As I mentioned just before the Freeway Series, part one, I had the opportunity to crash Matt’s Think Blue Weekly PodCast for the Freeway Series episode. At the end of the Podcast, Matt, his podcast partner and I all made predictions about the Freeway Series outcome. My prediction? The Angels will take the series 4 to 2 and, would you look at that? 😉 Actually, if we had not been so pressed for time at the end, I was also going to predict that the Angels would drop one game at each stadium (yup and, sadly, I attended both of them) and that those games would be the one pitched by Santana (yup, though not for the reason I expected) and the one pitched by Garrett Richards (well, we can’t be right about everything. Richards wound up pitching two Freeway Series games because of a few starting rotation oddities, earned wins in both appearances and looked pretty darned convincing while doing it).
But the most important prediction of all was that it was going to be a fun series and, indeed, it was, the highlight of another Angels dominate interleague season and continued Freeway Series bragging rights. Sorry Dodgers! …except, you know, not really. 😉
Anyway, here are a few important Angels trends that either emerged or intensified during Interleague:
Mike Trout is a beast! No. You’re not listening to me. Mike Trout. Is. A. Beast!! Seriously, even more so than we already knew. Called up on April 28th, Trout took off running – very, very fast indeed – coming into his own almost immediately. Then somehow during interleague play, he played even better. The 20-year old rookie lead all AL players during this time with 30 hits, 21 runs scored and 15 stolen bases, dropping onto the AL batting average leaders list like a bomb in 2nd place on the first day that he qualified. He has since moved into first place just above Paul Konerko. So, in response to that weird Bleacher Report ‘hey, could the Dodgers trade for Mike Trout’ talk over the weekend, I sincerely hope that I speak for Jerry Dipoto when I say, ‘that’s a clown question, Bro, now excuse me while I laugh uproariously.’ (Editor’s Note: Thank you, Bryce Harper, for gifting us all with this decidedly not cliché gem. I hope you keep your spirited way with words throughout your career.)
The starting rotation is taking the rotation part of their name a little too literally for anyone’s tastes, but it’s all working. Jered Weaver is back off the DL and looked great in his first outing. Ervin Santana had a few rough at bats at the beginning of his last outing, then got mean and delivered a 10 strikeout gem that should have won him the game. Unfortunately, Jerome Williams was hospitalized with breathing problems after his last outing and went on the 15 day DL. Although it sounds like Williams is ready to come back roughly as soon as he is eligible, this still could have been a disaster without Garrett Richards stepping in to fill his shoes. Like I said, it’s an overly rotating rotation, but it’s working.
Angels bats are hot, hot, hot…except when they’re not. When they’re not, other things don’t click well either and the team has a hard time winning. Fortunately, the downswings through spells of cooling bats seem to take a lot less time to recover from these days before someone – Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, etc. – gets hot again and brings the rest of the offense back online with them.
Oh the errors, when they happen they happen in groups. The Angels have several players getting limited playing time at the moment and when they come in, not shockingly there are some issues with rust and errors. Peter Bourjos seems to be able to do this right, bounding around the outfield, running down every ball in site like a happy puppy whose owners finally let him really run, in those late innings and occasional games where he gets a start. Though, even in the case of Bourjos, there’s a little bit of rust on that fine arm. Anyway, this situation is partly to blame for Maicer Izturis’ errors in the Saturday game. Why Sciosia didn’t stick with Alberto Callaspo who had a great game on Friday makes little sense to me. I am absolutely not advocating a return to the ever varying, magic 8 ball, lineup, but it would be nice if something could be done to keep the utility guys ready to come in and play off the bench. Food for thought as we move into July.
The bullpen not only wasn’t scary, they were good. Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Latroy Hawkins were already good. But now Frieri and Downs have the best combined ERA for any pitching duo currently in the majors (with the requisite number of innings pitched, yada, yada, yada). But it isn’t just those three stalwarts. Hisanori Takahashi, Jason Isringhausen and Jordan Walden all delivered consistent solid innings as well, a trend which could make all the difference in the months ahead.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Angels are still 4.5 games behind Texas in the AL West. (Though, hey, at least for the moment they’re 1st in the running for the 2nd Wild Card spot.) Now, 4.5 games may seem like it’s still a lot, but here’s this thing, even if you aren’t buying the ‘we’re only just getting to the All Star Break’ argument, the Angels still have 12 games left against Rangers including, per recent tradition, the last three of the season. Suddenly, 4.5 games doesn’t seem like much, does it?
And now we conclude our time here on this post with, Fun With Captions! (In my mind, that has a Pigs in Space worthy bit of theme music heraldng it, just so you know. 😉 ):
Oh my God, the Angels are 3 and 6. Sound the alarm! Hit the panic button! Towels, people? Where are the towels?! The last time this happened was 2010 and we all know how that season ended, right?. 3rd place. Below .500. Unemployed, in Greenland. Except…the last time we went 3 and 6 to start before 2010 was 2002 and we all know how that season ended, right? Wild card berth. World Series Champions. Bragging rights and brand new jewelry!
So, which is it then, should we be panicking or celebrating? Neither, of course. The sample size is far too small. My point is simply that it’s only been nine games. We have at least 153 left to go. Heck, the entire summer will arrive, be initially celebrated, celebrated some more, get way too hot, begin to annoy us, begin to cool off and fade into fall long before we reach the end of that. Anything can happen in amount of time.
Fear not, the winning will come. How much winning? Will it be enough? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. They’ve got to play the games. I can tell you this much, however:
Small sample size or not, the following things are making me very happy indeed:
- Offensive support from the catcher’s position, and how! I can’t tell you how happy I am to not have mentally prepare for an automatic out every time I see the catcher taking practice swings on deck.
- Our bats can come from behind. Okay, so we’re still working on the ‘then not falling behind again and still losing part’, but still. I don’t know about anyone else, but for the last two years, if the Angels fell behind by so much as one run I had to fight to keep from thinking ‘It’s all over now.’ And I hated myself for it, but I also understood the limitations of our offense. Now the offense hits, runs and scores and, even though there some bats that really need to come online ASAP, I feel like falling behind doesn’t have to be an automatic loss anymore.
- A few more of our bats – the fact that Mark Trumbo seems to hit solidly, with no need for adjustment whether he’s DHing or playing 3rd. The fact that Howie Kendrick is turning into a regular beast.
I don’t care that it’s only been nine games, the following things are seriously pissing me off:
- The bullpen or, more specifically, the fact that we’re still cringing over the bullpen. It was shaky in 2009. It was downright scary in 2010. Efforts to improve it in 2011 were mixed at best and for some unknown reason the powers that be decided to hire another veteran lefty – Isringhausen – for 2012 after hiring two such bullpen arms for 2011 had such hot – Downs, yay! – and cold – Takahashi, flip a coin and don’t you dare leave him in too long – results. And, guess what? The bullpen is still scary. Shocking, that.
- We still don’t have a solid 5th starter? Really? Again, it’s been a while on this one.
- Too many options or, more specifically, the need to use them all. This isn’t P.E. Everyone does not need to play. Yes, Bobby was hitting better, but I hate what he does to the outfield. We go from having Gold Glove experience on either side of a young Gold Glover to be whose speed makes up for the few steps they’ve lost on their range, to having no range in left field over emphasizing the steps all three parties have lost off their range and an outfield with so many holes, I keep expecting the Muppets prairie dogs to make a musical appearance.
Eh, we have 153 games left to go. Don’t panic, these things will sort themselves out:
- The completely set portion of our starting rotation. Yes we’ve seen some shaky pitches and a few of our fearless hurlers have been downright shelled. But we’ve also seen some stellar performances in these very few nine games too. These four guys are absolutely fine. And once we get past a bit of dead arm and rust, they’re going to make some of the issues with the 2012 team seem far less apparent.
- Albert Pujols. He will hit. Remember all of the huffing and puffing and gnashing of teeth in April last season in St Louis? Sometimes he takes a while to get into his groove. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy all those great pitches Howie is getting in the mean time.
As for the rest? The jury’s still out for me. I could start adding it to any of the three lists above by the end of the month. We’ll just have to see. Of course, none of this makes starting the season 3 and 6 any happier or losing like this on a nationally televised game any less annoying when heading into the office Monday morning. Ugh! What’s a fan to do? Well, when all else fails, and the playing gets icky, the real fans go and buy more tickets I say! I now have tickets all squared away for our Interleague trip down to San Diego in May. I got great seats for Friday, right by the Angels bullpen. But it’s our Saturday seats that truly have me salivating and that made me feel a whole lot better this weekend. Of course, the fact that Padres are doing worse than we are didn’t exactly hurt me in this endeavor. Wait, the Padres record is still worse, right? *sigh of relief* LOL, relax! In this sort of situation, gallows’ humor isn’t merely to be expected, it’s highly encouraged.
Bring on the A’s.
Tuesday evening was clear in Los Angeles. Clear, balmy and gorgeous. Perfect weather for a ball game! As we headed out to Dodger Stadium for game two of the traditional Freeway Series before the regular season begins, I was filled with nostalgia. I remember bouncing around my parents’ house with my sister, waiting for our dad to come home from work so we could head out for the Freeway Series. This was long before Interleague Play, back when this was the only time each season that my father’s Dodgers would play his father’s – and now my – Angels, and we tried to attend one of the games each year. I remember Dodger ball caps and Mom making sure we packed our jackets. I remember keeping score in the pages in the program with my loopy, little girls’ handwriting and I can almost taste the salty, sweet combination of rollo candy bar pieces and ballpark peanuts I preferred back in the day – clearly this blogger was a fiend for salted caramel long before it became a thing. See, Mom and Dad weren’t big on us eating candy bars – smart Mom and Dad! – but on game nights, my sister and I each got to pick out one from 7-11 to enjoy during the game.
And it was in this frame of mind, jonesing hard for a live baseball game, and smiling with happy memories, that we arrived in Chavez Ravine. The view from historic Dodgers Stadium is stunning. From the vista over Downtown Los Angeles on the 110 freeway side of the parking lot, to the view of the mountains behind the centerfield wall, to gates of the stadium itself, it is nonstop pretty.
Relishing the feeling of just being at the ballpark – and the view from my stylists’ season seats in the second row of the upper deck right behind the plate! – I took a few photos of the warm ups while the light was still good. It is not surprising to see Dodgers and Angels hanging out chatting before the game. How many players have moved along the 5 freeway switching the red hat for the blue one or vice versa? How many sets of brothers have we had playing against one another in these match ups? Exactly.
Of course, then the Dodgers took the field and they read the lineups. Albert Pujols at first. Ervin Santana on the mound with his trusty catcher Bobby Wilson. Good, good. All very good. Alberto Callaspo at third, Erick Aybar at short, Torii Hunter in right. Very good. Bobby Abreu in left, Vernon Wells in center and Maicer Iztuis at second??? Okay, so we’re playing with the B+ team today. Ho hum. And, sad to say, I knew this was going to be one of those Spring Training games where we didn’t push very hard just from that fact alone. I’m not saying the B+ team can’t win games, just that in an exhibition game starting with the B+ team on the field (no Fleet Pete in center, no white hot Kendrick and Trumbo bats in the lineup in and around Pujols’) when you know that, as the innings progress, we’re going to switch to the B, B- and C+ teams for practice? Exactly.
Oh well. Being at the ballpark is seldom if ever a bad time. The group of season ticket holders around my stylist’s seats is really nice. We told them not to mock Sue too hard over our red hats as she had already given me plenty of grief over them and that got some laughs. They all greeted one another with a cheery “Happy New Year!” in honor of the new season. I love it! And there were a few a great plays to enjoy even as parts of the complete A team languished in the dugout.
What do you want, it was a weird little exhibition game. They played nine full innings even though the Dodgers had already won, just like the day before when the Angels had already won, because that’s what the managers wanted. The Dodgers were even nice enough to let the pinch hitting Kendrys Morales bat a second time, calling him the DH that time which so funny over the National League speakers. That’s why I say, as much as this is a rivalry, it’s a relatively sibling like one. Eventually we saw more of the A team come back out to join the rookies, though I must say in a Regular Season game I would prefer to have both Trumbo and Pujols’ bats in the lineup rather than having Trumbo replace Pujols.
Loss and all, it was still a fun evening and a nice little tide me over until Friday’s season opener. And while I do love Angels Stadium more, we certainly don’t have anything like this view:
Jered Weaver and the Aftermath of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Day
Since receiving official word of the expected six-game suspension following the “fireworks” at the Tigers game last Sunday, Jered Weaver has been adamant that he was not only appealing MLB’s decision, but would do so in person. As recently as Friday evening, there was word that Weaver’s agent Scott Boras would get involved with the appeal at Weaver’s side. Then, quite unexpectedly this evening, Weaver announced that he was dropping the appeal and had begun serving his suspension that day (Saturday).
I could not be happier about this decision. The chances of Weaver getting any sort of reduction or dismissal in the suspension were practically non-existent and appealing it only accomplished making Weaver’s availability for the next several series, many of them tough, a giant question mark. Certainly this was not helping the Angels any. Weaver’s decision to drop the appeal was motivated by a conversation with Mike Scioscia and a desire to do what’s best for the team. I applaud the decision, which will have him miss his next scheduled start against the Jays by only one day. This is especially helpful considering the next item.
The Unsinkable Joel Pineiro
It’s official. Joel Pineiro’s sinkerball just won’t sink. And what do we call an unsinkable sinkerball boys and girls? Well, the A’s, Orioles, Tigers and Twins called it a big fat meatball so let’s go with that, shall we? After Wednesday’s terrible start against the Twins, Pineiro’s fourth bad start in a row with no sign of improvement, the Angels moved him to the bullpen. It was time. He seems to do okay for the first inning or two, so maybe a few weeks of bullpen work will help him build confidence and find the right arm slot, or whatever, for an eventual return to the starting rotation? I don’t know, but I hope so. Pineiro was very classy about the news, fielding the press’ questions while admitting to his difficulties and accepting the bullpen move gracefully. It sounds stupid, but I was kind of proud of him. That couldn’t have been easy. I’m glad to see him out of the starting rotation for now but I wish him well and hope to see him regain his old form.
The Starting Rotation — We’ll Think About it Tomorrow, We Can Stand it Then?
So what in the heck are the Angels going to do with Pineiro’s spot in the rotation, especially this coming week against the Yankees? Ervin “No Hitter” Santana will take the mound tomorrow and from what I have heard, Dan Haren will dive in for Pineiro on Tuesday in New York…but what happens after that? With Weaver suspended until Saturday in Toronto? That’s a very good question. Supposedly we’re not in the market for arms and will solve the delimma in house with Hisanori Takehashi or Trevor Bell assuming the role for one start with a slight possibility of calling up one of the rookies, though none of them are quite ready it would seem. We’ll see how it goes, but if this is the case, then Tyler Chatwood definitely needs to buckle down and get outs more quickly than in his last few starts. I’ve noticed considerable improvement in his number of base on balls, so I’m sure he’s up for the task.
The Angels and the Curse of the AM830 Cooking Challenge
The Sports Lodge, the morning show on AM830, our local Angels and general sports radio station, began sponsoring an Iron Chef-lite style cooking challenge for charity last year. Various Angels players, coaches and their assistants – wives, SO’s, family members – compete to create an original dish with the winner earning a check for the charity of their choice. It sounds like an absolute blast, complete with a lot of silliness and banter, and even controversy – last year, pitching coach Mike Butcher won with the assistance of his professional chef sister-in-law, leading to the age old question, should there be an asterix next to his title? 😉 One of these years, I have to go. But in the meantime, I can’t help but notice the appearance of a curse hanging over the whole proceedings.
Last season, the player competitors were Joe Saunders, Kevin Jepson, Brandon Wood and Kevin Frandson. What else do these gents have in common? You guessed it. Not a one of them is still playing with the Angels, though Jepsen is at least with the AAA team. This season the cooking challenge winner was Pineiro. Very, very interesting. I actually don’t believe in curses or anything of the sort, but the coincidence seems so obvious to me and no one else is talking about it so I figured I would stir the pot a little…so to speak.
The Return of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels
This is the first Friday Seth and I have both been home, not prepping for a trip or some such and not still working on Friday night in weeks so, of course, the return of the Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) was in order. The game itself was a nail biting mix of the wonderful – Jered Weaver was very much on his game and our defense was stellar – and the frustrating – our offense was pretty much D.O.A. after Mariner’s rookie Trayvon Robinson, in his major league debut no less, made a stellar play robbing Torii Hunter of a two run homer. That kid is going to be something else! Thus the win went to closer Jordan Walden in walk-off fashion – way to go Torii and Vernon Wells! – instead of to the very deserving Weaver, but I’ll take that over a loss any day and I can’t think of anyone who would disagree with me on this front, including, I would imagine, Weaver. So, this week’s spread? Pan roasted salmon salad with dried cherries, feta and a homemade blackberry balsamic vinaigrette, accompanied by Bianchi’s Syranot, a lightly peppery pinot noir, syrah blend. Yum…my.
The Angels swept the Nationals and, oh yeah, we went to a baseball game on Monday! Work has been plentiful, all consuming, fun and, occasionally, FUn this week – I came home from Monday’s game and moved a project along until 2am, that kind of fun. Between that and the games I suddenly looked up, it’s Thursday already and I haven’t posted my photos. Oh well…
Our seats for Monday night’s game were just to the foul side of the foul pole down the first base line, in the second row. Prime visitor’s section this. And, indeed, we set in front of and behind two families of Nationals fans vacationing in Los Angeles and next to a Phillies fan and his young daughters who were here on one of the middle stops of a larger baseball tour vacation. They had just come from Seattle and were headed out to Arizona then Texas. So jealous! When everyone has the right attitude, visiting fans can be a kick to enjoy the game with and all parties involved in this particular case were really nice and a lot of fun to chat/snark with.
Bobby Abreu leads off of second. Being on the field level, these seats were excellent for catching glimpses of personality on the field, some of which I got on camera. As you can see, Bobby is a talker on the base paths, especially at second base. He always wears a huge smile and gestures broadly with his hands so it is unclear for the most part if he’s goofing around, talking trash, just shooting the breeze or what. Probably a little of columns A, B and C. What little I catch of it on TV is pretty darned funny…and of course he has 13 stolen bases (not bad for one of the few ballplayers left who are older than me :)) so perhaps this is all part of his strategy. Get ‘em laughing, then break for third?
Vernon Wells at bat. These seats were not, however, the best for views or photos of the plate. The first base umpire is always in the way. That’s okay. Ssometimes I enjoy having a closer vantage of the outfield and plays at second. Wells is continuing to heat up in June. He hit a single this at bat, which eventually lead to a run and then went four for five on Tuesday with a crucial two-run homerun. And Angels fans are starting to respond. Both developments are very welcome indeed.
Catcher Bobby Wilson and Pitching Coach Mike Butcher meet with Ervin Santana on the mound. Santana got off to an uneven start, giving up homeruns in the 2nd and 4th, but settled into a good rhythm after that. He lasted eight innings and on the Angels, starters don’t pitch in the 9th inning unless they’re pitching a shutout or something equally spectacular, so that’s pretty darned good.
Just a random shot of the Angels bullpens. The bullpens at the Big A are terraced, which is a little unusual. The Angels bullpen on the lowest “step” in the front. And if you look at the photo you can see the Nationals in the visitor’s bullpen one step up and behind the home bullpen. Starting another “step” above the visitor’s bullpen you have the Left Field Pavilion seats. In this bullpen shot you can see Angels relievers Michael Kohn (standing up), Fernando Rodney, Hisanori Takashi’s translator, Hisanori Takashi and Jordan Walden kneeling down and…what? Praying? Vomiting? Spitting sunflower seeds? Catching a few ZZZs? Probably the real answer isn’t nearly as funny so I’m going to go with one of mine.
The Nationals brought the Racing Presidents with them to Anaheim for the series. So was this a) an incredibly stupid idea, b) a fine example of Interleague sharing of baseball cultures and traditions, or c) I really hate Interleague and fail to see how these two comments are mutually exclusive? You make the call. I initially thought the idea was kind of dumb, only because this is the Nationals’ tradition and it’s the Angels ballpark. But it was kind of fun to see and it provided a between innings icebreaker with the Nationals fans around us. I took the opportunity to ask, so, what’s the deal with Teddy? He’s really never won? I mostly knew the answer, but it was fun hearing all about the goofy, fun tradition from fans. We’d been talking a little between innings before that, but talked a lot more often after: relievers we love/who make us cringe, hitters who are starting to do better than their batting average indicates, overinflated contracts…it turns out Angels fans and Nationals fans have a frightening amount in common.
Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty meet with Pitcher John Lannan on the mound. All was going well for Lannan and the game was tied 2 to 2 until the Angels started hitting in the 6th. The Angels scored their third run shortly after this meeting and then Lannan was pulled. I love the photo because of the facial expressions and body language. I can only imagine the conversation that went with it. McCatty: Alright then, how are we going to get out of this? Lannan: Well, gee I don’t know Coach. I thought maybe I’d throw some strikes and get him out.
Mark Trumbo grows impatient during the meeting on the mound – again, with being able to catch glimpses of personality from these seats. Mark Trumbo is usually as professional in demeanor as a veteran so I was amused to see him visibly impatient at another break in this already lengthy at bat, with his cheeks puffed out like an exasperated little kid. Very cute actually. He ground into a double play this at bat, but was pretty solid at the plate this series. His average is creeping back up again and he is the American League’s rookie homerun leader with 13. Coincidentally, the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa is the Rookie Major League homerun leader.
The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during the subsequent pitching change. ‘Damn Werth, you have lots of friends over here too. You’re a real popular guy in Anaheim.’ Suffice to say, Angels fans were heckling Werth all night, which isn’t surprising. There are a few folks I see regularly in this section and the left most corner of the right field MVP section (Season ticket holders? Maybe, maybe not.) who heckle pretty much everyone, occasionally even our own players. Whether or not that was the topic of the outfielders’ conversation, I’m sure Werth is used to it by now.
Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells joke after Peter snags a fly ball to end the inning. The outfield chemistry is shaping up much better as the months role by. This is very helpful, especially with various assorted centerfielders, corner outfielders turned DH and the occasional second baseman flopping roles in the outfield on a regular basis to accommodate injuries, Interleague and random acts of lineup juggling.
Yes that is Torii Hunter right in front of me in right field. The news report prior to Monday’s game was that Torii took batting and fielding practice Monday and looked good enough to return soon, possibly as soon a Wednesday. Imagine our delight when they brought him in as an unexpected substitution in the top of the 8th inning. The whole crowd erupted and we went especially crazy in the seats around right field with our welcome backs.
Jorda Walden takes the mound in the 9th. Unfortunately this would prove to be another blown save for Walden, his third in a row, when he gave up a two-out homerun to Danny Espinosa. The young Nationals fan in front of us turned around and informed me “Blown Save”. Thanks kid, I kind of figured that one out on my own. No liner notes needed. So, am I worried about Walden? No. Not at all. When I started advocating making the rookie our closer, I knew there would be some growing pains. This is a kid who had every intention of being a starter and never thought about the closer’s role until it turned out he had quite the aptitude for it this season. So far, he has 18 saves (including last night’s) which is respectable. And when he does blow it, instead of crumbling, Walden is right back in the game to get the next batter. Monday night when he gave up the homerun, he threw the next pitch for a called strike and then coaxed the batter into a ground out to end the inning. And he was right back in the game on Wednesday night with a 1-0 lead on the line and got the save. That says something to me. We will probably witness a few more growing pains this season, but I have no doubts that Jordan Walden is our closer.
Scott Downs pitches in the 10th as Howie Kendrick (who moved to first base in the 8th when Torii came in to the game) moves into position. I mentioned we were chatting about relievers with the Nationals fans? Well, Scott Downs is one of the few I never worry about. When I look over to the bullpen and see Downs warming up, with that distinctive haircut easily identifiable across the field, I breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, he has an off outing here and there, but by and large he comes in and gets it done and he has five wins for the season, as many as some teams’ starters, to prove it. Monday night and the rest of the Nationals series was no exception.
Brian Bixler stands on second flanked by second baseman Maicer Izturis and third baseman Alberto Callaspo. Bixler reached 2nd on an uncharacteristic fielding error by Maicer. There were an annoying number of Angels fielding errors this series actually, but we recovered from all of them to sweep. I hope the errors are more an indication of tiredness from the epic Four Corners Road Trip than anything more trend setting, shall we say.
Peter Bourjos takes a long lead off third. I think it is safe to say that Bourjos has worked through his slump at the plate. He went four for five on Monday with one RBI and was a crucial component of the 10th inning rally, knocking a ground rules double into the stands mere feet from my seat, that put Callaspo in scoring position for Maicer Izturis’ walk-off single. Yes, when that happened I tapped the young Nationals fan in front of us on the shoulder and informed him “Walk off.” Fair’s fair right? Acutally, everyone was laughing both over the “Blown Save” and the “Walk Off.”
Which is the most heartbreaking, the win you were never going to get from inning one, the win you almost had all game long, or the near comeback you give right back to the opposing team? Okay, so they’re all pretty bad. And I don’t know what a player might say. But, for my money, Wednesday’s choked comeback felt pretty terrible. Leaving the game with a throat sore from cheering, yet choked up with loss and disappointment? Granted, any night at the ballpark is a good night but…well…it took me until this evening to post about it. Enough said.
B.J. Upton caught stealing. Howie Kendrick looks pleased in the aftermath and Upton prepares to dust himself off and head for the dugout. Fielding was hit and miss this evening, but there were a few serious highlights. For example, Jered Weaver picking off B.J. Upton at 2nd. Weaver is a 6′ 7″ cross body pitcher. His pickoff move is, understandably, okay but not phenomenal. But every now and then, You’re out!
Vernon Wells dives back to first. Wells was 0-3 with this one walk to get on base. My until now infinite patience is wearing pretty thin at this point and continues only because he just got back from the DL. I won’t boo the man, because I don’t boo my own team. Can’t do it. But come on Vernon. Have you ever hit this badly in your life? Figure it out and get it done.
Peter Bourjos bunts his way on. Bourjos, on the other hand, had a great game. Fleet Pete was 2 for 4 at the plate, including this sacrifice bunt turned hit and had two highlight reel catches in center.
The Angels bullpen. Hisanori Takahashi, Fernando Rodney and Jordan Walden hang out with the bullpen catcher and other staff early in the game.
The Rays Bullpen. Hey, equal time and all that. Besides, I was hoping to catch them at some of their famously funny shenanigans but, apparently, they are on their best, or at least, their least prank-ish behavior in visitor’s dugouts.
Angels meeting on the mound. Jered Weaver asks, So, if I hold them for another inning or two do you think you guys can actually score me some runs? I’m totally kidding, of course. From everything I’ve heard, I can’t imagine him copping an attitude like that, but it’s certainly what I, as a fan, was wondering. This was not Weaver’s best outing. Three of the four earned runs were his. But, given a present offense, he did pitch well enough to win.
Scott Downs warms up in the bullpen. Scott Downs had another solid outing, coming in to strike out Matt Joyce in the 8th and end the inning. In fact, I wish we’d brought him back in the 9th as I shall explain in a moment.
Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo chat during the pitching change. As usual, I can’t help putting my own spin on what they might be saying. Hey, Trumbo. See that second base there behind me? We’ve got to figure out a way to get our guys past that.
Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis also chat during the pitching change. “Now you see Alberto, when the ball is coming at you, you’re supposed to try and keep it from going into the outfield.” “Keep talking Izzy. What exactly was that you did at short in the 2nd?” As previously mentioned, our fielding left something to be desired this game. Though both are Izturis and Callaspo are usually more than dependable, neither had a very good game defensively.
Joe Maddon says good game and takes the ball from James Shields. Seriously, I can say it. Hats off to Shields. He pitched a hell of a game and was certainly a factor in our offensive woes.
Bobby Abreu hits a bases clearing double. Maicer started the 8th inning rally. Torii Hunter, batting in the 2 spot for the first time this season, continued it. Callaspo walked to load the bases. And then, Bobby Abreu, batting clean-up, became the Angels sole offensive highlight of game. With one ringing double, he cleared the bases and tied the game 3 to 3.
Closer Jordan Walden takes the mound. Hey, I finally managed to catch him mid-pitch without his arm blurred – no mean feat, really. Walden also pitched well. But, once Bobby tied up the game, I wish we’d brought Downs back out in the 9th and saved Walden for the 10th or brought Walden back out in the 10th because the minute I saw Fernando Rodney striding out to the mound in the 10th, I has a Star Wars worthy bad feeling about this…
…Why, why, why did we turn the game over to Rodney in the 10th? Because he’s been really clutch for us in crucial situations this season? Because he rarely walks batters and if he does start walking them he never, ever gets rattled by it? Because he’s still our #1 closer? Because he’s so…no…can’t type…any…more…must stop…laughing…hysterical laughter… Okay. I’m better now. You all saw the “highlight” reels, I’m sure. You know what happened in the 10th. Did Rodney lose the game all by himself? Of course not. Our offense bears at least half of the blame. We hit the ball but failed to score until the 8th inning. Even with runners at 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 2nd. Even with runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs in the 5th.
Besides, I blame the guy who decided to put Rodney in more than Rodney. Rodney just did what he’s been doing more often than not all year. The guy who decided to put him in on the other hand…anyway. Suffice to say, by the time it was over I sympathized with the over-tired toddlers who were sobbing on their way out of the stadium. I’m pretty far from giving up still but, seriously, tantrums are wasted on the young.
I’ll spare you the unnecessary Dickens parody. Suffice to say this weekend’s games against the Blue Jays were two very different wins for the Angels, one ugly but ultimately effective and the other, as pretty a pitching clinic as one could ask for.
Saturday’s game was quite the weird one. When I spoke longingly of single admission double headers a post or two ago, this is not quite what I had in mind. Matt Palmer had a rough start and wasn’t quite able to complete five innings. This is a shame. I really wanted to see him prove himself. Then we proceeded to work through all seven pitchers in the bullpen with mixed results before Dan Haren – yes, that Dan Haren, from the starting rotation – finished the game and earned the win in the 14th inning. Can I just say, this is why I adore Dan Haren. He’s old school, stepping in to do whatever the team needs when the team needs it. I believe he would still make his start tomorrow if the team let him…and I wish they would. Early pitching woes aside, this game was a great battle of the bats for four innings – we were up, then the Jays and so on. Then the runs dried up and hijinks ensued for the remaining ten innings as bad base running, walked batters, butterfingered position players, outright errors and stranded runners abounded on both sides.
There were good plays too, successful pick offs from Jeff Mathis and Rich Thompson, an out at home plate, etc… But the weird overshadowed the good in my opinion and I do not share the announcers’ enthusiasm for the bullpen’s performance in this game. Yes, they were troopers and prevented runs from scoring for 10 innings, which is no slouch, but they did it with too many walks, too many instances of bases loaded and too many innings that barely ended in disaster. They pulled it off, which is an improvement, but they way they pulled it off makes me question their ability to pull holds and saves off in the future. In the end, the Angels prevailed because of a, shall we say, questionable yet favorable runner’s interference call that prevented the Jays from scoring in the 13th, two timely hits in the 14th and the fact the Peter Bourjos is lightening fast. Bourjos hit a two-out double and Maicer Izturis brought him home with single. But it was Bourjos’ amazing speed, beating out Juan Bautista’s strong, quick throw to the plate by centimeters that really won the game. There is a reason this play was number 9 on MLB’s plays of the week this evening.
Sunday’s game, on the other hand, was fantastic. Jered Weaver pitched a gem of a start, beating his own single game strikeout record of 12 Ks with 15 Ks in seven and 2/3rds innings. He even managed a pickoff at first base, unusual for Weaver whose long limbs and cross body delivery don’t always lend themselves to catching the runner off the bag. It was truly a commanding performance all around and just what the bullpen, completely wiped out from the previous evening’s 14 inning marathon game, needed. Hisanori Takehashi came in to get the crucial last out in the 8th inning and Fernando Rodney, closer by default based on the number of pitches he and the other bullpen pitchers threw yesterday, looked like a closer today: three batters, 12 pitches, three outs and done. I am loathe to trust him again, but must give credit where credit is due. He looked good today. Unlike so many of Weaver’s starts last season, he had run support this game, including a Peter Bourjos two RBI triple in the 4th inning. I actually think that for most batters, this would only have been a double and that Mark Trumbo might have stuck around at third if Bourjos wasn’t on the verge of lapping him, so once again Fleet Pete makes quite the impact.
Any Angels win is a good day in my book, but I really hope to see more like Sunday’s this season than Saturday’s if at all possible. Of course, if winning this season winds up meaning a lot of 14th inning stretches, I’d rather sing extra Take Me Out to the Ballgames than the alternative. Saturday’s abuse of the bullpen (Of? By? Little of column A, little of column B?) has already had a huge impact on the 25-man roster. The Angels optioned Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepson down to the Salt Lake City Bees, activated Scott Downs from the DL and brought youngster Tyler Chatwood up from the Bees. The 22-year old Chatwood, another one of the local prospects the Angels like to recruit, is supposed to get his first major league start against the Indians on Monday in order to give Haren an extra day’s rest. I am interested to see how this turns out. I saw flashes of brilliance in Chatwood during Spring Training but also the need for a lot more work. Of course, this means I will get see Haren, one of my two favorite pitchers, start on Tuesday when Seth and I have tickets to the game again…assuming the Angels can wrap up Monday in a mere nine innings and he doesn’t close again, of course. 😉
The Angels announced their initial 25-man roster late this evening, following a 5 – 1 win over the Dodgers in their final preseason game. I say initial because, of course, there will be considerable roster shifting in April and possibly into early May as Scott Downs, Kendrys Morales, Joel Pineiro and Reggie Willits come off of the 15-day DL. So, for now, the 2011 Angels are:
Jered Weaver (RHP)
Dan Haren (RHP)
Ervin Santana (RHP)
Scott Kazmir (LHP)
Jason Bulger (RHP)
Kevin Jepsen (RHP)
Michael Kohn (RHP)
Fernando Rodney (RHP)
Hisanori Takahashi (LHP)
Rich Thompson (RHP)
Jordan Walden (RHP)
Trevor Bell (RHP), Matt Palmer (RHP), Francisco Rodriguez (RHP), and infielder Andrew Romine were optioned back to AAA Salt Lake.
Not a whole lot of surprises there. Okay, I was a little surprised to see Hank Conger stay on the roster. I figured he would stay in AAA so he could get work in every day. But I don’t know who I would have kept up instead, this may change when they need roster space for guys coming off the DL and, besides, carrying three catchers is becoming a Mike Scioscia tradition. Given his hot streak since the surgery, I wish they found a way to keep Palmer up. I know Bulger is out of options, but he didn’t have a very good spring, or late summer for that matter… I’m pleased to see Chris Pettit getting another shot after missing all of 2010 due to shoulder surgery. I don’t know how long that experiment will last once guys start coming off the DL but we’ll see.
I’m excited! Yes, I pretty much knew who would make the cut, especially given the limiting injuries. Even so, just seeing the official roster really drives home the fact that Opening Day is Thursday! And I’m hopeful. We may have platoons at both of our infield corners indefinitely, but today it doesn’t bother me. So far it seems to be working, better than I expected. And if Trumbo’s bat holds up during the regular season, I think the first base platoon will be resolved quickly, even if Kendrys isn’t able to come back full time any time soon.
I’m so ready for Thursday. We have Weaver on the mound, the triple centerfield patrolling the outfield and a couple of guys whose bats really, really love Kauffman Stadium. Bring on the Royals. Play ball!!
My latest big project at work is updating and rewriting our entire course catalog and student handbook…in a little over a week. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams, I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by! Seriously though, I am a professional. I have everything planned and moving along on schedule, from the legal requirements review, to all of the rewriting, to the occasional panic attack over the deadline. And they said all of that late night paper writing in college wouldn’t be useful in the real world. Ha! (All joking aside though, I love my job and this is a pretty cool assignment, if a little intense.)
Needless to say, I am just a wee bit catalog and course description focused at the moment and Spring Training is all about learning and practicing, so you can see how they might start to jumble together a little in my brain. Watching the games and reading the articles coming out of Arizona, I think I can make a pretty good guess about a few of the spring session catalog’s course offerings at Mike Scioscia’s LAAU:
365. Advanced Astronomy: Okay, so only Mark Trumbo is actually putting the ball into orbit this spring (and Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood once each) which is a little worrying but many key players are getting high marks with Trumbo, Bobby Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo and Jeff Mathis (Really? Cool!) are all hitting over .300…still, after last season, I won’t consider this course successful until more of the starting lineup names are on this list.
342. Physics of Linear and Non Linear Trajectories: The starting rotation is…coming along. They started slow. They’re easing into it. I’ve seen great stuff and silly mistakes. The last appearances were better than the first. For the most part, their 2011 ST stats are comparable to or better than their ST stats in ’10 and ’09. Eh, it’s not great, but I’m just not worried here (except about the 5 spot). To my eye it looks like the rust is coming off on schedule.
450. Fahrenheit 451 and the Art of Closing the Game: Bullpen pitchers are often referred to as firemen. But what happens when your firemen occasionally accelerate or actually start the fires themselves? A lot of offseason dollars were spent wrestling with this “philosophical” delimma and at ST midterms the grades are all over the place. Many of the pitchers the Angels will look toward for relief are making good grades, including Scott Downs, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Hisanori Takashi and Michael Kohn. As for the actual closer? Love Ray Bradbury though I do, Fernando Rodney needs to find some different reading material, stat…as does everyone who has been playing in the 8th and 9th innings for the last few games, ouch.
405. Field Biology: Quite the bell curve going on here. The starting outfield is A’s across the board. Howie and Erick Aybar are looking good at 2nd and short. A nice fight to set the curve at catcher looks promising. The corner infield positions, however, are cause for concern. Trumbo is working admirably hard to overcome a needs improvement at first, which is good because we may need him in April. But third? We’ll see how the final exams play out. As to the kids? The 8th and 9th innings lately are making me think the kids are not alright…at least, not yet.
201. Basic Anatomy (prerequisite for all students intending to declare pre-med): It is often said that the true indicator of a successful spring training is having all of your players make it to the regular season in good condition. So far, the Angels are passing with a B+, which we will elevate to an A as soon as Kendry Morales makes up last semister’s incomplete.
And what of Mike Scioscia’s special core seminars and colloquia, the ice-breaking, team-building and often hilarious “research assignments” he doles out to rookies and veterans alike for morning meeting presentation? Well, sadly Ostrich Wrangling 101 does not appear to be among the course offerings for 2011. However, the following classes are moving right along towards ST midterms:
204. Social Networking: When young Mike Trout ostensibly broke the rookies should not speak until spoken to rule, Jared Weaver took it upon himself to encourage the lad to share his gift for socializing with the fans instead…by posting his phone number on the scoreboard during a spring training game with an invitation to fans to “call Mike Trout with all of your baseball questions.”
305. Trickle Down Economic Theory: So, apparently, Vernon Wells has a rather large contract. Were any of you aware of this? I’m not sure the news has covered this particular detail. At any rate, Wells has been nominated to take the rookies out to dinner and Scioscia has stuck him with the tab after several team meals. Clearly this is a popular course. Sign up early.
515. Artisan Leather Craftsmanship: (this is my favorite by the way) minor league pitchers Matt Meyer and Ryan Chaffee have been assigned a special project, designing a catcher’s glove and fielder’s mitt from scratch and then using them during batting practice. Reporters and players tell us the gloves are still in the prototype stage.
The Angels appear to be excelling at some of these classes and in need of a few visits to the campus learning center for others. As we all know, the specific marks you get in school don’t have much of an impact on your overall performance once you enter the “real world” so we’ll have to wait until May or so before we really know the results of all of that schooling. It will be interesting to see who has learned their lessons…and how jealously Mike Trout guards his new cell phone number.
This is what happens when I leave my book at home, assuming I have no time for a lunch break and then realize that I absolutely require a lunch break as a mental break from all of the writing…I spend the time reading the news and writing for my blog. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Actually, switching writing gears is sometimes relaxing. But I digress…Scary financial and global news eventually gave way to baseball headlines, with the following really catching my attention:
Angels May Call on Creative Approach to Closing
This MLB headline was the first that caught my eye and, unfortunately, my initial reaction was to laugh. My second was to snark on Facebook “By creative, do they mean effective? Because, after last season, an effective closer would be creative!” This led to an online “therapy session” with my Dodger fan cousins about our respective teams’ closing woes. (The Giants fan cousins were smart enough to realize that we didn’t want to hear a peep out of them and stayed away from this status update, thus positive family relations remain intact.) Of course, what the article actually meant was bullpen by committee with Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen, Jordan Walden and possibly occasionally Hisanori Takahashi sharing closing duties as needed.
On the surface, this certainly is not creative used as an unusual synonym for effective. However, I hope that it is code for grooming Walden for the closer’s role without putting too much pressure on the kid too early. Walden showed poise, promise and blazing speed last season in several really difficult games and I am eager to see what he can do over the course of a whole season. Our closer woes were a big topic of conversation in the Right Field Pavilion last season, one of those ongoing debates where even the ushers and the vendors weigh in and I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of this development…okay, who am I kidding? I just can’t wait to go to a game!
MLB Overview 2011: Adrian Beltre and All 30 Teams’ Most Unpredictable Hitter
Another headline that caught my eye was this offering from the Bleacher Report. Some of their choices are spot on, others are apt to be controversial. I don’t know enough about every team’s lineup to say whether I think all of the Bleacher Report’s choices are good (especially when we get to the NL East – but that’s going to change after Interleague 2011, I’m sure). However, I think they hit the nail on the head with the Angels. No, the Bleacher Report did not use this as one more opportunity to pick on a certain recent acquisition, they selected Kendry Morales instead. Kendry was not selected for any prior issues at the plate but for the big question that’s certainly on every Angels fan’s mind: is he going to come back as strong and reliable as he was before the broken leg. Because an Angels lineup with a reliable, power hitting Kendry batting in the five spot is a thing of beauty and a lineup without his bat is…well…the sort of lineup that allows Jered Weaver to pitch a one-run game that the Angels still lose. Yeah, you all saw 2010.
While this was interesting, it really wasn’t news and it certainly wasn’t the news I went looking for:
How are long term contract negotiations going with Jered Weaver? Absolutely swimmingly, of course and the contract will be signed by the time pitchers and catchers report…right? Right? Yeah, it’s never really that easy, is it?
Are we really looking for a leadoff man or are we going to platoon with what we have? This is a topic of some discussion on Angels blogs. Given the options out there, I could really go either way on this one. I’m not overly thrilled with a leadoff platoon but, then again, I’m not overly thrilled with any of the options that have been bantered about.
Is Vlad going to get a job already? I know he’s talking to the Orioles right now but that contract doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I actually think this is a good fit for all concerned. With Vlad’s mighty bat protecting Markakis and company in the lineup, if the Orioles pick up where they left off at the end of the 2010 season, they could seriously be spoilers in the AL East (and other places) and who knows? But Vlad needs to accept the fact that’s he’s no longer an outfielder, at least no more than every once in a while, and negotiate accordingly.