Mark Trumbo hit a homerun into the top tier of the K’s waterfall. Following almost immediately on his heels, Peter Bourjos hit a homerun. Torii Hunter smacked two homeruns into the stands and went three for five! Bobby Abreu hit two doubles (he went four for five!) and Hank Conger hit one. Alberto Callaspo was a clutch singles machine and Russel Branyan contributed as well for a total of 15 Angels hits. Hel-lo offense! Of course, after Ervin Santana gave up two homeruns in the first inning and six runs in the first two innings, the Angels needed every single ounce of that offensive effort to pull off today’s 10 to 8 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Even though Santana had a bad start, I can’t say enough good things about today’s come from behind victory. The team really pulled together with today’s areas of strength working overtime to pick up the slack from today’s areas of weakness. Santana was able to focus and pull himself together after the initial beating from the Royals offense and give the team four good, scoreless innings after that. Rich Thompson had an uncharacteristically shaky outing but Kevin Jepsen was able to come in strong and set the Royals down with more heat than we’ve seen from him in a while. Fernando Rodney gave us a few heart palpitations with his pitch counts but still went one, two, three to finish the game, Jordan Walden having thrown too many pitches Sunday to close. And behind it all was the fielding and offense picking everyone up where they needed it.
I’m sure some folks are going to focus on the things the Angels did wrong today, and there is a fair bit to focus on there. But I would rather focus on everything they did right and the fact that together, as a team, they did not give up for one second. Every time the Royals added more runs to the scoreboard – and they were hot, hot, hot, playing excellent baseball for most of the day – the Angels rallied and pressed even harder to catch up. Well done and light that baby up!
Tales from the DL
Is it just me or does nearly every team have way too many DL woes this season? I know we do. But from all reports Howie Kendrick should return from the DL for this weekend’s homestand against the Yankees, which can only mean good things for the offense, not to mention our current Franken-arrangements in the infield and outfield. Vernon Wells is tentatively scheduled to return the following homestand. I am glad because the Franken-arrangements can only last for so long before we have tired ballplayers and no good options to spell them, that and I think he was starting to turn the page at the plate.
Scott Kazmir, on the other hand, continues getting beaten to a bloody pulp by the opposing teams’ offense in his AAA rehab assignment. His AAA E.R.A. is 36.00 and that’s with lasting roughly only three innings per outing. I was rooting for him to get better. But I thought that ship might have sailed after his first two starts back in April. Now, sadly, I am sure of it.
Now that was the way to come back from a bad couple of weeks. Nine runs on ten hits to beat the Braves 9 to 0. Ervin Santana pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout and was just plain nasty, striking out seven and walking no one, throwing both his slider and breaking ball for strikes. Not a single Brave made it to second base. It was beautiful.
Our bats were back and the rookies in particular were in fine form. Mark Trumbo had a fantastic game with a couple of stellar plays at first, a three-run homerun and two additional hits, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Alexi Amarista went hitless but continues to impress in the field with several great plays and one leaping catch that did not look possible…until he did it. Hank Conger had a great night behind the plate and Peter Bourjos (okay, technically no longer a rookie, but only just barely) was able to put those quick feet to use yet again in center and on the base paths, with one hit, one hit by pitch and two runs scored.
The veterans were not left out of the fun either. Torii Hunter, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu all had hits. Torii had a great night in right field and even managed to make fun of his own blunder against the Mariners. He pretended, quite convincingly, to lose the ball in the twilight on a routine pop-up before catching it effortlessly, but not before frightening Santana, Bourjos and Mike Scioscia. Well played Torii! We were cracking up over here.
Oh, and I have decided that Ervin Santana is Hobbes. Outside of the game, he is charming, funny and downright sweet seeming in interviews. The term affable comes to mind. Much like the warm fuzzy side of Calvin’s imaginary companion. On the mound with his game face on, however, Santana’s face settles into an intense predatory smile and, though his eyes are completely hidden in the shadow of his cap, I always expect them to glow from underneath, like Hobbes in pouncing mode with the opposing team’s batters in the role of the unsuspecting Calvin just home from school. I love it!
So, this week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: grilled turkey and brie sandwiches topped with apples, pickled red onions and baby greens tossed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and accompanied by Rio Seco’s (the baseball winery) MVP reserve, a flavorful Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot blend perfectly themed for the evening. It was delicious but, even better, it was a great game! Keep it up gentlemen, this could be the beginning of a wonderful trend!
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I realize that I am in the minority on MLBlogs, but I actually like Interleague play…and not just because the Angels usually rock it. I understand it’s not traditional. I understand that many of the rivalries are manufactured. I understand it can lead to uneven match-ups across a given division, but I don’t care. It’s just plain fun to watch the kind of crazy scenarios we played out as kids – the Angels catching balls against the backdrop of Wrigley’s ivy, the Dodgers dealing with the green monster – come to life.
Part of my attitude may come from the fact that Interleague play developed during the period of my baseball discontent and self-imposed exile from the sport. I didn’t watch it develop like the rest of you. I just checked back into the game in 2004 and *poof* we have Interleague play now. I am enough of a purist that, when I came back to baseball, I hated the new three division league structure, I hated the addition of wild card teams to the playoffs and I hated the whole stupid pitch count thing, but I enjoyed Interleague play. Go figure. Incidentally, I have come to accept three divisions and wild card teams, though it happened slowly and grudgingly, but I still do not like pitch counts and overspecialization among pitchers at all.
According to the wisdom of the post season ad campaigns, you can’t script October. While that is certainly true, I would argue that you really can’t script the other six months leading up to October either. It’s May 1st and the Indians have the best record in baseball while the Twins have the worst. ‘Nuff said. Any game has the potential to surprise and shock you, perhaps not as dramatically in the regular season as in the post season, but that potential is still there. This weekend’s Angels games were full of surprises for me, some pleasant, others groan worthy.
I didn’t expect Joel Pineiro to pitch such a strong game fresh off of the DL – seven innings with three strike outs, giving up only four hits and one walk, a nice surprise to say the least. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a Matt Joyce homerun and the Rays’ James Shields was pitching an even better game than Pineiro. With Shields dealing and the Angels unable to catch him in even one mistake for eight innings, I didn’t expect Torii to catch a piece of the ball in the 9th, or Howie to bring him home after the pitching change. With the exhilaration of tying the game up and getting through the bottom of the ninth unscathed, who could have imagined losing to a walk-off wild pitch in the tenth? Welcome back Joel! The guys really owe you run support next time and I tip my cap to Shields.
Cut to today when Angels fans tuned in to see ace Jered Weaver take on Alex Cobb, a 23-year old rookie right hander brought up from the minors just for the occasion, only to watch rookie vs. rookie instead as a nasty bout with the flu scratched Weaver’s start and Tyler Chatwood took the mound in his place. From there, nothing proceeded according to normal expectation. Chatwood actually lost his composure and took an entire inning to recover, giving up five runs in the process. Things looked grim in the first and I was really worried the Angels were going to give up, but with a Hank Conger solo homerun in the 2nd inning, they started to catch up instead.
Chatwood and the Bullpen kept the Rays from scoring again. Yes, our Bullen absolutely rocked! Rich Thompson had a great inning. Fernando Rodney nearly scared us to death by walking his first batter, but redeemed the walk and yesterday’s wild pitch when he helped with a tight double play and struck out the final batter. And I can tell I am going to adore Scott Downs. Calm and collected on the mound, he even calmed the infield down with jokes and a self deprecating smile after he accidentally turned a near certain double play into a single out and then returned to sitting batters down one by one.
The Angels’ bats were back and the team tied things up with help from Torii, Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo and others. But the best play of the game was one of those baseball surprises I live for. Homeruns are fun and all, but this chick digs cleverly manufactured runs. With one out in the 8th inning, Torii on third and Vernon Wells on first, Conger hit a hard line drive to second base for an unfortunate sure double play. Running on contact, Wells was within tagging distance of Ben Zobrist when he fielded the ball, but stopped just out of Zobrist’s reach. Wells then feinted toward first when Zobrist leaned in to tag him, drawing Zobrist and first baseman Casey Kotchman into a brief, unnecessary pickle during which they tagged first to get Conger out…and paid no attention to Torii who dashed home and scored. Wells was then tagged out in short order to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Rays did not score in the 8th and Jordan Walden shut everything down like clockwork in the 9th. After such a dreadful first inning, I was not expecting a lit halo but, yay! I certainly didn’t expect a televised game to have me yelling and cheering myself hoarse with the same unrestrained passion I might exhibit at the ball park either…and neither, I’m sure, did my neighbors. Sorry guys!
And there is even an unexpected silver lining to come out of Weaver’s scratched start. Through a quirk of scheduling, the Red Sox originally weren’t going to face Weaver this season…But now Weaver will start on Monday or Tuesday as his health permits. I have a feeling this series against the Sox will be very different from the last one Yay!!
At the risk of sounding very Mother Hen-ish, did everyone see the information about the switch to WordPress this coming weekend on MLBlogosphere? It sounds like the changes are going to be fantastic! But we need to make sure we have an updated email address attached to our accounts and a couple of other things in preparation for the transition….oh, and be prepred for no blogging this weekend – The Horror! 😉 Okay, maybe this is less Mother Hen, than a project management holdover from numerous system changes at a previous job.
No team can win them all, that’s for certain. So you’d think I would be more calm and philosophical during a tight extra innings game on a late April afternoon…that I wasn’t really supposed to be paying much attention to anyway, what with the game taking place during business hours and all. I blame my computer. Okay. And maybe this tiny little obsession I have with Angels baseball. But mostly my computer.
I wasn’t going to have time for the game at all, until my laptop’s hard drive died a most inconvenient death the minute I tried to log into email…inconvenient because remote employees do not have access to shared network folders and I have been extremely lax about backing up my files on my own even though I really know better. Long story short, our IT guys are amazing and by 8 p.m, I had all of my files intact and a brand new hard drive. But for the 12 hours in between these two occurrences? Well, I quickly exhausted everything I could possibly do that was of a business nature without access to my own files and anything additional I could scounge. So from about 5 on it was me and the Angels and the anxiety of waiting to see if my files would pull through.
By the time we got to the 8th inning, I was so antsy between the close game, all of the weird plays and calls, and the unusual stresses of my own day, that I ditched the phone and sat in my car in the parking lot listening to the rest of the game on the radio – groaning over the terrible (game costing, really) umpire call, cheering wildly for Bobby Abreu’s RBI double, swearing loudly over the botched play…I mean triple…in left field (also game costing). It’s possible I even bit my nails…or at least looked at them in a way that was starting to make them feel uncomfortable. And all of this for one late April game? Clearly, it was my computer’s fault.
Removed from the passions of the game itself, however, I am philosophical about the loss. First, I have to give props to the A’s and Tyson Ross. It was a good game and Tyson Ross is definitely another exciting, young pitcher…grrrrr. Still, the Angels managed to keep the game close, even while displaying the team’s flaws. And any loss you can learn from…well…pretty much still sucks. But I guess it’s kind of like an unintentionally productive out – life would have been better without the out part but at least you have something to show for it. So, what have learned from the series against the A’s, wins and losses alike?:
- Our pitching is strong. Weaver? ’nuff said. Chatwood? I am continually impressed by his confidence on the mound and ability to battle through situations where he gets himself into trouble. I anticipate him getting himself into trouble less often as the season progresses. And when Dan Haren has a “bad” outing (two walks, one hit batsman), it’s still only a three hit, one (unearned) run affair. Pretty darned winnable for the Angels. Can we give this man some run support please?
- The Angels need to work on RISP. This is hardly news, but what was most apparent to me in this series is that we strand a lot of batters and miss opportunities even in a winning game, even in a high scoring game. It’s just less apparent at that point. We need to review situational hitting – stop overswinging on pitches in hopes of knocking it out of the park when a base hit would get the job done.
- I’m not going to pick on our veteran players at the plate. No, some players aren’t contributing yet. Yes, this is the same thing Angels fanss say pretty much every April. There are small signs here and there that certain bats are starting to warm up. I fully anticipate not needing to bring this up any further by mid May.
- Hank Conger is really good behind the dish and only going to get better but he and Haren should talk a bit and get on the same page. This way, they don’t have to argue pitches and Conger can keep Haren that good, striking out batters left and right, kind of mad instead of the bad, slipping and hitting batters with the ball, kind of mad.
- Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells need to work together a little longer before they are fully in sync. Bourjos and Torii Hunter seemed to read each other well from day one last season, but I know this is different with every player. Most of the folks I hear are blaming the botched catch…I mean triple…on Wells. I’ve watched the replay a few times and I think it was Bourjos’ error. It’s the centerfielder’s job to call the ball, especially when running all the way into left field to catch it when the left fielder is about to make the catch. I’m not chewing on either player here, I just think this is one of those April learning moments – both need to communicate better with one another and Bourjos – greatly improved over last season when he was already frighteningly good – still has situations here and there where he needs to call the ball with more authority.
- The Angels are better with Mark Trumbo at first base. Howie Kendrick has such a great glove at second that putting him at first always seems like a good idea for a game or two…until we have a game with difficult plays at first. I’m sure Howie could be fine at first with a solid month playing the position like he had in ’06, but why? Howie is a great second baseman and we have Trumbo to play first.
- I don’t mind the line-up tinkering as much this season. I think that, in particular, switching between Bourjos and Erick Aybar as the leadoff man when Maicer Izturis is not available is keeping either one of them from feeling too much pressure and, as a result, we’re getting decent production out of both of them in the leadoff spot more games than not.
Not a bad position to be in in April, really, especially when time will take care of a lot of the problems on its own and there is still time to work on the rest. Interestingly enough, I think the A’s could take my bullet points, change a few of the specific details and say pretty much the same thing.
Thursday’s game was an exercise in frustration. Josh Beckett was dealing but the Angels had a very few opportunities early on and couldn’t capitalize on them. Tyler Chatwood’s start was okay and would even be considered good if he hadn’t walked five batters, the last of which proved costly. The Angels could have scored more runs after Torii’s 7th inning homer tied the game up. Erick Aybar could have been content with a double. The bullpen could have kept us in the game. And the extra innings heroics could have worked out. The umpires also could have made better calls – not all of the close ones were bad. Dustin Pedroia was safe at home *resigned sigh*, but at third? Only if running five to six feet outside the base path to avoid the tag is suddenly Kosher. Oh well, that was the fourth run and didn’t matter. They would have won with three. Fans also could have been classy and not thrown money at Carl Crawford. Or, to sum it up another way, after the game, I decided that helping my husband snake the drain pipe for the washing machine was more enjoyable than watching the postgame show. But I still had high hopes for Friday when we would send Dan Haren to the mound…oh boy.
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, gourmet for varying definitions of gourmet dinner and the Angels game) spread: triple mushroom risotto with pancetta accompanied by a bottle of Cypher Winery’s Peasant, a lovely take on a French field blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat and Counise that tastes like plums and black cherries with hints of nutmeg, vanilla and anise. Making risotto was a therapeutic decision. After the tense extra innings drama and unsatisfactory result of Thursday’s game, I was anxious in the hours leading up to this evening’s game and, trust me, spending half an hour stirring, stirring, ladling, stirring, carefully judging texture and stirring some more is oddly calming. And it turned out well, if I do say so myself. Which was good because, the way this evening’s game went, starting it anxious might have proved fatal for the throw pillows.
Dan Haren wasn’t dealing tonight, which is bound to happen from time to time, and the rest of the team wasn’t backing him up consistently. Not with run support and not with defense either: a Wells bobble, Peter Bourjos with one highlight reel play and one blooper reel play, a Mathis passed ball and not a bloody one of them capable of hitting with runners in scoring position until the 8th inning. Not exactly a recipe for success. Okay, the safe call on Saltalamacchia at third blew goats, as did several others, and then he scored the first Red Sox run on the next hit. Demoralizing? Yes. But that was not a reason to fall apart for two innings. Bad calls happen. That’s baseball. So get productively angry and get the next guys out.
And yet, we still almost pulled it off. Timely hits in the 7th and 8th innings, and an equally timely Saltalamacchia passed ball – darned nice of him, really, after that call at 3rd 😉 – finally put the Angels on the board and brought us within one run of catching the Red Sox. Then, it was the ninth inning with you know who on the mound. Ugh. Hank Conger got a hit though. In a déjà vu moment, we had hopes that Howie Kendrick could stick it out through another battle and get a hit this time. Who knows what might have been if Paplebon hadn’t benefitted from such a generous strike call on the second pitch. Howie may well still have struck out…but he might not have. Oh well. Who knows what might have happened if the guys had settled down immediately after the botched call in the third, or if Bourjos made the catch instead of blowing it, or if Wells had made the other catch for that matter.
So, am I panicking or even particularly worried? No. It’s only two games. It’s April. They can’t win all 162 no matter how much I would like them to and even quality players will have bad days, sometimes all at once. Am I annoyed and kind of deflated feeling? Yes. I am tired of getting beaten by the Red Sox, especially when they are playing good baseball but hardly unbeatable baseball. We should have won this one. Oh well. At least the wine and risotto were good.
So, guys, can we go get ’em the next two games? Yes, their pitching is tough but this is hardly an impossible request.
So the little bird we were counting on to fly in at the last minute and tell the Angels where the Rangers rumored jewel encrusted armor might have a crack or two (Psssst, it’s right over the heart…er…pitcher’s mound, a concept we should well understand.) was apparently delayed a day by bad weather. But, once that bird did arrive, ooooh boy. 15 hits. 15 runs. 12 RBIs. Nice. Almost too nice to be entertaining…almost. *grins*
So, about Monday. Even if the aforementioned bird had arrived, C.J. Wilson is definitely not the weak point in the armor I was talking about and he was pretty on. To make matters worse, it was not the good Ervin Santana who took the mound for the Angels. It’s not Scioscia’s fault. It’s so hard to tell until you get a few innings in. Both the good controlled Santana and the bad out of control Santana have dark goatees – in clear violation of the evil twin statutes in the Marvel accords, I might add. What’s a manager to do…other than, oh I don’t know, pull him a little earlier? I know, I know. Then we have to roll a D-10 to see if the Bullpen self destructs. In this particular game, however, the Bullpen did a fine job, especially Rich Thompson. It’s possible they might even have saved us if it weren’t for the bats. Not to take anything away from C.J. Wilson, who clearly pitched a great game, but it’s not like we can’t hit him. We were hitting him, in fact. Just not with runners in scoring position. 10 hits. 1 run. But, enough about that.
Cut to today and you have a completely different game. Matt Palmer had an excellent second start. If he keeps this up, I will have even less worries about the starting rotation once you get past Weaver and Haren. And the bats, especially the junior bats, were on fire. Mark Trumbo, Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos combined for nine of the 15 hits and two of the three homeruns. Trumbo had four RBIs! Conger rocked at the plate! And Bourjos? Yes, it was a single and an error not a real infield the park home run but how many other ballplayers could get all the way home on that error? A few, but not many. The sight of him tearing around second and then third? He is so fast that it looked like a special effect. Vernon Wells, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis also continued their hitting streaks and our fielding was spot on. Of course, the Rangers also committed four uncharacteristic errors and pretty much crumpled after the fourth inning, which didn’t hurt matters any. In fact, it almost took the fun out the game…almost.
But about the kids? I’m extending my Chatwood plea to all of them. Can we keep them, Sosh? Please. They’re young. They won’t be much trouble. Can we, can we? Well, they’re all safe for the first round of returns from the DL, at any rate. Erick Aybar came off the DL this evening and I am pleased with the corresponding roster change. Brandon Wood has been designated for assignment. The assumption is that he won’t pass waivers and will cease to be an Angel sometime in the next three days. Wood seems like a nice kid. He’s got pretty good moves at short stop and I wish him well wherever he lands, but it’s time. It’s more than time. The Murphy’s Law corollary pertaining to baseball changes of scenery being what it is, expect Wood to become a 2011 batting champion runner up somewhere else, ha ha ha.
So, there you have it, two very uneven games. They killed us once, we killed them once and we’re still tied for first place…an unimportant April 19th 1st place, but still. Tomorrow, the rubber match, with our hero, Ace #1, Jered Weaver – as opposed to our hero, Ace #2 Dan Haren 🙂 – appearing on the mound for the Angels. He will duel it out with Matt Harrison, a Nolan Ryan favorite and all around tough customer. Hopefully both teams really show up this time and make this the game it should be…with the Angels ultimately winning, of course. This could be a heck of a game.
It was quite the busy weekend at my house. In addition to the usual Pilates class and errands, we made pickled red onions, scoured the house, rearranged the furniture upstairs and did a lot of sweeping…oh, yeah, wait. That last part? That wasn’t Seth and I. That was the Angels!! 😉
Sorry for the brief bragging indulgence but, did you see us play last season? I think we can all agree, I’m due. So, suffice to say, it was a good weekend. Tyler Chatwood? I was a little apprehensive about his second major league start, especially when he’s definitely pitching to contact and the While Sox can hit. But, wow, can the kid pitch! And what confidence and poise on the mound. If he starts getting hit, he regroups, recovers and moves on. Can we keep him Sosh? Pleeeeeease. Can we? Can we?!
Another weekend revelation? Hel-lo Hank Conger. After Spring Training, Conger stayed on the 25-man roster primarily because of the large number of Angels on the DL. Everyone has been referring to him as the Angels third catcher, the assumption being that when a few of the regular players come off the DL, Hank will go back to the Bees, leaving Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to duke it out for the primary catcher’s spot. Hank, however, has seized this brief opportunity with both hands in a death grip and sprinted with it. Seriously, each appearance has been better than the last. The pitchers seem to love him. He calls a good game. He catches guys stealing. He caught Juan Pierre stealing. That’s not easy. And he’s hitting and seems a little stronger with each plate appearance. I think it’s time to stop calling the kid the third catcher. I think it’s time to just call the kid the catcher. Let Mathis and Wilson duke it out over who gets to stay up when everyone comes back off the DL…except this is Mike Scioscia’s Angels, so all three may very well wind up staying up. I’m rolling my eyes right now, but it’s with affection.
Other high points? Dan Haren is now 4 and 0. Like Jered Weaver, he didn’t have his best start and now has an E.R.A. over 1 but, also like Weaver, not his best start is still pretty darned good and was good enough for the W. Maicer Izturis had a very hot bat. Mark Trumbo is a beast at the plate and is getting darned good at pulling off a tag out of nowhere at first, which is good because the rain wet ball wasn’t exactly helping with those throws to first. I. Love. Our. Outfield. Have I mentioned that before? Vernon Wells is continuing to gain momentum at the plate and in left field. The bullpen did really well. Jordan Walden almost blew his first save in spectacular fashion but this kid has a closer’s ice water in his veins. He loaded up the bases, then settled down and got the outs he needed without flinching. I wish I could say the same. I flinched, twitched, paced around the room, swore a blue streak and generally was not a pretty sight until he calmed down and got that last out. But as long as he doesn’t make a habit of getting himself into a jam in the first place, it’s nice to know that Walden can get himself out of a jam.
The Angels had a great weekend and Texas got beaten up by the Yankees so now we’re tied for first. Tied. For. First! Yes, it’s April 17th. I realize that standings at this point mean absolutely nothing. First place and a couple of bucks still won’t buy you a grande latte at Starbucks – those suckers cost $3.50. But after every major sports publication picked the Angels to finish in third place, well out of second, being tied for first with the red hot Texas Rangers feels pretty darned sweet right now. *toasts the Angels with a glass of Malbec* Oooookaaaay. I was going to drink that anyway. It went with dinner, gorgeously in fact. But it tastes just that much better after being raised in honor of the Angels.
Starting Monday, the Angels face the aforementioned red hot Texas Rangers. The red hot AL Champion Texas Rangers. I’m a little nervous. I’m a little excited. Well see how it goes. They’re tough. Really tough. But here’s the thing. We beat them a few times last year when the Angels were far, far from their best and the Rangers were still red hot. So…can we beat them? Yes. It sure won’t be easy, but I believe we can. Will we beat them? I sure hope so, but it’s far from a given, and we’re heading into the bottom of our starting rotation, though Ervin Santana has certainly had some success against Texas. You have to play the games to find these things out, fortunately, because I already know where we stand on paper. I don’t think this series is truly make it or break it time for the Angels. Again, its only April. But this series is an important test even so. Go Halos!!