Mention the Angels 2012 bullpen to a group of fans and you’ll get quite the array of reactions. Cringing. Anger. Shaking fists. Tears. Laughter…of the crazed sort, mind you. And, occasionally, nostalgia. (After all, fans did dub the bullpen of 1970s, the Arson Squad because, when called upon, they tended to have the opposite effect of putting out the fire…and that’s putting it mildly.) And those reactions are absolutely justified. Despite a few bright spots and clutch performances, the Angels 2012 bullpen had 22 blown saves to their…um…credit, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL. Suffice to say, heading into the offseason, bullpen help needed to be one of Jerry Dipoto’s top priorities.
Dipoto and the Angels took a positive step Wednesday in signing Ryan Madson. Assuming he returns to his usual quality form following recovery from Tommy John surgery, having Madson’s strong arm in the 8th or 9th inning should improve the Angels ability to hold leads. This deal is potentially a great start towards fixing the bullpen for the 2013 season and, fortunately, Dipoto seems to see it that way too, hinting that he has a few more bullpen plans up his sleeves during the interviews surrounding Madson’s signing.
Cautiously pleased though I was with the deal, it didn’t do a whole lot to ease the tension I’ve been feeling about the Angels roster since Dipoto started letting players go. Despite the disappointment of 2012, I just didn’t think the Angels needed that much work. So many of 2012’s woes – Albert Pujols’ painfully slow start, back troubles hobbling Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, injuries and slumps and tigers and bears, oh my! – seemed like such random, one-time only streaks of terrible luck that, in my mind, the 2012 Angels should have treated the offseason much like the 2011 Braves did, as a chance to rest, heal, recover and not do anything drastic from a personnel standpoint. In my mind, the Angels just needed to fix the bullpen, sign Zack Greinke, lose Ervin Santana (because his awesomely nasty vs. “just a bit outside” pitching mood swings aren’t swinging nearly often enough or well enough to the positive end of the spectrum to justify putting up with the negative these days) keep almost everyone else, smile and wait for pitchers and catchers to report.
Getting rid of Torii Hunter and Dan Haren (whose bad year was truly uncharacteristic and, I think, won’t be a repeat occurrence in 2013) left me with feelings of deep unease and a sense of “where do we go from here?” I understand that the idea is to save enough money to sign Zack Greinke but that just seems like an awful lot of eggs in one highly expensive and only possibly attainable basket. I mean, even if the Dipoto is successful in landing Greinke, what about the rest of the starting rotation and the hole-ridden offense?
Trading Jordan Walden to the Braves for Tommy Hanson on Friday helped me feel a bit better. Hey, the Angels now have a for-certain 3-man rotation with one potential 4th that doesn’t scare the hell out of me – Jerome Williams. Progress! I liked Walden but he really doesn’t seem to have the temperament to maintain control and get outs once batters start hitting him…and then the pre-glasses Wild Thing emerges and things get a little scary. I think the addition of Madson is a safer bet. As for Hanson, I’m a little concerned about his back issues last season, and less concerned about his shoulder issues two season ago which seem to have healed. Basically, between that and the velocity drop offset by the increasingly nasty delivery, it feels like the Angels traded for Dan Haren’s younger, more economical self. But Haren worked out very well indeed for the Angels for the better part of two seasons so I am cautiously optimistic about this deal.
Now the team just needs another starter (Greinke, hopefully. If that won’t absolutely break the bank.), to fill at least one key hole in the starting lineup, oh, and adding a little bit more stabilization in the bullpen couldn’t hurt either. No problem, right? Yeah, there went that breathing easier thing again. Yes, I know, I know. It’s only December 3rd. The Winter Meetings are just getting started Monday morning and there’s a lot of offseason left — a lot, a lot even. Anything is possible…but the pickings are slimmer this year and I just can’t shake the feeling that we created too many holes to fill in an attempt to land one key piece that would have only just filled or offset the preexisting holes anyway. Oh well, bring on the Winter Meetings.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
So let me get this straight. Tyler Chatwood is batting 1.000 (In addition to pitching a great game!). Jered Weaver is a beast even with precious little run support – six punch outs and 20 first pitch strikes on 28 batters! Torii Hunter is the run support – both RBIs on Monday were Torii! The bats are waking up, including Vernon Wells’ – he’s batting .292 with seven RBIs and three homeruns on this road trip so far! And Maicer Izturis is the Rally Monkey. Well, it sounds like everything is working out alright to me.
The Angels redeemed themselves against the Mets in game three and then, in their next stop on the Four Corners Road Trip, went on to win game one against the Marlins. Things seem to be falling back into place again in the sense that each component of the Angels’ game has been strong enough that some of the parts are able to take the slack for another part, when that part fails. No offense on Monday? Weaver’s pitching, the bullpen and the defense carried the day. Scary bullpen on Sunday? No problem. Again, starting pitching, this time Chatwood’s, and the offense, also including Chatwood not to mention Wells, Peter Bourjos, Jeff Mathis and several others – built up enough of a lead that it all worked out. Keep it up guys and we might have ourselves a pretty good streak going!
However, I was amused to look at headlines on MLB.com last night and discover that somehow, we may have beat the Marlins but somehow we also lost to the Braves last night:
Hmmmm…what exactly are they saying here? That Tim Hudson is so good, he single handedly beat the Blue Jays and a team the Braves weren’t even playing? Or is this a Freudian commentary on the Angels chronic lack of run support? The headline was corrected this morning, and possibly even moments after I noticed it. But notice it I did, and it was too funny to to share with you all…and now I sincerely hope MLB never takes a comedic look at the typos and crimes against commas I have committed on this blog, LOL.
Bud Selig Tells Frank McCourt “No” and “Bad Dog” and Rubs His Nose in it…So He Learns
Actually, as you all probably know, it went a bit beyond that. The deal with Fox that Bud Selig rejected yesterday was the last possible call from the governor that Frank McCourt had any hope of hearing. And even though it makes things a little rougher still for the Dodgers right now, I could not be happier. Selig, as quoted in the MLB.com article really said it best: Critically, the transaction is structured to facilitate the further diversion of Dodgers assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt. Given the magnitude of the transaction, such a diversion of assets would have the effect of mortgaging the future of the franchise to the long-term detriment of the club and its fans.
As a baseball fan, and as a lady who rooted passionately for the Dodgers in childhood, the last few seasons under the Mommy Dearest like affections of the McCourts have made me ill. The Dodgers are one of the most storied franchises in baseball and their fans are great people. I may give my friends and family good-natured crap and about leaving the game before the 8th inning, but Dodger fans are a passionate, knowledgeable, blue-bleeding bunch and they do not deserve the past few years’ treatment any more than the players do. The only hope the Dodgers have of full and lasting recovery from this particular abusive relationship, is if the McCourts are no longer in the picture.
So, citizens of Dodgertown, (hey, I get your emails and read your billboards from time to time) I tip my glass to you with the sincerest hopes that this is the beginning of much, much better things to come for you. Perhaps even eventual ownership by Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser, which is the rumor I most hope is true. My glass is full of coffee, mind you, because it’s the middle of the day and all that. But, really, it’s the thought that counts! I even wish you a long and fruitful winning streak…starting in about two weeks. 😉
Post Tuesday Game Edit:
Okay. Granted the Marlins had just lost 11 in a row. Rationally there were going to win one eventually. But why do I feel like the Angels are the slump buster team of the American League, temporarily on loan to the National League? Overreacting? Just a tad. Which is why I typically don’t post immediately following a game. We’ll get ’em tomorrow. But still! Five to two? Shut out until the ninth inning? Really? Guys. When I talked about keeping it up and getting a streak going, this is pretty much the antithesis of what I was talking about…and by pretty much, I mean exactly.
After working way too many hours the last few weeks and finding out that the Amgen Tour of California was due to race right down our street, my husband and I fled both crowds and responsibility for the weekend up the coast to the Paso Robles Wine Festival. Originally I was going to be a good girl and skip this one, but who am I to argue with what was clearly fate…or at least the whim of Amgen tour schedulers? Regardless, I spent the weekend roaming wine country and Saturday evening under the stars on the patio of one of my favorite wineries, drinking great wine, enjoying street style tacos and chatting it up with the locals…and joining the band and several other guests in a silly mood in a rousing rendition of Stairway to Heaven in “honor” of the Rapture that wasn’t, but that’s another story.
We always enjoy great conversations at these events. Wine people, not unlike baseball people, really run the gamut in terms of professions, life experiences, ages, backgrounds and outside interests. When you get a lot of us in a relaxed environment, enjoying that libation for which we all share an affinity, the conversation begins to flow as freely as the wine from the bottles and combines the diverse characteristics of all present, much like the rich Rhone blends for which this region is becoming famous.
So, while I missed watching Saturday’s blown lead and all of Sundays heroics, I did observe and enjoy the following:
No matter how subtle you think you being when you check the score on your phone a few times over the course of the evening – even if you keep your expression neutral through a Herculean effort when your starter starts blowing his lead – someone is going to notice. Furthermore, that someone will then more than likely ask the score of his or her own game, thus providing the beginnings of a nice conversation. So, really, checking the score is not anti-social behavior…really, really.
When baseball fans get to talking about our favorite thing, our faces light up in a beautiful smile. We just can’t help it. Like the Professor from Cal Poly SLO who grew up in L.A. as he reminisced about Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and times when L.A. baseball was a brand new idea. Or his wife, telling us about her nephew is a hot stuff potential draft pick out if UCSB. Or the Coast Union baseball players apparently freshly returned from kicking some serious butt down in Los Angeles…and many more. All fantastic stories to hear.
An Angels fan in Giants country gets less hisses these days, go figure. 😉 2002 is apparently no longer Too soon! Too soon!
It is a small, small world after all. I was chatting with the Winemaker at Bodega De Edgar, the gentleman who makes the Spanish varietals I’ve waxed poetic on this blog about before, and a couple of other guests and the subject of baseball came up – and I didn’t bring it up, ha! They asked if Seth and I were Dodger fans. No, we’re Angel fans and then the vintner narrowly avoided a cartoon character worthy spit take. Do you by any chance have a blog? Why yes I do. Okay, because I have been trying to figure out who this lady could be that blogs about the Angels and my wine for a few weeks now. How funny and random is that? I could not stop laughing. And, ha, I mentioned the name of the winery again so, Edgar, now I’ll come up on your next Google search too. 😉
If you are a younger sibling, you will never escape being called by your older brother or sister’s name, especially if your parents follow the tradition of giving everyone a name with the same first initial, like my parents did. Not even if you grow up to make millions of dollars. Not even if you are a Major League Baseball player. As we head into this evening’s match-up with the A’s, the number of national media folks I have heard call Jered Weaver Jeff makes me crack up. Seriously, on MLB tonight, on ESPN, it’s crazy. It does make me wonder though, does Mom Weaver ever do the “Jeff?! Jered?! Oh you know who I’m talking to!” thing?
Now that was the way to come back from a bad couple of weeks. Nine runs on ten hits to beat the Braves 9 to 0. Ervin Santana pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout and was just plain nasty, striking out seven and walking no one, throwing both his slider and breaking ball for strikes. Not a single Brave made it to second base. It was beautiful.
Our bats were back and the rookies in particular were in fine form. Mark Trumbo had a fantastic game with a couple of stellar plays at first, a three-run homerun and two additional hits, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Alexi Amarista went hitless but continues to impress in the field with several great plays and one leaping catch that did not look possible…until he did it. Hank Conger had a great night behind the plate and Peter Bourjos (okay, technically no longer a rookie, but only just barely) was able to put those quick feet to use yet again in center and on the base paths, with one hit, one hit by pitch and two runs scored.
The veterans were not left out of the fun either. Torii Hunter, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu all had hits. Torii had a great night in right field and even managed to make fun of his own blunder against the Mariners. He pretended, quite convincingly, to lose the ball in the twilight on a routine pop-up before catching it effortlessly, but not before frightening Santana, Bourjos and Mike Scioscia. Well played Torii! We were cracking up over here.
Oh, and I have decided that Ervin Santana is Hobbes. Outside of the game, he is charming, funny and downright sweet seeming in interviews. The term affable comes to mind. Much like the warm fuzzy side of Calvin’s imaginary companion. On the mound with his game face on, however, Santana’s face settles into an intense predatory smile and, though his eyes are completely hidden in the shadow of his cap, I always expect them to glow from underneath, like Hobbes in pouncing mode with the opposing team’s batters in the role of the unsuspecting Calvin just home from school. I love it!
So, this week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: grilled turkey and brie sandwiches topped with apples, pickled red onions and baby greens tossed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and accompanied by Rio Seco’s (the baseball winery) MVP reserve, a flavorful Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot blend perfectly themed for the evening. It was delicious but, even better, it was a great game! Keep it up gentlemen, this could be the beginning of a wonderful trend!
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I realize that I am in the minority on MLBlogs, but I actually like Interleague play…and not just because the Angels usually rock it. I understand it’s not traditional. I understand that many of the rivalries are manufactured. I understand it can lead to uneven match-ups across a given division, but I don’t care. It’s just plain fun to watch the kind of crazy scenarios we played out as kids – the Angels catching balls against the backdrop of Wrigley’s ivy, the Dodgers dealing with the green monster – come to life.
Part of my attitude may come from the fact that Interleague play developed during the period of my baseball discontent and self-imposed exile from the sport. I didn’t watch it develop like the rest of you. I just checked back into the game in 2004 and *poof* we have Interleague play now. I am enough of a purist that, when I came back to baseball, I hated the new three division league structure, I hated the addition of wild card teams to the playoffs and I hated the whole stupid pitch count thing, but I enjoyed Interleague play. Go figure. Incidentally, I have come to accept three divisions and wild card teams, though it happened slowly and grudgingly, but I still do not like pitch counts and overspecialization among pitchers at all.