Results tagged ‘ Zack Greinke ’

I-5 Bias: The 2013 Season’s End Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the 2013 Season’s End Edition! This is the latest in what continues to be a fun, occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Matt and I were originally inspired to start this column by the huge shift in attention the AL and NL West have enjoyed. Between tough competitions down to the October wire, prominent postseason performances and some pretty loud player acquisitions, the AL and NL West, and frequently my Angels and his Dodgers specifically, have been big, big news. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? No, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

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Understandably, I almost didn’t want to do this edition, given the Angels sad, sad finish. But I would be a poor sport indeed if I didn’t continue in light of my fellow blogger’s team’s huge success. So, *mumbles* Congratulations Dodgers and good luck. Angels, kindly get it together this offseason – pretty please! And hopefully the next postseason will have more of a both ends of the I-5 vibe – not that a Freeway Series with Vin Scully announcing and the Angels ultimately victorious – naturally! – isn’t a bucket list level dream of mine or anything…nope, not at all. *nods* But I digress…

For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted by our teams’ final season records and the ensuing fan and media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snotty ones), please ask away:

The Dodgers and the Angels both had abysmal starts to their seasons. But by the end of June, the Dodgers started to turn things completely around. What are your thoughts on the Dodgers comeback/why do you think they were able to turn their season around?

Matt says: It’s amazing to think about what the Dodgers did. At the begining a lot of things were going completely wrong. Injuries, Leaving runners on base, Errors, Mismanagement, I mean whatever you thought of it happened with the Dodgers. When they went on that run It was unbelieveable run and took first place, There was a feeling that this team could do something special. How they were able to turn it around? Honestly there was a number of things. Everyone started to trust one another, In an Interview before the Blue Jays Series Adrian Gonzalez and AJ Ellis said that everyone on that team started to trust each other. Taking a few pitches and not over do things knowing the next guy behing them. Anotheher was the pitching started to get better. If you look at the Dodgers Statisiticly pitching it started with their top two starting pitchers in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. In the 2nd half both are a world better with low ERA’s and great win-loss records so there was no doubt that they would get it together. The rest of the staff on the other hand really went on to shock me. Ricky Nolasco was really getting it together, Hyun Jin Ryu continued his success, and the Bullpen as a whole managed to get better and the addition of Brian Wilson made it better as well. Let’s also not forget about Yasiel Puig! I think he was the huge spark that the Dodgers needed with his play.

Kristen says: I think it was as close to a perfect storm of good as a team can get – things started clicking for the Dodgers when Yasiel Puig debuted right as key players started coming off the DL. This is, perhaps, an oversimplified explanation for a pretty epic comeback, but that’s all I’ve got and, really, it’s no worse than Vin’s Magic Castle explanation. ;)

And what are your thoughts on the Angels continually frustrating season/why do you think they weren’t able to turn their season around?

Kristen says: Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover it. Trust me, I watched something like 145 of 162. Seriously. There are a lot of things that went wrong – injuries, veterans failing to perform, an on again/off again offense – but I think that the worst thing, the truly irreparable nail in the coffin, was pitching. This is a team that had relied on stellar pitching for the last string of seasons and they went into 2013 without a true starting rotation and no improvements to speak of in a shaky bullpen. Then injuries and aging arms made the pitching situation even worse and the powers that be failed to make any moves that constituted so much as a legitimate patch before the trade deadline – not that they really had a lot of funds to make such a thing possible by that point in the season.

Matt says: The Angels were a team I thought would also get it together in the 2nd half of the season. They had the offensive fire power, Pujols, Trout, and Kendrick was doing their thing, Josh Hamilton was starting to come around but ultimately the Angels couldn’t get it done. You had the injury to Albert that put himout for the rest of the season and inconsistant play it just wasn’t good all around. I think what hurt the Angels was the inconsistant ball play. The inability to really put something together to make a run hurt them. In the AL West you can’t afford to lose series against the A’s and Rangers and expect to make up ground. Droping games against Seattle and Houston didn’t help at all either. I believe the Angels needed to get it together consistantly and didn’t.

With postseason baseball coming for the Dodgers what is their biggest strength and weakness? How far do you think they can go?

Matt says: Their biggest strength will be pitching. I always preach that pitching will win you championships. Look at the Giants in 2010-2012 and look at the Phillies 2008-2009. Both had a great pitching staff that lifted them to World Series appaerances/Championships. That’s what the Dodgers needed and they tackled it well the Dodgers pitching staff is getting it done at the right time and when it’s really needed. Kershaw and Greinke in game one and two is scary enough and the bullpen has been lights out. As far as their weakness I do believe it’s their health. Dodgers for some reason have this issue with staying healthy and that tend to hurt them a lot. Right now L.A. have Matt Kemp out for the season with a ankle injury and the status of Andre Ethier is really up in the air right now. This team must stay healthy in order to really make an impact. I do believe the Dodgers can go far. It’s going to be difficult because they have a lot of good teams to pan up against and will be on the road. I think the Dodgers can make it to the World Series due to their pitching and talent.

Kristen says: I think pitching is the Dodgers biggest strength and an on again, off again offense is potentially their biggest liability. They sure aren’t hitting right now but even the last few games leading up to the postseason aren’t always an indication of play come October. If the Dodgers start hitting again, they could go pretty far.

What, if anything, do you think the season fallout will be in the Angels organization? Is there anything this team can do to get back on track for 2014?

Kristen says: I feel like Sadusky in National Treasure, “Someone’s got to go to prison, Ben.” I don’t know or even really want to predict who is going to leave but it’s certain that someone, and probably several someones, will. There are rumors flying far and wide about Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia. On the one hand, if you take injuries out of the equation, Jerry Dipoto is responsible for the pitching situation – he dismantled the old starting rotation to build this one. One the other hand, Scioscia has managed four teams that failed to make the post season in a row, two of them with losing records…and don’t think we haven’t noticed that this is the first season Arte Moreno has failed to respond to questions over Sosh’s future with with instant unwavering support. So is it one or both of these guys or will it be a massive player shift? Or, D, some of all of the above? Personally, I’d like the fallout to be enough player movement to get an actual starting rotation going into 2014 without throwing all babies out with the bathwater to accomplish it. But I learned a long time again that I don’t think like a team owner, especially not this team owner, so I doubt it will be that.

Matt says: I don’t think much will happen in the Angels Organization really but ig I had to pick I do believe the Angels will let go Jerry Dipoto. He has made splash signings with Albert Puljos, CJ Wilson, and Josh Hamilton but really nothing much has come out of it. He also failed to get the Angels true help which was to upgrade the pitching staff. I do believe that there is something that this team can do to turn it around in 2014 and that’s to get pitching help. They have the offensive firepower and enough of it but now is the time to really lock down on pitching if they want to make an impact in the AL West.

After winning the NL West the Dodgers came out of their clubhouse and celebrated in the Diamondbacks pool in the outfield. This was controversial and commentators have expressed differing opinions on the matter. What is your take on the celebration?

Matt says: Well I maybe in the majority that actaully don’t have an issue with this. I honestly think the Diamondbacks and media are making a huge deal out of it than we are or the Dodgers. If anything it started with them saying that the Dodgers couldn’t comeback out to celebrate which puzzles me. It was all done when everyone was out of the stadium and Los Angeles didn’t mean any harm over it at all. I understand the sportsmanship and classiness of celebrating but lets not forget when the Dbacks clinched they went swiming in their pool in 2011. It’s really no issue at all really and I think it’s bigger deal to Arizona than anyone else.

Kristen says: On the one hand, I think the DBacks telling the Dodgers not to come back out of the Clubhouse to celebrate on their field was out of line and contrary to baseball tradition. So, if the Dodgers had just come out of the Clubhouse and celebrated on the field, I wouldn’t have any objections. But come on Dodgers, you can’t tell me that a large part of your motivation to celebrate specifically by jumping in the DBacks’ pool wasn’t sticking it to a division rival with whom you have bad blood and have brawled this season, knowing that such an action would really piss them off. While that is certainly an understandable, human motivation it isn’t exactly a classy one. So, do I think the Dodgers are evil? No. But they sure aren’t winning any kudos for sportsmanship this season. Of course, did they actually set out to? Probably not.

So, baseball fan boys and girls, what does the 2013 season have to teach us about pre-season media hype?

Kristen says: Well, both the Dodgers and the Angels were heavily hyped to go all the way. The Angels…yeah, ‘nuff said. *sigh* While the Dodgers have made it to the post season in style for sure…but with significant help from guys who weren’t even on the team when the predictions were made. Look, an MLB season is too long and complicated to ever listen to the preseason predictions with anything more than the kind of interest a diehard baseball fan shows any MLB news when there are no live games on yet and a ‘that’s nice’.

Matt says: I think it taught us something very valuable. Baseball isn’t played on paper. If you were to tell me the Giants, Angels, Nationals and Blue Jays wouldn’t even come close to playoff contention then I would think you’re crazy. This season basically showed us a lot when it comes to pre-season media hype. The Dodgers and Angels got off to bad starts but the Dodgers managed to get it together in the second half of the season and the Angels struggled which was disapointing to see. I think we will all be more careful when we take a look at things in the pre-season but this was another example of how anything can happen in baseball.

Get to Know Your Bloggers Bonus Question: Do you have any favorite memories and moments from the MLB Postseason?

Matt says: Well I do have a few memories and moments from the MLB Postseason. The Dodgers sweeping the Cardnials in 2009 is one that sticksout because St Louis was a heavy favorite and it really shocked a lot of us when the Dodgers swept them out of the playoffs. Another was the Cardinals/Rangers World Series. It was sad to see Texas lose it when they had two chances at winning it but amazing to see the Cards win it thanks to David Freese heroics but I think my favorite has to be the Red Sox and Yankees 2004 Series where the Yankees were up 3-0 in the series and was bound to win the series only for the Sox to pulloff an amazing comeback to win the ALCS which was crazy to see. I hope to see some this postseason as well that we can talk about for years to come.

Kristen says: You all know what I’m going to say here, right? ‘Erstad says he’s got it. Erstad makes the catch!’…except, favorite memory though that was, I wasn’t strictly back to being a baseball fan in 2002. I was a bitter, bitter lady over the strike, and I’d been raised a Dodgers fan, after all. No, I wouldn’t come back to baseball until I fell head over heels in love with the Angels about three seasons after the 2002 series. Sad, but true. But I do remember when they won. My grandfather was a lifelong Angels fan going back to the Minor League PCL days, but he passed away in 1990 and missed the team’s truly good years. It’s maudlin, but I remember catching the end of game 7 on TV and wishing that somehow he knew, as you do.

Now, with my odd mixed fan base baseball background, I also have vivid warm fuzzies over 1988, and that first Saturday game, building the Lego castle of the weekend all along the den floor with my sister while we watched the World Series. Memories of Vin Scully’s, ‘And look who’s coming up…’ and just knowing who I was going to see when I put down the Legos and looked up at the screen, because Kirk Gibson was my hero, so of course he would come in at just the right moment to win the game like it was some sort of fairy tale.

Ah childhood! But I guess that’s part of why I really get into doing this whole I-5 Bias thing, even when my team blows so many goats for the season that they actually made me momentarily happy the regular season has ended. Oh well, here’s looking forward to 2014 and hopefully less drama and more editions of I-5 Bias where I get to brag about my guys. Cheers!

I-5 Bias: The Freeway Series Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Freeway Series Edition! This is the fourth in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt ;) ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Despite the Dodgers and Angels terrible 2013 starts, Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development want to share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the first two months of the 2013 season and the Freeway Series that begins today. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

So, the 2013 Dodgers and Angels. Hmmm…how can I put this delicately? What the hell happened??

Kristen says: While I love SABR and all of the increased attention even the average fan pays to statistics and analysis these days, the drawback is that no one is satisfied until they have a specific, detailed answer to performance questions these days and, I’m sorry, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. I mean, if there were a specific, detailed answer to the question of the Angels slower than molasses in a blizzard start to the season, don’t you think the problem would have been quickly solvable? In a nutshell, I think this was a perfect storm for the Angels. Heading into the season, player transactions were very tightly concentrated on beefing up the offense, and very much at the expense of the quality of the Angels starting rotation while virtually ignoring the bullpen. I was already queasy over the idea of assuming the offense would always pick up the pitching and then Murphy’s Law struck with a vengeance with a series of injuries taking out the only ace in the Angels pitching staff, turning the starting rotation and bullpen into personnel revolving doors, removing key set up pieces from the lineup and hampering the starts of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton – severely, in the case of Pujols. Does that fully explain the Angels start? Perhaps not for everyone, but when you throw in the added pressure of not living up to sky high expectations as each new calamity occurred, it explains things for me…not that I’ve been obsessing over this since Opening Day or anything…*whistles innocently*

Matt says: Well with the Dodgers I am still trying to figure out what is going on. This season hasn’t been the start we all expected for them. To be fair Injuries has hit the Dodgers pretty good but that’s no excuse. Between issues with batting with RISP, Bullpen meltdowns, and mismanagement in games the Dodgers have found themselves in a good hole.

Be honest. Do you think the Dodgers/Angels’ issues are fixable? How fixable? And what would it take at this point for you as a fan to call the season a success?

Matt says: Yes I do believe it is but that’s up to the Manager. Switch up the line up to where it’s more effective to get runs, Make better bullpen decisions and not put the same guys who keep blowing the game in. As far as what will make this season successful? Winning and getting back to the Playoffs is what will save this season. At the start all the expectations were going to be on but missing the playoffs after spending on the Starting Pitching and making changes will be a disapointment. They have to get it in gear ASAP.

Kristen says: Well, don’t look now but the Angels offense is back online, the pitchers are performing well enough and then some, and the guys have quite a nice little winning streak going on heading into the Freeway Series. And the cherry on top? Ace Jered Weaver is coming off the DL and scheduled to pitch on Wednesday…the game I have tickets for. Score! If this level of play continues, then I will count the Angels season a success, no matter what the standings say at the end. It’s not that I don’t care about making the playoffs, I very much do. And I’m not counting the Angels out at all. If they keep playing like this, anything is possible especially with two wild card opportunities. No, I’m just acknowledging the fact that when a team digs themselves this deep of a hole to start the season, they are no longer fully in control of their own destiny – final standings are as much a matter of the other teams having off days as your team having good ones, something that we as baseball fans know you can hope for all you want but never, ever count on.

There have been talk/rumors of Don Mattingly and Mike Scioscia possibly getting fired. Do you believe it’s time for them to go or should they even take blame?

Kristen says: Nope. Never. You will not see me calling for Sosh’s head over this. Not going to happen. I may cringe over his bullpen management from time to time…er…all the time and yes, there have been and will always be instances of mismanagement. But I really think that as fans we have a tendency to point to the handful of mismanaged plays and ignore the rest of the game. Besides, injuries aren’t the manager’s fault. Personnel changes are not the manager’s fault. And somehow, despite all of the setbacks, the Angels are climbing back into this race and I think that that speaks volumes for the players’ grit, of course, but also for Sosh’s ability to keep them together even through the rough times.

Matt says: I’m going to be straight up with Mattingly. From the looks of this he isn’t the right fit for the Dodgers. He has mismanaged games on his part and at times shows lack of fire but as of late he is starting to pick up that fire and take action. Benching Ethier and Kemp as well as calling out the team is a start right there. Now should he take blame. Yes but not ALL of it. Blame has to go around to everyone on their part. Mattingly has messed up on his part and it’s going to cost him his job at some point.

One more uncomfortable question: What do you think about emergency/closed door team meetings — players only or otherwise? Are they ever effective or do they just feed the drama?

Matt says: You know about those meetings I actually really like them. You have time to really air out whatever issues their are and talk about what you have to do as a team to get it going in the right direction. The Media will always make it more than what it needs to be but they are an effective way to talk as a team to get things going in a positive spin.

Kristen says: I think that, like any other tool, closed door meetings can be useful at times, useless at others and downright detrimental at others. I think a team meeting certainly can turn things around and, when such things become necessary, I do love it when the players show enough passion, initiative and team spirit to take ownership and have their own meeting. Here’s the thing though. Back in the day, fans would never hear about a closed door meeting or certainly not about every closed door meeting. Now we hear about every single one, often as they’re happening. Frequently we even hear what was said at the meetings – pretty contrary to the point of ‘closed door’ don’t you think? This is the part I don’t think it healthy. It adds to the drama and it also leads to the tail wagging the dog. When things start to go downhill, everyone expects a closed door meeting creating external pressure for the meeting to happen, rather than the meeting just occurring or not occurring naturally in keeping with the rhythms and chemistry of that particular team.

With the new schedule and league realignment, rivalry matchups including the Freeway Series have shrunk from 6 games to 4 for the season. Do you like this development or is it messing too much with tradition, albeit a relatively recent tradition?

Kristen says: I love the Freeway Series and the rivalry fan energy that both surrounds it at the ballparks and spills over into our work and social lives for a few days. I’m really going to miss that lasting for two full series and, to be honest, a shorter more compacted Freeway Series cuts into my ability to attend one game at each stadium, a mini-tradition Seth and I have enjoyed for a few years. But, at the same time, I get the necessity of trimming down the rivalry matchups under the new schedule. I also understand how awkward and underwhelming two series’ worth of rivalry matchups were under the old schedule for teams/fan bases who had no natural rival and were stuck with 6 games against an, in essence, MLB manufactured and assigned rival. So, while I’m disappointed for Angels and Dodgers fans, I get that this was the best course of action.

Matt says: Well I ALWAYS have enjoyed the freeways series. To be honest I don’t have an issue with the series being 4 games because you have 2 in LA then right then another 2 in Anaheim. So more of a 4 game series home and home. I know this will eventually end up being a Opening Day match up soon with the realignment so 4 games isn’t bad. Though I did like the 6 game format.

Make your predictions now. Which team will win the Freeway Series and with what record?

Matt says: With what I have seen from the Dodgers they for some reason can’t get it together. Against St Louis they were shut out where they didn’t even show up and Yesterday where errors took them out of the game. This series starts off with Greinke and Ryu so it’s not pitching that I am worried about but the lack of offense. With that said I see this series going 2-2. Dodgers taking one in LA and one in Anaheim but with the Dodgers I really don’t know what to expect out of them at times especially with a hot Angels team coming into Dodger Stadium.

Kristen says: The Angels are hot right now and, since the start of interleague play, have owned the NL, including the Dodgers. I predict the Angels will win 3 out 4.

Meet the Bloggers Bonus Question: Do you enjoy the Freeway Series and, if so, what is your first/best Freeway Series memory?

Kristen says: I can’t pick out one specific, favorite memory – there are just too many! But the thing I love the most about the Freeway Series and the warm, fuzzy sense of family tradition I get from it. Growing up, my family primarily rooted for the Dodgers, but the Angels were Grandpa’s team, so I always knew both teams and loved watching them play each other. And, coming from such a Freeway family, as it were, my parents always took my sister and I to at least one Freeway Series game. There was no interleague play when I was a child so the Freeway Series was a pre-season exhibition. This meant that the Freeway Series was frequently my first live baseball game after the long winter without, adding to the specialness of the occasion.

Matt says: Theres so many favorite memories and moments from this series. I enjoy the Freeway Series because it’s two teams that’s close to each other clashing. As far as my favorite/best Freeway Series memory wellll theres so many that I can’t pin point on one. Mine would have to be my first trip to Angels Stadium in 2009. The night before Juan Rivera (Angels player at the time) hit a walk off Home Run. This night Jarred and Jeff Weaver pitched against each other. The Dodgers won that night but what made it memorible was that it was my Very First Freeway Series that I witnessed (The First of Many).

I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition! This is the second in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt ;)   ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions prompted by spring training, the World Baseball Classic and recent media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

What player(s) should we keep an eye on during spring training? Are there any young minor leaguers Angels/Dodgers fans should pay special attention to?

Kristen Says: Well, I don’t think I have to tell anyone to keep an eye on the usual suspects. ;) In fact, at least this early on in spring training, I wish fans would keep less of an eye, or at least a more casual eye on some of the bigger names. Josh Hamilton going 0 for 3 in his Angels February spring training debut merits a top Yahoo headline today? Really? *shaking my head and laughing* As for some of the players who aren’t already on every fan’s radar but should be, with Bobby Wilson no longer on the team, Hank Conger will be trying to make this season finally be the season that sees him start and stay on the 25-man roster. His batting average was the only thing standing in the way before and this spring he’s off to a great start. Peter Bourjos spent 2012 on the bench but is slated to finally share the outfield with Mike Trout in 2013. He should be both thrilled to play again this spring and extra eager to prove himself. Outfielder Kole Calhoun and short stop Andrew Romine will start the season in the minors on the 40-man roster but are exciting up and comers likely to become 25-man roster fixtures in the seasons to come.

Matt Says: Well for the Dodgers there’s two players that fans should keep an eye on. Yasiel Puig and Zack Lee. Puig as you know was the first major International signing that the Dodgers made in the middle of the season. Many scouts say he has good Power but is still Raw and needs more coaching. Fans will finally get to see what he is all about this Spring and we’ll get to see if he is ready or needs more time. Zack Lee is another player who is listed as the #1 Prospect in the Dodgers Organization. This is a guy who I believe will be called up this season (If any injuries are to hit). If not we will see him in Triple A.

Teams often find a hidden gem in a non roster invitee. Which NRI player(s) have the best shot at making the Roster come opening day?

Matt Says: Dodgers tend to find hidden gems with the NRI players. I will say one who has a good shot would be Peter Molan and Mark Lowe. The Dodgers want to add a Veteran presence in a young bullpen and both of them have a good shot at making it but will have to beat out Stephen Fife and Josh Wall just to get on the 40 man roster. Molan you may remember was with the Braves last season but was hit with Injury problems and Lowe was with the Rangers as well but didn’t play as much. Only one of them will make it on the 40 man roster in my opinion.

Kristen Says: Barring any injuries or other oddities *knock on every scrap of wood in a 40 mile radius!* I think the Angels came in to spring training with the 25 and 40-man rosters pretty much set in all respects except perhaps the bullpen. I think that if NRI relief pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi continues to have a good Spring, he will have a shot at making the roster for Opening Day but I don’t expect any of the other Angels NRI players to make the roster for a couple of seasons yet.

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Matt Kemp swings at a nasty Angels pitch and misses with Hank Conger catching...oh how I hope the Angels starting rotation can deliver this season!! Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Matt Kemp swings at a nasty Angels pitch and misses with Hank Conger catching…oh how I hope the Angels starting rotation can deliver this season!! Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Are there any issues or unanswered questions that you hope to see your team work out in spring training?

Kristen Says: For me, at least, the biggest question still facing the Angels is the starting rotation. I’m thrilled with the addition of Jason Vargas, but once I get past Jered Weaver and Vargas, I am full of questions. Will C.J. Wilson’s bone spur surgery mark the reappearance of the strong, reliable, successful C.J.? And will we get to see this C.J. in the second half too? Which Tommy Hanson will we see? And so on. I bounce back and forth between optimism and queasiness on the subject and really hope that spring training ultimately gives us a strong indication of positive answers to those questions. A secondary question for me is how quickly will the planned outfield configuration of Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right shape up? I don’t ask how well because I don’t really think that’s a necessary question — an all young, talented centerfielder outfield is a pretty drool-worthy prospect. At the same time, Trout and Hamilton are both used to calling the shots in their respective outfields and Bourjos spent most of 2012 — unfairly — on the bench so it may take him a few games to get used to taking charge again and will definitely take all three of them a few games to get used to each other’s range and working together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what spring training is for – and I do love the fact that so many games are on TV now so that we get to watch the process.

Matt Says: Well for sure it isn’t Chemisty haha. I honestly think there’s a few questions and issues that I would like to see the Dodgers workout. One is being Hanley at Shortstop. Hanley isn’t the best defensive Shortstop out there and we all know he was at 3rd for a reason with the Marlins last year. Hanley will have to get fielding down at short and only has so much time with the Dodgers before he goes and plays in the WBC with the Dominican Republic. The rotation after Kershaw and Greinke is also a mystery as well. Dodgers had a deep rotation which could see guys either traded or moved to the bullpen. #3-4-5 will be up in the air pending on how Capuano, Harang, Beckett, Billingsley, Lilly, and Ryu pitches through the spring. Right now it’s projected to be Beckett, Billingsley, and Ryu but that could all change.

The Dodgers are well represented in the 2013 World Baseball Classic with five players participating. The Angels only have one player participating. How do you feel about this? Do you think it’s more important to have the cream of MLB represented in the WBC or for teams and players to conserve their talent for the regular baseball season?

Matt Says: I for one Love the World Baseball Classic. I like that the Dodgers are well represented in this because they’re playing for their country which is something they don’t get to do that much. I honestly would like to see the MLB’s best play in the classic but can understand if the Player don’t want to play..Notice I said player because I feel it’s up to them if they want to play in the Classic. Through the past few weeks we have seen teams step in a block players from play in the tournament and that I think is not fair. I get that teams don’t want guys hurt playing but it’s the same risk if you have them play in a Spring Training game. In my opinion I think it’s more important to have players ready for the Regular season but the WBC is played in the Spring and the players will have their rest before the Season starts but that’s for the players to decide. You see players like Mike Trout who declined to play to work with the Angels and that I can understand and respect.

Kristen Says: I think it’s great for the Dodgers to be so well represented in the WBC and most years I would be happy to see the Angels equally well represented. However, after all of the injuries of 2011 and 2012 and with so many very young players still learning how to keep positive momentum all the way through the second half of the regular season, I am glad that this Angels team largely opted not to participate. There will be other WBCs with more Angels participation. In general, while it would certainly be exciting to have all of the best in baseball playing in the WBC, I think this is a question best left up to the individual players. As with the Angels, I completely understand when players, knowing their own pre-season training needs, decide that they would prefer just to concentrate on the regular baseball season and skip out on the WBC. Look, half the fun of the WBC is seeing MLB greats playing for their home or ancestral countries, so excellent MLB participation isn’t going to guarantee a strong USA team regardless – though I do think we have a strong, competitive team this year and am excited to have tickets to the USA/Mexico game in a few weeks. I also don’t think that teams should step in to block players from participating in the WBC unless there is a legitimate injury concern in the sense of a frequently or recently injured player.

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Peter Bourjos entertains Mark Trumbo and other teammates on the bench...a location I sincerely hope neither Bourjos nor Trumbo will be seeing much of this season. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Peter Bourjos entertains Mark Trumbo and other teammates on the bench…a location I sincerely hope neither Bourjos nor Trumbo will be seeing much of this season. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

We had a Freeway Series showdown — naturally! — during the MLB Network’s recent Face of MLB contest and Matt Kemp beat Mike Trout. Thoughts? Reactions?

Kristen Says: On the surface, the Face of MLB contest is just a fun, silly way to pass the offseason time. On a deeper level though, I think the results demonstrate the effect of changing technology on the way fans interact with the game. With the increasing popularity of social media, constant MLB-wide highlights streaming across a baseball dedicated cable channel and all of the different ways we have to stream games online and watch out of market games on TV, baseball is no longer about just getting to see “our team” and the handful of, primarily East Coast teams, that at one point held an almost “National Brand” status. There was a time, not so long ago, when West Coast ballplayers would have been eliminated in the first round of any such competition. Now we fans still root the hardest for our own teams – as it should be! — but we are also aware of the daily exploits of talented players on every team regardless of rank and market size and I think that’s wonderful! As for Matt Kemp beating Mike Trout in this competition quite handily, this season I think that’s as it should be. Both are exceptionally talented players but Trout is a brand new face while Kemp is an established a team leader with several MVP level seasons to his credit. However, as Trout continues to live up to his potential, I expect that the results of any such future contests will quickly start shifting in Trout’s favor. ;)

Matt Says: I didn’t vote or anything for this because I don’t see the point in it but I find it to be something that adds for the fans. Last year Mike Trout was in the same position Kemp was in 2011. Great season only to not be named MVP due to his team not being in the Playoffs. Honestly I believe this is a great honor for both players to be recognized but in my opinion this was for the fans to make that call which we all knew who everyone was voting for. I just want to know outside of Dodgers/Angels fans who voted for who haha.

Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: As a fan, do you look forward to spring training or can you take it or leave it?

Matt Says: As a fan yes I do and for many reasons. One it signals that Baseball is back after a long off-season and seeing Free-Agents sign and moves being made in the winter. Also allows fans to get a good look at players like a Kershaw and Kemp play and get their pre-season done, New players like Grenkie and Ryu play with their teams for the first time, and get a good look at the Top Prospects in the farm system play in MLB Uniform and see if they’re the real deal. Best part is actually going to see Spring Training and actually getting to meet the players. Yes people spend a lot of money to attend opening day or Opening night but it’s the only time fans can catch Baseball at a cheap price and in a location (Well to me and Kristen) where it’s not far at all. This year will be my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona and I am honestly looking forward to it. I understand some fans say they’ll wait till Opening Day to see what the team is about and that’s fine but with me being such a Baseball Junkie I like to see the Prospects and NRI guys just to see what my team will be working with.

Kristen Says: I love spring training and look forward to it every year! Yes, this is partially because of how stir crazy I get in the offseason. However, a big part of my spring training love is the glimpse it gives us inside the teams’ preparations for the season. I love watching my favorite players shake off the rust and work back into their regular season form and I enjoy watching new players and/or existing players in new positions work to blend seamlessly into the team unit. No, the games aren’t the same quality as regular season games, especially this early on. And, yes, once we get past about March 15th, I will be Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. But the more casual vibe of spring training has an undeniable charm all its own and serves as the perfect appetizer before the regular season main course. (I decided that this was a more mature metaphor than Foreplay/Long Time, if you will. Aren’t you all so proud? ;)  )

From 2012's Spring Training Freeway Series games: Angels jack of many trades and chief bomb hitter, Mark Trumbo, and Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz move with the pitch. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

From 2012’s Spring Training Freeway Series games: Angels jack of many trades and chief bomb hitter, Mark Trumbo, and Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz move with the pitch. Angels at Dodgers, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

I-5 Bias: the Hot Stove Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Hot Stove Edition! This is the first in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt ;)   ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention recent Hot Stove moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!

I-5 photo - blog

For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted our teams’ offseason activities and the ensuing fan and media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

Which of your team’s offseason moves do you think was the strongest?

Kristen says: I imagine everyone is expecting me to say Josh Hamilton here. Hamilton was a huge signing and should be a boon to the team, combining with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo to make the Angels offense a formidable one indeed (at least on paper — I am very careful about how excited I allow myself to get before the teams actually take the field when, as any longtime baseball fan can tell you, anything can happen). However, I actually think the Angels strongest move was the most recent — the trade for Jason Vargas. As a player, Hamilton is definitely on another level than Vargas and will probably contribute more to the team directly. But trading for Vargas set the rest of the Angels roster in ways that will benefit the entire team and make Hamilton’s talents that much more effective. In addition to providing another reliable, workhorse arm to a starting rotation that needed exactly that, the Kendrys Morales for Vargas trade ensured that the Angels do not have to make less advantageous trades to get said arm. They no longer have to worry about trading the more versatile slugger Mark Trumbo, whose bat has the potential to be more explosive in the lineup with Hamilton. They no longer have to worry about trading Peter Bourjos, who can instead be the gold glove caliber centerfield anchor between Hamilton and Trout in what should be a truly scary Angels outfield — oh, and having Bourjos and Trout tear up the base paths together won’t hurt either.

Matt says: As important Pitching was this off-season I’m not going to say it was Zach Greinke or Ryu. I think the strongest was Mark McGwire as the Dodgers hitting coach. The Dodgers had issues with getting hits and runs in games and that hurt the Dodgers playoff chances. Look at what Mark did as hitting coach with the Cardinals. They were pretty much in the top ten in Runs, Batting Avg, and OPB. For a Dodger Team with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford that’s going to be huge help for them.

What, if anything, do you think your team still needs to do?

Matt says: I still think the Dodgers need to address the Bullpen and bench. Dodgers lack a LHP out the pen. Scott Elbert is still out, Paco Rodriguez isn’t really ready for a full stent like that, and missed the chance at resigning Randy Choate. The only thing the Dodgers did for the bullpen was resign Brandon League. They have Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang out there on the trade block so maybe they trade them for Bullpen help. Bench wise I believe the Dodgers have to address getting a 4th Outfielder because lets be honest Yasnel Puig isn’t really ready quite yet. They traded for Skip Shoemaker which help but a 1st/3rd Baseman off the bench along with a 4th Outfield will really help.

Kristen says: Well, if we were asking these questions earlier in the week, I would have said that the Angels need another starting pitcher in bold, italicized, all caps, 24 point font. But, thank you Santas Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno, that seems to be taken care of – see previous response. Instead I’m going to enter complete fairy tale land here (Well, it is Christmas after all — might as well wish big!) and say that I think the Angels need to move Vernon Wells, even if it means eating almost all of that huge contract. Nothing against Wells himself — he has been a smiling example of good attitude, trying hard to improve at the plate and gracefully moving wherever the team asked him to, including the bench. But this acquisition just hasn’t work out, and that’s putting it mildly. I would love it if any of the, quite frankly, trade porn rumors surrounding one team or another showing interest in Wells worked out…even if the deal is for practically nothing! The Angels would seriously benefit from having the room on the 25-man roster and I think Wells himself would benefit from the chances offered by that supposed panacea, the change of scenery.

Mike Trout takes a swing while A.J. Ellis readies for the catch. Angels vs. Dodgers, June 23, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mike Trout takes a swing while A.J. Ellis readies for the catch. Angels vs. Dodgers, June 23, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Now that we know what you want your team to do, what do you think they will do? Any trade/move/signing predictions?

Kristen says: I think that, with the Vargas trade, the Angels are pretty much done. I suppose that you might hear about a smaller move here or there — one lesser known bullpen pitcher or non-top minor league prospect for another, but other than that they’re done making deals for the offseason. Although, if Jerry Dipoto chooses to see this as a challenge — because of course the Angels read my blog ;) — and moves Vernon Wells just to spite my prediction, I certainly wouldn’t mind being wrong.

Matt says: I think the Dodgers will end up Trading Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano along with Dee Gordon for a Left Hand Arm out the bullpen. Theres been rumors about Andre Ethier being traded but I don’t see that happening at all. As far as signings go I believe the Dodgers will look into the Market for a Outfielder or Corner position player off the bench but at the same time I think they’re done.

There is A LOT of money being spent in LA/OC these days. A LOT OF IT! Does your team’s payroll size or amount being spent worry you at all?

Matt says: To be honest yes it does. With the amount of money being put into the Dodgers I would hope winning comes with it. You can’t buy wins or world series and playing Yankee ball can only work when done right. I fear of the Dodgers being like the Red Soxs. All the money being spent and no playoff apperance or anything. Not only that but the fear of Contracts back loading up to where the Dodgers can’t do anything in the future but the Dodgers said they have deep pockets and a new 2 Billion dollar TV deal is coming in soon so we shall see what happens but I can’t say it doesn’t worry me or isn’t in the back of my mind. Everyone tries to play Yankee Ball but the only way that works is if you get the players that fit and generate wins.

Kristen says: Absolutely. Spending this much money should scare anyone. Every player, no matter how talented, is a risk. No one wants to see it happen but any player has the potential to age, slump, lose their swing/pitching location/etc., fail to mesh with a given team and (God forbid) get injured. And when you’ve spent outrageous sums of money acquiring that player, the end result of any such occurrence is devastating because suddenly you’re priced out of just eating that paycheck one way or another to move the player off your roster. And if this happens on several such deals? Yeah, say hello to a nice block of ever-so-much-fun-for-the-whole-team-family “rebuilding” seasons. No. Thank. You!

Here’s the thing though – I think that more and more teams are going to need to come to terms with this level of spending as we go on. Teams are wisely locking up their talent before they hit free agency with greater frequency, leaving smaller free agency pools for teams in a buying mode to fight over. Nothing against Zack Greinke — he’s one hell of a pitcher and I wish the Angels had been able to keep him — but do you really think he would have garnered this impressive a contact if the Giants, Phillies and Angels had allowed Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver to hit the free agency market in 2013 as scheduled? And Greinke is just the latest example of this phenomenon. And, of course, when quality players are making those kinds of dollars you know that marquee players will command even more from their current team or on the FA market (Holy Staggering Albert Pujols Contract, Batman!!). The end result is that, while the Dodgers and Angels may seem to be leading the charge at the moment, more and more teams will be joining in that charge out of necessity over the next several seasons — as a trend this is both kind of exciting and very scary.

Elian Herrera leads off first while Albert Pujols prepares for a thrown down. Angels at Dodgers, June 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Elian Herrera leads off first while Albert Pujols prepares for a thrown down. Angels at Dodgers, June 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The MLBN analysts seem to think that the Dodgers and Angels offseason moves are all about one upping each other. Do you think there is any truth to this? How do you feel about that?

Kristen says: To quote Annie Savoy, “Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” Or, from the owners’ perspectives it’s also a business. I’m sure Arte Moreno and Magic Johnson and partners do consider things like Los Angeles/Orange County market share when they’re making decisions about advertising, overall ballpark experience and the price of parking, beer, etc. But I highly doubt that this thinking extends to personnel decisions. Competitive teams that win games and reach the Postseason make fans happy and draw them to the ballpark. In order to do that, it’s far more important to be competitive within one’s own division than with an interleague rival as I’m sure all owners and GMs involved are well aware. I can see why the timing of some of the Angels and Dodgers free agency signings lead to the comments in question on MLBN, but I think that both the signings and their timing had little to do with Freeway Series rivalry. Yes, the Angels wanted Zack Greinke and so did the Dodgers. But at least half a dozen other teams also seriously wanted Greinke. He was the best free agent starting pitcher on the market this season. Once the Dodgers signed Greinke, I’m not surprised that the Hamilton signing followed so quickly on its heels. Suddenly the Angels had a lot less pokers in the big money free agents fire and could just concentrate their efforts on Hamilton.

Matt says: You know that’s an interesting question. I honestly don’t think it’s one upping at all and theres two reasons for that. 1- The Dodgers and Angels are filling needs that prevented them from making the playoffs. Thing was it just so happen the Angels signed Hamilton in the heat of the Dodgers making serious moves. 2- The Angels turned out to be the mystery team that was after Hamilton and got him just like last year with Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson So they’ve done this before. People predicted the Dodgers having money to throw at Free Agents before Off-Season. I don’t believe it’s one upping at all but It has caught the attention of the National Media so I like the westcoast attention the Baseball Media is giving.

Now on to something really important – the annual LA/OC billboard war. Which team do you think will have the most/best billboards plastered all over town?

Matt says: Hahaha It was a year ago when the Angels had billboards all over LA/OC until the Dodgers got new owners. I believe it’ll be fairly even. In the OC you have Albert Pujols, Jarred Weaver, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout where in LA you have Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Adrian Gonzalez. I believe the Dodgers will have them posted all over L.A. knowing Magic and his promoting of the Dodger brand and the Angels will do a lot of marking themselves as well. It’ll be interesting to see.

Kristen says: *snerk* The “billboard wars” always make me smile and laugh. I take the 605 freeway to work. Most seasons that freeway is littered with Dodgers billboards heading south and Angels billboards heading north as if both teams were making a concerted effort to convert their rival fan base. Honestly, the arrival of the billboards is one of my favorite So Cal signs of spring. Last season at the height of all of the Frank McCourt ick in L.A., the Angels rather dominated the local billboard space and, as much as I like seeing red everywhere I look, it just wasn’t nearly as much fun as when it’s a “battle.” (Yes, mine is a long and boring commute and I take my simple pleasures where I can. Why do you ask?) However, between Arte Moreno (who made his fortune in advertising and billboards, don’cha know) and Magic Johnson (who also seems to have an admirable grasp of the importance of good marketing) I am sure both that teams will being trying to convert us all once again this season — looking forward to it, in fact!

Josh Hamilton, eh? Merry Christmas Angels Fans, Indeed!

Hello all. Rumors of my blogging demise have been greatly exaggerated! …Well, just exaggerated at any rate. But it was seriously touch and go there for a while. We’re talking nearly Brazil, Tuttle eaten by great cascades of paperwork, here. And I’m the one that created all of the paperwork! But I digress…

Yes, I couldn't make it to the presser so I took a photo of it on my TV. No, it's not a full face shot. But I just loved Josh Hamilton's big happy smile as he put on that gorgeous Angels ballcap. Welcome to the team, Josh! Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yes, I couldn’t make it to the presser so I took a photo of it on my TV. No, it’s not a full face shot. But I just loved Josh Hamilton’s big happy smile as he put on that gorgeous Angels ballcap. Welcome to the team, Josh! Photo by This is a very simple game…

So the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton! And just how busy was I with my months’ long hell project for work in the middle of all of this delicious Hot Stove madness? Busy enough that I didn’t find out until Seth called me that morning on a break — Seth does not generally have to break Angels news to me. Busy enough that the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Seth: So did you hear the news about Josh Hamilton?
Me: *typing* No. Did he sign today or something? That’s early.
Seth: Yeah, he’ll be wearing red in 2013.
Me: *still typing* Red? *pause in thought while still typing* So is he staying with the Rangers after all, then? Or did the Red Sox nab him?
Seth: *laughing* Noooo. He’ll be wearing our red. The Angels signed him.
Me: *abruptly stops typing* *begins making largely unintelligible noises that it’s safe to assume denote shock and excitement*
Seth: *affectionately laughs at me*

So, the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton!!! *happy dance*

…and I had no clue until about an hour after it happened. Yeah, so what does that make me? Exactly. A big damn dork, sir. Well, since Thursday I have completed my hell project, caught back up on holiday obligations and vacillated emotions on the Hamilton signing between variations on elated, excited and giddy, and cautious, concerned and nervous. But you know what, I’ve settled on giddy. I think excitement is the way to go. So, why the conundrum in the first place? After all, he is a five-five time All Star, former MVP, regular play of the week making, routine topper of one or more AL batting stat charts.

*pauses happy dance for discussion and logic* Well, I’m not particularly bothered by the contract. It’s less than the ridiculous from any team’s perspective 7 to 10 years he was supposedly originally seeking and the Angels were planning on spending serious money one way (Zack Greinke) or another (any of the other high priced names bandied about in Halos news circles) this offseason. Spending it on a 31-year-old whose name is regularly listed among the best players in the game and who hits .285 with 43 homers in a year where his team is mad at him for sloughing it? Well, let’s just say that if colossal sums of money are going to be spent anyway, I think there are far worse ways they can be spent.

And, no, I’m not concerned about the “obvious” thing. Yes, Hamilton’s past issues with drugs and alcohol are well documented along with his two public relapses as a Texas Ranger. To my eye, Hamilton has his life well under control in this area. Look, there’s a reason the proper term for people who deal with addiction issues is recovering not recovered. There is always the potential for relapse, even for those who are far further removed from their addictive behaviors than Hamilton and have attained decades of sobriety. But the fact that Hamilton has kept his relapses to one evening in each instance of behavior that would only qualify as a kind-of-wild Saturday night for a lot of single baseball players who don’t have issues with addiction, before climbing right back up on the wagon with renewed dedication to his sobriety tells me that no team should worry about ramifications from drug or alcohol use. Yes, there are temptations aplenty in Los Angeles but those temptations are present in every city fielding a Major League Baseball team, including Arlington, along with most towns that do not. I don’t think this is a legitimate concern.

I do, however, have a small concern about Hamilton’s playing time, namely that he has only played in more than 133 games two seasons in his Major League career. Now the fact that the primary reason for Hamilton’s numerous DL stints is because he plays hard does balance this drawback heavily in my opinion, but it’s still there. I also have concerns about Hamilton’s attitude, but only on occasion. Look, by all accounts, Hamilton is a great clubhouse guy. In interviews he comes across as affable, warmly chatty, humorous and caring. He’s an unselfish fielder, no matter where he’s moved in the outfield during a game. And his charitable activities are impressive. I believe him to be a genuinely nice guy. But there are times…strange Monster induced eye ailments keeping him out of games…throwing a coach under the bus after breaking an arm attempting to slide home…seeming to give up those last few weeks in Texas…when this big, talented, joyful kid of a baseball player seems more like a pouty brat. This isn’t a deal breaking concern from my perspective. I don’t expect it to come up very often in Hamilton’s relationship with the Angels as it didn’t in his relationship with the Rangers and, as mentioned before, his overall stats are still a plus during such times. However, it is clear to me that when Hamilton is unhappy there are repercussions on the job. Just something for Angels fans to keep in mind, along with the whiffing slumps that can and do come with such a free swinging style, while we’re doing our happy dances.

I may have a quibble here and there to be discussed lated, but is the lineup not still giddy making?! Another photo of the presser on my TV -- Photo by This is a very simple game...

I may have a quibble here and there to be discussed later, but is the lineup not still giddy making?! Another photo of the presser on my TV — Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, there you have it. There are a few drawbacks to this deal to keep in mind and the Angels still need to do something more with the starting rotation – Please Santa Jerry, please!! But the prospect of Hamilton’s bat in the lineup protecting Albert Pujols, or protected by Pujols (and, all things being Scioscia, probably both before season’s end) coming soon on the heels of Mike Trout turning a hard hit single into a triple, a bunt into a double or some other feat of amazement, makes me positively gleeful. Unexpectedly having too many outfielders is a potentially useful problem for the Angels to have depending on how it’s handled. And this was the first weekend in forever that I didn’t bring any work home with me. On the whole, I’d say it’s all rather giddy making. *resumes happy dance with exuberance*

Angels Welcome Ryan Madson, Tommy Hanson and some Brand Spanking New Question Marks

Mention the Angels 2012 bullpen to a group of fans and you’ll get quite the array of reactions. Cringing. Anger. Shaking fists. Tears. Laughter…of the crazed sort, mind you. And, occasionally, nostalgia. (After all, fans did dub the bullpen of 1970s, the Arson Squad because, when called upon, they tended to have the opposite effect of putting out the fire…and that’s putting it mildly.) And those reactions are absolutely justified. Despite a few bright spots and clutch performances, the Angels 2012 bullpen had 22 blown saves to their…um…credit, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL. Suffice to say, heading into the offseason, bullpen help needed to be one of Jerry Dipoto’s top priorities.

Dipoto and the Angels took a positive step Wednesday in signing Ryan Madson. Assuming he returns to his usual quality form following recovery from Tommy John surgery, having Madson’s strong arm in the 8th or 9th inning should improve the Angels ability to hold leads. This deal is potentially a great start towards fixing the bullpen for the 2013 season and, fortunately, Dipoto seems to see it that way too, hinting that he has a few more bullpen plans up his sleeves during the interviews surrounding Madson’s signing.

Cautiously pleased though I was with the deal, it didn’t do a whole lot to ease the tension I’ve been feeling about the Angels roster since Dipoto started letting players go. Despite the disappointment of 2012, I just didn’t think the Angels needed that much work. So many of 2012’s woes – Albert Pujols’ painfully slow start, back troubles hobbling Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, injuries and slumps and tigers and bears, oh my! – seemed like such random, one-time only streaks of terrible luck that, in my mind, the 2012 Angels should have treated the offseason much like the 2011 Braves did, as a chance to rest, heal, recover and not do anything drastic from a personnel standpoint. In my mind, the Angels just needed to fix the bullpen, sign Zack Greinke, lose Ervin Santana (because his awesomely nasty vs. “just a bit outside” pitching mood swings aren’t swinging nearly often enough or well enough to the positive end of the spectrum to justify putting up with the negative these days) keep almost everyone else, smile and wait for pitchers and catchers to report.

Getting rid of Torii Hunter and Dan Haren (whose bad year was truly uncharacteristic and, I think, won’t be a repeat occurrence in 2013) left me with feelings of deep unease and a sense of “where do we go from here?” I understand that the idea is to save enough money to sign Zack Greinke but that just seems like an awful lot of eggs in one highly expensive and only possibly attainable basket. I mean, even if the Dipoto is successful in landing Greinke, what about the rest of the starting rotation and the hole-ridden offense?

Trading Jordan Walden to the Braves for Tommy Hanson on Friday helped me feel a bit better. Hey, the Angels now have a for-certain 3-man rotation with one potential 4th that doesn’t scare the hell out of me – Jerome Williams. Progress! I liked Walden but he really doesn’t seem to have the temperament to maintain control and get outs once batters start hitting him…and then the pre-glasses Wild Thing emerges and things get a little scary. I think the addition of Madson is a safer bet. As for Hanson, I’m a little concerned about his back issues last season, and less concerned about his shoulder issues two season ago which seem to have healed. Basically, between that and the velocity drop offset by the increasingly nasty delivery, it feels like the Angels traded for Dan Haren’s younger, more economical self. But Haren worked out very well indeed for the Angels for the better part of two seasons so I am cautiously optimistic about this deal.

Now the team just needs another starter (Greinke, hopefully. If that won’t absolutely break the bank.), to fill at least one key hole in the starting lineup, oh, and adding a little bit more stabilization in the bullpen couldn’t hurt either. No problem, right? Yeah, there went that breathing easier thing again. Yes, I know, I know. It’s only December 3rd. The Winter Meetings are just getting started Monday morning and there’s a lot of offseason left — a lot, a lot even. Anything is possible…but the pickings are slimmer this year and I just can’t shake the feeling that we created too many holes to fill in an attempt to land one key piece that would have only just filled or offset the preexisting holes anyway. Oh well, bring on the Winter Meetings.

Angels’ Wild Card Bid Gets Even Wilder

This end of the regular season prep, ball park therapy is great and all, but I have to say that my second session was significantly less satisfying than my first. Eight innings of solid pitching love from Zack Greinke went sadly unrequited by the Angels offense and were outright spurned by the bullpen in the 9th. It was deflating. (No, worries though, subsequent Angels victories have buoyed my spirits, but I’ll get to that. :) )

Zack Greinke pitched a gem, for the second time in a row, and the offense and bullpen let him down, for the second time in a row. Yikes! Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Michael Young watches strike three go right into Chris Iannetta’s glove. And for much of Zack Greinke’s outing, yeah, it was like that! Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Now, I didn’t expect the Angels to sweep the Rangers by any means. I was fairly certain they‘d win the first game with Jered Weaver on the mound. But, to be honest, I rather expected the Angels would lose Wednesday night’s game. Of course all of my jokes about CJ Wilson being the Arlinington Candidate are just that, but the facts of the matter are he’s rarely been good for much of the second half and he hasn’t been good against the Rangers this season. I did, however, think the Angels had a real chance to take the series on Thursday and, as it turns out, they did have chance. They just didn’t seize that chance, as attested to even more strongly by the long line of 0’s peppered with a few 1s and one 2 in the hit column than Ernesto Frieri’s errant pitch turned nifty souvenir for some “lucky” fan in fair territory in the 9th. Like I said, deflating…until the White Sox series!!

C.J. Wilson chats at the rail. “It’s the weirdest thing. Sometimes, when I’m pitching against the Rangers, Wash just starting holding up cards from a deck and then, I don’t know why, but I can’t pitch a strike to save my life.” Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Alight! Great inning guys! Now let’s pick up those bats and score some runs.. Guys? Some runs? Guys? Any time now. Some runs. Any. Time. Now. (Or, you know, Torii Hunter, Howie Kendrick and Mike Trout follow Erick Aybar into the dugout where Alberto Callaspo is apparentlly touching Bobby Wilson for luck…or to annoy him. Who can say?) Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

I know, I know, it’s only two wins and the Angels now have a long, long, looooooooong shot ahead of them to earn a wild card berth. But that would be practicality and rationality speaking. I think all diehard baseball fans are just a little bit crazy to begin with and only become more so when the post season is still a faint hope. To wit, one win against the Rangers and I was hopeful. Two straight losses against the Rangers and I believed that those faint notes I was hearing in the distance were the fabled fat lady going through her warm up scales…

Chris Iannetta had the best night at the plate. While he doesn’t always have a good night at the plate, I’ll take .250 something over .190 something every day! Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Oh Trumbo and Pujols I understand. The offense makes me feel like that too sometimes. But the next night they got bet-tah! Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

…But one solid Angels victory against the White Sox (with way more than the mere requisite pieces of flair in my estimation!) and I start thinking dreamy eyed Angels happy thoughts again. You know, all the Angels have to do is sweep the White Sox and then it would just like winning both the Sox and Rangers series, right? I mean, the White Sox are only in first place in their division with a few players having career years. Pshaw, how hard could that be? Then Baltimore won today and I started hearing those scales again only to have hope return when the A’s lost. Now with a second Angels victory, I’m back to dreamy thoughts of a sweep…hey it could happen. Jered Weaver is on the mound tomorrow.

Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick warm up in between innings. Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mark Trumbo did get a hit this game, but he was still swinging frustrated and even attempting to bunt his way on at odd moments on Thursday. However, he was all smiles tonight! Hopefully he can build on this and finish the season strong. Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

And then? Okay, now I will be rational. The Angels really can’t afford to lose more than one or two more games before the end of the season and the A’s have to lose a lot more than that. The Angels have to stop filling the bases up with no outs only to strand every runner at the end of the inning. The starters and bullpen need to need to be spot on. No more base running gaffes. No more fielding gaffes. Practically speaking, the Angels need to play playoff baseball now and for the rest of the season however long that may be. Possible? Oh hell yes. Probable? We shall see. Fun? Absolutely! More ball park therapy, please. Stat!

And, in the meantime, enjoy a few more pics from the ballgame on Thursday:

Nelson Cruz and Albert Pujols chat at first base. What could they be talking about? “Nelson, I felt so bad for you last year in the Series, man. That missed catch. *shakes head, then laughs* No, I shouldn’t lie to you like that. That was the best play ever, man. We watched it again and agian with the kids at Christmas!” Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Eric Aybar and Michael Young chat at third. Okay, not the best photo. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the expression on Aybar’s face. What hilarious things was Young saying? Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Everyone loves Mike Trout. Even umpires are a little star struck…okay, probably not really, but they are always chatting with him during warm ups. Angels vs. Rangers, September 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ace (ās) noun

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

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

3) An expert in a given field.

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

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

6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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