Tagged: Bobby Abreu

With Angels Contracts Complete, It’s Time for Starting Lineup Roulette

With this week’s news that the Angels have reached one-year deals, avoiding arbitration with both Eric Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, the team appears to be mostly set for the season. Although, I don’t think anyone would mind another reliable arm for the bullpen, should it just happen to present itself and, you know, except for the “will they be ready or won’t they” injury situations with Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales. Hey, you can’t have everything, right? …except, perhaps, when Jerry Dipoto is starting off his Haloed tenure with a bang, so we’ll see. *whistles softly*

At any rate, traditionally this is the time to start predicting lineups, rotations and such. But, let’s be honest. Being an Angels fan adds a certain layer – or, like 10! – of, shall we say, complexity to this age old pastime. Oh, I can predict the starting rotation with ease and a fair bit of certainty: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams. And don’t think I didn’t all kinds of delicious little shivers up and down my arms typing that list of names just now. The 2012 starting rotation rocks. Hard. But moving past that and on to predicting the lineup? That’s another story. This is, after all, a Mike Scioscia team, she types with affection.

The boys at Hot Stove proposed this starting lineup shortly after Albert Pujols was signed:

The Angels 2012 Lineup, as proposed by Hot Stove.

And as lineups go, it makes a certain amount of sense. But it has two major flaws. 1) Relegating Trumbo to a part time DH role (What a waste! At that point, trade him.) and, even more importantly, 2) it only allows for 4 different variations. Four…Amateurs! 😉

First, let’s consider the leadoff spot. Sosh will never stick to just one leadoff man. Yes, Aybar will fill that role frequently no doubt, but expect to see Peter Bourjos and Macier Izturis (provided he isn’t eventually part of trade for say, a bullpen arm, just to pull something completely out of thin air) in the leadoff spot a fair number of times as well. And then there will be those really random days, when Sosh is either feeling extra spicy or he thinks the guys need a kick in the pants. On those days we might find Howie Kendrick, Mike Trout or even Alberto Callaspo striding to the plate ahead of everyone else. You just never know with Scioscia.

Then there’s the cleanup spot. Albert Pujols is clearly the logical choice. But sometimes Scioscia likes to mix things up and bat the toughest slugger in the 5th spot. At that point you might see Trumbo or Morales take a turn batting 4th. And should the offense start to enter any lengthy slumps (Which you won’t do in 2012, right guys? Right?) expect to see some downright crazy things take place with the cleanup spot. In 2011 Maicer batted 4th in, I believe, two games.

And, really, that’s only the beginning. Torii’s natural place in the lineup is batting 3rd. But when he has an off week or two, expect to see him moved to batting 2nd…at which point he is likely to change his walkup song to Movin’ On Up again because, is there anyone who has more fun during a game than Torii? As much sure, but more? Nah, didn’t think so.

You can be sure that Trout and Bourjos will play in the same game many times throughout the season. And, in addition to taking the leadoff role some of the time, Bourjos will probably bat 2nd a few times as well. And the minute Trout comes into his own at the plate, Chris Iannetta is likely to see some time in the 9th spot – it’s an Angels catchers’ tradition, after all. Alberto Callaspo consistently has one of the highest batting averages on the team. He’s sure to spend some time batting 2nd or 3rd. And what of Bobby Abreu? So far I haven’t heard any noise about trading him. If he’s still with the team come Opening Day, I’m sure there will be several lineup variations featuring him at DH too…

…And this? This is just what I have come up with typing darn near stream of consciousness for a few minutes. Imagine what Scioscia will come up with given an entire season to plot and plan? That said, is any of this constant lineup shifting effective? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. On the average, I’d say it’s probably neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. It’s just Scioscia’s thing. And we fans gripe about it when the team is losing and joke about it with affection when the team is winning. Either way, I’ll not be attempting to diagram all of that variation into one master lineup, slash marks or not, thank you very much. 🙂

Do You Believe in Magic? …and Not So Much: Reflections on Last Week and a Season of Growth for the Angels

Baseball last week was bittersweet for me. We enjoyed a night at the ballpark Monday! But it was our last night at the ballpark of the season and the Angels lost, sounding the absolute final death knell in their post season hopes. But a little more sweet was added to temper the bitter Wednesday night when we all witnessed pure magic! An evening of baseball so amazing it can only be described with a Yogi Berra quote – it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over. My condolences to Red Sox and Braves fans, it’s not about rooting against your teams, it’s about loving the magic of a come from behind upset to begin with and then witnessing two within breaths of one another. Wow!

Maicer Izturis and Peter Bourjos warm up before the bottom of the 1st inning. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, as for Monday night’s game? Well, it was a heartbreaker of game, an at that point expected heartbreak I quickly recovered from, but still. So many miscues and missed opportunities!

After sending one sailing into right field, Alberto Callaspo takes a moment to remind himself that Howie Kendrick is several inches shorter than Mark Trumbo. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I loved Mike Napoli as an Angel. I'm thrilled he's having a great season but when he faces the Angels, this is how I prefer to see him - slinking back to the dugout after striking out. I only wish we'd seen this more often. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I absolutely miss Darren Oliver from the Angels bullpen. Not going to arbitration with him at the end of 2009 was a dumb decision in my opinion. He's a class act and I wish him well, but darned if I don't prefer seeing him walk off the mound defeated when he gos up against us. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And that is not how I prefer to remember my season, especially when I had so much fun with the Angels for most of it…frequently frustrating fun as I have fully documented on these virtual pages, LOL, but fun even so. So imagine my delight when I reviewed the photos I took that evening and discovered a lot of smiling, fun shots of my favorite ballplayers that I think show off the great personality of the team as a whole. Instantly my goofy brain imagined strange scenarios and back stories for each of the photos because, really, I prefer to remember the season as fun:   

Mike Trout appears to be jawing at Mike Napoli on 1st. "Seriously. You call _that_ a pick off attempt." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dino Ebel talks with Mike Trout at 3rd. "You're kidding!!" "'Fraid not Mike. The whole dugout dared you to touch Beltre's head. Better do it. You don't want Weave to post your phone number again." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter and Michael Young laugh over something at 2nd during a pitching change. "They really dared him to touch Beltre's head?! Oh, this is going to be funny Torii!" Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Beltre and Mike Trout at 3rd. "I know all about the bet, Kid. Don't even think about it!!" ...and yet, Trout's still thinking about it. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Beltre keeps Alberto Callaspo at 3rd. "Not you too 'Berto! Look, I already told the kid don't even think about it..." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Elvis Andrus and Erick Aybar during a pitching change. Could the two short stops be talkin' shop? "He he, yeah. The old empty glove tag at second. I'm tellin' ya. Coco falls for it and slides every time." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

All silliness aside, walking back to our car after the game Monday night, Seth and I rehashed the misses and mistakes. What if the Angels had played the first inning smoothly? What if they hadn’t stranded so many runners? What if, what if, what if. Seth declared that ‘what if’ was a metaphor for the whole season, though he said it wistfully and with some affection, not in anger. I agreed with him at the time, but the more I think about, the more I decided that Howie Kendrick’s last at bat was a better metaphor for the season.

Last minute fill in Howie Kendrick needs a little work on his first baseman's small talk skills, apparently. "Aw man! Elvis, you kicked up dirt all over my pants." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Bottom of the 9th, two outs, one on base and the Angels are down by one. Were this the scenario back in 2009, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would get a double and the runner would score from first or on the very next at bat and my comeback kid Angels would have pulled it off again. Were this scenario last season, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would pop up or strike out, ending the game. Watching it all play out this season, I realized that I had absolutely no idea if Howie would be able to pull it off or not. With the 2011 Angels, you just never knew. And if that was sometimes frustrating, it was also sometimes amazing – a definite improvement over the previous season and an indication of growth in the right direction, giving me hope for 2012.

Michael Young and Elvis Andrus react as Mike Trout reaches second on an Erick Aybar wallk in the 6th. The Angels have bases loaded for the first time this game. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Look, 2011 was a season where there were darned few easy wins for the Angels. There were numerous contributing factors. Season long questions, first about the five spot in the starting rotation, then the four spot, then the five and back to the four and eventually both. Veteran bats failing at the same time rookie bats were learning. Not getting Kendrys back at first as expected – though in hindsight, they should have planned on that from the start – threw everyone for a loop and although Mark Trumbo became the first baseman for the team and how, there were the to-be-expected growing pains all season especially in April and May. Injuries, several of them to Torii Hunter which contributed in part to the bats situation. Cleanup spot by committee on a team with no natural cleanup spot hitter…which lead to a bunch of guys who are really excellent gap hitters, swinging for the fences and whiffing or popping out. (Trumbo is the cleanup hitter of the future in my opinion, but it was too early this season.) Then there was the bullpen. There was noticeable improvement over 2010 but, still, pick a day. They could be absolutely fantastic or the arson squad part deux. And, of course, the closer situation. From veteran closer gone bad to baby closer with flashes of brilliance amidst growing pains, that was another constant struggle this season.

It was already a tense enough interlude to be the climax of a musical's act 1 and then, during a pitching change, Bobby Abreu, Erick Aybar and Alfredo Griffen apparently decided to strike the appropriate poses to seal the deal. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

All in all, the Angels won a lot of games but, for all of the reasons above and more, it was a grind to win almost every single one and I think that, quite simply, by the time we got to September the Angels were tired. Oh, in spirit they were willing and eager enough to get to the post season, witness the string of near comebacks. But I think that physically they were just too tired to take that next leap and carry themselves into the post season. And if they had made to the post season, I don’t think they would have made it past the first round, especially with the news that Mark Trumbo had been playing with a stress fracture in his foot for the last several games and was out. This isn’t a complaint at all, it’s an observation. I think they played their hearts out but, well, teams that are still capable of contending at the end, like the 2011 Rays, dig in harder to win even more when they find out that other teams in the race have lost. Teams that are just too tired to get there, like the 2011 Angels, collapse in relief to catch their breaths when they find out that other teams in the race have lost.

I wish it were different but I have a hard time being anything more than a little disappointed by it. I have watched a lot of So Cal baseball in my life, brilliant seasons, terrible seasons and everything in between, and I have to say that this was not a season that folks should get depressed over. This was a growing season that gives next season some promise. And, now, as we continue enjoying what so far has been a pretty fun post season – as fun as it can be without an Angels presence! – I will conclude this post with a few heartwarming thoughts for next season:

Mike Trout takes another mighty swing at the plate. This at bat lead to an RBI single. I have a feeling that I will have many photos of Trout making good things happen for the Angels with his bat in the seasons to come and that is a definite silver lining to the 2011 season. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dan Haren pitches from the stretch. Poor Danny, if only that first inning hadn't happened. Hopefully with more seasoned rookie bats and an uninjured Torii Hunter in 2012, Haren and his rotation mates will have a lot more run support and such things won't matter as much. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Fernando Rodney chats with the Rangers bullpen. Well, they do say that when you're about to lose your job, networking is key. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

This last photo really struck a chord with me. Taken during the warm-up just before the top of the 9th, immediately after Mike Trout struck out looking, it appears to me that Peter Bourjos is consoling Trout a little bit. Who knows what they were actually saying to one another. For all I know, Trout was making sure his cleats are tied and Bourjos is laughing him or they weren’t even talking at all. But my photo, my interpretation – so consoling it is. And I think, as such, it’s a good message for everyone. Take heart Angels fans, they’ll get ‘em next season!

Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout move into position at the beginning of the inning. "Cheer up Rookie. Next season is going to be awesome!" And indeed it will be. I just know it! Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Stomped by Texas for Three Games Straight, Is There Any Hope For Our Boys in Halos?

The 2011 Angels can’t score to save their lives and they can’t hit when it counts. Veteran bats have only come alive in alternating streaks all season – much like Torii Hunter’s slumbering bat waking with a vengeance into his current 15-game hitting streak – and the rookies and the gap hitters are pretty much carrying the line-up. The problem with that is that we can get guys on base, but we can’t bring them home, facts I haven’t shied away from mentioning all season.

Alberto Callaspo prepares to pop out while Bobby Abreu, in the on deck circle, takes practice swings before he grounds out. Callaspo's mini-slump is new. He has the second highest batting average on the team just behind Howie Kendrick. But Bobby's absentee bat has been one of several veteran disappointments on the team this season. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jeff Mathis prepares to strike out for the second time this evening as Peter Bourjos takes practice swings on deck. We're used to Mathis' sub Mendoza average by now, but it sure hurts when isn't the only automatic out in the lineup any more. Bourjos, on the other hand, went 2 for 4 with an RBI, one of the rookies tryign very hard to pick up the slack in the lineup. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And yet, the Angels have been in the thick of the division race, winning series and beating top teams all season long pretty much on the strength of their pitching and fielding alone. Two weeks ago, we were a mere game out of first place! So what happens when the pitching inevitably falters for a few games? Last week happens, with the disastrous road trip to Toronto and the Bronx. And if the fielding gets lax too? Well, then you have what could have been a season making series against the Texas Rangers turn into what we’ve seen on the field instead the last few days – something that could very well be season breaking if the Angels don’t pull it together and play their hearts out from tonight on through the rest of the season.

Pitching Coach Mike Butcher joins Tyler Chatwood and Jeff Mathis on the mound. It was clear from the first pitch that Chatty wasn't himself this evening. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Another end result is that I, consummate baseball optimist, constant cheerleader and the self-proclaimed Pollyanna of Angels baseball actually started to despair for a few minutes Tuesday night. Tuesday was my husband’s birthday and his boss gave him the company seats, the OMG! company seats, on the field, in the first section on the dangerous side of the home plate screens, 10 rows back from the action. Awesome boss, yes? But sitting there, seemingly inches from the field, watching Erick Aybar lazily glance at the second playable line drive in as many innings shoot uncontested into the outfield for extra bases, in a game where our young starter was clearly struggling and needed all the backup he could get, I thought, “Well, that’s it then. If the Angels have just given up, the season is over.”

Erick Aybar looks embarrassed, as well he should after his half assed fielding earlier, as he and former teammate Mike Napoli chat during a pitching change. What could they be saying to one another? Naps: It's okay Erick, _we_ appreciate your fielding today *snerk*. Aybar: D'oh. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Russell Branyan and Peter Bourjos in the dugout during the Angels at bat. I know just how you feel, Russell. I know just how you feel. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

In fact, I think I waited this long to post our photos from the game, indeed anything about the Rangers series, in the hopes that Wednesday would give me something more cheerful to talk about. No dice. At least the lollygagging fielding was over by Wednesday, but not the gaffs. Balls were being thrown all kinds of places that weren’t anywhere near a glove. Erick Aybar decided to make an effort again for us Wednesday, but alternated between not being able to keep balls in his glove and not being able to get them out in time to actually throw them – which given the throwing situation might, in hindsight, have been a blessing in disguise, I don’t know – all night. Santana pitched a great game, but with the usual insufficient run support, and now with insufficient defense, it’s no surprise we lost.

Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick chat as they take the field and Howie confirms that Aybar's fielding was indeed half-assed this game. 'Hey, look at my uniform, I might have missed, but I at least dove for the ball'...or, you know, something like that. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, are we done? The commentators all seem to think so. This was an important series, no doubt about it. We could be. If we can pull tonight off, we’re still six games out of first place in mid-August and that’s a tall order. But I did say my moment of despair was brief and, like it’s underlying message, I’m not giving up unless the Angels have given up…and even then I probably won’t give up unless winning becomes a mathematical impossibility, not a mere improbability, an impossibility. I’m stubborn like that. Monday and Tuesday notwithstanding, I don’t think the Angels have given up. Wednesday they still played badly but there were improvements – our pitching was back on track and the defense was at least hustling. And, here’s the thing. We were only one game out of first two weeks ago with only a handful of head to head games against the Rangers under our belt. We have seven more coming up including tonight. So, come on Angels, this division just got a whole lot tougher, but it’s still winnable.

So, tonight and going forward through August and September, we need to see a lot less of this – big bats taking knocking our pitching for extra bases -:

Mike Napoli begins a swing as Jeff Mathis positions himself for the ball. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yorvit Torrealba at bat with Jeff Mathis catching. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Ian Kinsler takes a swing and fouls it off. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And a lot more of this, namely Angels in scoring position who then actually score and Angels on the base paths who just earned RBIs. And, I know I’m being extra, extra demanding here, but how about in several of the innings leading up to the 9th inning too?:

Howie Kendrick leads off third as Michael Young moves with the pitch. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter on first after knocking in a run with a single in the 9th. Mitch Moreland is playing first for Texas. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

We need to start hitting pitchers who are hittable, and not right into double plays either. Derek Holland pitched a good game, but he was hittable:

Derek Holland begins his wind up. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

No more injuries please!!! Everyone stay healthy:

Torii Hunter tells Mike Scioscia and a trainer 'Hell, no, you aren't taking me out of this game.' or words to that effect after fouling a pitch off of his own foot in the 7th. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

It’s unfair to but so much pressure on our starting pitching, but that’s just the way things are this season, especially with the #4 spot in the rotation in such a state of flux, the rest of the rotation needs to be lights out as often as possible. With Garrett Richards unfortunately timed injury, they’re reinstating Joel Pineiro as a starter…oooooh boy. I just don’t know about that one. Prove me wrong, okay Joel? And the bullpen needs to be equally spot on. So why did we send this guy back to AAA?:

Trevor Bell, up from Salt Lake City just for this game, takes the mound in the 3rd. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And why do we keep putting this guy in, in crucial situations? Tuesday was fine. Fernando Rodney pitches best when we’re already behind and don’t want to fall further behind, but I still don’t like seeing him take the mound:

Jeff Mathis tells reliever Fernando Rodney, would you stop walking batters and pitch a GD strike every once in a while...oh...maybe that's just what I want to tell him. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And the fielding needs to be error free and full of hustle:

Mark Trumbo and runner Mike Napoli move with the pitch. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo fields the ball cleanly and Ian Kinsler is out at first. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 
Thursday Night Addendum: Holy Trumbo Walk Off, Bat Man! That was awesome! This doesn’t change anything I said in my initial post – this division is still winnable for the Angels, but it’s going to take a lot of work and I will be rooting for them the whole way…but it sure makes me a lot happier about all things Angels and I think the team needed that even more than the fans did. Light that baby up! Shall we return the favor in Texas in a few weeks? Yes please!
 

Angels Started Out Hot But in the End Just Burned. New Series, Move Down.

 Do you ever have one of those days where odd things seem to parallel your mood or activities? You think of a song and change the station on the radio only to find that song? Or a coworker randomly starts the same conversation you just had that morning with your mom? Does this ever seem to happen with the baseball team you follow? Saturday, was my husband’s birthday “observed” – as opposed to Tuesday, his actual birthday, when we have tickets for the company seats at the Big A, whoo hoo! We hosted a pizza party/game night in his honor, so I knew that, between the prep, the party and the clean-up, I wasn’t going be able to pay as much attention to the Angels play as I would like to. Little did I know the Angels themselves wouldn’t be paying much attention to their play this weekend. Yikes!

The baseball/life parallel was a beautiful thing on Friday night. We cleaned the house and I baked a dark chocolate cake. Making this cake is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. If you cream the butter and sugar long enough and take a sufficiently light, careful hand with the folding, you have an almost ethereally light, fluffy cake. Fold too quickly or too long, or outright mix the batter, and you develop the glutens to the point where you basically have bread. A nice calm no doubter of a game was just what the doctor ordered.

Melt the chocolate, blend, combine. Vernon Wells hits a homerun. Dry ingredients, buttermilk, whipped egg whites, gently fold. Ervin Santana going strong. Back until the cake is springy to the touch. Double play to finish the game. Howie to Aybar to Tumbo. Light that baby up. And now let’s finish mopping the floor. Excellent. Great Friday! And can I just say that between their humorous sign campaign response to the sign stealing accusations and their classy welcome for Vernon Wells, I love Blue Jays fans!

Saturday, however, the whole baseball/life parallel thing started to suck. Big time. Yes, I needed to chop and prep all of the pizza toppings. Yes, I needed to make the double vanilla, cream cheese icing for the cake and that involves whipping thick ingredients. Yes, Seth had to work so I was on my own and frustrations from the game lead me to chop and whip with greater…hmmm…shall we say efficiency. But come on Angels, I didn’t need that kind of help! I’m strong lady. I can chop onions, mushrooms, garlic and the like in a good mood, would have preferred to in fact.

I was concerned about this particular Jered Weaver start heading into the game anyway. He doesn’t pitch as well when circumstances muck up the rotation. Just like in May, when illness delayed his start, Weaver seemed to come back throwing too hard and with less control after his extra rest. And for a guy who lives by pinpoint precision against a hot hitting Blue Jays team on yet another day where the Angels own bats stood still? My recipes were on the right track. This recipe, however, was one for disaster. And Pineiro’s two innings on top of it all? Ouch. Clearly he’s not working anything out in the bullpen. Is he injured? Is it psychological? Would Dave Duncan consent to maybe call and whisper to him over the phone? I got nothin’. But then I had the birthday party and a house full of people, wine to pour, pizzas on the grill and a really great time, all perfect distractions from any thoughts of Angels.

So, Sunday this would have to end right? We capped off a thoroughly decadent late night with a thoroughly decadent morning – sleeping in until first pitch and then lounging on the sofa to watch a good match up with a breakfast of leftover prosciutto pizza with blue cheese, apples and caramelized onions. And the beginning was great. Torii Hunter’s homerun. Dan Haren was dealing. Peter Bourjos smokin’ down the base paths. But it was not to be. After the game I could see one more parallel. I had a really happy Saturday night, and I was feeling it Sunday morning to a certain extent, hence the lounging. But some of the Angels and Mike Scioscia, love him though I do, must have had an even happier Saturday night. How else do you explain Bobby and Trumbo’s base running in the 9th?  Or Scioscia’s decision to go to Fernando Rodney in the 10th?

The parallels, however, have to end now. See, Seth and I are going to be enjoying pizza, cake and other party leftovers easily until Thursday, but the Angels better not be keeping too many leftovers from their weekend. Torii’s hitting streak. Bobby’s reemerging bat. The fielding perhaps. The fact that Jered Weaver is such a stud, that even after giving up eight runs in less than five innings on Saturday, he still has the lowest E.R.A. and the third lowest WHIP in the majors. These are good leftovers to keep. But the lack of clutch, the inconsistent bats and the scary bullpen moments? Leave them on the road. The Rangers are coming to town for a four game series and with this disastrous road trip the Angels are four games behind them. This isn’t the last stand of the season right here, right now but it sure is time to get serious about winning again.

Mistakes Can Be Costly. Let’s Try to Be Accurate in Our Work.

I was eight years old when I caught gymnastics fever. It was the summer of 1984. Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. Mary Lou Retton was America’s sweetheart. And NBC must have re-aired the Nadia movie 10 times that summer. My sister and I begged and pleaded so, of course, my parents let us start lessons. The first gym wasn’t what we expected. They never let us do any real tricks, we couldn’t use the whole beam, only the part over the giant fluffy mat and we vaulted onto a large upholstered box. However they had large pit full of foam squares, just like in the Nadia movie, and a lot of the kids taking classes there were “Industry,” including the younger siblings of a then rising sitcoms and afterschool specials star with a child-of-hippies first name and a state capitol for a last name, so you’d better bet classes were expensive.

Eventually we switched to youth classes at the local community college. No Nadia pit “full of bouncy things” but plenty of encouragement to try difficult tricks at a reasonable price. And the gym in which the classes were held announced it’s more serious work ethic when you walked in the door with a large poster of a young gymnast in the middle of a giant swing on the uneven bars with her toes just brushing the floor, a major points deduction, and the saying I used for my headline: Mistakes Can Be Costly. Let’s Try to Be Accurate in Our Work.

Watching the Angels play this season, this poster comes to mind fairly often. Mind you, the team is doing well in many ways and they’re only two games out of first, even with the last two losses. But when the Angels do lose, all too often, they’ve really beat themselves with some sort of costly mistake. Walking batters, sometimes several in a row. Errors on what would have been the third out. Meatball pitches. Base running gaffes. Swinging for the fences to the point of detriment when a nice hard knock into the gap would suffice. Mental vacations at inopportune fielding moments…I could go on, but you get the general idea.

All teams have these moments, make these mistakes. But, for whatever reason, timing is not on the Angels side this season and when mistakes are made, they quickly prove costly with even greater frequency than normal. And just what can a team do to prevent this situation? Nothing, other than work harder to keep the mistakes in check. This is why I love this particular poster so much that it has stayed with me all these years. It doesn’t yell, or point fingers and it doesn’t suggest for a second that anyone can live an errorless existence. It just states a simple fact, mistakes can be costly, and suggests a valuable action plan. I’ve already seen improvements in the Angels play this season. If they can avoid more of the costly errors, mental and otherwise, in the next few weeks, I expect they will still be playing in October.

*     *     *     *     *

So, were there any high points we can take away from the series in the Bronx? Yes, indeedy. Dan Haren for one. He pitched most of a great game (Bringing in Fernando Rodney against Jeter with two on and two out was a moronic decision. Coaching staff, see previous conversation about mental errors.) and was an excellent mentor to young Garrett Richards, chatting him up and keeping him positive after his first game. Richards himself. Yes, he had a terrible first inning and a terrible fourth inning. But the kid fresh up from AA making his major league debut in the Bronx also pitched two 1, 2, 3 innings and a third near 1, 2, 3, inning (except for that little solo homerun thing, D’oh), striking out Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in the process. Was it an awe inspiring debut? No, but I do think the kid shows promise. Tyler Chatwood’s debut was much the same and he was another bright spot in this series.

Angels bats were a frequent high point – Bobby Abreu, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo all hit well throughout the series and others had hits. If only they could have hit consistently with runners in scoring position throughout the series, this could have been a different post. But at least the fought back this series. No, we scored our three runs in the first two innings and couldn’t possibly score any more until tomorrow. That was a positive…that and two homeruns off Mariano Rivera. Hey, we take our giggles were we can. 😉   Angels fielding was also stellar this series and errorless, except for that one really, really big one…see previous conversation. *sigh*

4th of July Win and Nothing But Angels Fireworks Ever Since

Mariano Rivera gracefully bows out of the All-Star Game due to injury and fire balling rookie closer Jordan Walden is named to the AL team in Rivera’s place, joining his equally deserving teammates Jered Weaver and Howie Kendrick. Yay! Peter Bourjos injures his hamstring. Oh no!! (Ouch! It didn’t look season ending or anything but it sure looked painful.) And Angels #1 prospect, 19-year old Mike Trout gets called up from AA to take Bourjos’ place for a few days. Yay!?! The Angels were only a game out of first. Yay! The Angels were tied for first. Yay!!! The Angels are a game out of first again. Eh. Wow, get busy and take a few days away from blogging and the whole world changes!

Well, as excited as I am about Trout debuting – and I wish him one heck of a great game tonight! – I understand this is a temporary move until Bourjos is back on his wing-shoed feet and I think that’s probably for the best, unless he just takes off on a tear that is. Trout is 19, after all, and the outfield is really clicking the way it is. So while we wait for this excitement to unfold in a few moments, I’m going to wade back into blogging – after four days off, the horror! 😉 – by posting my photos from the 4th of July game against the Tigers.

Yes, I went to the ballgame again. *big, huge grin* As I mentioned a few posts ago, I am in the middle of a borderline embarrassment of baseball riches in terms of game tickets right now. We have tickets to tomorrow’s game and Dierks Bentley concert. And, no, Dierks is not the only one that wants to have some fun tonight…er…tomorrow night. And then, next weekend we will enjoy our Bay Area baseball extravaganza. Crazy fun!

Catcher Jeff Mathis and the evening’s starter Joel Pineiro warm up in left field right in front of our seats. I am developing a wallet healthy love for the first row of the upper deck but nothing beats field seats, in my opinion, when you can find someone willing to part with them cheaply. This 4th of July, the stadium was packed, almost as packed as during the Freeway Series earlier in the weekend, and the fans were fantastic. We happened to be sitting near a lot of Tigers fans, all of them pretty cool. Most were on vacation but the couple in our row just moved to Southern California last week. Their new diehard Angels fan neighbor brought them to the game to welcome them to California and give them a taste of home at the same time. All three individuals were really, really nice and I adore their story. Now that’s being neighborly:

Catcher Jeff Mathis and starting pitcher Joel Pineiro warm up in left field before the game as the flag bearers move into position. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Ah the dreaded, and ever hilarious rookie reliever backpacks! We caught the Tigers heading toward the pen at the beginning of the game but couldn’t get a good shot of the Angels rookies until after the game. Apparently the Tigers prefer pink Hello Kitty for their small dose of rookie humiliation while they Angels go for the slightly more dignified blue. Hey, the Cookie Monster backpack Bobby Cassevah is sporting is actually pretty cool. And, yes, that is our All Star closer modeling the Tinkerbell backpack. Excellent sports all, really, and at least neither team played the Beiber card. I don’t know why all of the baseball hazing traditions amuse me so, but they do:

A Tigers rookie reliever sports the dreaded pink Hello Kitty backpack. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Bobby "Cookie Monster" Cassevah and Jordan "Tinkerbell" Walden sport the rookie hazing backpacks on their way out of the bullpen. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu greet Victor Martinez before the game begins. I like baseball players to be fiercely competitive once the game begins, but I enjoy seeing player fraternization before the game. I like the idea that a lot of the guys are friends outside of the game across team lines. And from what I have seen before Angels games Torii, Bobby and Erick Aybar have friends on every single team in the majors. Besides, aren’t the truly competitive more apt to go all out when competing against friends than just random folks they know in passing?:

Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu greet the Tigers Victor Martinez before the game. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Like all MLB teams who played at home on Monday, the Angels had special extended pre-game festivities in honor of the 4th of July. I love spending the 4th at a baseball game. It’s a wonderful celebration of so many of the things about our country that are great. Last year, after the 4th of July Angels game, my husband told me that was the most fun he had ever had on the 4th of July. And that says a lot because he’s an Eagle Scout who spent a lot of great 4ths backpacking and kayaking in truly gorgeous parts of the country:

A military color guard before the National Anthem. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

A flag covers the outfield during the Star Spangled Banner. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The "Spirit of Ronad Reagan" a Boeing C-17 flies over the scoreboard after the National Anthem. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Joel Pineiro took the mound for the Angels and pitched a great game – one run on five hits and three walks. Pineiro only had one strike out, but the sinkerball appeared to be sinking which was a good sign. This has been tricky for Pineiro this season, largely because of injuries I feel. So less hits, less walks, no homeruns and only one run. Pineiro is definitely getting back on a good track:

Joel Piniero on the mound. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Tigers pitcher Charlie Furbush takes the mound in his Major League debut. (And don’t think I didn’t giggle a little when I typed that. Sometimes I’m still 12.) Regardless of the score, Furbush showed promise. He was not easily flustered and he didn’t make very many mistakes…the Angels were just able to take advantage of each mistake he did make, a nice change for a team so often baffled by debuting pitchers:

Rookie Charlie Furbush takes the mound for the Tigers. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter “welcomes” Charlie Furbush to the big leagues, knocking a pitch into the bullpens for a one-run homerun. Vernon Wells also went yard in this game and the Angels offense was generally nice and present:

Torii Hunter on the verge of "welcoming" Charlie Furbush to the big leagues. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Goofy shenanigans in the Bullpen in the second inning. While I would love to know who said what that had Trevor Bell playing “hear no evil”, that will never happen. So I will have to content myself with this wonderfully silly photo:

Reliever Trevor Bell hears no evil as the bullpen gets up to some shenanigans...oh to be a fly on the wall. 🙂 Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Peter Bourjos takes a deep lead off third as Erick Aybar takes a swing in the 3rd inning. This shot immediately preceded one of the odder occurrences of the game. The umps charged Furbush with a balk and awarded Bourjos home plate. Personally, I hate the balk call. I have no problem with pitchers being a little deceptive and think that the call is never enforced consistently among the umpires anyway. But, hey, we’ll take the run. Bourjos was on a mission this inning. He had just stolen second and third easily and was bound and determined to score even without the balk call:

Peter Bourjos takes a deep lead off third as Erick Aybar takes a swing. Bourjos would score on a balk on the next pitch. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo moves to catch the throw down in the 4th as Jhonny Peralta moves back to first base. Peralta was a little tricky for Pineiro, accounting for two of the five hits as well as, on this hit, the Tigers only RBI.

Mark Trumbo moves to recieve the throw down as Jhonny Peralta moves back to the bag. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Peter Bourjos makes another great catch. What, can’t you tell its Fleet Pete? 😉 No, this isn’t the highlight reel game changing catch in the 6th. That photo looks even worse. But it was another good catch. I am crossing my fingers and hoping Bourjos heals quickly and thoroughly because he is something to watch in center and his bat has been great lately too. No, the reason the photo is blurry isn’t because Fleet Pete moves too fast…though I suppose that if I’d thought this through a little better I could have passed it off that way. 😉 No, basically, getting good action shots from a distance with powerful zoom is a little like firing a rifle. You have to have excellent breathing control. In fact, again much like a rifle, it’s best if you can hold your breath, hold your body perfectly still and lightly press the shutter button. I am pretty good at this for most plays, but when it comes to amazing catches and also double plays, I get way too excited to hold my breath and keep still:

Peter Bourjos makes another dynamite catch in center...what, you can't tell it's him? 😉 Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo successfully steals second in the 6th, sliding under second baseman Ryan Raburn’s tag. Trumbo has joked in several interviews that he is “not as fast as the other kids” and he’s not…when you’re talking about Bourjos. But all jokes aside, Trumbo can move and he’s a smart base runner:

Mark Trumbo slides under second baseman Ryan Raburn's tag. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Angels fans stand as reliever Michael Kohn goes for the final out of the game. See, Southern California fans can be passionate! We (or rather they, not my husband and certainly not I) may spend way too much time playing with stupid beach balls in the stands, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care. Kohn did a great job in a non-close situation, getting the last three outs while handily preventing the game from becoming a close situation. And, yes, the Kohn puns are pretty much boundless at the Big A. You Kohn do it! InKohnceivable! Koooooohhhhhhnnnnnnn! And so on. Seriously, fans have scores of them:

Michael Kohn prepares to strike out Alex Avila, the game's last out. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And, of course, what would 4th of July be without a heavy dose of simulated rockets’ red glare? If the Angels had kept the fireworks show in the same location as last season’s display, our seats would have been some of the best in the house. As it was we had the foul pole in the way, but the fireworks show was still pretty darned cool. This season the 4th wasn’t a get away day for the Angels so the team, the office staff and their families were able to come sit out on the infield in front of the Angels dugout and enjoy the show with the fans. It sounds silly, but it was cute to catch a glimpse of our tough players just being “dad”. I think it would have been disrespectful to take photos of that, especially for a blog. However, Seth took some great shots of the fireworks show itself and this was the best one:

Fourth of July fireworks over the scoreboard. Angels vs. Tigers, July 4, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Angels Earn 2011 Freeway Series Bragging Rights…and How!

Interleague has always been good for the Angels. This year the team won every Interleague series and finished by taking two from the Dodgers this weekend at the big A. Friday’s game was the Angels sole loss in this series, proof perhaps that a day of rest is not always in order. The team’s level of play across the board prompted me to comment on FaceBook “The Revolution may not be televised, but the Zombie Apocalypse just aired on Fox Sports West.” But they were back in fine form Saturday and Sunday, with a dominant performance against Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and a tightly contested duel between Ervin Santana and Chad Billingsley on Sunday.

Seth and I had tickets to Saturday’s game, good seats in the club section just on the foul side of the left field pole. It’s amazing what folks will part with cheap these days. 🙂 Anyway, the energy was high and the fan interaction was a lot of fun, one reason I love Freeway Series games. Our seats were in front of three suites – one with Dodgers fans sandwiched between two filled with Angels fans – and intermingled with  mix of fans of both teams. The suite dwellers were the fun, loud side of thoroughly hammered and formed the loudest component of both teams cheering/mostly friendly trash talk sections. The funniest part was after a one-two-three inning for Weaver when the Angels were already well ahead. The Dodgers suite switched from yelling “Let’s Go Dodgers” to “Let’s Go Yankees” of all things in perfect unison. They earned a lot of laughter and claps of approval from the Angels crowd. Who doesn’t appreciate a good sport?

Jered Weaver and Clayton Kershaw warm up in the bullpens just before first pitch. This photo shows off the side by side terraced bullpens I spoke of earlier. Seth and I did take the camera to the game, but some absolute dork left the memory stick at home in her computer. She had long brown hair and freckles…oh, yeah…it was me. J So there aren’t as many from the game and these photos are not as good as some of our others. To get the good photos, you have to have enough memory to snap several shots of a play or an at bat.

Clayton Kershaw and Jered Weaver warm up before the game in the Angels side by side bullpens. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jered Weaver warms up before the game. Weaver pitched a dominant game, allowing only four hits and one run in eight innings. At first it didn’t look like he was going to get much run support, as usual. But in the end the guys gave him downright gaudy seven runs. Hey, I could get used to gaudy and I’ll bet our pitchers could too.

Jered Weaver warms up with Jeff Mathis before the game. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Garret Anderson throws out the first pitch. As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration Angels alumni will throw out every first pitch this season. Recent retiree Garret Anderson threw out the first pitch on Saturday and I was thrilled to be on hand to watch this Angels great, still the holder of eight different team batting titles, accept the honor. Fernando Valenzuela threw out the first pitch on Friday, a controversial choice among Angels fans because he only played for the Angels for one year. I, personally liked the idea of including Fernando because of what he meant to baseball in California and how his rising star helped show off the considerable talents of our own skipper, Mike Scioscia, when he was a young catcher trying to earn the everyday role. Besides, I think it was a nice touch on the part of the Angels front office to choose Angels alumni for this series who also had Dodger ties, underscoring the long, intertwined history between our two teams.

Angels great Garret Anderson throws out the first pitch. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Hank Conger chats with Jordan Walden and the bullpen and Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz address the relievers before the game. One, I like these photos my husband took from our vantage just above and in front of the bullpen because you can see some of the personalities and bonding in our bullpen this season. But also, this series, and indeed for most of interleague, the bullpen flat out rocked and I wanted to take a minute to recognized their important contribution.

Hank Conger chats with Jordan Walden in the bullpen before the game begins. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Rich Thompson is all ears as Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz address the bullpen before the game begins. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Jeff Mathis leads off of second base after knocking a double into left field. This series was marked by unexpected but extremely welcome contributions at the plate from unlikely sources. Russell Branyan knocked in the winning run plus on with a two-run no doubter on Sunday and on Saturday it was Jeff Mathis with a solid double putting him in position to score the Angels first run of the night. He also had a single and a nice sacrifice bunt (and a badly failed sacrifice bunt, but we’re only talking positive here.)

Jeff Mathis leads off second past Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon after hitting a solid double into left field. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Vernon Wells crossing the plate and celebrating with Mark Trumbo and Erick Aybar after another timely homerun. I am really enjoying his bat right now!! I managed to catch Wells doing his point to the sky as he crosses the plate and I love the exchange between Wells and Trumbo. It looks like Trumbo is saying “Dude, what was that?! How far did that go?!”

Vernon Wells crosses home plate after a two-run homerun. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo and Erick Aybar congratulate Vernon Wells on his homerun while Alberto Callaspo and Mike Scioscia wait to clap him on the back. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Behold the power of the rally manicure! I fidget. When I’m writing, when I’m resting, when I’m watching the game from home, just whenever. Sometimes the end result is useful, like folded laundry or and organized bill file and sometimes it’s just really silly, like random nail art for work or, you know, the ballgame. But I got more compliments on the silly things Saturday that I figured I would post them for posterity and/or mockery…and hey, if I were the sort to be superstitious about such things, they did win didn’t they? 🙂

Behold the power of the Rally Manicure! Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Doesn’t everyone love a win?! The Angels celebrate after the game.

Dan Haren, Jordan Walden, Bobby Wilson and DH Bobby Abreu congratulate the fielders after the Angels win. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The Angels and Angels coaching staff celebrate after the win. Angels vs. Dodgers, July 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And in news outside of baseball, this weekend further rocked because Seth and I got out on the bikes a lot. I have come a long way since Memorial Day weekend and was able to ride in the rough again…okay, it was mild rough, but still. We took this trail on Saturday and again this morning. Go go Gadget knee. 🙂

Nature trails inside the Santa Fe Dam recreation area. July 4, 2011 Photo by This is a very simple game...