is already there!!! And suddenly I am even more excited for this game. Go Angels!!

So, I was wondering instead…Sosh, pretty please, with zesty homemade marinara sauce and good imported parmesan on top, can we keep him in the lineup now??? He’ll be the offense’s new best fri-end. Thanks, ever so!

- An Angels Fan on the Edge of Her Seat

Angels Win Two Against the O’s, Gaining One on Texas + A Scary Stat Proposal

As I said in my last post, I think they can do it, but the Angels have a tall order ahead of them if they would like to have an October. However, with three wins in a row since then, two of which succeeded in eating up a little needed distance in the standings, the Angels are tackling that tall order head on!

…And I have been desperately trying to follow their progress each evening after the family goes to bed early on a sketchy WI-fi connection from the cabin where we are staying for the weekend in Yosemite National Park. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stunning natural beauty. Freedom from electronic leashes. Relaxation in the great outdoors far away from the encumbrances of modern technology. Trust me, during the day I am all about that. But come 8:30 p.m. or so, I want to know the score and I want to follow the last few innings f at all possible.

Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo are on absolute hitting terrors. Torii Hunter’s hit streak continues. Bats, gloves and arms are growing steadily more clutch. We have Hank Conger and, best of all, Mike Trout back up from the minors, which means I am seeing various incarnations of my dream, Bourjos in Center, Trout in one of the corners, 2012 outfield right now in 2011…or, at least I will be seeing it Tuesday once I’m back in town. I couldn’t be happier!!

Okay, that isn’t entirely true. I could be happier if a few of our pitching woes were solved, namely the number 4 and 5 starting rotation spots and some unnecessarily exciting fellows in the bullpen – why did we go to Fernando Rodney again? Why? I don’t know what to make of Pineiro’s outing, exactly. Nine hits and four runs in six innings but he didn’t walk anyone and the runs were clustered in one bad inning plus a solo homerun. Is he a little better and likely to get better still? Were the Angels just damn lucky to score enough runs this time and might not be so next time? It’s tough to tell not having actually seen it. And then we have Jerome Williams making his first major league pitching start since 2007 for us on Sunday. I wish him all the best, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns. Trust me when I say I really don’t want to have to start referring to this rotation as Santana, Weaver and Haren, then two days of swearin’.  I think that’s a little too nostalgic, even for the 50th anniversary.

*     *     *     *     *

More often than not, the rules determining which pitchers are credited with wins, losses, no decisions, saves, holds, blown saves and the like work well enough. But occasionally they can lead to some serious injustices. Take Saturday’s game against the Orioles for example, two outs, bases loaded, Rodney is inexplicably called to the mound and proceeds to do what Rodney does best – okay, second best, he didn’t walk anyone – he gives up a single after two pitches and a run scores, two with Torii’s throwing error. But the Angels rallied in the bottom of the inning, winning in walk off fashion. So, Pineiro gets a no decision, Jordan Walden, who did allow the game to become tied in the first place but then came back for a spotless second inning gets a blown save and Rodney gets the win? Does that seem fair to you?

I think we need a new stat, indicating which relief outings are truly quality and which are…shall we say…unnecessarily exciting. Why not? We have a stat for everything else, right? Thinking of the most egregious crimes a reliever can commit, I propose something to the effect of Win/Save – (Walks + Earned Runs + Extra Base Hits)/# of batters seen. Basically, this would create fractional wins and saves for relievers. A quality win or save would be a 1 or only slightly lower, a .9 for example. But a barely deserved win might be a .25 or even a -.25. We could call this new stat something as mundane as a Weighted Relief Record, but what fun would that be? I propose instead that we call this new stat the Specific Criteria Adjusted Relief Index, or SCARI, as in Rodney may have gotten the win, but his SCARI was, well, pretty darned scary…

…because, of course, I’m completely joking around here…okay, make that mostly.

Angels Sweep the Nationals, Presidents’ Race and All

The Angels swept the Nationals and, oh yeah, we went to a baseball game on Monday! Work has been plentiful, all consuming, fun and, occasionally, FUn this week – I came home from Monday’s game and moved a project along until 2am, that kind of fun. Between that and the games I suddenly looked up, it’s Thursday already and I haven’t posted my photos. Oh well…

Our seats for Monday night’s game were just to the foul side of the foul pole down the first base line, in the second row. Prime visitor’s section this. And, indeed, we set in front of and behind two families of Nationals fans vacationing in Los Angeles and next to a Phillies fan and his young daughters who were here on one of the middle stops of a larger baseball tour vacation. They had just come from Seattle and were headed out to Arizona then Texas. So jealous! When everyone has the right attitude, visiting fans can be a kick to enjoy the game with and all parties involved in this particular case were really nice and a lot of fun to chat/snark with.

Bobby Abreu leads off of second. Being on the field level, these seats were excellent for catching glimpses of personality on the field, some of which I got on camera. As you can see, Bobby is a talker on the base paths, especially at second base. He always wears a huge smile and gestures broadly with his hands so it is unclear for the most part if he’s goofing around, talking trash, just shooting the breeze or what. Probably a little of columns A, B and C. What little I catch of it on TV is pretty darned funny…and of course he has 13 stolen bases (not bad for one of the few ballplayers left who are older than me :)) so perhaps this is all part of his strategy. Get ‘em laughing, then break for third?

Bobby Abreu takes a lead off as he chats with the second baseman. Trash talk? Shooting the breeze? Who can say, but this is a classic Bobby on the basepaths moment. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Vernon Wells at bat. These seats were not, however, the best for views or photos of the plate. The first base umpire is always in the way. That’s okay. Ssometimes I enjoy having a closer vantage of the outfield and plays at second. Wells is continuing to heat up in June. He hit a single this at bat, which eventually lead to a run and then went four for five on Tuesday with a crucial two-run homerun. And Angels fans are starting to respond. Both developments are very welcome indeed.

Vernon Wells at bat while baserunner Bobby Abreu has lead off far off frame and Nationals First Baseman Michael Morse waits for a possible throw down. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Catcher Bobby Wilson and Pitching Coach Mike Butcher meet with Ervin Santana on the mound. Santana got off to an uneven start, giving up homeruns in the 2nd and 4th, but settled into a good rhythm after that. He lasted eight innings and on the Angels, starters don’t pitch in the 9th inning unless they’re pitching a shutout or something equally spectacular, so that’s pretty darned good.

Pitching Coach Mike Butcher and Catcher Bobby Wilson come out to the mound to give Ervin Santana a pep talk. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Just a random shot of the Angels bullpens. The bullpens at the Big A are terraced, which is a little unusual. The Angels bullpen on the lowest “step” in the front. And if you look at the photo you can see the Nationals in the visitor’s bullpen one step up and behind the home bullpen. Starting another “step” above the visitor’s bullpen you have the Left Field Pavilion seats. In this bullpen shot you can see Angels relievers Michael Kohn (standing up), Fernando Rodney, Hisanori Takashi’s translator, Hisanori Takashi and Jordan Walden kneeling down and…what? Praying? Vomiting? Spitting sunflower seeds? Catching a few ZZZs? Probably the real answer isn’t nearly as funny so I’m going to go with one of mine.

The Angels back to back home and visitors' bullpens. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The Nationals brought the Racing Presidents with them to Anaheim for the series. So was this a) an incredibly stupid idea, b) a fine example of Interleague sharing of baseball cultures and traditions, or c) I really hate Interleague and fail to see how these two comments are mutually exclusive? You make the call. I initially thought the idea was kind of dumb, only because this is the Nationals’ tradition and it’s the Angels ballpark. But it was kind of fun to see and it provided a between innings icebreaker with the Nationals fans around us. I took the opportunity to ask, so, what’s the deal with Teddy? He’s really never won? I mostly knew the answer, but it was fun hearing all about the goofy, fun tradition from fans. We’d been talking a little between innings before that, but talked a lot more often after: relievers we love/who make us cringe, hitters who are starting to do better than their batting average indicates, overinflated contracts…it turns out Angels fans and Nationals fans have a frightening amount in common.

Teddy Roosevelt prepares to loose again in the Nationals Presidents' Race...of Anaheim? Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Abe Lincoln and George Washington are neck and neck...in Anaheim? Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty meet with Pitcher John Lannan on the mound. All was going well for Lannan and the game was tied 2 to 2 until the Angels started hitting in the 6th. The Angels scored their third run shortly after this meeting and then Lannan was pulled. I love the photo because of the facial expressions and body language. I can only imagine the conversation that went with it. McCatty: Alright then, how are we going to get out of this? Lannan: Well, gee I don’t know Coach. I thought maybe I’d throw some strikes and get him out.

Pitcher John Lannan looks bemused as he meets with Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty on the mound. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo grows impatient during the meeting on the mound –  again, with being able to catch glimpses of personality from these seats. Mark Trumbo is usually as professional in demeanor as a veteran so I was amused to see him visibly impatient at another break in this already lengthy at bat, with his cheeks puffed out like an exasperated little kid. Very cute actually. He ground into a double play this at bat, but was pretty solid at the plate this series. His average is creeping back up again and he is the American League’s rookie homerun leader with 13. Coincidentally, the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa is the Rookie Major League homerun leader.

Mark Trumbo stands at the plate and puffs out his checks with impatience during a time out for a meeting on the mound. Alberto Callaspo is in the on deck circle. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during the subsequent pitching change. ‘Damn Werth, you have lots of friends over here too. You’re a real popular guy in Anaheim.’ Suffice to say, Angels fans were heckling Werth all night, which isn’t surprising. There are a few folks I see regularly in this section and the left most corner of the right field MVP section (Season ticket holders? Maybe, maybe not.) who heckle pretty much everyone, occasionally even our own players. Whether or not that was the topic of the outfielders’ conversation, I’m sure Werth is used to it by now.

The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during a pitching change. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells joke after Peter snags a fly ball to end the inning. The outfield chemistry is shaping up much better as the months role by. This is very helpful, especially with various assorted centerfielders, corner outfielders turned DH and the occasional second baseman flopping roles in the outfield on a regular basis to accommodate injuries, Interleague and random acts of lineup juggling.

Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos joke after Bourjos snaggs the catch. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yes that is Torii Hunter right in front of me in right field. The news report prior to Monday’s game was that Torii took batting and fielding practice Monday and looked good enough to return soon, possibly as soon a Wednesday. Imagine our delight when they brought him in as an unexpected substitution in the top of the 8th inning. The whole crowd erupted and we went especially crazy in the seats around right field with our welcome backs.

Torii Hunter returns to right for the first time since hitting the wall against the Marlins. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jorda Walden takes the mound in the 9th. Unfortunately this would prove to be another blown save for Walden, his third in a row, when he gave up a two-out homerun to Danny Espinosa. The young Nationals fan in front of us turned around and informed me “Blown Save”. Thanks kid, I kind of figured that one out on my own. No liner notes needed. So, am I worried about Walden? No. Not at all. When I started advocating making the rookie our closer, I knew there would be some growing pains. This is a kid who had every intention of being a starter and never thought about the closer’s role until it turned out he had quite the aptitude for it this season. So far, he has 18 saves (including last night’s) which is respectable. And when he does blow it, instead of crumbling, Walden is right back in the game to get the next batter. Monday night when he gave up the homerun, he threw the next pitch for a called strike and then coaxed the batter into a ground out to end the inning. And he was right back in the game on Wednesday night with a 1-0 lead on the line and got the save. That says something to me. We will probably witness a few more growing pains this season, but I have no doubts that Jordan Walden is our closer.

Jordan Walden takes the mound in the 9th for what would become his third blown save in a row. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Scott Downs pitches in the 10th as Howie Kendrick (who moved to first base in the 8th when Torii came in to the game) moves into position. I mentioned we were chatting about relievers with the Nationals fans? Well, Scott Downs is one of the few I never worry about. When I look over to the bullpen and see Downs warming up, with that distinctive haircut easily identifiable across the field, I breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, he has an off outing here and there, but by and large he comes in and gets it done and he has five wins for the season, as many as some teams’ starters, to prove it. Monday night and the rest of the Nationals series was no exception.

Scott Downs begins a pitch in the 10th as Howie Kendrick moves into position at first. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Brian Bixler stands on second flanked by second baseman Maicer Izturis and third baseman Alberto Callaspo. Bixler reached 2nd on an uncharacteristic fielding error by Maicer. There were an annoying number of Angels fielding errors this series actually, but we recovered from all of them to sweep. I hope the errors are more an indication of tiredness from the epic Four Corners Road Trip than anything more trend setting, shall we say.

Brian Bixler leads off second, as Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo move into position. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Peter Bourjos takes a long lead off third. I think it is safe to say that Bourjos has worked through his slump at the plate. He went four for five on Monday with one RBI and was a crucial component of the 10th inning rally, knocking a ground rules double into the stands mere feet from my seat, that put Callaspo in scoring position for Maicer Izturis’ walk-off single. Yes, when that happened I tapped the young Nationals fan in front of us on the shoulder and informed him “Walk off.” Fair’s fair right? Acutally, everyone was laughing both over the “Blown Save” and the “Walk Off.”

Peter Bourjos takes a deep lead off third. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

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!

*    *    *    *    *

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 Slump Continues – Is It Time to Panic Yet?

 

Oh my god! The Angels lost five in a row! Weaver’s choking and Torii’s all washed up because he dropped the ball. It’s 2010 all over again. The Angels are driving me to drink. And the sky is falling. And the end of the world is coming this weekend. And, and…insert list of increasingly dire sounding hyperbole here

Actually, it was my husband who drove me to drink. Literally. In a car. Because he’s a sweetie and a half and it was our circle’s standing Wednesday night happy hour. And the further reality is, I am pretty far from panicking. Because this is not 2010. I repeat. This is not 2010.

Mind you, I’m not trying to put a pretty face on the last two weeks. This is an ugly slump and that’s all there is to it. But here’s the thing. That really is all there is to it. It’s a slump. Does it point out team weaknesses? Yes, much like any other slump does. Slumps aren’t generally known for being caused by strengths.

But, unlike May 2010, we only just slipped below .500. We haven’t been dancing around trying to climb up to it for several weeks. This season, we have a couple of guys in the bullpen in regular use that I trust every time they take the mound…which doesn’t mean they aren’t going to mess up from time to time, like this week for example, but more often than not we do have some reliable relievers. This season, the bats have been slumping off and on but this does mean that at least they have also been on at times, definitely not the case this time last season. Current scouting reports are starting to get around on our formerly hot hitting rookies, exposing some of their youthful mistakes, like Peter Bourjos’ penchant for fastballs high and away outside the zone. At the moment, it’s affecting their averages and they just need time to adapt again, much like they all managed to do when they made the jump to the big leagues.

We have given our starting pitchers run support in 2011, just not so much this month. Some of the fielding errors in this slump were the result of guys getting used to recent changes in the infield and outfield, changes that will cease to be novel soon. And, unlike the Angels great June last season, wins so far this season have been because of things the team had done right, not because of adrenaline in the aftermath of losing a teammate for the season to a crazy accident. Also, this season, when the Angels are down, I see them fighting back to regain/gain the lead. They aren’t always successful but, unlike 2010, they aren’t just giving up either.

Is Jered Weaver choking? No. I think he’s still recovering from the flu and losing so much weight in uncomfortable fashion. In hindsight, Weaver probably should have skipped his start against the Red Sox and rested a few more days before jumping back into the fray. He was showing signs of improvement to my eyes before Monday’s game. I think coming home to warmer weather might get him back on the healing track. And as for Torii, I think folks should also look at his amazing Gold Glove catch in the 7th inning before they really start judging the final missed catch. One shows us why he is a 9 time Gold Glove winner and the other shows why he’s made the switch to right. Taken together, the catches show us an Angels veteran who can still play great ball but has a few more off days than he did in his prime.

The last two weeks were a perfect storm of events resulting in a slump and the Angels just need something to break the cycle. The bad road trip is all over now. I hope the return to home cooking and their own beds is enough to jar the Angels out of this slump. If not, then I’m sure the start of Interleague play is just the ticket, hopefully this weekend but, if not, then certainly right after. Even in a bad season like 2010, the Angels do love to play the National league. Come to think of it, maybe the Angels need a standing happy hour too, like we have in my circle of friends. Forget team meetings and laying down the law. Go out together and relax for the evening. Have a tasty beverage or three. Talk, laugh and unwind until people start saying things that are so silly, they have you laughing for days after at the memory of it all. It does wonders for one’s ability to break the cycle of a bad week – or two! – let me tell you.

Tuesday’s Angels Beat White Sox & Fans Rock Their Inner Strongbad

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Lit Halo - for blog.JPGYay, the lit Halo enveloped in a haze of fireworks returns to my blog, meaning the Angels won last night and I was there to see it! I was a little concerned after Monday. To re-cap: these May White Sox? They are not the April White Sox. They are actually the White Sox which means that if you make mistakes, they will make you pay. Unfortunately, Monday’s Angels were not the 2011 Angels, I swear they were some AA team that swiped our uniforms – which is bound to happen now and then over the course of a season…or, like, again tonight in the 8th inning. Wily AA teams. So, anyway, Monday poor Ervin Santana was dealing for an inning and then he just fell apart. Was he “inspired” by Alberto Callaspo’s poor running decision? By our complete inability to cash in on an amazing scoring opportunity in the second inning…or the fourth…or the…well, you get the general idea? The pitchers couldn’t keep the ball in the park, the batters couldn’t hit when it counted, there were a few questionable plays in the field, Jeff Mathis became a pinch hitter (?!?) and Vernon Wells left for the 15 Day DL with a pulled groin muscle. I think he may actually be on the DL longer than that. Watching the replay of the swing where he injured himself will make you cringe, especially if you yourself have ever known the “joy” of a pulled groin. In short, it was Not A Good Game.

But back to last night. It was still the May White Sox taking the field but, fortunately, I think the Angels went to bed angry last night because they showed up on a mission to redeem themselves. They started smacking the ball right away, took the lead in the first inning and never gave it up, though the White Sox threatened at times. It was A Great Game! And here are my photos to help take you all there with me.

For this game, Seth and I entered foul ball territory. This is my view of the field without any zoom, sitting immediately behind the blue sleeved lady in the front row. (Yes, the Angels’ Dodger fan siblings often come to visit when the Dodgers are out of town and we gladly return the favor. It’s a lot of fun living in a two team town – for large, dual county definitions of town.) And these seats were a better price than even our last seats. The moral of my story? Angels fans are a panicky lot, especially after last season. When the Red Sox sweep the Angels at home, go to a resale site and buy cheap tickets. It will ease your pain:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Field Seats - for blog.JPG

Howie Kendrick runs to second for an eventual double in the 3rd as Gordon Beckham waits for the throw from Juan Pierre. I have to say, of all the outfield permutations I thought of for the evening with Wells on the DL, Howie in Left was not one of them. But watching him move out there and knowing how much I like his glove and his arm, I think it could work – he looks good tonight! Left field was really quiet for most of the game however, so rather than a fascinating Howie just standing there shot, I give you this photo (taken by Seth) instead:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Howie Running to 2nd - for blog.JPG

Joel Pineiro stares down a runner at 2nd base as Callaspo (3rd base) switches into position. Pineiro had another excellent start, going 7 2/3 innings with five strike outs and one walk. And what he was throwing for strikes? Nice. He did give up one homerun, so the White Sox smacked some of the pretty off of his E.R.A. But it all worked out in the end and I am just glad to see Pineiro back on the mound and in the same great form he showed us last season…though I wish I could find the Angels Luchador Mask video ad he filmed with Santana somewhere online to share with you all. Pretty funny stuff:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Pineiro Staring Down LaPierre - for blog.JPG

Angels fans say, ‘Oh no, it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.’ Because, of course, last night was also the much hyped Angels Luchador Mask night. This promotion had equal potential for being really stupid or a heck of a lot of fun and it was decidedly the latter. It didn’t tread on watching the game much, if at all – which would have annoyed me – and fans had a blast. We donned the so-silly-they’re-actually-pretty-darned-cool-looking-things at the top of the 5th for 10 minutes to set the record, though many wore them for most of the game. As the season progresses, I expect these masks to take on Rally Monkey-esque significance…or at least Angels Gnome-esque significance:

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Some fans went all out for the occasion, donning actual Luchador regalia or, in the case of these two super Angels fans below, constructing entire Luchador costumes out of previous Angels giveaways. I thought they looked so creative and fantastic that we had to snap a photo. Well done guys!!:

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Torii Hunter takes a strong swing. This at bat would turn into a single in the 5th. The Angels bats were nice and busy Tuesday night with 12 hits in all, including a homerun from Maicer Izturis…yes, Maicer. Whooo. Hooo:

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Erick Aybar slides back into first to avoid a pickoff attempt as Paul Konerko catches the ball. Aybar is currently leading the team in stolen bases with 9. This thrills me to no end because it’s one more sign that the Angels are back to playing Angels baseball and all is once more right with my world:

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Aybar (short stop) and Mark Trumbo (first base) move with the pitch as A.J. Pierzynski, having doubled in the 7th, takes a lead off second base. Even if it was mostly so John Denks could get to Mathis, it was really funny to watch him pitch around Trumbo twice. It’s enough to give a lesser rookie a big head, I’m sure:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Aybar Trumbo Piersinsky - for blog.JPG

While Fernando Rodney warms up for the last out of the 8th inning, Peter Bourjos, Torii and Reggie Willits (replacing Howie in left) chat and stretch in centerfield. Could Peter and Reggie be trying to talk Torii into long socks? Reggie in left is another outfield permutation we’re likely to see a lot of while Wells is on the DL. I think this will work as a stop gap measure. I like his glove and his speed. I just hope we don’t see too steep a learning curve as Willits and Bourjos adapt to one another. I should also note that, although I cringed when I saw Rodney striding out from the Bullpen (but cheered him on robustly as he passed our seats), he did really well:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Willits Bourjos Torii - for blog.JPG

Scott Downs winds up while Callaspo moves into position. Downs took over the closer role for the evening as this was technically a non-close situation. He sure pitched like a closer though, sitting them down one, two, three. Well. Okay. Maybe that was more like one, twwwwooooo, three. Pierzynski, who was less impressed than I, fouled off many pitches before grounding out. A note on Callaspo. Everything I wrote in the offseason about our hole at third base? I am pleased to say I no longer think we have one. Whether it’s Maicer or Callaspo, I think third base is looking pretty darned good these days:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Downs Wind Up - for blog.JPG

And that was the game. I had an absolute blast. I wanted to come home and immediately buy tickets for the rubber match, or at least post these photos, but I had to finish my meeting prep for today instead. Then today was such that…well…I got home at 8 and am posting about game 2 as game 3 heads into unecessary extra innings and the bullpen is making me ill. I tell you, this working for a living thing…well, it beats the alternative with a caber sized stick, I can tell you that much, LOL!

Game 3 Edit/Addendum – Wednesday’s Angels, on the Other Hand:

Yuck! Did that just really happen? With the blown save and the self-destructing bullpen and the run. Scoring. On. An. Intentional. Walk. Wild. Pitch!? I realize it’s part of the necessary learning process but Jordan Walden needs to stop working on the change-up when it’s just not happening and the game is on the line. Ever since he started working on it, things have been…interesting, occasionally for Hoban Washburne definitions of interesting. He’ll get it down. I’m sure of it. But in the mean time? And Kevin Jepsen? Well, are we already back to last season’s two out of three rock but that third outing will kill you every time? Also, I do not like uber-specialized pitching to begin with, and I really do not like our very recent – as in, since Tampa Bay recent – moves to bring star relievers in for just one or two batters in an inning. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have either Scott Downs or Rich Thompson available later in the game?

Tyler Chatwood pitched well enough to win. It’s a pity the Bullpen decided to have an early April relapse. It’s just one game. It’s only the third series we’ve lost so far this season. And amateur hour is going to happen for the best of teams from time to time. I understand it. But I don’t like it and I really hope my 2011 Angels show up in Texas, not this strange AA team that occasionally puts on their uniforms.

Hmmm…maybe I should go check out those ticket prices online tomorrow morning.

Weaver Continues to Dominate as the Angels Bring Their Losing Streak to a Halt

20110425 Angels vs As Lit Halo 1 - for blog smaller.jpgWhat’s what? Oh. That. Why, yes, that is a lit halo to the right there. *beams* Jered Weaver pitched a complete game shut out tonight to lead the Angels to victory over the A’s. With a record of 6 and 0 in the first 23 games of the Angels season, Weave now holds the franchise record for wins at this point in the season and is one of only four pitchers in Major League Baseball to go 6 and 0 in March and April.

I snapped the photo of the halo as we exited the game, having decided on a whim to catch the next Weaver start. Good decision. We managed to get to the game and to our seats just in time for first pitch, a rare feat indeed on a weeknight, and what a game. Weaver, of course, was very much on his game – ten strikeouts and only 1 walk. He did give up seven hits – three of them to Coco Crisp who really had a great game – but that is where the rest of the Angels came in, preserving Weaver’s shutout and proving that the poor fielding of the Red Sox series was nothing more than a really bad four days.

Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells all had great catches in the outfield. Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar picked off Crisp at second on an attempted steal that saw Aybar sticking to Crisp like a burr and applying the tag as he overslide the base slightly. Aybar had another fantastic play, fielding the ball well onto the grass and executing a perfect leaping throw to first base just in time to throw out Daric Barton and end the 8th inning…okay, actually the Angels benefitted from the umpire’s angle on that call. Seen from another angle, Barton was just barely safe, but it was a really close play and bad umpire calls will certainly cut both ways over the course of a season – see previous post.

And the bats decided to pay a visit again! Everyone hit tonight except for Jeff Mathis and Torii. Poor Torii. He usually heats up with the weather so April is not his best month to begin with and, after last season, I just plain think he’s trying too hard. I’m sure his bat will not remain silent for very long. Wells singled, Alberto Callaspo doubled and then Howie Kendrick doubled to bring them both home in the bottom of the second inning to give Weave early run support. Timely hits by Bourjos, Aybar and Bobby Abreu provided additional runs.

All in all, it was a fantastic game for the whole team and the perfect cure for the Red Sox blues…until we visit Fenway next month where, hopefully, we can devise an even better cure, like winning a few games…but I digress. Even the Angels fans rocked this game. I am sitting here sipping hot tea to soothe a throat happily hoarse from cheering as I type this. Seth and I sat in the front of the Right Field Pavillion this evening and right field fans are usually loud and enthusiastic but tonight, everything was amplified and we treated the players to a cheering, yelling, clapping, sign waving frenzy of support. Asked at the end of his post game interview why he was pitching so well this season, Weaver first credited the rest of the team and then said “Maybe it’s all of these great Angels fans who come out and cheer for us.” And mentioned that the crowd cheering his name really pumped him up. How sweet is that? Lights out pitcher and great with the fans to boot.

Here are some photos I took of the game including my view from left center (4 rows behind the wall):

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Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells discussing the catch Bourjos just made in center:

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Gio Gonzalez pitching to Bourjos:

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Weaver’s post game interview broadcast onto the big screen:

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Angels Mess With Texas and Prepare to Take On Boston + Musical Fan Quirks

Now that was a fun game. Jered Weaver pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing only one run and remains…you know…I think I’m just going to leave that sentence unfinished. You all understand. Anyway, it was a good game all around. Matt Harrison pitched through hitless innings until the Angels figured him out. And then? Howie Kendrick sent another one into the stands. He’s currently sharing the AL homerun leader’s spot in good company – in a three way tie with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Maicer Izturis continued his hitting streak. He is currently the AL batting average leader. Peter Bourjos hit a triple and made another highlight reel catch in centerfield just for good measure. Jeff Mathis got a hit.

Vernon Wells hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform with his dad at the stadium to see it. I imagine feeling like you have the chance to show off and make your folks proud doesn’t ever get old, even for a major league baseball player. It was touching to see the camaraderie in the dugout as the team first gave Wells the silent treatment – with barely suppressed grins and shaking shoulders – usually reserved for rookies and then mobbed him, all smiles and laughter, to extend their congratulations. I think that clubhouse chemistry is one of the more important intangibles and I am thrilled to see so much of it in the Angels this season.

And now? Ah, first place. Alone at last. ;) But, as we all know, it’s only April, there’s a lot of baseball left to play and here come the Red Sox. While I was never one of the folks who expected this Red Sox team to win 100 games, I certainly don’t expect them to stay well below .500 for the season either. They are a much better team than their initial play indicated and have extra incentive to prove it as soon as possible. There’s a lot of history between the Red Sox and the Angels and it usually inspires both teams to…well…to put a polite spin on things, to play just that much harder. I am nervous and excited for this series and set to watch a couple of great match-ups starting this evening when young Tyler Chatwood goes head to head with Josh Beckett.

I have already removed the Dropkick Murpheys CD from my car for what will probably be the rest of the month in anticipation. Yes, this is my “superstitious” fan quirk. I don’t have a lucky shirt. I don’t have specific things I eat before or during games. But I can’t bring myself to listen to music closely associated with a certain teams while we’re playing that team. It’s not really a superstitious thing. I don’t think the Angels will lose if I slip in the odd Fields of Athenry here or there when the Red Sox are in town. It just feels really disloyal. Even though I have preferred my punk to come with bagpipes since long before Papelbon went Shipping Up to Boston. So, cue the Train and let’s play ball.

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