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.
While there were certainly enjoyable moments in the Angels’ 2013, overall there’s no denying that it was a miserable season, a statement would still be true even if the Angels had won this afternoon’s final Angels game of the season – and, ugh. Final game. Don’t think it doesn’t hurt to type that in September. Again. While the outcome of this last game would not have altered the Angels season outcome in the slightest — heck, even reaching .500 became a pipe dream a week or so ago – a win sure would have felt better, damn it. And when you’re at the end of a terrible season that’s really all there is left to root for, isn’t it? Enjoyment in the moment.
Sadly this description is also apt for the Angels vs. A’s game Seth and I attended on Monday, our last live game of the season – except at that point achieving .500 was an extremely remote possibility. *sigh* It was a blast seeing so many of the Angels youngsters like Kole Calhoun and Collin Cowgill – ok, he’s more of a new player than a true youngster but you get the general idea – play hard and make bold statements for continuing to be on the roster next season – hint, hint, hint Angels! But at the same time, seeing the “kids” contribute so significantly only highlights what the veterans were unable to accomplish this season. Yes, Josh Hamilton has been hitting much better in the last month or so, even going two for four the game in question, but it’s so much too little, too late and he was far from the only problem besides.
The outfield, as usual, was a veritable fount of joy amidst the misery. Even Cowgill – who is only an “even” because he hasn’t received anywhere near the understandable fanfare of Trout and some of the others – was making dynamite play after dynamite play.
Of course, the general awesomeness of the Angels outfield only serves as a counterpoint to the general sketchy state of Angels pitching – yet another whole season parallel. Garrett Richards, whom I still would have preferred to see start in lieu of Joe Blanton, has great stuff by shaky location and while he looked just fine for some batters, he managed to locate big fat meatballs for others…and then things got really bad on the mound and then the bullpen took over and things got worse.
Ah the offense, where to begin? Like so much of the season the offense was an upside/downside unto itself. What there was of it – which this game would be primarily Howie Kendrick – looked just fantastic! Sadly, having Kendrick, Mike Trout, Erick Aybar and Hamilton hitting, and Trumbo with an RBI sac and a walk – does not exactly equal a real offense. And if you rotate all of the names on the 25-man roster in and out of those sentences, you pretty much have the story of the Angels’ offensive season – take that meaning however you will and I can assure you it was completely intentional. 😉
Of course, even with decidedly less than the full lineup participating, five runs should be enough to win a game…you know, with halfway decent pitching. Aaaaaand see previous rant, we’ve now come full circle. Hmmmm…looking at this game wrap-up, I think it’s safe to say Monday’s game functions pretty well as a microcosm for the Angels’ season.
But here’s the thing, through it all, we hardcore fans all kept rooting for our Angels. As disappointed and angry and absolutely beyond frustrated as we all were, we kept watching. We may not have gone to the games in droves – life caused even Seth and I to severely curtail our usual 20+ games this season – but if Twitter, FaceBook and the other forums are any indication, I am far, far from the only fan who still managed to catch at least 145 of 162. And this is why I got so livid, though I refrained from posting at the time, with Dodger Nick Punto and his outrageously ignorant: “I live I Orange County and you can feel the buzz. Those Angel fans are turning into Dodger fans. It’s great.” comment. Yes Nick, the same group of casual bandwagon fans who have both jerseys in their closets and have switched their fan allegiance from red to blue and back again with the standings for as long as there have been two teams along the I-5 corridor, are rooting blue again this season. And we’re all shocked – heck, you know most of these folks probably have Red Sox and Yankees caps in their closets as well. 😉 But as frustrating as the last several seasons have been, the rest of the fans have and will stay bleeding red. It’s not like we haven’t been through it before.
And on that note, 2013 is over for the Angels and I can’t exactly say I’m sorry to see it go. I’d prefer to end on a happier note though, so I’m toasting to a hopefully better 2014 for the Angels with a few humorous photos:
When you absolutely, positively, have to halt a baseball team’s downward momentum with a win, forget the AK-47, call in a Dirtbag. And when you have the option to call in two back-to-back in consecutive starts, one of whom is your freshly back from the DL ace? Well, your decision is clear. Seriously, accept no substitutes. So, yeah, between the two of them and with timely backing from the Angels offense, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas halted the Angels brief post-8 game winning streak slide…
…aaaand then the Angels sadly passed out of the Dirtbag part of the starting rotation and promptly gave it up to the Astros. Yes, pitching was far from the only problem in that game. The Keystone Cops defense was equally to blame and, really, the offense could have cowboy’d up. But the pitching really, really, didn’t help. So what are we left with then? Weaver, then Vargas, then a whole lot of fans crying and swearing? Yes, I’m aware that my comment lacks the traditional cute little rhyme to sum up the fans feelings on the rest of the starting rotation, but my feelings towards them today are decidedly less than cute, so there you go. Anyway, rather than dwelling on that any further heading into the next Angels game. I’d prefer to concentrate on happy thoughts, in the hopes of a victory over the mighty, mighty Astros. *facepalm* Specifically, I’d prefer to talk about going to the Big A last Wednesday…
With rivalry series throughout MLB shortened from three games at one venue and three at the other to two and two under the new realigned schedule, I knew I had to buy tickets for my annual Freeway Series fix early. In fact, knowing how popular the annual Angels vs. Dodgers, battle for I-5 supremacy usually is, I bought our tickets to the Wednesday night game in the series the day individual tickets went on sale. And I made sure to nab us pretty good seats as well, just because.
As it turned out, this was such a brilliant decision that I wish I could actually take credit for thinking it through any further than that. May was a terribly busy month for Seth and I. Between work, family and one really nice weekend away, we had every weekend and most nights booked for the month. Wednesday was our one and only trip to the ballpark in May, a nearly unprecedented dry spell in the history of our household. And can I just tell you how glorious it was to see all of that beautiful green and take in the sights and sounds of the ballpark again? Never mind. You’re all fans. You understand.
But, even more importantly, Wednesday was also Jered Weaver’s first game back off the DL and it turned out to be one heck of a great game on top of that. As I said before, when you absolutely, positively, have to halt a baseball team’s downward momentum with a win…well, sadly, accepting substitutes is exactly what the Angels have been forced to do since Weaver broke his elbow in Arlington way back in early April. And, while those substitutes have gamely tried to fill the Weave’s perfectly odd sized and incredibly hard to fill cleats, it just simply could not be done and the Angels have really, really missed his tough, winning presence on the mound. Heading to the game I was so excited to be there for Weaver’s return, but mildly concerned that he would overthrow, an issue he’s experienced on some occasions after enduring a long time in between starts. Fortunately, overthrowing was not an issue. Weave was just Weaver. Throwing deceptive stuff. Striking guys out and coaxing fly outs with an admirable regularity. Getting even tougher and dialing in harder after each of the few hits he gave up. Setting the Angels up for a victory. Welcome. Back. Jered!! We have all missed you so much!
And Weaver’s performance was not the only highlight of the evening. In the stands, the mixed blue and red crowd absolutely rocked. I understand there were altercations in other sections but the Dodgers and Angels fans in our section? Well, we just enjoyed giving each other friendly grief and commiserating over a season that hasn’t been anything like either team had hoped so far. On the field, the offense had Weaver’s back with one patented, honest-to-goodness TrumBomb, doubles from Iannetta, Trout, Aybar and Iannetta again, and hits from almost the entire lineup. The outfield impressed, per their usual really. And although we all prefer a healthy Albert Pujols in the position, it was awfully nice to see Mark Trumbo enjoying being in his proper element at first base. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the bullpen. They were pretty good, actually. Downright awesome, in fact. Right up until Ernesto Frieri gave up two homeruns in the 9th that is, just for extra spice I’m sure. You know, making sure all of the fans felt they’d gotten their money’s worth of excitement. Considerate lad, that one. Fortunately, the Angels had enough of a lead to absorb those blows with only minimal antacid ingestion on the part of the fans – because you know they’d long since stopped selling alcohol – and the good guys were victorious. No blood. No actual falling behind. No extra innings. No foul. All’s well that ends in a lit halo!!
So, the moral of this story is quite simple and carries an important message for the rest of the season. Angels, I don’t care if you win pretty or win ugly. I don’t care if you win by a landslide, one run or anything in between. I don’t care if you have to scare me half to death and drive me to the liquor cabinet swearing all the way on your way to doing so. Just win. Please win. Win a lot. Oh, and how often can we reasonably ask Weaver and Vargas to take the mound? I only ask because, well, in the team’s current situation, it could prove to be useful information. Maybe.
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Opening Day Edition! This is the third 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 our teams’ offseason 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 Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the end of spring training and the World Baseball Classic and, of course, Baseball Fans’ Christmas Morning, otherwise known as Opening Day. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:
So, about those less than stellar spring training records? Are you concerned? What, if anything, did you learn about your team from spring training?
Kristen says: I’m not really concerned about the Angels spring training record (or, truth be told, the Dodgers either for that matter). Split squads facing full squads. Pitchers taking the mound in unconventional innings for unusual stretches of time. Players pulled both more and less quickly than they usually would be. Minor leaguers finishing what the big leaguers start. Spring training play is just too different from regular season play for the one record to say anything predictive about the other. Besides, lately the Angels have started off their seasons with a crappy April and early May. The terrible spring training record gives me a small, odd hope that they’ve somehow gotten it out of their systems earlier this season. Now, having watched more spring training games than not, I can tell you that I am still really concerned about the Angels bullpen and only somewhat less concerned about the back end of the starting rotation. Here’s hoping that I’m just a hopeless worrywart without cause.
Matt says: as far as the records I’m not concerned at all because if you look at spring training most of the time it’s the minor league guys and Non roster guys playing so no need to worry at all. As far as what I learned in Spring I learned a few things. 1- the Dodgers minor league system is in great hands and 2- Dodgers have depth.
After watching spring training, what player(s) have particularly impressed you? What player(s) you look forward to seeing this upcoming season?
Matt says: One player I am really looking forward to seeing and Impressed by is Josh Beckett and here’s why. While Beckett isn’t going to be a Cy Young Award winner he is going to produce for the Dodgers. I believe the change of scenery will really help him this season. Another player that impressed me was Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu will have to adjust to the MLB style of play but without a doubt he can for sure get it done. He will be a treat to watch this season. Yasiel Puig also impressed many Dodger fans this spring. Even though he was sent to Double A due to no room on the roster he will be something else once he’s called up.
Kristen says: I’m still head over heels enamored with the Angels outfield — Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton. They had their rough games and bouts of butterfingers this spring training but I really got the impression they learned to work well together. Watching Bourjos get his centerfielder’s confidence back after a season spent largely on the bench was a kick and a half, as was watching Hank Conger kill it at the plate.
This is the first season with two 15 team leagues and interleague play every day. In fact, the Angels are one of the teams opening the season with an interleague series. What are your thoughts on this?
Kristen says: I’m an oddity among hardcore baseball fans in that I actually enjoy interleague play and look forward to all of the odd matchups — perhaps it’s a throwback to my childhood and all of those great DC/Marvel comic mash ups. 😉 So, on many levels, I am excited to see the Angels take on the Reds. In fact, my only annoyance with the Angels season opener is not that it’s against a National League team. It’s that the series takes place on the East Coast and most of the games are early, sticking me with the unappealing choice of either catching games that take place while I’m at work only in bits and pieces on the radio and in phone updates, or watching them on delay knowing full well that there is no way I will be able to avoid knowing the outcome of the game prematurely unless by some miracle I can avoid the entire internet, the radio, television and basically all human contact until I’m finished watching the game. I know. Not bloody likely.
As for this being the first season with two 15 team leagues, I love having an equal number of teams in both leagues at last, but still have some serious reservations about that equal number being an odd one. We’ll see how this works out.
Matt says: I honestly believe is a pretty cool yet odd thing. With Opening Day it’s the start of the season and you always want to start the season off on the right foot. Interleague games to start the season will be an odd one but will also be fun. A good example is Angles and Reds. The Reds pitching staff against the Angels line up at Great American Ballpark is a game that catches many eyes. AL vs NL contenders. I believe it is a great treat for baseball fans.
What are your thoughts on your team’s Opening Day 25-man roster? Do you have any issues or just plain surprises?
Matt says: Justin Sellers is a player that surprised me. I would’ve thought Alex Castellanos or Ellian Herrara would be on the roster but Mattingly wanted to go with Defense. Paco Rodriguez is also another surprise but the kid shown that he can pitch. That’s for a fact. He can really pitch and has a bright future with this team. Other than that I see no other surprises on the 25 man roster. Most are healthy which is great.
Kristen says: The 25-man roster is more or less what I expected. There were no surprises for me in terms of the starters and I am completely happy on that front, ecstatic even. I was thrilled, though not surprised, that Hank Conger made the roster. Hopefully 2013 is his year to really make an impact! I was pleasantly surprised to see Andrew Romine make the bench list and am excited to see what he can do. I’ve had a soft spot for the kid ever since I saw him pull off a tough force play at third with a long distance slide across the bag with the ball, just ahead of the runner. He’s rough around the edges and needs work at the plate but has good instincts and an appealing versatility. My only issue is that even, with a large personnel shuffle in the bullpen, I still don’t trust them to be consistently reliable. Prove me wrong guys. I would love nothing more than to be making heartfelt, happy mea culpas to the bullpen at the end of the season.
The World Baseball Classic was big news and now the media are debating the impact it will have on the regular season. What are your thoughts?
Kristen says: I think it’s a mixed bag and that the effects will differ from player to player. I’m thrilled silly that the Angels’ participant, Erick Aybar, emerged from the WBC with a May and June like hot bat that he shows every intention of maintaining. In the case of Aybar, who regularly plays pretty much year around between the regular season and the Dominican League, I think he actually has a chance of maintaining it and other teams will be in this same, happy little boat. Other players may start out hot but fade early having, effectively, started playing hardcore, competitive baseball a month earlier than their teammates. And, of course, WBC related injuries — many of which would not have happened during less intense ST play — will be an issue for a few teams, including the Dodgers. What we have to remember, however, is that if the unfortunate end of the WBC related effects spectrum is enough to tip the seasonal balances for any team, then one of any number of the sort of injuries/issues that managers have to anticipate during the regular season might well have had the exact same effect.
Matt says: I honestly believe it will. Hanley’s injury was something that could’ve Happened in a Spring Training game. What many fail to realize is that the WBC gets players into 9 innings shape instead if slowly getting into that game by game. It gets them ready and going and if their teams make playoffs then the atmosphere will have them set to go. So I believe for the good it will have them ready.
Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: So, Opening Day. Do you have tickets to your team’s home opener and what, if any, Opening Day traditions do you have?
Matt says: yes I absolutely do. This is my first FULL season as a season ticket holder and I am looking forward to it. A tradition I always have is I check my stuff the night before and put it in one place. Then I get there the next day for batting practice and to see all the festivities. Opening day is really great.
Kristen says: I am bouncing off the walls excited! Yes, we do have tickets to the Angels home opener, though it’s just about the latest home opener for any team this season so I still have a ways to go before I get to see my guys play live. For the last three seasons, our tradition has been to go to the Angels home opener. In seasons like this one where that doesn’t coincide with Opening Day, our tradition is just to watch as much baseball as possible and really soak it in after the long winter without, preferably accompanied by a nice bottle of red…or two. Sadly, this year all traditions will be bucked. I’m sick, so no wine, and the Angels are playing at 1 p.m. on a weekday so, really, no Angels. Thus this year’s ‘tradition’ is apparently watching not my team and being frustrated until the Angels hit Texas. But, you know what? Today umpires will call out those magical words, ‘Play ball!’ twelve times in regular season play, so I simply can’t be bothered to wipe the big, silly grin off of my face long enough to be upset about much of anything. Baseball is back!
Two posts in one day? I know! September really does do crazy things to us baseball fans. In the last post I discussed the latest game and with this post I ask you to take a step into the Not-Really-So-Way Back Machine all the way back – not really that far back – to Wednesday night’s game. Yes, an Angels walk off win against the Mariners. And can I just tell you how much more fun it is to write about that game after Friday night’s win than it was when I started writing it after Thursday’s ick? Because Thursday’s game was a maddening, error filled, flaccid offense, overly generous bullpen kind of a loss that actually had me singing the chorus of Build Me Up Buttercup while writing this post and I shouldn’t have to tell you how wrong that is. (Buttercup is pure evil, a 7th inning stretch crime against Angels fans and players alike.) Friday’s win, on the other hand, was all sunshine, lollipops, single admission double headers, lit halos, kisses from my husband, good bourbon, flourless chocolate cake, three day weekends, glasses of petite verdot and everything else that is awesomely wonderful I can possibly think of, much like Wednesday’s game…
Barring the so remote as to be nonexistent chance of playoff tickets falling into my lap, Wednesday night was my last game for 2012 and what a game it was!! Everyone did whatever was needed to win. Of course, it was not C.J. Wilson’s best outing – I know, now there’s a second half shocker! But, in this case, not his best outing was much better than C.J.’s last two and you could see him really reaching deep and trying to help the team but willing a quality start into existence. A for effort and, when it comes to both baseball and life, that means a lot in my book. So, when I say everyone did whatever was needed to win, I’m including C.J. in that, though I think that all of us, including C.J., hope that his marks for execution are higher next season.
But I digress… Back to everyone did whatever was necessary to win. The bullpen. Was. Awesome!! Repeat. The bullpen. Was. Awesome!! And the Angels sure were grateful for their oh-so-necessary help. In a season where the bullpen has been alternately an asset and a detriment, and I’ve been whining as loudly as anyone when they resemble to Arson Squad of old, I feel it is absolutely imperative to shout it out to the interwebs whenever the bullpen rocks it, and oh boy did they rock it!
Yes, there are holes in the Angels lineup, have been all season – though mostly not the same holes all season it should be noted. But this game even the guys who are struggling busted their asses to do as many little things as possible to keep the game alive and their efforts were effective – which, in this often unkind game we all love, we all know is not always the case. Their efforts combined with those from players on a hot streak made all the difference.
Part of the reason that starting to write this after Thursday’s completely avoidable loss is that my throat was still raw and scratchy from cheering the Angels to victory just the night before. (And I actually had a slight bruise on my palm from smacking the concrete ledge in front of me in celebration of a few great plays, because my clumsiness literally knows no bounds. Doh!) One of the biggest reasons my throat was sore was all of the cheering and “Keep Torii!” shouting I was doing as Mr. Torii Clutch Hunter got it done again and again. And, let me just tell you, soothing hot tea has never tasted so good. It was the tea and honey of victory! 😉
…And then Torii Hunter’s walk off single. The crowd went wild. The players erupted from the dugout to celebrate. It was the perfect cap to the perfect game to end my season at the ballpark on. And if the celebration was a little overly playoff like, I say so what. Hey, if a team has to play playoff intensity and quality baseball from here on out with playoff berth stakes both in and out of their control occurring every moment, then I say playoff like celebrations are only fitting. For every win even if they feel like it. And no, I don’t think this is too many photos to post from my last game of the season. Why do you ask? 😉
Suffice to say, if Thursday’s team shows up in Texas and Seattle, we’re hosed. End of season. But if the team of Wednesday’s and Friday’s games continues to show up, then anything and every wonderful thing is possible. You know what? I think they can do it! Go Angels!
And with that, I leave you with *sniff, sniff* the last of my silly moments photos from the 2012 season:
This end of the regular season prep, ball park therapy is great and all, but I have to say that my second session was significantly less satisfying than my first. Eight innings of solid pitching love from Zack Greinke went sadly unrequited by the Angels offense and were outright spurned by the bullpen in the 9th. It was deflating. (No, worries though, subsequent Angels victories have buoyed my spirits, but I’ll get to that. 🙂 )
Now, I didn’t expect the Angels to sweep the Rangers by any means. I was fairly certain they‘d win the first game with Jered Weaver on the mound. But, to be honest, I rather expected the Angels would lose Wednesday night’s game. Of course all of my jokes about CJ Wilson being the Arlinington Candidate are just that, but the facts of the matter are he’s rarely been good for much of the second half and he hasn’t been good against the Rangers this season. I did, however, think the Angels had a real chance to take the series on Thursday and, as it turns out, they did have chance. They just didn’t seize that chance, as attested to even more strongly by the long line of 0’s peppered with a few 1s and one 2 in the hit column than Ernesto Frieri’s errant pitch turned nifty souvenir for some “lucky” fan in fair territory in the 9th. Like I said, deflating…until the White Sox series!!
I know, I know, it’s only two wins and the Angels now have a long, long, looooooooong shot ahead of them to earn a wild card berth. But that would be practicality and rationality speaking. I think all diehard baseball fans are just a little bit crazy to begin with and only become more so when the post season is still a faint hope. To wit, one win against the Rangers and I was hopeful. Two straight losses against the Rangers and I believed that those faint notes I was hearing in the distance were the fabled fat lady going through her warm up scales…
…But one solid Angels victory against the White Sox (with way more than the mere requisite pieces of flair in my estimation!) and I start thinking dreamy eyed Angels happy thoughts again. You know, all the Angels have to do is sweep the White Sox and then it would just like winning both the Sox and Rangers series, right? I mean, the White Sox are only in first place in their division with a few players having career years. Pshaw, how hard could that be? Then Baltimore won today and I started hearing those scales again only to have hope return when the A’s lost. Now with a second Angels victory, I’m back to dreamy thoughts of a sweep…hey it could happen. Jered Weaver is on the mound tomorrow.
And then? Okay, now I will be rational. The Angels really can’t afford to lose more than one or two more games before the end of the season and the A’s have to lose a lot more than that. The Angels have to stop filling the bases up with no outs only to strand every runner at the end of the inning. The starters and bullpen need to need to be spot on. No more base running gaffes. No more fielding gaffes. Practically speaking, the Angels need to play playoff baseball now and for the rest of the season however long that may be. Possible? Oh hell yes. Probable? We shall see. Fun? Absolutely! More ball park therapy, please. Stat!
And, in the meantime, enjoy a few more pics from the ballgame on Thursday:
(Editor’s Note: Edited to add in the photos I didn’t have time to add in before. 🙂 )
All season long, I’ve said that when the Rangers bring their best game and the Angels bring their best game, the Angels can compete with the Rangers and win. The Angels have had an off and on kind of season but those occasions where they did bring their best game to the Rangers have borne me out on this. Now, the Rangers most certainly did not bring their best game to Tuesday night’s opener at the Big A and the end result was…well…let’s go with absolutely, stupendously awesome!
Yeah, I know. I usually prefer a close hard fought game that still ends in a lit Halo, but you know what? Every now and then watching your team deliver a good old fashioned one-sided beat down of a game from the stands is good for the soul, not to mention morale…oh, and let’s not forget the appetite. Angels fans get a free Chronic taco if the team scores 10 or more runs at home and Seth and I plan on enjoying ours this weekend. …Besides, it’s not the like the Angels absolutely brought their best game either and it’s not like Texas wasn’t going to come right back out fighting soon or, you know, like the very next night. *facepalm* So, totally munching on the tacos of satisfying victory, that’s us. 😉
…or, at least, of a satisfying victory because, you know, Wednesday’s game and all that. But back to Tuesday’s game. It was more fun. The offense rocked with only a few lineup holes. The base runners never let up. And, after a bit of a shaky start, Jered Weaver buckled down and more than earned his 100th career victory. (And with only 51 losses. Not too shabby).
The only bad parts of the evening were Tanner Scheppers injury in that bizarre play at the plate (oh, I loved the two runs, and Mike Napoli missing the throw and drilling the umpire instead, but not the injury) and the lack of Angels fans attendance. Come on folks, these games still count. Landing a wild card berth is going to be difficult but it’s still possible so come on out and cheer our guys on! That said, I was amused at Rangers fans tweeting derisively about this same attendance. Yes, attendance at this game was in fact sad, but come on, weren’t your players just complaining about low attendance and lack of support from Rangers fans as recently as 2010? A year your team went to the World Series? Yeah, kind of forgot about that part there Mr. and Ms. Pot, now didn’cha? Awk. Ward! 😉
*wipes hands* So, mischief managed on that front. Down to the more important business. What do I think about the Angels’ wild card chances? Well, I think they have a chance, but they’re going to have to win every series and probably sweep one or two of them from here on out to take advantage of that chance. Last night’s loss didn’t help, but it’s not the absolute end of the world. There’s still the runner match tonight. So, yes, it’s possible. But it’s a tricky kind of possible, you know, like the Cardinals and Rays getting in last season. That kind of story doesn’t happen in baseball every season or even every other season…but it does happen. We’ll know better in another few games so, in the meantime, Go Angels!! And fans, let’s take ourselves out to the ballgame and shout that loudly and in person, shall we?
In the meantime, it’s that time again so I’ll leave you with a few photos of Angels September call ups making an appearance in this game:
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! 😉
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: