Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Hot Stove Edition! This is the first in what we hope will be an 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. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉 ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention recent Hot Stove moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted our teams’ offseason activities and the ensuing fan and media commentary, 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 snarky ones), please ask away:
Which of your team’s offseason moves do you think was the strongest?
Kristen says: I imagine everyone is expecting me to say Josh Hamilton here. Hamilton was a huge signing and should be a boon to the team, combining with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo to make the Angels offense a formidable one indeed (at least on paper — I am very careful about how excited I allow myself to get before the teams actually take the field when, as any longtime baseball fan can tell you, anything can happen). However, I actually think the Angels strongest move was the most recent — the trade for Jason Vargas. As a player, Hamilton is definitely on another level than Vargas and will probably contribute more to the team directly. But trading for Vargas set the rest of the Angels roster in ways that will benefit the entire team and make Hamilton’s talents that much more effective. In addition to providing another reliable, workhorse arm to a starting rotation that needed exactly that, the Kendrys Morales for Vargas trade ensured that the Angels do not have to make less advantageous trades to get said arm. They no longer have to worry about trading the more versatile slugger Mark Trumbo, whose bat has the potential to be more explosive in the lineup with Hamilton. They no longer have to worry about trading Peter Bourjos, who can instead be the gold glove caliber centerfield anchor between Hamilton and Trout in what should be a truly scary Angels outfield — oh, and having Bourjos and Trout tear up the base paths together won’t hurt either.
Matt says: As important Pitching was this off-season I’m not going to say it was Zach Greinke or Ryu. I think the strongest was Mark McGwire as the Dodgers hitting coach. The Dodgers had issues with getting hits and runs in games and that hurt the Dodgers playoff chances. Look at what Mark did as hitting coach with the Cardinals. They were pretty much in the top ten in Runs, Batting Avg, and OPB. For a Dodger Team with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford that’s going to be huge help for them.
What, if anything, do you think your team still needs to do?
Matt says: I still think the Dodgers need to address the Bullpen and bench. Dodgers lack a LHP out the pen. Scott Elbert is still out, Paco Rodriguez isn’t really ready for a full stent like that, and missed the chance at resigning Randy Choate. The only thing the Dodgers did for the bullpen was resign Brandon League. They have Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang out there on the trade block so maybe they trade them for Bullpen help. Bench wise I believe the Dodgers have to address getting a 4th Outfielder because lets be honest Yasnel Puig isn’t really ready quite yet. They traded for Skip Shoemaker which help but a 1st/3rd Baseman off the bench along with a 4th Outfield will really help.
Kristen says: Well, if we were asking these questions earlier in the week, I would have said that the Angels need another starting pitcher in bold, italicized, all caps, 24 point font. But, thank you Santas Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno, that seems to be taken care of – see previous response. Instead I’m going to enter complete fairy tale land here (Well, it is Christmas after all — might as well wish big!) and say that I think the Angels need to move Vernon Wells, even if it means eating almost all of that huge contract. Nothing against Wells himself — he has been a smiling example of good attitude, trying hard to improve at the plate and gracefully moving wherever the team asked him to, including the bench. But this acquisition just hasn’t work out, and that’s putting it mildly. I would love it if any of the, quite frankly, trade porn rumors surrounding one team or another showing interest in Wells worked out…even if the deal is for practically nothing! The Angels would seriously benefit from having the room on the 25-man roster and I think Wells himself would benefit from the chances offered by that supposed panacea, the change of scenery.
Now that we know what you want your team to do, what do you think they will do? Any trade/move/signing predictions?
Kristen says: I think that, with the Vargas trade, the Angels are pretty much done. I suppose that you might hear about a smaller move here or there — one lesser known bullpen pitcher or non-top minor league prospect for another, but other than that they’re done making deals for the offseason. Although, if Jerry Dipoto chooses to see this as a challenge — because of course the Angels read my blog 😉 — and moves Vernon Wells just to spite my prediction, I certainly wouldn’t mind being wrong.
Matt says: I think the Dodgers will end up Trading Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano along with Dee Gordon for a Left Hand Arm out the bullpen. Theres been rumors about Andre Ethier being traded but I don’t see that happening at all. As far as signings go I believe the Dodgers will look into the Market for a Outfielder or Corner position player off the bench but at the same time I think they’re done.
There is A LOT of money being spent in LA/OC these days. A LOT OF IT! Does your team’s payroll size or amount being spent worry you at all?
Matt says: To be honest yes it does. With the amount of money being put into the Dodgers I would hope winning comes with it. You can’t buy wins or world series and playing Yankee ball can only work when done right. I fear of the Dodgers being like the Red Soxs. All the money being spent and no playoff apperance or anything. Not only that but the fear of Contracts back loading up to where the Dodgers can’t do anything in the future but the Dodgers said they have deep pockets and a new 2 Billion dollar TV deal is coming in soon so we shall see what happens but I can’t say it doesn’t worry me or isn’t in the back of my mind. Everyone tries to play Yankee Ball but the only way that works is if you get the players that fit and generate wins.
Kristen says: Absolutely. Spending this much money should scare anyone. Every player, no matter how talented, is a risk. No one wants to see it happen but any player has the potential to age, slump, lose their swing/pitching location/etc., fail to mesh with a given team and (God forbid) get injured. And when you’ve spent outrageous sums of money acquiring that player, the end result of any such occurrence is devastating because suddenly you’re priced out of just eating that paycheck one way or another to move the player off your roster. And if this happens on several such deals? Yeah, say hello to a nice block of ever-so-much-fun-for-the-whole-team-family “rebuilding” seasons. No. Thank. You!
Here’s the thing though – I think that more and more teams are going to need to come to terms with this level of spending as we go on. Teams are wisely locking up their talent before they hit free agency with greater frequency, leaving smaller free agency pools for teams in a buying mode to fight over. Nothing against Zack Greinke — he’s one hell of a pitcher and I wish the Angels had been able to keep him — but do you really think he would have garnered this impressive a contact if the Giants, Phillies and Angels had allowed Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver to hit the free agency market in 2013 as scheduled? And Greinke is just the latest example of this phenomenon. And, of course, when quality players are making those kinds of dollars you know that marquee players will command even more from their current team or on the FA market (Holy Staggering Albert Pujols Contract, Batman!!). The end result is that, while the Dodgers and Angels may seem to be leading the charge at the moment, more and more teams will be joining in that charge out of necessity over the next several seasons — as a trend this is both kind of exciting and very scary.
The MLBN analysts seem to think that the Dodgers and Angels offseason moves are all about one upping each other. Do you think there is any truth to this? How do you feel about that?
Kristen says: To quote Annie Savoy, “Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” Or, from the owners’ perspectives it’s also a business. I’m sure Arte Moreno and Magic Johnson and partners do consider things like Los Angeles/Orange County market share when they’re making decisions about advertising, overall ballpark experience and the price of parking, beer, etc. But I highly doubt that this thinking extends to personnel decisions. Competitive teams that win games and reach the Postseason make fans happy and draw them to the ballpark. In order to do that, it’s far more important to be competitive within one’s own division than with an interleague rival as I’m sure all owners and GMs involved are well aware. I can see why the timing of some of the Angels and Dodgers free agency signings lead to the comments in question on MLBN, but I think that both the signings and their timing had little to do with Freeway Series rivalry. Yes, the Angels wanted Zack Greinke and so did the Dodgers. But at least half a dozen other teams also seriously wanted Greinke. He was the best free agent starting pitcher on the market this season. Once the Dodgers signed Greinke, I’m not surprised that the Hamilton signing followed so quickly on its heels. Suddenly the Angels had a lot less pokers in the big money free agents fire and could just concentrate their efforts on Hamilton.
Matt says: You know that’s an interesting question. I honestly don’t think it’s one upping at all and theres two reasons for that. 1- The Dodgers and Angels are filling needs that prevented them from making the playoffs. Thing was it just so happen the Angels signed Hamilton in the heat of the Dodgers making serious moves. 2- The Angels turned out to be the mystery team that was after Hamilton and got him just like last year with Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson So they’ve done this before. People predicted the Dodgers having money to throw at Free Agents before Off-Season. I don’t believe it’s one upping at all but It has caught the attention of the National Media so I like the westcoast attention the Baseball Media is giving.
Now on to something really important – the annual LA/OC billboard war. Which team do you think will have the most/best billboards plastered all over town?
Matt says: Hahaha It was a year ago when the Angels had billboards all over LA/OC until the Dodgers got new owners. I believe it’ll be fairly even. In the OC you have Albert Pujols, Jarred Weaver, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout where in LA you have Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Adrian Gonzalez. I believe the Dodgers will have them posted all over L.A. knowing Magic and his promoting of the Dodger brand and the Angels will do a lot of marking themselves as well. It’ll be interesting to see.
Kristen says: *snerk* The “billboard wars” always make me smile and laugh. I take the 605 freeway to work. Most seasons that freeway is littered with Dodgers billboards heading south and Angels billboards heading north as if both teams were making a concerted effort to convert their rival fan base. Honestly, the arrival of the billboards is one of my favorite So Cal signs of spring. Last season at the height of all of the Frank McCourt ick in L.A., the Angels rather dominated the local billboard space and, as much as I like seeing red everywhere I look, it just wasn’t nearly as much fun as when it’s a “battle.” (Yes, mine is a long and boring commute and I take my simple pleasures where I can. Why do you ask?) However, between Arte Moreno (who made his fortune in advertising and billboards, don’cha know) and Magic Johnson (who also seems to have an admirable grasp of the importance of good marketing) I am sure both that teams will being trying to convert us all once again this season — looking forward to it, in fact!
This week, the Angels proved once more that not only can you go home again, but you can rack up the Ws while you’re there. Okay, so Dodgers Stadium is more of that ‘on again, off again friend’s house where you sublet a room for a lot longer than originally intended during the awkward transition between your suddenly waaaaay too small first apartment and your first home purchase’ for the Angels than an actual home, but you get the general idea.
Seth and I went to the Tuesday night game, the only game the Angels lost in the series…of course my Dodgers fan sister went to the Wednesday night game, and that was her first baseball game in years, so we can’t always get what want and sometimes the Rolling Stones just might write a song about it, or something like that.
Tuesday night, the Angels only scored on Dodgers errors, which kind of sums up that game, really – neither team played particularly well. Joe West was just being Joe West, which is to say terrible and arrogant in his own ineptitude while he was at it. But the fact of the matter is that if the Angels had played better ball the blown call would not have mattered. It pissed me off most mightily at the time, but such is baseball. Sometimes you win the terrible calls, sometimes you lose the terrible calls and sometimes only great calls rain down upon both teams…just generally not in games officiated by Joe West.
The rest of the series, however, was great. Go figure, the “still best record in the majors even though they’ve been losing more since Matt Kemp went on the DL again” Dodgers have a pretty good team and the Angels gave them a run for their money and won. I prefer it when the Angels are hitting a little better and not leaving so many guys on base. However, they usually came up with just what they needed to do to win (Like Erick Aybar coming through in the clutch with a homerun into the Dodgers bleachers?!? Wow!! You just can’t script this stuff!) and I tend to think that the bats were suffering from a little altitude lag, if you will, after the series in Colorado rather then this being indicative of a troubling trend. I think they’ll be fully recovered this weekend.
The pitching looked good. Oh, Garrett Richards had those rocky first two innings, but he recovered, and Jerome Williams looked great, he just was left in one inning two long, hind sight being 20/20. And C.J. was dealing. The bullpen was decidedly the good bullpen and defense made me all kinds of happy…on Monday and Wednesday at any rate. This time out, Albert at 3rd looked really awkward on Tuesday – I mean reeeeeaaaaaalllly awkward – and the rest of the infield kind of followed suit, leading to a wise retuning of everyone to their normal positions in the 7th. Hey, small sample sizes. This could still work to get Kendrys in the lineup one or two more times this month…or not. We’ll see.
And now I leave you with a return to one of my favorite pastimes last season, fun with captions:
It was a glorious game, Sunday’s Freeway Series meeting between the Angels and the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Jered Weaver vs. Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers’ pregame show announcers joked that, with those two greats on the mound, it was a bad day to be a batter. And they knew what they were talking about. Both Weaver and Kershaw had a shutout going until the 7th inning.
Every now and then one would allow a runner on base, occasionally two. But it never got any farther than that. For six innings. Say all you want about lack of run support, and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve said plenty, but this was not a case of the batters not getting it done at the plate. This was a case of two aces baffling each other’s lineups with a good, old fashioned pitchers’ duel and it was fantastic. Beautiful. Frustrating. Nail biting. Cheering. Stomping. Yelling. Faan-tastic. The kind of game where I had to tip my hat to Kershaw as much as I was tipping it to Weaver. And I wished that Seth and I had bought last minutes tickets and gone running off to Chavez Ravine instead of responsibly watching the game at home for free, just so I could be there in person to soak in every nuance.
Even after both lineups finally briefly broke through the gems to knock in a run a piece in the 7th and the Angels ended the duel by pinch hitting for Weaver in the 8th, it was a great game. It was a great game, that is, right up until the call when Dee Gordon stole second. That’s right I said second. Long before the play at the plate that everyone is talking about, Gordon touched second base, overslid the bag, Erick Aybar clearly blocked him from returning and applied a tag. But Gordon was called safe. He shouldn’t even have been in a position to head home on the later sacrifice fly. But he was. And he did. Because that’s how you play the game. And then, he was out again at the plate.
I have watched the replay more than 20 times on my DVR. Peter Bourjos’ throw could not have been more perfect. Jeff Mathis blocked the plate, wrestled Gordon practically into a bear hug, sweeping arms and legs away from the plate before Gordon could get so much as a finger in, and brushed Gordon’s back with the glove holding the ball. Mathis then triumphantly held up the ball for the umpire to see, allowing Gordon to break free finally and slap the plate. Three outs. Ball game. Angels win, right? Except not…now I’m not saying the umpire outright lost the game for us. At that point the Angels needed to buck up, get the third out (for the third time) and force the Dodgers into extra innings. And they didn’t do that. But the double bad calls really killed the greatness of this particular game. Who knows how it would have really ended if Gordon had been called out at second? Would Jordan Walden have continued his recovery or would the Dodgers have continued their rally? I don’t know. But whatever the outcome, I would have preferred that game to the one we all got. And considering the amazing pitchers’ duel and the quality of the first eight and a half innings, that is a very sad thing to have to say.
It’s baseball. Bad calls happen. They happen all the time. In huge egregious ways, like Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that wasn’t and any number of post season heartbreakers I could site. And in hundreds of smaller ways every week that may only matter to a particular batter or position player. By the end of the season, the bad calls usually even out. Heck, the Angels owe one of their wins against the Blue Jays in this season’s first home series to a truly terrible runner’s interference call that made the Blue Jays’ go ahead run null and void.
So where exactly am I going with this? In all honesty, I don’t know. I don’t want the game to change. I don’t want every umpire’s call second guessed and argued…on the field that is. We fans should continue to exercise our traditional right to beat every dead horse of a call into dust if it pleases us to do so. I don’t want to lose the pacing of the game or the spontaneity. I don’t want a cookie cutter feel to a trip to the ballpark. I don’t want umpires turning to computers to make every call, or even many calls. I don’t want baseball teams developing strategies around how to use a set number of umpire challenges in ways that go well beyond the goal of simply redressing a wrong. I don’t like the idea of increased instant replay eroding decision making.
So what do I actually want? I wanted this particular great game and so many others to remain great games. Angels win or lose, I wanted this game to proceed to its natural conclusion. And, yet, I realize that just saying I want umpires to make better calls is childish. They are only human, they have always been human, and rather than showing any increase in umpire errors, I believe that advancements in camera and television technology allow us even more opportunities to “appreciate” just how human and fallible they have always been. So, do I want MLB to increase the use of instant replay in regular season games? I don’t want to want it. And I don’t want it…yet. But year by year each game changing bad call chips away at the steadfastness of my resolve a little more…
And now I am off the ballgame again. Angels vs. the Nationals. I’m sure I’ll post pictures later this week. The way things worked out between the games Seth and I always try to get tickets for (the freeway Series at both stadiums, 4th of July…), games we just sort of wound up with tickets for (this evening), and our upcoming Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza, our end of June and first half of July is practically an embarrassment of baseball game riches…and yet I wonder how many of them, indeed if any of them, will be as good as this game almost was.
The Angels returned home, in order to play three more away games up the 5 freeway against former stadium mates the Los Angeles Dodgers. So far the Angels have taken two of two and will try for the sweep with Jered Weaver on the mound on Sunday. We got tickets to Saturday’s game and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Dodger Stadium.
First, a brief re-cap of Friday. Friday’s game was an extremely odd affair with the Angels managing to win 8 to 3 despite six base running errors and a number of odd plays, including a questionable pick-off attempt by Jeff Mathis. Here Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz works with Mathis before Saturday’s game. Perhaps they are working on remedial throws in case Mathis is called in and needs to throw a runner out at second. Second, Jeff, second, not first. He may live that down by next season…or he may not. Though in all fairness the man had two stellar take downs at the plate on Friday too, which more than evens things out in Mathis’ favor for the game in my opinion:
Dan Haren shown in the Angels Dugout during the Saturday game. There were plenty of heroes to balance out the odd plays on Friday. Dan Haren (or the scruffy looking nerf herder as my husband calls Haren because my reaction the first time he said it was, apparently, priceless), for example, pitched a good game and went one for two at the plate with one RBI and a pretty sacrifice bunt that moved Mathis in position to score off Maicer’s hit:
Saturday’s tickets were my hairdresser’s season seats. Her family has had these seats almost as long as the stadium has been in existence and she is gracious enough to share them with friends and clients from time to time…even Angels fan clients. Truly, they were excellent seats and we took advantage of the view to take some photos. Given my Dodger fan-family origins, I can’t help but feel waves and waves of nostalgia just walking into Dodger stadium. Memories of games we attended, places we sat and goofy things my sister and I said or did cling to the darndest nooks and crannies of the stadium. And can I just tell you how wierd it feels to walk through the stadium in opposing team colors. Still?!:
Tyler Chatwood pitched a great game. He got into a few problems but was able to work his wait out of them, holding the Dodgers to one run over seven innings. Sadly Chatwood walked that one run in after loading up the bases, but that was in the 5th inning and he recovered sufficiently to pitch two additional scoreless innings:
One of the biggest things Chatwood was able to do with his pitches today was to keep the Dodgers dynamic one, two punch of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp off the bases. Chatwood helped keep Ethier 0 for 4 and Kemp 0 for 2. (Kemp was ejected from the game in the 5th inning):
Chatwood takes a leadoff at first. But was “Big Bat” Chatwood content to confine his daring deeds to the mound? Of course not, this is interleague where, as our announcers are fond of saying, pitchers prove they are athletes too. With two outs, Chatwood hit a solid single into centerfield, temporarily maintaining his 1.000 batting average from the series against the Mets. Yes, this is somewhat tongue in cheek, but I am very American League and it tickles me to see our pitchers at the plate:
Erick Aybar at bat in the 3rd. Chatwood’s single allowed him to score off of Aybar’s two-out third-inning triple:
Mark Trumbo takes a pitch before knocking the next one into the Dodgers’ bullpen. Trumbo had a busy, fruitful day defensively at first and hit a two-out homerun in the 4th inning, his 13th of this, his rookie season:
Pitching Coach Mike Butcher calls a meeting on the mound. Chatwood got himself into a spot of in the 5th, allowing two singles, then walking the bases loaded:
Casey Blake takes a pitch. Immediately following the meeting on the mound, Chatwood walked in a run before facing pinch hitter Casey Blake. With brilliant catch from Howie Kendrick at second, Blake lined to double pay:
Bobby Abreu at bat. Bobby and Howie walked in the 8th to set the table for Vernon Wells. Bobby was in right field today, which I prefer to left for him. He did a decent job, with one good catch and one missed catch that Torii would have made. I can’t wait for Torii to be back in the lineup!
Vernon Wells crosses the plate after hitting a two-out, three-run homerun. Wells bat continues to heat up and I could not be more pleased to see it. This was his 8th homerun of the season:
Don Mattingly calls a Dodgers meeting on the mound. Following Wells’ homerun, Guerrier is pulled and the Dodgers move deeper into their bullpen.
Overall the Angels Bullpen was fantastic! Scott Downs locked them down in the 8th and Trevor Bell held them in the 9th:
Jordan Walden warms up in the Dodgers visitor’s bullpen. After getting Ethier to ground out, Trevor Bell allowed a single and walked a batter. Even though it all turned out just fine – he got the next two out for and Angels victory – it was comforting to look across the diamond into the Dodger’s wonderfully old school visitor’s bullpen and see Jordan Walden warming up…you know, just in case. Right?