When you absolutely, positively, have to halt a baseball team’s downward momentum with a win, forget the AK-47, call in a Dirtbag. And when you have the option to call in two back-to-back in consecutive starts, one of whom is your freshly back from the DL ace? Well, your decision is clear. Seriously, accept no substitutes. So, yeah, between the two of them and with timely backing from the Angels offense, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas halted the Angels brief post-8 game winning streak slide…
…aaaand then the Angels sadly passed out of the Dirtbag part of the starting rotation and promptly gave it up to the Astros. Yes, pitching was far from the only problem in that game. The Keystone Cops defense was equally to blame and, really, the offense could have cowboy’d up. But the pitching really, really, didn’t help. So what are we left with then? Weaver, then Vargas, then a whole lot of fans crying and swearing? Yes, I’m aware that my comment lacks the traditional cute little rhyme to sum up the fans feelings on the rest of the starting rotation, but my feelings towards them today are decidedly less than cute, so there you go. Anyway, rather than dwelling on that any further heading into the next Angels game. I’d prefer to concentrate on happy thoughts, in the hopes of a victory over the mighty, mighty Astros. *facepalm* Specifically, I’d prefer to talk about going to the Big A last Wednesday…
With rivalry series throughout MLB shortened from three games at one venue and three at the other to two and two under the new realigned schedule, I knew I had to buy tickets for my annual Freeway Series fix early. In fact, knowing how popular the annual Angels vs. Dodgers, battle for I-5 supremacy usually is, I bought our tickets to the Wednesday night game in the series the day individual tickets went on sale. And I made sure to nab us pretty good seats as well, just because.
As it turned out, this was such a brilliant decision that I wish I could actually take credit for thinking it through any further than that. May was a terribly busy month for Seth and I. Between work, family and one really nice weekend away, we had every weekend and most nights booked for the month. Wednesday was our one and only trip to the ballpark in May, a nearly unprecedented dry spell in the history of our household. And can I just tell you how glorious it was to see all of that beautiful green and take in the sights and sounds of the ballpark again? Never mind. You’re all fans. You understand.
But, even more importantly, Wednesday was also Jered Weaver’s first game back off the DL and it turned out to be one heck of a great game on top of that. As I said before, when you absolutely, positively, have to halt a baseball team’s downward momentum with a win…well, sadly, accepting substitutes is exactly what the Angels have been forced to do since Weaver broke his elbow in Arlington way back in early April. And, while those substitutes have gamely tried to fill the Weave’s perfectly odd sized and incredibly hard to fill cleats, it just simply could not be done and the Angels have really, really missed his tough, winning presence on the mound. Heading to the game I was so excited to be there for Weaver’s return, but mildly concerned that he would overthrow, an issue he’s experienced on some occasions after enduring a long time in between starts. Fortunately, overthrowing was not an issue. Weave was just Weaver. Throwing deceptive stuff. Striking guys out and coaxing fly outs with an admirable regularity. Getting even tougher and dialing in harder after each of the few hits he gave up. Setting the Angels up for a victory. Welcome. Back. Jered!! We have all missed you so much!
And Weaver’s performance was not the only highlight of the evening. In the stands, the mixed blue and red crowd absolutely rocked. I understand there were altercations in other sections but the Dodgers and Angels fans in our section? Well, we just enjoyed giving each other friendly grief and commiserating over a season that hasn’t been anything like either team had hoped so far. On the field, the offense had Weaver’s back with one patented, honest-to-goodness TrumBomb, doubles from Iannetta, Trout, Aybar and Iannetta again, and hits from almost the entire lineup. The outfield impressed, per their usual really. And although we all prefer a healthy Albert Pujols in the position, it was awfully nice to see Mark Trumbo enjoying being in his proper element at first base. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the bullpen. They were pretty good, actually. Downright awesome, in fact. Right up until Ernesto Frieri gave up two homeruns in the 9th that is, just for extra spice I’m sure. You know, making sure all of the fans felt they’d gotten their money’s worth of excitement. Considerate lad, that one. Fortunately, the Angels had enough of a lead to absorb those blows with only minimal antacid ingestion on the part of the fans – because you know they’d long since stopped selling alcohol – and the good guys were victorious. No blood. No actual falling behind. No extra innings. No foul. All’s well that ends in a lit halo!!
So, the moral of this story is quite simple and carries an important message for the rest of the season. Angels, I don’t care if you win pretty or win ugly. I don’t care if you win by a landslide, one run or anything in between. I don’t care if you have to scare me half to death and drive me to the liquor cabinet swearing all the way on your way to doing so. Just win. Please win. Win a lot. Oh, and how often can we reasonably ask Weaver and Vargas to take the mound? I only ask because, well, in the team’s current situation, it could prove to be useful information. Maybe.
Finally sitting down to write again while watching the final games of the World Baseball Classic, I tip my hat to Puerto Rico for defeating reigning champion Japan, but I also have to belatedly tip my glass to Team USA. While I wish they could have made it this far and clearly theirs was not as great a finish as we’d hoped — certainly not as great a finish as the players had hoped — it was much better than I expected after catching the USA vs. Mexico game. And, hey, I have the last of the Balvenie RumCask in the glass I am tipping, so I can honestly say that a) this is a quality toast and b) that I may actually shed a tear or two in a moment…though certainly not for Team USA. 😉
Taking the not-particularly-way-back machine to one week ago, I return to the subject of our Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition. For Seth and I, this was a trip filled with firsts — our first trip to Spring Training and our first World Baseball Classic game. Friday afternoon we left Tempe Diablo stadium when the Arizona sky opened up and poured water and ice, checked into our hotel, wrung as much water as we could from our jeans (serves us right for trying to pack light, I suppose) and headed to Chase Field to watch Team USA and Team Mexico battle to move to the next round in the WBC. Yes, that’s a lot of baseball. *Big silly grin* My kind of vacation.
The energy walking into Chase was incredible. Our seats were excellent, in the third row just a section and change behind first base. In my opinion half of the fun of the WBC is seeing our MLB players in different uniforms, playing for their home country or for Team USA. It was an absolute kick to see so many players I adore but don’t get to watch nearly as often as my Angels – R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer, Eric Hosmer and the list goes on – playing together in red, white and blue, especially on the same field with Adrian Gonzalez, Sergio Romo and everyone else playing for Mexico. Sadly, the game itself was one sided and ho hum. Mexico hit, ran and hit and ran some more while USA played like…well…like an MLB team in their second or third week of Spring Training. I had the wrong angle to tell if Dickey was having an off night or if Mexico simply has no issues hitting a knuckleball. Not that it mattered, because the outfield couldn’t seem to make a play to save their lives, a development I was not expecting given the quality of the players involved. Mind you, I had a blast and am excited we had tickets to see the game but, in the end, my excitement and enjoyment were more because we got to see a WBC game than because the game itself was anything special.
A couple of observations:
The strangest thing about the game: Oddly enough, I scould not get used to the sounds. As I mentioned, it poured in Arizona that Friday so Chase Field wisely took advantage of all modern conveniences and this became the first baseball game I have ever watched under a closed roof. I was plenty grateful for the roof, mind you, especially sitting there still damp from the epic deluge and hail that ended the Angels game that afternoon. But at the same time I was reminded how much the traditional sounds of the game are part of the whole experience for me. Under a roof you still get the crack of the bat, etc., but it’s flatter and somewhat muted. It just doesn’t sound right…kind of Langoliers-ish for any of you out there who devoured Stephen King to the degree I did as a child. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baseball played underneath a retractable roof is decidedly better than a game called for inclement weather, or than sitting in the stands dripping wet, cold and absolutely hating life for that matter. But the game is still best enjoyed outside.
The best thing about the game: As I said, the energy was incredible! You hear a lot about games with a playoff atmosphere. Now, I have yet to afford the privilege of being at an actual playoff game — though that is indeed one for the bucket list — but I have been at several hard contested, end-of-the-season games that folks later describe as having a playoff atmosphere and I can definitely attest to the fact that that kind of energy is wild, intense and wonderful. I also had the luck of being at the Big A for every pitch of Jered Weaver’s no hitter (No, I probably won’t stop mentioning that for a few seasons yet. Why do you ask? 😉 ) and the energy at that game was positively electric to the point where you could feel it on your skin. The energy at the WBC game was palpable, like that, but less intense. It was a rowdy, fun, the-crowd-is-absolutely-into-it-and-hanging-on-every-pitch kind of energy and, yet, at the same time it was casual. This wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, it felt like everything a simple every day game can and should be, and this during a relatively lopsided, uneventful game. If every regular season MLB game could feel like that? Well, I would probably love going to baseball games even more, something I did not think possible.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Baseball reality is so often legendary that it shouldn’t be surprising when the opposite occurs and baseball myths, oft repeated, begin to take on an aura of reality. As an Angels fan, there were two such recent myths that caught my attention more than any others, as they were repeated throughout the regular season, the post season and on into November. Both myths “explain” Mike Napoli’s rising star post trade from the Angels.
Myth 1: Of course Mike Napoli blossomed under the Rangers, the guy just needed to get some real playing time.
I actually fell victim to this myth myself for a little while. It certainly sounds plausible. And it’s been repeated so often that it really started to seem like Naps got a lot more playing time with the Rangers…until I started thinking about all of the games I attended where Napoli played. Hmmm…so I looked up some real numbers.
In 2011, for the Texas Rangers, Mike Napoli had: 369 at bats in 113 games and played a position in 96 games, 61 at catcher and 35 at first base.
In 2010, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 453 at bats in 140 games and played a position in 126 games, 59 at catcher and 67 at first base, significantly more playing time than he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.
In 2009, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 382 at bats in 114 games and played a position in 96 games, all of them at catcher, roughly the same amount of playing time as he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.
Prior to 2009, Mike Napoli did experience less playing time, making an appearance in 78 games in 2008, 75 in 2007 and 99 in 2006. But for the two season prior to his trade, Naps saw as much or playing time in Anaheim as he saw in Arlington.
As the Mythbuster boys would say, I call this myth busted.
Myth 2: Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers.
I only have anecdotal evidence against this myth, but I feel it’s significant. While I have no doubt that Mike Scioscia is hard on catchers, I question the implication that this is universally detrimental. Yes, Mike Napoli played better for the Rangers and the current crop of catchers all need improvements in different ways but, come on, two out of three Molina brothers can’t be wrong, right? Especially when the third isn’t so much a dissenting vote as not included in the sample size. So, apparently, some catchers do just fine under Sosh. Myth busted.
And the reality?
Okay, if it wasn’t more playing time and Mike Scioscia isn’t a crippling influence on catchers, then why did Mike Napoli have so much stronger a season in 2011 than in 2010 or 2009? Well, in part, I would never underestimate the power of batting in the middle of that crazy good Texas lineup. Do they have a weak spot in their lineup? Because we sure never saw one. Talk about protection!
But, more than that, I suppose the greatest myth of all is that past performance is a guarantee of future performance, especially once you change any of the variables: new team, new manager, new coaches, new lineup, new clubhouse culture and so on. Some players in this situation adapt immediately and pick up right where they left off, give or take a little benefit/detriment from combining their talents with those of their new teammates. Adrian Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre, for example. Some players experience a (hopefully temporary?) set back in their new digs and perform well below expectations. Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells, for example. And others absolutely shine, like our current example Mike Napoli.
In Naps particular case, I think there is a slight, skewed truth to Myth #2. It’s not that Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers, but that way in which Mike Scioscia handles catchers, be it hard or not, simply didn’t work for Mike Napoli, much like a particular teacher might be just the ticket for one student but ineffective at best for their siblings. So, significant lineup protection? New manager with whom he clicked better? Perhaps even added drive to prove himself after being traded twice in less than a week? Take your pick, but I think it’s a combination of all of these reasons and perhaps a few more. Interesting food for thought as Hot Stove heats up and GMs begin to throw large sums of money about banking, quite literally, on past performances.