Welcome to I-5 Bias: the 2014 Freeway Series Edition! This post marks the happy return of what has been a fun, occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Matt and I were originally inspired to start this column by a huge shift in attention to the AL and NL West two years ago. Things have been up and down for my Angels and his Dodgers since then, but this season! Oh. My. Wow! This season!! Suffice to say, even though I’ve been in a busy real life enforced semi-retirement from blogging, when Matt asked me if I wanted to come back and do a Freeway Series I-5 Bias, both teams are so amazing, how could I turn that down? So, here we are once again to share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? No, forget that. This season more than ever, it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted by our teams’ current records, the relatively new season schedule format, that thorny little Dodgers TV problem, and the ensuing fan and media commentary on it all, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snotty ones), please ask away:
The Angels and Dodgers both find themselves as strong playoff contenders in heated division races that are likely to come down to the wire. What has impressed you about both squads this season? What do you think of their chances in the postseason?
Matt Says: Well with the Dodgers I would have to say what impressed me about them is their starting pitching rotation. Having Kershaw Greinke and Ryu pitching is dangerous and always set the Dodgers up to win but now you have (Had) Beckett when he’s on it. The offensive serge that the Dodgers are on is really helping them as well. Even though the Dodgers got off to a really slow start it seems like they’re starting to find their groove and at the right time too. After sweeping the Giants and Braves they’re making it known that they are starting to get their groove and when they’re on a role then they’re a very dangerous team. As far as the Angels I think they finally have their complete game finally figured out. They’re absolutely deadly with their bats and they managed to make some moves to improve their bullpen especially with the addition of Hudson Street, Joe Thatcher, and Jason Grilli. What impressed me more is how Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Erick Aybar are hitting with Mike Trout as well as the impressive play of Kole Calhoun. I think they’ve finally made themselves known as a legit World Series Contender.
Kristen Says: The Angels offense makes me giddy. They’ve been so hit and miss – pun most assuredly intended – these last few seasons, especially for having so much potential. But this season? Wow!! And it isn’t just the usual suspects – of course Mike Trout, etc., have been impressive, but so have Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun and Erick Aybar. It’s nice to feel spoiled with hitting again. The starting rotation is not as impressive as it has been in years past, but they’re getting it done and I am impressed with the way Garrett Richards has really come into his own this year. But, even more than all of that, I love the guys’ fight. Walk off wins, come from behind wins and, yes, plenty of decisive wins as well – this season it feels like the Angels have the fight and the drive to pull a win from just about anything.
I know there has been some scoffing about the Angels chances in the postseason because the team doesn’t have the world beating pitching they’ve had in years past and, “as everyone knows” pitching wins championships. But, I have to say, the pitching is getting it done and in that scenario I actually think that the ability to fight for the win in close games is at least as important. And if you’ve ever followed this blog, you know that’s about as far as I will ever go in terms of making postseason predictions. I feel like there really is something to the old cliché about taking them one game at a time and, also, perhaps there’s a bit of superstition there for me as well.
As for the Dodgers, oddly enough I feel like I don’t know much about the team this season other than their strong record, and obvious highlights like Kershaw and Beckett’s no-hitters. In a normal season, Seth and I tune in to other games before each Angels game starts and after it finishes, frequently the Dodgers, although other AL West games feature highly as well. With nary a borrowed-from-the-original-minor-league-Angels LA logo in sight on TV most nights, I haven’t been able to follow the team.
August is unusually late in the season for the Freeway Series – normally we’re writing this column in June! What are your feelings on Interleague match ups this late in the season, just as the postseason races are really heating up?
Kristen Says: When the new schedule debuted, I thought I would hate having interleague play throughout the season, but as it turns out I don’t mind it. As long as we have interleague play – and I am one of the oddballs that actually looks forward to these unusual matchups, a baseball DC/Marvel crossover comic if you will – when we have it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the way the teams perform. And here’s the thing, even before the current interleague format, September wasn’t strictly reserved for divisional play anyway and, depending on how the season goes, and doubly so the moment the wild card came into play, it isn’t a given that the most exciting end of season games will be divisional games. As for the Freeway Series, specifically, happening in August? I think this is the best Freeway matchup we SoCal baseball fans have seen in years and, to me, having the games mean so much on top of it just makes it feel like one of those series I’m going to wind up describing as a privilege to watch. What’s the downside?
Matt Says: It’s really interesting but at the same time out of place. We’re usually seeing interleague teams as early as late May and now it’s all over the place. How ever I do believe with rivalries like the Freeway series being this late in the season it put more at steak. Right now you have two teams in the southland and down the I-5 from each other battling for their division and this game will have a lot on the line in terms of Postseason positioning. If you had a game like for example the Tigers against the Cardinals at this point of the season and both teams were in division races then the causal baseball/Sports fan would be attracted to this. At the same time it takes away the meaning of planning your summer seeing teams from the other league that you usually don’t see as much so I guess you can say I have mixed feeling about it. It has it’s positives and negatives.
What key players/match ups should fans watch for in this year’s Freeway Series?
Matt Says: Well as far as key players for the Dodgers (Not Named Yasiel Puig haha) one would have to be Matt Kemp. Kemp has been on an absolute tear as of late with the bat since the “drama” towards the trade deadline. Kemp been hampered with injuries left and right and I think he’s starting to come around now (.386 BA Post All-Star break). Another key player to keep an eye on for Los Angeles Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu, Who is predicted to be in the rotation during the series, is one of those pitchers where they give up a lot of hits but once he’s locked in then he’s on it. Why I have Ryu up here as a key player? Because as of last season (Rookie season) the Angels are batting .065 against him and if he can repeat his performance from their last meeting then it could be a long night for Anaheim. As far as Match-ups It would have to be the Dodgers starting pitching rotation against the Angels line-up. Monday and Tuesday being Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw this will be the first time the Angels see the two Post All-star break and with the game at Dodger Stadium (NL Park) it’ll be very interesting to see what line-up Scioscia puts out there. Then comes the games at Angels Stadium and the DH in effect you’ll have the struggling Dan Haren and Hyun Jin Ryu facing the Angels with their dangerous offense. I think that’ll be the key because you have one of Baseball’s best offenses in the Angels taking on one of baseball’s best pitching rotation in the Dodgers.
Kristen Says: Well, there’s this young kid called Mike Trout, and I understand he’s pretty fun to watch. 😉 I know, I know. Dodgers fans – and everyone else! – are already well aware. But you may not be as aware of the combination of Trout and Calhoun. They’re brilliant together in the outfield and a blast – often quite literally – to watch hit back to back in the lineup. I realize that my defensive bias is showing a bit here – this chick thinks homeruns are very nice indeed, but what she really digs is a perfectly executed 4-6-3 – but I will never tire of watching the fielding combination of Aybar, Kendrick and Albert Pujols. As for pitching matchups, I am most excited about Richards vs. Zack Greinke at the first game.
As you are probably aware, Time Warner and a number of cable providers are currently in a huge standoff over SportsNet LA, which controls the Dodgers’ TV rights, with the result that 70% of the Los Angeles Market is without Dodger games. As baseball fans and sports fans what are your thoughts on this issue and is this becoming a growing issue in sports television?
Kristen Says: As a fan of the game, this is such utter bullshit. I don’t usually swear on this blog, but let’s call a spade a spade. And, yes, I do see this as a growing problem in sports, not just in this sport. I think it really comes down to a question of what do teams owe their fans? The financial perks of lucrative, exclusive TV deals cannot be denied and often, though certainly not always, those benefits are reflected in the quality of the team the owners are able to put on the field. But if the fans can’t afford to see that team play? Or, as in this case, can’t have access to see them play even if they can afford it? Quite simply you have not done right by the fans. TV deal money needs to be balanced against fan access. If your team goes all the way to the playoffs and you don’t get to watch them until October, does the victory still count? Absolutely. But unless you were able to jump up and down in your living room, or at your local sports bar with friends, family and even random strangers for all of those key moments throughout the season, there is no way that victory tastes as sweet.
At the risk of being very long winded – I know, too late! – seasons like this Dodgers season make baseball fans, and I’m not talking about fair weather and bandwagon fans. No, I’m talking about the children of adult fans who grow up with the memory of a magical season, of the year their parents let them stay up late all summer just to watch the games because the team was that good, of the time they got to see their unshakable grandfather shed tears of joy over a long hoped for playoff berth…you know the kind of season I’m talking about because, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a baseball fan and largely because of memories just like these. I know that’s my story. Now, what if that magical season, the season, wasn’t broadcast on television where you could see it? Managers and GMs are always talking about the need to consider the bottom line importance of the intangibles. I think owners need to keep them in mind as well.
Matt Says: I think this whole thing is outrageous. You have a 70% of fans who can’t watch a game in their local market because cable companies don’t see eye to eye with each other on what price to pay to carry a channel? I think if you look or pay attention to this whole issue you have to say all parties involved are responsible. The Dodgers because they knew that when they took this deal the potential for fans not to see their team play and the Cable companies because all they’re doing more finger pointing than working to reach a possible deal for the people. For me I’m getting by just fine attending games and listening on radio but it would be better to actually get this channel that I’ve heard about. This is really becoming a growing issue in sports because it’s becoming about the money more than the fans being able to see their team play on TV. I mean you have the Pac-12 Network and their ongoing issue with DirecTV where people can’t see certain college games. You also had the issue with the Lakers channel when they moved to Time Warner and most of the market couldn’t see Laker games until three weeks into the season. I can list more examples but I think the readers get my point haha. Point being that while the money being pumped into a franchise to pay the players that can help and having their own network but at what price are fans paying? I think franchises look at least think about those who put the money into their pockets.
We joke about our I-5 bias, but the truth is that baseball has taken a huge shift out West. The Dodgers and Giants are battling it out for control of the NL West in a race where the loser is mostly likely to head to the playoffs anyway as a wild card team. The A’s and Angels currently hold the best records in baseball and are locked in a similar race in the AL West. In the AL, there’s even a chance that both wild card teams could come out of the AL West if the Mariners go on a tear. Would you say that having this many West Coast teams in such tight races is good for MLB?
Matt Says: Two years ago when we first did I-5 Bias I said that baseball’s power shift was swinging out west. Here we are with 5 teams out west gunning for the Postseason (Sorry Padres and Diamondbacks). The Dodgers, Giants, Angels, and A’s are making playoffs baring any big big collapse and the Mariners are right there in the thick of the wild card race. Yes this is great for the MLB right now because for once all the attention is out here. I think Baseball media’s east coast (And Midwest) bias is finally realizing that the excitement is really in the AL and NL West as well as the Wild Card races. To think this all triggered with the spending of the Angels, the ownership change with the Dodgers, the out of nowhere push of the A’s, the Giants as hard for me to say and now Robinson Cano and the Mariners. This is what we’ve been waiting for.
Kristen Says: Tight baseball races going down to the wire make a great season for everyone, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what division they occur in – though, this is definitely a case of the more the merrier. There’s a reason that, when I Google “the best night in baseball ever,” every single reference on the first page is to September 28, 2011. I didn’t even have a team still in the running at that point and I still agree with that title. As far as the West Coast more or less owning the wild card race this season, I’d say it’s a definite improvement over the idea that the then one wild card spot would almost certainly go to the second place East Coast team, and one step closer to true competitive parity, where those wild card berths would be hotly contested across all divisions right up until the end. Because as much as I love my West Coast teams, I think that would be the most fun for baseball fans in general.
Care to make any Freeway Series predictions?
Kristen Says: I hate predictions! *cue Stevie Wonder’s Superstition* But in this case I always make an exception because it’s the done thing. Under the old(er) schedule, when the Freeway Series was 6 games, I always came down in favor of my Angels because, well, history. Yes, I said it. Cope. But with only four games and the Angels once again down a key starting pitcher (C.J. Wilson came off the DL just in time for Tyler Skaggs to go on it), I predict the Angels and Dodgers will split the series.
Matt Says: I know I may sound biased here but I am indeed very realistic with this. I believe the Dodgers will take 3 of 4 in the Freeway series. The Dodgers have been playing very good baseball as of late during the past 8-9 games. Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig to name a few have been hitting pretty well after the All-Star break and the Dodgers pitching rotation falls into their favor especially against a team like the Angels. Also the Dodgers hold a good but slim lead over the Giants and they can’t afford to allow that lead to trim especially at this point of the season. The Angels on the other hand have been struggling on offense as of late and headed into the series with the Dodgers against that pitching staff is really something that Anaheim can’t afford to do. They’ll also be without Tyler Skaggs who has been pitching pretty well for them. Now honestly it could go either way and maybe even be a split like last season but I think the writing is on the wall for the Dodgers to take the series over their interleague rivals.
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.
Ace (ās) noun
1) A playing card, die, or domino having one spot or pip.
2) A military aircraft pilot who has destroyed five or more enemy aircraft.
3) An expert in a given field.
4) A starting pitcher who confounds opposing batters deep, deep into the game, giving his/her team everything they need to win.
5) A starting pitcher with the power to bring his/her team’s losing streak to a crashing halt with the power of one start.
Yeah, that last one’s my favorite definition too!!
Jered Weaver is having a Cy Young worthy season so far and currently leads the league in wins, E.R.A. and WHIP – though he is uncharacteristically lagging in strike outs – and if it weren’t for that one awful start in Texas his lead in each of those categories would be sizable indeed. Oh yeah, and then there is the little matter of that No Hitter. Jered Weaver is an Angels Ace and then some!
So what’s the problem? Well, as any Angels fan can tell you, going into the season we all thought our team had Weaver plus another 2.5 starting pitchers who could fit the definition of Ace – the 1/2 ace being Ervin Santana because, well, some years he’s ace-like, other years he’s really not. And the season sure started out that way. No, really. It absolutely did! Remember? C.J. Wilson had as many or slightly more wins than Weaver throughout April and May, and poor Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were pitching their hearts out but seemingly couldn’t buy runs from our offense to save their lives? The Angels scored three runs for Santana in his first start and not a single run after that for his next five starts? Okay, good. I see this is starting to ring a bell.
Then Mike Trout came up from AAA, Albert Pujols became comfortable at the plate and how, and the offense got hot. So naturally the Angels’ stellar starting pitching began to…suffer just about every Murphy’s Law calamity in the book. Hence the problem: what started out looking like four Aces and a more than decent number five starter became one Ace and four clubs…as in balls clubbed over the fence both at a fair clip and in startling quantities. Queue the little girl from Strictly Ballroom: My, that was unexpected!
So what do you do with a situation like that? Well, lately the answer is ‘not win a whole heck of a lot.’ Granted, the starting pitching situation is far from being the Angels only problem at present but it is a pretty big one. Fortunately, it’s one I think could right itself in the next few starts. Not definitely will, but could – and I’m 75% certain that ain’t just my inner Pollyana talkin’. Check my logic. Clearly there are no problems with Weaver. And as for newly acquired and thus far winless Angels starter Zack Greinke? Well, the winless part isn’t entirely his fault and, more importantly, he’s Zack Greinke. He should settle down eventually and be just fine…though also scoring runs for him when he pitches well would still be a nice gesture on the part of the offense. Haren looks much healthier and is pitching much better since his DL stint and seems more willing to listen to his body, witness his delaying his 2nd start back. To my eye, he’s still not getting the full back extension at the point of release that he used to. (And there are probably other changes I don’t see. I am sooooo not a pitching coach.) I suspect this is a question of unlearning the newer mechanics his back troubles dictated he adopt for the first half of the season. I have hope that this can happen quickly provided he doesn’t reinjure himself.
Now Santana and Wilson are the big questions marks for me. Santana actually did look a lot better in his last start which was intentionally limited to 15 outs. This thrilled me to no end, but I’m aware it’s a small sample size. Tonight’s game will be very telling. As for Wilson, he’s had problems with fading in the second half for as long as he’s been a starter – ask any Rangers fan. If I were C.J. Wilson, knowing this, I would curtail my non baseball hobbies starting after the All Star Break through Halloween. It couldn’t hurt and very likely might help. We know the closed door meeting he just had with the managers was supposedly about finding the strike zone rather than nibbling, but I wonder if it didn’t touch on this subject as well? If it didn’t, they really should be discussing this and soon. This also seems like a fixable problem if everyone, including C.J., has the right attitude about it.
Anyway, the Angels are just plain frustrating right now – a subject I touched on with a bit of whimsy at L.A. Angels Insider, if you’re interested. But they are far from being hopeless and if the starting pitching can get back to realizing its potential soon, suddenly the Angels become post season hopefuls all over again.
Editor’s Note: It is still a small sample size but Ervin Santana looked pretty good to me last night. Oh, he did have one very bad inning to be sure, but he started out with a 1-2-3- inning and then recovered from the bad one to not allow another run for the next 4 and change. Oh, and the Bullpen also had a great night. So. We’ve got that going for us… 😉
In their last 5 games, the Angels have:
- Scored 46 runs!
- Allowed the opposing team to score 44 runs.
- Hit 15 home runs!
- Allowed the opposing team to hit 10 home runs.
- Struck out 30 batters!
- Were struck out 48 times.
- Came from behind to tie or pull into the lead so many times, they reminded me of the 2009 Angels who were among the league leaders in that regard.
- Blew the lead so frequently that none of those comebacks amounted to anything.
- Beat the division leading Rangers 2 times, one of which was more of a good old-fashioned shellacking.
- Lost to the division leading Rangers 2 times and the White Sox once, just for good measure.
- Left 40 guys on base.
- Went to the bullpen 16 times – 4 times apiece in the last three games.
- Moved out of 3rd place (yay!) to tie the A’s for 2nd.
- Shot past the A’s to a 2nd place that was just 3 games out of 1st place.
- Sank right back into 3rd place one game further out of 1st than they started.
- Brought me to my feet cheering repeatedly.
- Sat me right back down again in exasperation complete with loud expletives and an annoyed fist bump on the table for good measure repeatedly.
Wow! There is an inordinate amount of both !!! and #$@! in that list. Come to think of it, I suppose this is true in different ways both for Angels fans and for fans of the opposition. So what on Earth are we supposed to make of a crazy, simultaneously hot and cold, brilliant upside, scary downside team like this? I would say that the Angels really need to get key players back off the DL in top form, or top August form at any rate, and figure out what’s broken with the starting rotation and fix it. This list just illustrates what those who have been watching the games already know – so many important pieces, essential to having a shot at the post season are already present, accounted for and how in the way the Angels are playing right now.
However, the sick and amazing bullpen of a few weeks ago has become a sick and ailing bullpen in the absence of Scott Downs. As much as Andrew Romine looks like he can fill a big league short stop’s shoes in a few seasons, the defense and the base paths are both missing Erick Aybar. Recent, blessedly brief, stints with various strains for Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo did the lineup no favors. And the starting rotation is kind of, sort of, maybe just starting to come together…maybe. But Dan Haren did push back another start due to back issues. (On the one hand, way to go Danny for admitting you’re hurting and taking the steps you need to fix it. On the other hand, ouch. We need him back strong and we need him back now.) Ervin Santana is restricted to three innings until he can get his head straight. And Zack Greinke, if the small sample size of the last two starts are any indication, is still working through his home vs. road issues, though I do admire a pitcher who toughs out a bad few innings and finishes strong.
The other thing I would take from this Jekyll and Hyde list is that the Angels season future is unclear. I know that a lot of folks saying it’s over now, that this Rangers series was the “the moment” and the Angels blew it. But I don’t buy that. Oh, I believe in momentum, but I also think that trying to pick out what “the moment” is in any season as it’s happening is impossible. It’s a little too much like writing history as it happens. Oh, plenty of people do write history as it happens and I can tell you as a history major that historians do value such analysis…but as primary source documents not as their intended purpose. The 2012 season is moving quickly. But we do have two solid months of baseball left and, for the Angels, much of that baseball will be played in the AL West. If they can get some guys back or start playing around their absence with more grace, well, anything is still possible.
What’s the best cure for the old “post All Star Break, my Angels have been playing in the Eastern Time Zone so I haven’t caught a game in more than a week and, oh by the way, they weren’t playing so hot” blues? Well, I don’t know about you, but heading down to the Big A the second the Angels got back in town to watch them beat their biggest division rival soundly worked for me! What a night, what a game! And what’s the best cure for the old “Rangers came back the next day and stomped all over the Angels” blues? I suggest having a selective short term memory – forget about Saturday’s game, relive Friday’s and hope for a better Sunday! So to that end…
All the way down the 57 freeway to the stadium on Friday night Seth and I kept hearing about a playoff atmosphere, and, to be honest, I mocked the radio more than a bit. A playoff atmosphere? Yes, the Angels were facing the Rangers, but for the first of the 13 games before seasons’ end and it’s only July. However, entering the gates it was clear that if the radio announcers were exaggerating, it wasn’t by much. I have never been to a playoff game — a deficiency I’d love the opportunity to correct this season! — but this was definitely close to what I imagine a playoffs atmosphere would feel like. The stadium was packed, the fans were pumped and, behold the icing on the cake, in an unannounced giveaway, the Angels were handing out ThunderStix:
As for the game? Well, this is how the serious playoff contending Angels play as opposed to that other team that shows up sometimes…sometimes, including Saturday. Jered Weaver set the tone early. He got the first batter out only to give up a home run to Elvis Andrus on the next at bat. But did he crumble? Hello, this is Jered Weaver we’re talking about. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time a Ranger crossed the plate that game. Weaver only really got into trouble one more time that game – bases loaded with one out in the 3rd and Josh Hamilton at the plate. But he got himself out of trouble by coaxing Hamilton into a double play. Inning over — hit the road Jack. 😉
The Angels bats were more than ready to follow Weaver’s dominant lead, getting the one run back in the first inning and following it with five more as the game progressed. The TnT boys went off with clutch, productive singles in the early innings and then in spectacular fashion in later innings. Mark Trumbo’s 6th inning TrumBomb was, in essence, a line drive turned run seeking missile over the centerfield fence, much like the hit that made Big Papi bounce up and down like a gleeful child during the Home Run Derby. Mike Trout followed his lead the next inning with an opposite field bomb of his own.
As impressive as TnT was, they shouldn’t completely overshadow the rest of the Angels offense. Albert Pujols, looking every inch the Albert of old, went 3 for 4, advancing runners and scoring a run of his own. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar brought in two runs a piece with clutch hits and a productive out. And so on. I really feel like when the offense is functioning this well as a unit, the Angels are one scary team! So how about we see some more of this offense this week, okay guys?
Much has been made of the Angels “BlowPen” this season, the new version of the “Arson Squad” of old, but I feel like after a very rough initial start, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and some oft discussed key moves, they’ve had more good days than bad. Kevin Jepsen, of all people, has returned from his DL stint in pretty good form. And while it will take a lot more quality relief outings for the Angels Family to stop holding our collective breaths when he takes the mound, he was effective again. Things got a little too exciting when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in the 9th, I guess just to let us all know we shouldn’t take a five run lead for granted…um…thanks? Yeah, no. But still, no runs, no foul. Light that baby up and enjoy the Friday Night Fireworks!
And so the moral of our story is: Hand out ThunderStix…er…I mean TnT Stix every home game for the rest of the season!!! Oh, yeah. And, you know, quality pitching starts and effectively thundering bats are probably a good idea too! 😉
I know that East Coast fans complain about all of those late nights up watching baseball and bleary eyes at work the next morning when their teams play out here in the west. And I feel their pain, really I do. Even so, I can’t help but think that we West Coast fans have it worse when the situation is in reverse, or at least we do during the week. East Coast fans may choose to stay up late if they desire and their constitution allows it, but we West Coast fans cannot choose to skip work. Darned old Bill and Morty, those moochers we all pay off monthly, would protest most mightily. Like a lot of us, my job is not such that I can pay a lot of attention to the game at work, or I wouldn’t get anything done. So my choices when the Angels have a 4 or 5 p.m. PT start are rush home and hope to catch the end of the game, watch it on our DVR or give up completely and check the box scores/play by play and, of course, Quick Pitch later.
When our baseball obsession was less well developed, my husband and I used to opt for the DVR and try not to catch the sports report on NPR on the way home or, in his case, to notice if the halo was lit when passing by the Big A. Honestly, that was tricky enough, but now? Once you start gravitating toward sports radio, add Angels pages to your FaceBook, join twitter and blog, well…seriously, just try not having a clue how the game is going before you turn on that DVR. 🙂 Watching the game on about an hour’s delay at that point is usually acceptable. This is baseball. Short of a blow out, anything can still happen when a game is an hour in. But starting from scratch when the game is nearly over and you already know the score? Yeah. Exactly.
So this season Seth and I find ourselves watching a lot of 8th and 9th innings when the Angels play away series, and trying to piece together the nuances of the rest of that particular game after the fact. Yes, the technology and broadcast options have improved significantly since the time of my youth, giving baseball fans valuable resources undreamed of when I was a child. But, even so, Game Day, Quick Pitch and the like are excellent for conveying big moments, but not so much so for nuances. And the end result is that when the Angels are two time zones away, I feel this weird disconnect from the team. It’s like trying to keep up with a good friend using only FaceBook comments when you’re used to hanging out in person. It’s a lot better than nothing, but really unsatisfying all the same.
Oddly enough, coming back from the All Star break, it seemed like the Angels were feeling their own disconnect. Between the starting rotation doing a mini rotation through the DL and guys getting back into the swing of things, in some cases literally, after four days off, the Angels who appeared in New York just didn’t seem quite like the same Angels who headed into the break, and the box scores showed it. The first game in Detroit was much the same. But, just as I am starting to come out of my own funk knowing that my team will be watchable at rational times starting Friday, the Angels launched a full on Home Run Derby of a victory Tuesday night against the Tigers signaling that their own funk may be blissfully, equally short lived. Hey, I know the starting pitcher was a rookie, but the Angels often fall prey to Yankees syndrome when faced with new pitchers and make them look like a Cy Young candidate upon their first meeting. So, progress!
Of course, what I did catch of today’s game told me that I shouldn’t be overly disappointed about missing the rest of it, so I guess neither of us are completely out of the woods just yet. *sigh* Hey Angels, you know how Bradley Wiggens slowed down his pace in the Tour de France the other day after the sabotage with the tacks so the affected riders could catch back up to their original places, and it was this beautiful, amazing display of sportsmanship that we should all applaud with enthusiasm? Yeah, well, this isn’t that kind of situation at all! This is the AL West pennant race and when the Rangers lose, you shouldn’t go out of your way to lose too. You should win! But I digress…
Even with today’s loss, I think that the Angels are on the right track and will be back to their pre-All Star Break selves by the time they arrive in Anaheim. The starting rotation is coming back together with Jerome Williams and Dan Haren coming off the DL just in time for the next round of games. The bats are clearly functioning – hello, 18 hits, 5 of them home runs just yesterday!! And, to be honest, after the first two awful innings, even in today’s loss it sounds the Angels looked more like themselves, just not soon enough. So, I am quite pumped for the series against the Rangers this weekend. I think it’s going to be something special to watch…and not just because they’re back in the Pacific Time Zone for awhile, though that certainly doesn’t hurt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.