Tagged: A’s

Angels, In and Out of Focus this Season + Final Thoughts on the San Diego Trip

Focus. It’s essential, both for winning the game at hand and for reaching the post season. Completely out of sorts after the last three games, on Tuesday morning I was going to argue that Angels had hopelessly lost all focus.

Fortunately, I’m a moody writer in the reverse of tradition – I hate writing when I’m in a bad mood – so I had Tuesday’s gem to remind me that the prognosis is far from hopeless before I posted. The Angels have lost focus, it’s true, and for several seasons now if we’re being honest. But, they are working to regain their focus and we saw some of the fruits of that effort last night. Still, I think that Mike Scioscia’s comments after Monday’s game are correct. When you get mired in problems this deep, you aren’t going to fix them overnight. And, while my out of focus image is a pun-ny visual I also think it’s an apt analogy. As you focus the lens on a camera, your view bounces from terrible, to good, to blurry again, and back through good directly to bad a few more times until finally it’s just right.

The Angels aren’t fully focused yet and, while I hope Tuesday was the beginning of a fun winning streak, especially with Weaver on the mound today, I also imagine we’re in for a few more shifts through frustrating play before they do achieve complete focus. Batting averages are going up, or starting to go up again as the case may be. The bullpen’s been looking downright good lately. Situational hitting…is still a work in progress. Even when we win, LOBster is still far too much in season for anyone’s tastes. But the team’s overall record is improving – three steps forward, two steps back but, still, improvement. Much like focusing the camera, some of the interim results may give you a headache watching them, but ultimately we seem to be headed in a better direction.

And, once the Angels have finished focusing, what will the picture look like for late September? I know what we all want it to be but, honestly, I don’t think you can ever have more than a hopeful idea until you actually get there even in seasons where the team is doing well. Besides, I think focusing so hard on the end of the season before it even really began is the underlying reason the Angels got so very out of focus to begin with. Focus on the end of May first and then worry about June and so on. Although the end of the season is no longer as far away as any of us would like, it still really is a long way off yet.

The Hopefully Annual Baseball Extravaganza San Diego Edition: Part 2

After Sunday’s all too costly game – wishing both Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans full and speedy recoveries! – I didn’t have the heart to post about the end of our San Diego trip. But a one hit shutout does a lot to improve one’s outlook on things and scanning through my photos I was reminded of all of the positive things we fans can focus on right now while the team is getting it together. Hey, last season I was the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels Baseball, best get back to it, right?

1) Starting Pitching, of course. So there have been a few issues getting started, but ultimately the staff is strong top to bottom as they reminded us this week – Weaver more than bounced back from Texas on Friday. Haren looked much healthier and definitely pitched to win, as did Santana and Williams. (And can you believe we have a guy this good as our 5th starter? The more I watch his calm presence on the mound, the more I adore him). And then there was C.J. last night. ‘Nuff said. If the rest of the team is willing, clearly our starters can get us there.

Jered Weaver gives Dan Haren a high five before the game begins. I love that the pitching staff seems like such a mutually supportive, cohesive unit. You can also see a bearded Peter Bourjos fist bumping with Jim Butcher (and Alberto Callaspo’s arm) in the foreground. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

2) The kids. I simply can’t say enough good things about what Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout bring to this team – and Trout especially was on fire at the plate throughout this series. While I absolutely did not want it to come about because of injuries, especially injuries like these, I am eager to see if, with playing time, Peter Bourjos can bounce back to last season’s batting average. If he can, having the combined dynamic speed and talent of Trout and Bourjos in the outfield and terrorizing the base paths is certainly cause for celebration, no Pollyannas required.

Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout swing in the on deck circle before first pitch. If Bourjos can pick things back up at the plate, I would love this photo to be a vision of the number one and two spots in our lineup for seasons to come. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mark Trumbo appears to be asking Peter Bourjos for a race during warm ups. Trumbo is not exactly a slow guy, but even at a jog Bourjos had him beat effortlessly. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

3) Kudos to the Bullpen. They’ve been looking pretty darned good lately, no? I think the shifts and changes have ultimately been good for the team. I’m thrilled with the addition of Ernesto Frieri to the pen. To a man, the relievers appear to be making whatever adjustments and corrections they can to help keep us in the game and the improvement has not gone unnoticed.

Jordan Walden pauses his warm as he and the rest of the relievers watch the tense game. He’s been looking more accurate and more confident on the mound lately. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Alexi Amarista warms up between innings at second. It was bittersweet to lose this kid even for the addition of Frieri, especially when one of his first acts as a Padre is to contribute so heavily to an Angels butt kicking. However, I am thrilled to see him playing everyday. He was ready and unlikely to get that opportunity in Anaheim. Best wishes for a great career Alexi! Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

As for the game itself, it was a tough loss, but largely because leading up to that point the game was so good – a two run tie until the bottom of the 7th and the Angels fought hard to get on top again. There were frustrating wasted opportunities at the plate – though certainly not from Eric Aybar! What a game he had! But defensively the team was amazing and that catch of Trout’s to keep us in the game? Wow! I just wish it had ended differently.

Erick Aybar is a blur diving back to first. He went 4 for 4, was a homerun shy of the cycle, and brilliant distraction on the basepaths. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Albert Pujols catches a the throw and Will Venable is out, despite pouring on the speed. Defense was definitley not our issue Saturday. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

You can see how tense the game was at the end from the dugout. Albert Pujols, Vernon Wells, C.J. Wilson and all of the rest are transfixed on the field. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

But it wasn’t all tensions and frowns. There were more joyful, playful moments – Pujols affectionately thwacking Amarista on the shoulder with his glove after the kid got a hit, for example. Or, Erick Aybar shown here goofing around with first baseman Yonder Alonso during a pitching change. Do you think they were assessing his chances of getting that homerun here? Because that would make anyone laugh. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

And, a few more words about Petco itself – our seats were in the club section right behind home plate with a fantastic view of one gorgeous ballpark. A lot of the photos I’ve included in this post are warm up photos and that is largely because at Petco Park all of BP and the warm up sessions are easily viewable from the concourses at all levels and, for the most part, fans are allowed easy field section access until the end of batting practice, something that is only possible with the more open designs of the newer stadiums. I am absolutely against all of this moving to L.A. talk, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few modernizing upgrades to the Big A in Anaheim.

Petco Park at night, a view from section 201. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Angels fans turned out for the series in droves, as you can tell from the sea of red behind the Angels dugout. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Something else I would like to point out is that I love the Padre’s sense of community. It was heartwarming to enjoy National Anthems played by a local school band on Friday and to have a local military color guard on Saturday.

The USS San Diego, the 4th U.S. Navy ship to bear San Diego’s name was comission Saturday morning, so the Padres honoed Sailors of the Year from the USS San Diego during a special ceremony before Saturday’s game. In a lovely touch, EM1 Nathan Burnett of the USS San Diego, who threw out the first pitch, was apparently drafted by the Angels before he chose to enlist in the navy. Classy all around Padres, seriously!Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

A military color guard for the National Anthem. Angels at Padres, May 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game….

Suffice to say it was a great a trip and I will jump at any chance I get to catch a game at Petco Park again.

Hatcher, Bourjos, Shut Out, Hits – It’s Been Quite an Eventful Angels Week!

I probably should not let my mood rise and fall based on the results of the latest Angels game. That way lies a certain sort of madness I suppose…or perhaps just strong fanaticism. But darned if I wasn’t more than a little mopey after last weekend’s debacle. And, now that the Angels have won two in a row with strong bats making an appearance, darned if I’m not grinning from ear to ear…of course the fact that we’re leaving for San Diego tomorrow morning to catch the Angels/Padres series might have something to do with my mood as well. But before we embark on what I hope will be a nice long streak of giddy making wins, there is a little unpleasant business this blogger should attend to:

Bye Mickey Hatcher

The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher Tuesday evening and, I have to admit, I’m pleased. Oh, not for the reasons you might think. This isn’t another ‘Dancing in the streets, Ding Dong the Hatch is Gone’ Angels blog post. I was never particularly in the ‘Fire Hatcher, he’s the bane of our existence’ camp. Look, since 2010 the Angels offense has been dismal to put it kindly and Angels fans readily place the blame on Hatcher. But the thing is, before the 2010 season the Angels offense was pretty darned good for a few years there, at least from a batting average and overall effectiveness standpoint if not from a frightening power standpoint. I vividly remember a few games late in the 2009 season where the entire Angels starting lineup was batting at or over .300. Crazy good! And if we’re going to blame Mickey Hatcher for the bad times, doesn’t it only stand to reason that we credit him for the good times? I mean, it’s not as if either apex of the pendulum was a brief moment in time such that one might characterize it as a fluke.

Mike Trout’s swing certainly isn’t the problem! He has been nothing but fantastic in the lead off role. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

But, here we are in May 2012 and while the offense had shown brief flashes of teasing hope heading into Tuesday, it still looked like the third season in a row of wildly swinging but otherwise quiet bats. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Angels lack of recent championships occurred simultaneously with the lack of offense. Do I think this is Hatcher’s fault? No. I don’t think he “ruins” swings or there would be no way to explain the seasons before 2010. And ultimately whatever the hitting coach is or is not doing, whatever the team’s strategy and hitting philosophy, the burden is on the players to get in the batter’s box and make contact with the ball.

But I also think it’s clear that Hatcher wasn’t equipped to fix the current situation or we would have seen strong signs of a breakthrough long before now. Over the weekend against the Rangers you could see how much the team has internalized the situation as they started to noticeably despair the moment the Rangers pulled ahead. When a problem gets this convoluted and existing personnel can’t solve it, it’s time to bring in fresh ideas and a new point of view, not because existing staff are to blame for causing the problem or aren’t good at their job under normal circumstances but specifically because they are no longer an effective fit for the job under the current circumstances. On the one hand, I’m sorry to see Hatcher go. He’s a good guy who cares a lot about the team and the team in turn owes him thanks for the good years. But on the other hand I am pleased that Jerry Dipoto recognized the severity of the offense problem and didn’t let the team flounder for another full season without trying something radical. Do I think this solves the Angels problems? I certainly hope so!! But bringing in a fresh point of view is never a guarantee of good results.

Jemile Weeks is a blur back to first base as Albert Pujols moves in place for the pick off toss. Pujols’ defense has been lights out and I see signs that his bat is coming back around too…patience fans and your patience will be rewarded. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Regardless, the Angels offense sure looked good Tuesday and positively exciting on Wednesday to the joy and relief of Halos fans everywhere. Now, a lot of fans are already cheering on new hitting coach Jim Eppard, freshly promoted from AAA Salt Lake City, and congratulating him on our seemingly revitalized bats. But, seriously people, that’s just plain silly. However good Eppard may eventually be for the team, no one walks off the plane and magically turns two plus seasons of weak offense around in less than 24 hours. It could be a sort of placebo effect, relief over someone finally making a radical move to help, just one of those inexplicable things or even some delayed positive result of Hatcher’s influence, though that would be sad considering the situation. Whatever the reason, hitting is contagious and I sincerely hope that Eppard’s fresh presence, methods and point of view are able to help coax this initial hitting outbreak into a full blown virulent offensive epidemic…or, you know, just not stand in the way while it happens of its own accord because, sometimes, that is the most effective thing a leader can do.

Keep it going guys! Interleague is nigh and you know what that traditionally means for the Angels!

Have You See This Centerfielder?

Wednesday was Peter Bourjos bobble head night but somehow I really think that Bourjos would have preferred to be in the lineup than the subject of the evening’s promotional giveaway. I know I would have preferred it. Not to take anything away from Vernon Wells’ two great defensive plays on Monday or his hits this evening, but I would still also really like to see Bourjos and Mike Trout in the same outfield and the same lineup – an outfield with quicker, better defense every time, not just sometimes. And to add insult to injury, not only was Bourjos not in the lineup for the 14th time in the last 18 games, but he was handing out his own bobble heads at the front gate. Oh, I’m sure meeting and shaking hands with Bourjos was a very nice thing for the fans, but really? They had him handing out bobbleheads at the front gate? What’s next? ‘Hey, Petey, while you’re not doing anything would you mind taking over for the bat boy for a few innings?’

This is the view of Peter Bourjos we see all too frequently – in the dugout waiting to get into the lineup. On the rail with Fleet Pete – Ryan Langerhans, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Yes, Bourjos started off the season in a hitting slump like, oh gee, I don’t know, most of the rest of the team. But he alone has not been given the chance to work his way through said slump with playing time. Surely they can find better use for a kid who was on the short list for a Gold Glove in his first full season in the majors than occasional pinch running duties. Why wouldn’t we want to make every effort to allow he and Mike Trout to grow together into one dynamite outfield duo? Of course, as I finish this post it looks like he’s in the lineup today – yay! – so maybe this is the sign of better things to come?

Monday Night’s Shutout by the A’s

As you can probably tell from the photos, we were there. It was about as pleasant as you might imagine.

The Good – Hey it was a night at the ballpark and our friend scored her mother’s company seats so we were sitting pretty in the Diamond Club right behind home plate for free. That part wasn’t just good, it was downright giddy making.

The Bad – We were shut out. 5 – 0. By a division rival. I don’t think any more details are really necessary.

Dan Haren is a very stubborn man and I wouldn’t wish him any other way because I imagine that’s a big part of why he’s so good. But, still, his back wasn’t quite 100% yet and you could tell – from the way he pulled his extension up a little short at the end of each release and from the way he got hit a little. Still, not a terrible outing by any means and I expect that this weekend he’ll be more or less back to normal. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Still, there were signs of hope that I think were the logical precursor to the last few nights’ offensive productivity. Namely that the Angels were hitting the ball – right at the A’s for an out in many cases, but there was still some solid contact going on and a few cases of robbery by an excellent play. There was also less wild swinging. Albert Puljos in particular looked more comfortable and, up until the very last at bat where he swung at one so high and one so low that Vladdy would have been saying ‘Really?’, had good discipline and good contact…just at people and robbed in one case. Looking at him Monday I felt we would be seeing more of the old Albert later this week and, indeed, we have. Keep it going! I am rooting for you!!

And here are a few more random game photos just for kicks. No on to the today’s White Sox game, the Padres and, hopefully, a lot more winning! Go Angels!!

I don’t know if Albert Puljos is questioning the umpire’s ball/strike call or if Jemile Weeks is talking trash. Either way, his expression is priceless. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Jordan Walden throws heat while Howie Kendrick moves into position behind him. Walden has looked much improved on the mound lately but there was no saving this turkey of a game. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Cliff Pennington and Maicer Izturis swap stories during an injury break. Hmmm…which team’s form of constant lineup fluctuation is more odd for the players I wonder? Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington stretch and practice swings just before the game begins. Angels vs. A’s, May 15, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Has the Argument Blown Over? + Bobby Abreu, Mike Trout and Angels Closers

When last we encountered our heroine, her Angels were mired in distress, largely of their own causing, and she was more than mildly annoyed with the situation. I believe the term livid was bandied about? So she did what anyone who is that mad at a loved one should do – she stepped away until she could approach the situation more rationally. Specifically, she said she would avoid watching the Angels play for the duration of the weekend while she was biking, wining, snapping photos and generally goofing around on the Central Coast…

…Yeah, any guesses as to how long that lasted? Mmmm hmmmm…uh huh…well, then…I see…Okay, all of you who said first pitch on Saturday greatly underestimate the depth of my anger. Those of you who said first pitch on Monday greatly overestimate the strength of my will power. And as for those of you who said the beginning of the third inning on Saturday? Well, you know me pretty darned well and it’s not your fault that you didn’t know that my in laws’ place has no television and no internet connection sufficient for, say, streaming baseball games. We know. We’ve tried. The middle of the 5th on Saturday. That’s when my resolve broke and we watched the game.

We were picking up amazing barbeque from the Main Street Grill – seriously, you can tell when the tri tip and brisket are ready each day from two blocks away when the perpetual heavenly aroma of the smoke shifts from a wood smell, to that of wood and meat to that of beautifully cooked meat. Yum! …but I digress. As I said, we were picking up barbeque to take with us, when Seth noticed that the game was already on in the dining room, in the 5th inning and that the Angels were actually winning. Yeah, I know. Already on TV. In Giants country with a heavy dash of A’s! What are the odds? Clearly this was meant to be. 😉 We might as well eat here, Seth suggested, as the guy at the register laughed at us good naturedly. We could probably watch the rest of the game by the time we’re done. Can we say ‘enabler’? Also, ‘awesome’!

I’m glad we changed our minds. It was a good game, though the offense still needs a lot of work. And I am equally glad we really were too busy to watch the game on Sunday (Yuck!!!) but not Monday night’s game. (Overly exciting in the 8th but, still, yay!!!) Suffice to say, I may get mad from time to time, but I’m in it for the long haul and I have a handful of hastily snatched up cheap tickets to prove it, because I plan to be there as the Angels turn this around…a lengthy process I think just may have started already. We’ll see.

Besides, the Angels released Bobby Abreu and brought up Mike Trout! You’ve all seen my posts about Bobby. I appreciated his efforts for the team in ’09 and ’10, I admire his career and, quite frankly, I like the guy, but this was a move that needed to be made. Bobby can’t contribute on the field anymore and his bat hasn’t been helping much either. With Trout, we have a lot of possibility. Is he the answer? Absolutely not. The answer to the Angels woes is a lot more complicated than anything one 20 year old top prospect can solve. But bringing Trout up is a great start as is moving Jordan Walden out of the closer’s spot until he can regain some control. I think that crafty and reliable Scott Downs is an excellent temp or even temp to perm if it comes to that. Now, I’ve never been one to desire a gift gesture as a form of apology after an argument. But if the Angels were intending to offer one even so, this is an excellent start to getting the team back on the right track and oh, so much better than any old roses. Now can we just put all of our big bats in the lineup at one time, already? Pretty please with some of that wonderful Central Coast barbeque on top?

Of Angels Losses, Angels Wins, Good Food, Better Wine and Really High Socks

Thursday’s game. Angels vs. A’s. Our usual attempts to get to the ballpark at a decent hour actually worked this time and we arrived in time to catch the tail end of warm ups.

'So about these socks'...(which are completely awesome, by the way) Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos warm up and chat before the game. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

C.J. Wilson and Chris Iannetta warm up before the game - this looks a lot like what we do in Pilates. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And in time to catch Erick Aybar’s Gold Glove Award ceremony…Murphy’s Law being what it is, of course this meant he was good for at least one colossal error this game and Murphy, sadly as usual, did not disappoint. Oh well, it was still neat to watch him get the award, especially on the day the Angels very smartly locked him up for four more years! Whoo hoo!

Erick Aybar accepts his Gold Glove Award and seems to say 'now, don't you break that while I'm gone.' Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Before the game begins, the unlit halo looms expectantly over the stadium. Sadly, the halo would remain unlit for another evening.

The Halo, unlit, before the game. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Heading down the 57 for the game, I told my husband that I had a good feeling about this game, that I was sure the Angels were due for a win and that we would get to see Albert Pujols’ first Angels home run…personally, I don’t think I was so much wrong as just a game or two early. See, I don’t claim clairvoyance, I just see patterns and the Angels patterns say improvement to me.

Albert Pujols went 3 for 5 with 3 doubles! And one of them would have been a homer with about 5 more inches in height. Missed it by that much! Gotta love the Big A in the evening. Angels vs. A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I am love, love, loving Chris Iannetta! It started with his bat (namely the fact that he's a catcher who puts it to use, novel concept that), continued with how the pitchers seem to love him and was forever confirmed when he broke up that double play on Thursday with authority! Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo prepares to make things happen, once again, with his bat. I LOVE how he looks down his bat at the pitcher before he gets into position. For some reason it puts me in mind of an old west gunslinger about to take down the big bad. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

...and the swing! Scioscia, we need to find a way to keep Trumbo in the lineup, alongside Kendrys Morales and, of course, Albert Pujols as many nights as possible. Make it so...please!!! Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Indeed, the Angels were improved over the previous evening, though still unvictorious and then this evening, they were even further improved – though we still seriously need to work on those LOBsters – and they won!!

Obviously, it’s more fun to be at a game where the Angels win, than one where they lose, but as much as I was annoyed with mistakes that simply didn’t have to be, we still had a fine evening at the ballpark – because isn’t an evening at that the ballpark better than an evening just about anywhere else? And the A’s fan gents behind us were a kick and a half. Be it at the Big A or the coliseum the opposing fans I tend to have the most fun with are A’s fans. I hope you enjoyed your trip, boys, and that we were as nice to you as your fellows were to us on our trip to Oakland last season – and the A’s fans were pretty darned nice hosts.

Honestly, one game is only one game so my greatest regret about the Angels losing this specific one game is the high socks. Note:

Clearly Peter Bourjos has been an excellent sartorial influence on Vernon Wells. (And speaking of Vernon, don't think I haven't noticed the plate improvements. I'm rooting for you!!...because of course the Angels have time and inclination to read blogs, LOL!) Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

...and on Erick Aybar too? Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Did you ever expect to see Torii Hunter in high socks? Apparently Bourjos is a good influence. 😉 Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Heck, did you ever expect to see Albert Pujols in high socks? Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yes, exactly, they all wore high socks to change their luck…well, except C.J. and the other pitchers. If the Angels had won this game, you know the high socks would be here to stay, and I do appreciate the neater, more professional look of the old school uniform.

Speaking of C.J., part of the impetus of my going online to find the $10 club section tickets for this game was the thought that I wanted to see Mr. Wilson’s home debut in an Angels uniform. Well, Mr. Wilson, as you have probably seen on Quick Pitch, SportsCenter or the like had some good innings and some not so good innings and one pretty bad inning – not his usual performance at all, though typical of the times the Angels did beat him. Hit C.J. early and he gets a little flustered. Still it was nice to help welcome him to the Big A properly and if his first two appearances and all of the times I’ve watched him kick Angels behind in a Rangers uniform are any indication, I expect pretty good things.

C.J. Wilson begins his pitch. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

...and the finish. I never noticed the high leg before - one more interesting delivery to add to the Angels ecclectic collection. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

You could see the bullpen well from our seats. They look so normal and harmless, don’t they? Well, by and large they are, or rather their harm is helpfully directed at the opposition. As for the rest of time, well, to paraphrase Wednesday, homicidal maniacs look like everybody else, don’t they?

The Bullpen waits...but for good or evil? Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

LaTroy Hawkins - one of the bullpen pitchers who absolutely does _not_ scare me. Angels vs A's, April 19, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Still, they were more than acceptable on Thursday and pretty darned good on Friday and I so want to see a pattern there!

Friday evening’s game further confirms the pattern I thought I was seeing earlier – improvement. Yes, there are still a few issues, but I think that if we can just find a lineup, or even one lineup for groundball pitchers and one lineup for flyball pitchers, and that/those lineup(s) make sense, and we stick with it/them long enough for guys to get comfortable, we’ll really see something here.

And speaking of a return to consistency, after way, way too many day games, the Friday Night Ritual is back – that’s right Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels. This evening I made a spinach, tomato and mushroom paella with grilled Argentinean chorizo (it’s closer to a heavily paprika-ed Italian sausage than the chorizo you may be used to). It was everything the Friday night ritual should be – a delicious and gourmet seeming but budget conscious meal to enjoy with the game plus leftovers for the rest of the weekend. We paired it with a yummy (totally a technical/industry term 😉 ) Paso wine – Clavo’s Collusion, a Cabernet, Malbec and Petite Verdot blend. Yum! Perhas the return of the Friday night ritual added a little luck? Okay, probably not. But that doesn’t make it any less tasty.

And if there seems to be a certain, um, disjointedness to this post, a, shall we say, joie de vin…well…there’s a reason for that. Did you not read about the ritual? It’s Friday!! The Halo is lit and so am I! Happy weekend everyone!

A Tale of Two Angels Teams…Again?

It was the best of games, it was the worst of games. (Well, okay, not really even close to the worst of games, but go with it. She’s rolling.) A large offense ably supported a fair haired pitcher’s strong milestone outing on the mound for Monday’s game. That same large offense plainly failed to support a dark haired pitcher’s equally strong start for Tuesday’s game… and the comparisons to 2010 and ’11 could only be meet with invective.

It was a game where, despite a few defensive gaffes there at the end, a plucky bullpen came through in style. It was a game where a nightmare bullpen self-destructed becoming, once again, a bogeyman fit for frightening children into good behavior. “Eat all of your peas and go to bed on time, dear, or we’ll have to call in the Angel’s bullpen!” “No, Mommy. No, Daddy! Not the Angels bullpen!”…

Okay, now we’re starting to veer into Fraser Crane’s rousing ATOTC/It/Rambo mash up territory and, quite frankly, I can’t hope to compete with that level of awesome, so we’ll just stop right here. But you get the general idea. There are two Angels teams here and that’s nothing new. I seem to find myself writing this same thought every April about this time on this blog or in other forums, in good Angels years and bad. Both teams have good starting pitching most of the time. The difference lies in how they support that pitching. And any time the bullpen, the offense or the fielding from that other Angels team appears, victory becomes a lot trickier. Any time more than one of these components appear together, look out.

All indications are that we should see far more of Monday’s Angels team – you know, the good one – than Tuesday’s “other” Angels team this season, especially as our starting pitchers stretch deeper into the game and tack on their usual high number of complete games. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t greet last night’s 2011 homage of a bullpen meltdown on top of a measly 2-1 lead with some invective of my own. I mean, come on, Kevin Jepsen has always been reliable for about two out of three outings – which did lead me to conclude loudly that Kevin Jepsen is How I Met Your Mother’s naked man. And even I can tell you which Jepsen it’s going be by the second batter. Butcher and Scioscia certainly should have been able to tell this was time one out of three and relieved him with that day’s more effective arm.

And, no worries, I’m still not panicking. In fact, I’m busily scooping up the crazy ticket deals being offered by those who are panicking. Second row, Club level seats to C.J. Wilson’s Angels stadium debut for a mere $10 a piece? *snatches tickets quickly* Oh. Yes. Please. I’ll take two. But I am asking if the powers that be can start keeping each member of the bullpen on a very short leash when the game is close, especially on those evenings when it seems like it’s that other Angels team’s offense who showed up, not our good one. Seriously, even if it means paying face value for my tickets. Pretty please with bittersweet chocolate and salted caramel drizzle on top? (Sugar is for amateurs. 😉 )

The Angels are 3 and 6. Meh.

Oh my God, the Angels are 3 and 6. Sound the alarm! Hit the panic button! Towels, people? Where are the towels?! The last time this happened was 2010 and we all know how that season ended, right?. 3rd place. Below .500. Unemployed, in Greenland. Except…the last time we went 3 and 6 to start before 2010 was 2002 and we all know how that season ended, right? Wild card berth. World Series Champions. Bragging rights and brand new jewelry!

So, which is it then, should we be panicking or celebrating? Neither, of course. The sample size is far too small. My point is simply that it’s only been nine games. We have at least 153 left to go. Heck, the entire summer will arrive, be initially celebrated, celebrated some more, get way too hot, begin to annoy us, begin to cool off and fade into fall long before we reach the end of that. Anything can happen in amount of time.

Fear not, the winning will come. How much winning? Will it be enough? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. They’ve got to play the games. I can tell you this much, however:

Small sample size or not, the following things are making me very happy indeed:

  • Offensive support from the catcher’s position, and how! I can’t tell you how happy I am to not have mentally prepare for an automatic out every time I see the catcher taking practice swings on deck.
  • Our bats can come from behind. Okay, so we’re still working on the ‘then not falling behind again and still losing part’, but still. I don’t know about anyone else, but for the last two years, if the Angels fell behind by so much as one run I had to fight to keep from thinking ‘It’s all over now.’ And I hated myself for it, but I also understood the limitations of our offense. Now the offense hits, runs and scores and, even though there some bats that really need to come online ASAP, I feel like falling behind doesn’t have to be an automatic loss anymore.
  • A few more of our bats – the fact that Mark Trumbo seems to hit solidly, with no need for adjustment whether he’s DHing or playing 3rd. The fact that Howie Kendrick is turning into a regular beast.

I don’t care that it’s only been nine games, the following things are seriously pissing me off:

  • The bullpen or, more specifically, the fact that we’re still cringing over the bullpen. It was shaky in 2009. It was downright scary in 2010. Efforts to improve it in 2011 were mixed at best and for some unknown reason the powers that be decided to hire another veteran lefty – Isringhausen – for 2012 after hiring two such bullpen arms for 2011 had such hot – Downs, yay! – and cold – Takahashi, flip a coin and don’t you dare leave him in too long – results. And, guess what? The bullpen is still scary. Shocking, that.
  • We still don’t have a solid 5th starter? Really? Again, it’s been a while on this one.
  • Too many options or, more specifically, the need to use them all. This isn’t P.E. Everyone does not need to play. Yes, Bobby was hitting better, but I hate what he does to the outfield. We go from having Gold Glove experience on either side of a young Gold Glover to be whose speed makes up for the few steps they’ve lost on their range, to having no range in left field over emphasizing the steps all three parties have lost off their range and an outfield with so many holes, I keep expecting the Muppets prairie dogs to make a musical appearance.

Eh, we have 153 games left to go. Don’t panic, these things will sort themselves out:

  • The completely set portion of our starting rotation. Yes we’ve seen some shaky pitches and a few of our fearless hurlers have been downright shelled. But we’ve also seen some stellar performances in these very few nine games too. These four guys are absolutely fine. And once we get past a bit of dead arm and rust, they’re going to make some of the issues with the 2012 team seem far less apparent.
  • Albert Pujols. He will hit. Remember all of the huffing and puffing and gnashing of teeth in April last season in St Louis? Sometimes he takes a while to get into his groove. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy all those great pitches Howie is getting in the mean time.

As for the rest? The jury’s still out for me. I could start adding it to any of the three lists above by the end of the month. We’ll just have to see. Of course, none of this makes starting the season 3 and 6 any happier or losing like this on a nationally televised game any less annoying when heading into the office Monday morning. Ugh! What’s a fan to do? Well, when all else fails, and the playing gets icky, the real fans go and buy more tickets I say! I now have tickets all squared away for our Interleague trip down to San Diego in May. I got great seats for Friday, right by the Angels bullpen. But it’s our Saturday seats that truly have me salivating and that made me feel a whole lot better this weekend. Of course, the fact that Padres are doing worse than we are didn’t exactly hurt me in this endeavor. Wait, the Padres record is still worse, right? *sigh of relief* LOL, relax! In this sort of situation, gallows’ humor isn’t merely to be expected, it’s highly encouraged.

Bring on the A’s.

A Little Excitement Before the Regular Season Begins

So, everyone’s getting really excited about the first Regular Season games starting in just a few hours, right? I mean, we’re all getting up extra early, with elaborate brunch, beer and calling in late to work plans so we can watch the games, right? *crickets* Yeah, that about sums it up. While I like the idea of exhibition games in Japan and other countries, I think that having the Mariners and A’s play two regular season games there is just ho hum. The timing will always be awkward, both in terms of fitting the games into the Regular Season calendar and in terms of the games themselves taking place at a time when the teams’ U.S. fans can easily watch. For this reason, I doubt MLB will ever get teams that are predicted to contend to participate and so what we’re left with is just blah. Two games stuck in a weird sort of baseball limbo. They count towards the regular season record, so they’re not quite exhibition games. But most folks aren’t paying any attention and the games are occurring completely outside the Regular Season calendar, well before the official Opening Day on April 4th, so it’s almost as if they aren’t really Regular Season games either, leaving me for one wondering, Why bother? 

I’ll tell you what is exciting though, Magic Johnson buying the Dodgers. Ding Dong, the McCourts are gone. The wicked McCourts are gone! Yes, I root for the Halo’d ones down in Anaheim, but I’m an L.A. girl raised going to games in Chavez Ravine by a Dodger lovin’ family. As long as we aren’t specifically in the middle of a Freeway Series, I will always have a soft spot for the boys in blue. Besides, I like to think that baseball fans everywhere were rooting for the Dodgers to come out on top of all this – Come on Giants fan cousins of mine, you know you were rooting for them too…come on. Hey. That’s not the gesture you really want to be making. Seriously, knock that off right now or I’m telling your mom. See, that’s much better. Don’t you feel better now? Ummm…never mind. 😉

Anyway, moving right along…Magic Johnson is a shrewd businessman who has managed to create businesses that are simultaneously good for the community, good for local sports and entertainment, and also profitable. And for those of you who don’t have a lot of experience with business and politics in L.A., trust me, that’s no easy feat. Plus, Magic Johnson has been an L.A. guy by choice since his retirement. I see him as the kind of owner who will cultivate a good team on the field (and it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of good players to work with already), while pleasing fans and leaving the important traditions intact. At least, this is what I hope will happen…even though I still hope they lose every single Freeway Series game. Hey, Dodgers soft spot, Angels heart. My goodwill is extensive, but not boundless. 😉

Which brings me to news even more exciting than that: Kendrys is hitting over .600 since his Spring Training debut and continues to see regular playing time, and I saw my first lit Halo of 2012 driving through Anaheim the other night. Okay, so it’s only a lit exhibition Halo, but still. Lit. Halo! The Regular Season – the real Regular Season – is so close I can taste it!

The Halo on the Big A shines into the March 2012 evening, announcing a Spring Training victory! Yes, I took this photo through the none too clean windshield of our moving vehicle. No, I wasn't the one driving. 😉 Photo by This is a Very Simple Game...