Eleven wins in the last twelve games. Three sweeps and a series win. Moving ahead in the AL Wild Card race game by game by game. Back. To. Back. Sweeps!! The season’s end results may still officially be one great big question mark but, oh my lord, is it ever fun to be an Angels fan right now!! The guys are just on fire. The games are exciting and hard fought on both sides…and they actually mean something. I mean, Friday’s game against the Tigers alone was everything I think September baseball should be.
The best part of the whole thing is…well, let’s be honest here. The best part from my perspective is the Angels. But almost as wonderful as that best part is the fact that, with both leagues’ Wild Card races running hot and heavy, there are a lot of fan bases enjoying their September every bit as much as I am and there is a lot of great baseball out there for the enjoyment of all. I have to say, if this is what September’s going to look like from here on out, my journey towards acceptance of the new playoffs format isn’t going to be a very long one at all.
Soooooooo, long time no blog. And, thus, we have much to discuss…
Jered Weaver’s Tendonitis
On the one hand, it’s hard to lose Jered Weaver in the rotation at this point in the season and no injury news is ever welcome…except…well, I have to admit that I was actually quite relieved to hear about the tendonitis. It means that the trainers have identified a clear and fixable reason why Weaver’s been having so many troubles in his last few starts. Because, seriously, I was starting to worry that somehow…you know what? Let’s just not even go there, actually. Suffice to say, while I wasn’t panicking or anything yet, I was starting to get a little worried. Now, I’m just hoping Weaver and the staff balance the team’s needs appropriately with his body’s needs so that, when he does return, he is as fit and well as any pitcher ever can be come September…and October because it’s going to happen this year. I can feel it!
And, in the meantime, kudos to the rest of the rotation and to the bullpen for kicking ass and taking names! …even if it has involved occasional indulgences in fan torture. Hey, we’re supposed to elevate our heart rates for at least a half hour a day, right? 😉
Albert Pujols and Kendrys Morales
I swear, as each season rolls to the end, the race to secure a playoff berth becomes as much a game of chicken with the lurking specter of player injuries as it is a competition with the other teams. Sadly, the Angels have flinched a few times already and a couple of players are fighting injuries. Albert Pujols’ strained calf had as much potential for disaster as Weaver tendonitis but, thanks to all parties involved, the team is rolling with this punch as well. Even if running the bases looks painful, Pujols has gamely taken over the primary DH role for the time being and is just raking at the plate, and all with a huge smile on his face and plenty of encouragement for the whole team on his lips. I was always a fan, but now it’s safe to say I’m a huge fan!
And as for the other half of this equation, Kendrys Morales temporarily resumed his old role at first base so Pujols could rehab the calf. At first I wondered how this was going to work. Kendrys has played first here and there throughout the season and it is clear that he can still move and make some pretty tricky plays. But day in and day out? On that ankle? Nearly two weeks later, Kendrys is still working out just fine at first and he also continues to absolutely pound the ball. Seriously, this weekend was as much the Kendrys show as it was the Trout show. Among his many contributions, on Friday the man hit a legit triple. Yes, on that ankle. ‘Nuff said.
Except…if you want to read a little bit more about Kendrys, my latest LA Angels Insider piece is about the accident and his recovery season. Check it out if you get the chance. 🙂
Oh yeah, and Then There’s that Trout Kid…
Mike Trout. Can anyone ever praise this young man enough? I know I can’t, but that won’t stop me from trying. He’s actually going through a bit of a rough patch right now but that still means crucial hits, scoring important runs, back to back leadoff homeruns, leaping and diving plays in center, oh, and a walk off robbed homerun. Yeah, you read that right, a walk off robbed homerun. He began Saturday night’s game by putting the Angels on the board with a leadoff homerun and finished it by robbing Prince Fielder of a home run for the final out, thus earning the Captain Morgan pose salute from Torii Hunter — I don’t know when exactly the guys started this bit of fantastic silliness, but I sure hope it continues.
Watching Trout play baseball is like watching all of the stories I have heard about the Golden Age of baseball come alive before my eyes. And to think, he’s still maturing as a player. I don’t think I can fully wrap my brain around what that might mean for future seasons, but I am thrilled at thought of spending them in a more or less perpetual state of dropped jaw. (Some mother, somewhere: If you don’t close your mouth and stop making that face, your face is going to freeze in that silly shocked expression forever! Angels Fan: As long as I get to keep watching Trouty play, Mom, I don’t care!)
Suffice to say that right now the Angels destiny is firmly in their own hands and those hands – along with their bats, gloves, arms and legs — are looking strong, steady and capable of great things.
Rather than dwelling on a significantly less than stellar game in this post, I would prefer to share a cute fan story. (Besides, Weaver’s on the mound tonight, so I’m sure tonight will be much better!) Cut back to December of this past offseason. My husband Seth and I were talking a lot of baseball. Oh, we do that during the season too, but we tend to talk about it even more when there’s no actual baseball to be had. Neither of us had been keen on the idea of the Angels signing Albert Pujols when it was just so much chatter and speculation because, while he is an amazing player, we were concerned about what that huge contract would do to the team long term. Once the deal actually happened, and news went public about the Angels new deal with Fox, however, we were ecstatic. That was like having your cake and eating it too. But then the Mark Trumbo trade talk started and it sounded serious…
It wasn’t a matter of not wanting Pujols on the team and it certainly wasn’t a matter of thinking Trumbo should play first instead of Pujols. I mean, come on. We’re talking about Albert Pujols. Of course we wanted Pujols to play 1st. My point, argued quite loudly and passionately even if it was only to a room consisting of just Seth and I and our two giant cats, was that if offense has been a problem – and ooooh we all know it had been a problem – no matter how big a bat you just signed, the idea of trading away one of the only other productive bats in the lineup is ludicrous. A functional offense requires several big, productive bats so, somehow, you need to find a place in the lineup for all of those bats.
Now when it comes to our shared baseball fandom, both Seth and I are passionate Angels fans but I’m usually the loud, ranty, speech giving one. Seth isn’t an overly reserved fan by any means. He yells and cheers. He understands, appreciates, and loves. But he does not, strictly speaking, rant…usually. And he does not normally latch passionately on to a specific, favorite player. I tend to reel off a list of about six to twelve Angels when asked about my favorite current player and Seth has a similar, somewhat but not completely overlapping list. So imagine my surprise when Seth literally stood up and passionately declared:
“If they trade that kid, after everything he did for us last season…*indignantly incredulous pause*…if they trade that kid, I am going to buy his first All Star Game jersey – of which there will be many!! – and wear it to every. Single. Angels game. We go to.”
Oh, really? (Not to mention, ‘Oh my! Crash…’ 😉 ) Yeah, I literally applauded him when he finished. It was beautiful! So, when July rolled around and Mark Trumbo, still every inch an Angel thank you very much, made his first All Star Game, you know what I had to do, right? Exactly! August 16th was Seth’s birthday and when he unwrapped my present he found a bright blue, All Star Game 2012 batting practice jersey with the number 44 and Trumbo on the back. I wish I’d taken a photo of his smile, but I was too busy enjoying the ensuing bear hug.
Folks out there in long term relationships? I am sure you will nod and smile right along with me when I say that no matter how much you love your S.O. and no matter how well you know them, you are not going to ace every present you give them. I mean, come on, every birthday present? Every Christmas present? Every anniversary/just because/whatever else you celebrate with gifts present? Even if you are an absolutely brilliant gift giver, some of them are bound to be only so so and one or two will even outright bomb. But this birthday? Oh yeah. I aced it! 😉
What’s the best cure for the old “post All Star Break, my Angels have been playing in the Eastern Time Zone so I haven’t caught a game in more than a week and, oh by the way, they weren’t playing so hot” blues? Well, I don’t know about you, but heading down to the Big A the second the Angels got back in town to watch them beat their biggest division rival soundly worked for me! What a night, what a game! And what’s the best cure for the old “Rangers came back the next day and stomped all over the Angels” blues? I suggest having a selective short term memory – forget about Saturday’s game, relive Friday’s and hope for a better Sunday! So to that end…
All the way down the 57 freeway to the stadium on Friday night Seth and I kept hearing about a playoff atmosphere, and, to be honest, I mocked the radio more than a bit. A playoff atmosphere? Yes, the Angels were facing the Rangers, but for the first of the 13 games before seasons’ end and it’s only July. However, entering the gates it was clear that if the radio announcers were exaggerating, it wasn’t by much. I have never been to a playoff game — a deficiency I’d love the opportunity to correct this season! — but this was definitely close to what I imagine a playoffs atmosphere would feel like. The stadium was packed, the fans were pumped and, behold the icing on the cake, in an unannounced giveaway, the Angels were handing out ThunderStix:
As for the game? Well, this is how the serious playoff contending Angels play as opposed to that other team that shows up sometimes…sometimes, including Saturday. Jered Weaver set the tone early. He got the first batter out only to give up a home run to Elvis Andrus on the next at bat. But did he crumble? Hello, this is Jered Weaver we’re talking about. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time a Ranger crossed the plate that game. Weaver only really got into trouble one more time that game – bases loaded with one out in the 3rd and Josh Hamilton at the plate. But he got himself out of trouble by coaxing Hamilton into a double play. Inning over — hit the road Jack. 😉
The Angels bats were more than ready to follow Weaver’s dominant lead, getting the one run back in the first inning and following it with five more as the game progressed. The TnT boys went off with clutch, productive singles in the early innings and then in spectacular fashion in later innings. Mark Trumbo’s 6th inning TrumBomb was, in essence, a line drive turned run seeking missile over the centerfield fence, much like the hit that made Big Papi bounce up and down like a gleeful child during the Home Run Derby. Mike Trout followed his lead the next inning with an opposite field bomb of his own.
As impressive as TnT was, they shouldn’t completely overshadow the rest of the Angels offense. Albert Pujols, looking every inch the Albert of old, went 3 for 4, advancing runners and scoring a run of his own. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar brought in two runs a piece with clutch hits and a productive out. And so on. I really feel like when the offense is functioning this well as a unit, the Angels are one scary team! So how about we see some more of this offense this week, okay guys?
Much has been made of the Angels “BlowPen” this season, the new version of the “Arson Squad” of old, but I feel like after a very rough initial start, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and some oft discussed key moves, they’ve had more good days than bad. Kevin Jepsen, of all people, has returned from his DL stint in pretty good form. And while it will take a lot more quality relief outings for the Angels Family to stop holding our collective breaths when he takes the mound, he was effective again. Things got a little too exciting when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in the 9th, I guess just to let us all know we shouldn’t take a five run lead for granted…um…thanks? Yeah, no. But still, no runs, no foul. Light that baby up and enjoy the Friday Night Fireworks!
And so the moral of our story is: Hand out ThunderStix…er…I mean TnT Stix every home game for the rest of the season!!! Oh, yeah. And, you know, quality pitching starts and effectively thundering bats are probably a good idea too! 😉
As I mentioned just before the Freeway Series, part one, I had the opportunity to crash Matt’s Think Blue Weekly PodCast for the Freeway Series episode. At the end of the Podcast, Matt, his podcast partner and I all made predictions about the Freeway Series outcome. My prediction? The Angels will take the series 4 to 2 and, would you look at that? 😉 Actually, if we had not been so pressed for time at the end, I was also going to predict that the Angels would drop one game at each stadium (yup and, sadly, I attended both of them) and that those games would be the one pitched by Santana (yup, though not for the reason I expected) and the one pitched by Garrett Richards (well, we can’t be right about everything. Richards wound up pitching two Freeway Series games because of a few starting rotation oddities, earned wins in both appearances and looked pretty darned convincing while doing it).
But the most important prediction of all was that it was going to be a fun series and, indeed, it was, the highlight of another Angels dominate interleague season and continued Freeway Series bragging rights. Sorry Dodgers! …except, you know, not really. 😉
Anyway, here are a few important Angels trends that either emerged or intensified during Interleague:
Mike Trout is a beast! No. You’re not listening to me. Mike Trout. Is. A. Beast!! Seriously, even more so than we already knew. Called up on April 28th, Trout took off running – very, very fast indeed – coming into his own almost immediately. Then somehow during interleague play, he played even better. The 20-year old rookie lead all AL players during this time with 30 hits, 21 runs scored and 15 stolen bases, dropping onto the AL batting average leaders list like a bomb in 2nd place on the first day that he qualified. He has since moved into first place just above Paul Konerko. So, in response to that weird Bleacher Report ‘hey, could the Dodgers trade for Mike Trout’ talk over the weekend, I sincerely hope that I speak for Jerry Dipoto when I say, ‘that’s a clown question, Bro, now excuse me while I laugh uproariously.’ (Editor’s Note: Thank you, Bryce Harper, for gifting us all with this decidedly not cliché gem. I hope you keep your spirited way with words throughout your career.)
The starting rotation is taking the rotation part of their name a little too literally for anyone’s tastes, but it’s all working. Jered Weaver is back off the DL and looked great in his first outing. Ervin Santana had a few rough at bats at the beginning of his last outing, then got mean and delivered a 10 strikeout gem that should have won him the game. Unfortunately, Jerome Williams was hospitalized with breathing problems after his last outing and went on the 15 day DL. Although it sounds like Williams is ready to come back roughly as soon as he is eligible, this still could have been a disaster without Garrett Richards stepping in to fill his shoes. Like I said, it’s an overly rotating rotation, but it’s working.
Angels bats are hot, hot, hot…except when they’re not. When they’re not, other things don’t click well either and the team has a hard time winning. Fortunately, the downswings through spells of cooling bats seem to take a lot less time to recover from these days before someone – Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, etc. – gets hot again and brings the rest of the offense back online with them.
Oh the errors, when they happen they happen in groups. The Angels have several players getting limited playing time at the moment and when they come in, not shockingly there are some issues with rust and errors. Peter Bourjos seems to be able to do this right, bounding around the outfield, running down every ball in site like a happy puppy whose owners finally let him really run, in those late innings and occasional games where he gets a start. Though, even in the case of Bourjos, there’s a little bit of rust on that fine arm. Anyway, this situation is partly to blame for Maicer Izturis’ errors in the Saturday game. Why Sciosia didn’t stick with Alberto Callaspo who had a great game on Friday makes little sense to me. I am absolutely not advocating a return to the ever varying, magic 8 ball, lineup, but it would be nice if something could be done to keep the utility guys ready to come in and play off the bench. Food for thought as we move into July.
The bullpen not only wasn’t scary, they were good. Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Latroy Hawkins were already good. But now Frieri and Downs have the best combined ERA for any pitching duo currently in the majors (with the requisite number of innings pitched, yada, yada, yada). But it isn’t just those three stalwarts. Hisanori Takahashi, Jason Isringhausen and Jordan Walden all delivered consistent solid innings as well, a trend which could make all the difference in the months ahead.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Angels are still 4.5 games behind Texas in the AL West. (Though, hey, at least for the moment they’re 1st in the running for the 2nd Wild Card spot.) Now, 4.5 games may seem like it’s still a lot, but here’s this thing, even if you aren’t buying the ‘we’re only just getting to the All Star Break’ argument, the Angels still have 12 games left against Rangers including, per recent tradition, the last three of the season. Suddenly, 4.5 games doesn’t seem like much, does it?
And now we conclude our time here on this post with, Fun With Captions! (In my mind, that has a Pigs in Space worthy bit of theme music heraldng it, just so you know. 😉 ):
This week, the Angels proved once more that not only can you go home again, but you can rack up the Ws while you’re there. Okay, so Dodgers Stadium is more of that ‘on again, off again friend’s house where you sublet a room for a lot longer than originally intended during the awkward transition between your suddenly waaaaay too small first apartment and your first home purchase’ for the Angels than an actual home, but you get the general idea.
Seth and I went to the Tuesday night game, the only game the Angels lost in the series…of course my Dodgers fan sister went to the Wednesday night game, and that was her first baseball game in years, so we can’t always get what want and sometimes the Rolling Stones just might write a song about it, or something like that.
Tuesday night, the Angels only scored on Dodgers errors, which kind of sums up that game, really – neither team played particularly well. Joe West was just being Joe West, which is to say terrible and arrogant in his own ineptitude while he was at it. But the fact of the matter is that if the Angels had played better ball the blown call would not have mattered. It pissed me off most mightily at the time, but such is baseball. Sometimes you win the terrible calls, sometimes you lose the terrible calls and sometimes only great calls rain down upon both teams…just generally not in games officiated by Joe West.
The rest of the series, however, was great. Go figure, the “still best record in the majors even though they’ve been losing more since Matt Kemp went on the DL again” Dodgers have a pretty good team and the Angels gave them a run for their money and won. I prefer it when the Angels are hitting a little better and not leaving so many guys on base. However, they usually came up with just what they needed to do to win (Like Erick Aybar coming through in the clutch with a homerun into the Dodgers bleachers?!? Wow!! You just can’t script this stuff!) and I tend to think that the bats were suffering from a little altitude lag, if you will, after the series in Colorado rather then this being indicative of a troubling trend. I think they’ll be fully recovered this weekend.
The pitching looked good. Oh, Garrett Richards had those rocky first two innings, but he recovered, and Jerome Williams looked great, he just was left in one inning two long, hind sight being 20/20. And C.J. was dealing. The bullpen was decidedly the good bullpen and defense made me all kinds of happy…on Monday and Wednesday at any rate. This time out, Albert at 3rd looked really awkward on Tuesday – I mean reeeeeaaaaaalllly awkward – and the rest of the infield kind of followed suit, leading to a wise retuning of everyone to their normal positions in the 7th. Hey, small sample sizes. This could still work to get Kendrys in the lineup one or two more times this month…or not. We’ll see.
And now I leave you with a return to one of my favorite pastimes last season, fun with captions:
One of the best things about starting this blog has definitely been my interactions with fellow bloggers. You are all amazing, inspiring writers and a lot of fun to read, the perfect accompaniment to any baseball season good or bad. And, in the last few weeks, two fun opportunities have come my way as a result of these interactions.
Our colleague Matt, who writes the kickass Dodgers MLBlog Dodger Familia Thoughts, hosts a Live Radio/Podcast called Think Blue Weekly on Blog Talk Radio. He has invited me to join him for a special Freeway Series episode this Sunday at 8 pm PT. So, if you would like to hear me embarrass myself in public – I’m very much a blogger not a talker 😉 – or, more importantly, check out Matt’s work, tune in at this webpage http://www.blogtalkradio.com/think-blue-weekly on Sunday.
In other news, in addition to this blog I am now a columnist with L.A. Angels Insider, a much larger, well respected member of the Halosphere. Please check them out!
As for the Angels, ah, Interleague! Interleague play is back in full swing for 2012 which means, of course, that the Angels are on a tear. I’m one of those odd duck baseball fans who actually enjoys Interleague play – teams playing at highly unusual venues, DC/Marvel comic mash up worthy matchups, AL pitchers batting, need I say more? The fact that the Angels happen to kick ass at Interleague play is merely the icing on the cake – rich, delicious, cream cheese butter cream icing thickly slathered over every inch of the cake’s exterior and in between each moist layer, mind you, but the icing never the less.
Just a couple of random thoughts from the weekend:
- So far Colorado has been good for most Angels batting averages but it has truly been the Trouty and Torii Show! Those two need their own theme song to accompany a montage of their hits and feats of daring do from the series so far. Maybe it could be kind of like M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, only punctuated with the sounds of clobbered baseballs flying off of wooden bats instead of machine guns.
- Sometime closer, sometime setup man Ernesto Frieri has proven that he is in fact human, having given up two hits as an Angel now, but continues to blow away the competition. Okay, so two guys reached first. It’s not like it did them any good. Listening to MLBN rehash Brandon McCarthy’s ‘Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ tweet it occured to me that what he should have tweeted was ‘Frieri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ because unlike Siri, Ernasty knows how.
- So Albert Pujols can play third and Kendrys Morales looked pretty darned good at first, all things considered. Neither is a great long term option at this time. Besides, I seem to remember hearing something about Pujols’ throwing elbow having issues when he spends too much time at third. Cardinals fans or other longtime Pujols fans, care to confirm, deny, or otherwise elaborate? But it’s nice to know that the Angels do have this option. And, yes I’m a softy, but seeing Kendrys’ huge grin over getting to play in the infield once again, however briefly, was touching and sweet.
- LaTroy Hawkins is back from the DL and he looked pretty darned good! Welcome back good sir. The bullpen has been trying valiantly in your absence with some definite success – and some scarier moments I’d rather not remember sufficiently to write about them – but we need every good arm we can get! And Jered Weaver is expected to throw off the mound on Monday and return from the DL on schedule. Reportedly his back feels fine now. I pretty much want to just type ‘yay’ over and over again with many, many exclamation points, filling this page The Shining-style but, you know, in a psycho happy way instead of just a psycho way over that bit of news, but I’ll spare you…for now. Once he’s officially back with the team, I make no guarantees. 😉
Hey, better late than never, right?
So, when last the Angels played the Rangers I wrote that their one victory answered the question of “Can the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ in the affirmative but that the massive beating the team took for the rest of the series left us with a new question, ‘will the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ Well, I am happy to be able to write that this series left not a doubt in my mind on either count. The Angels can and will compete with the Rangers in 2012!
Okay, so the Angels didn’t look so hot on Sunday. I blame that on some serious celebrating the night before. Oh, I don’t have any factual evidence to support my theory but let’s just say that some of them sure seemed to be reacting to that sun in the time honored fashion of the moderately hung over. As for the Mariners series, well it’s been hit and miss but the Angels are still showing a lot of fight, an essential characteristic for future wins and, indeed, a hallmark of the Texas series. The Angels aren’t letting many opposing runs go unanswered these days and it is fun to watch.
Saturday night was an odd game. Neither starting pitcher was dealing, neither team went wild with the bats and neither team avoided a few serious fielding flubs. In the end, it came down to Angels base running and Angels fielding in the sense of the team being a well oiled turning two machine. Also, the Angels’ errors seemed to come at less crucial times…and no one decided to begin pouting to an umpire with no thought of completing a play, just sayin’. And can I just say that it was downright giddy making to see the first three guys in the lineup – Mike Trout (who is Superman by the way, check it out), Alberto Callaspo and Albert Pujols – hitting the ball, getting on base, causing chaos on the basepaths and generally doing exactly what the first three guys in any lineup are supposed to do. Was it a pretty win? No, not by any means. But it was a win and honestly it was darned fun game to watch.
As for my photos, I’m getting a little tired of the same old, same old guys taking a monster swing, guys diving back to the bag and guys making a catch photos. So to switch it up a bit, for this game I am only using photos that made me smile or even laugh. Enjoy!