While the Angels grounds crew plows up the entire diamond for a series of U2 concerts and then puts everything back the way it was again, the Angels will spend two weeks circling the country in pursuit of truth, justice and the baseball way…Okay, really just in pursuit of a whole lot of Ws, but didn’t it sound more poetic the other way? Anyway back to the travel part. Affectionately – by which I mean sarcastically and with no small amount of annoyance – dubbed the Four Corners Trip by Mike Scioscia and crew, this road trip will take the Angels to the four corners of the continental United States, more or less. Once they conclude their current series in Seattle, the Angels will fly to New York to play the Mets, after which they will fly to Florida to play the Marlins and then right back home again to play the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. That’s a journey of just over 8,000 miles.
Now the length of the road trip does come courtesy of the U2 concert. But the craziness of the broad spectrum of destinations comes courtesy of Major League baseball. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just fly out the East Coast and play more Eastern Division teams while the Angels were already out there than flying all over hell and gone? Perhaps they could have played the Yankees and the Rays on either side of the Interleague match-ups? Or maybe this would have been a better time to head for Boston or Baltimore. Heck, even stopping in Kansas City on the way out to the east coast, rather than having the Royals fly to California would have made more sense.
And this isn’t even the only crazy road trip the Angels have scheduled in 2011. In Oakland right after the All-Star break for three days, Monday off, just three days at home to play the Rangers and then out to Baltimore with no day off to play the Orioles before heading back home by way of Detroit to play the Twins in Anaheim, anyone? The Four Corners Trip is merely the craziest of the bunch.
I realize that every team has crazy schedule situations this season and if by some miracle a team escapes such oddities, don’t worry, MLB will get to you next year. I also realize that there is a certain amount of scheduling craziness inherent in being a Western Division team, where no two in-league opponents exist within the same 100 mile radius. Florida teams have a similar problem. And no amount of proper prior planning is going to completely fix that.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia is one of the proponents of expanding the post season to include two wild card teams in each league. I myself am not a fan of the idea. However, Scioscia keeps talking about making the post season extension feasible without pushing play back out into November by scheduling the regular season more efficiently. Avoiding having so many bizarre road trip situations, like the one described above, which Scioscia said looked like Kindergarteners designed it, would allow MLB to shave off a few rest days here and there, shortening the regular season in a sane fashion without actually cutting out any games. If MLB makes an effort to take some of the stupid end of the crazy spectrum out of the away schedules, I would like that _so_ much that I might find it in my heart to tolerate additional wild card teams…eventually. Just no more of this 15 teams in both leagues realignment talk, okay. Now _that’s_crazy…not to mention contrary to having moved the Brewers to the National League in the first place.
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Two Ws in Seattle
However, as much as I am griping about the travel involved in the Four Corners trip, I have no complaints about the trip itself. So far the Angels are wearing it very well. They took two against Seattle including Jered Weavers’ complete game shutout this evening. Wins for Weaver and Dan Haren in the same spin through the rotation. Angels bats striking early and often, including multiple hits for Bobby Abreu and Howie Kendrick whose bats are on fire and two homeruns by Vernon Wells in Monday’s game. Spot on fielding. Heads up base running. A clutch bullpen. Oh yeah! Sure there are still a few things to work on, but keep it up boys. You’re playing like Angels!
And with those two wins, the Angels gain two games on Seattle, of course, but also one on Texas to whom those nice, helpful Yankee boys administered a beating this evening. Well, nice and helpful this evening anyway. What’s not to like?!
The Continuing Saga of Kaz
Scott Kazmir had yet another rough start in Salt Lake City this evening. He lasted 1.2 innings and is on the hook for six earned runs on five hits, three walks and one hit batsman. I don’t report this gleefully. I am sorry he hasn’t made any improvements at all and seems to be backsliding even further after such a solid career with the Rays. However this evening current Angels GM Tony Reagins and former Angels GM Bill Stoneman were in attendance at the Bees game, taking stock of Kaz’ performance. I expect we will hear a final decision soon. It’s more than time to stop prolonging the agony.
Friday’s Angels looked much like Monday through Thursday’s Angels, only with much better fielding than on several of the previous days. While this was an improvement, it was not enough to yield a different result and they lost four to two. The Angels aren’t exactly getting killed on the field this season. Most of the losses have been close. But it does go to show that if you aren’t scoring many runs, then your pitching and fielding have to be absolute perfection game in and game out in order to compensate for it, and that just isn’t feasible for any team.
So, cut to last night’s seven to five victory over the Royals. What changed? Several very important things as it turns out:
The veteran bats came alive. I admit it. I was less than pleased when I saw Vernon Wells batting cleanup last night. But he waled on the ball, going three for four with nice solid base hits that moved runners around the bases and lead to Wells scoring a run each time he made it on base. Howie Kendrick also went three for four, with two RBIs. Bobby Abreu had a key hit and he and Torii Hunter worked counts into walks for needed bodies on base. I cannot tell you how nice it was to see all of them on in one game!
We put runners on base and scored runs in multiple innings. If you look at the typical 2011 Angels box score, the one to three runs scored by our heroes usually occur all in one inning, often early in the game and then they don’t score again. This has not been an effective strategy. Last night, the Angels scored four runs in the second – more than their game average already – added a fifth run in the third and then game back to put two runs on the board and regain the lead in the 8th.
Our fielding was stellar. The Angels fielding has been good for most of 2011, but last night it was just on fire and it was equally on fire all around the diamond. Double plays. Two beautiful plays at the plate, including one highlight reel play on a perfect throw from Torii in right. Great catches all over the field and heads up back up.
We stole four bases! Stolen bases is one of many areas where sabermetrics and I have to agree to disagree. A team doesn’t have to be loaded with power hitters to win as long as they know how to consistently manufacture runs. The Angels know how to manufacture runs. This is one of Mike Sciocia’s specialties as a manager. They just haven’t been doing it consistently. Last night, the final two runs were the result of situational hitting, stolen bases and smartly taking advantage of a few Royals mistakes. This is a great sign and hopefully the beginning of a re-emerging trend. Now let’s just hope Alberto Callaspo, who pulled a hamstring during a successful double steal, is able to move from being day to day back to an everday player soon. This injuries trend is one that can stop any day now.
Looking at the season strictly from a numbers standpoint, one win by no means offsets six straight losses, even when the rest of the division helpfully loses again. But I never think numbers tell the whole story, especially in early June. They’re more like a guideline, actually. 😉 This was a good solid win, a pretty win if you will, the end result of several missing pieces coming together for the Angels all at once while other team strengths continued. If the Angels can capitalize on the momentum from this game heading into interleague, I think they can start putting together enough wins for significance from any standpoint!
Friday (and Saturday!) Gourmet, Wine & Angels
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread? Well, the chefs – read, Seth and I – were tired after a long week and indulged in a bit of lazy cooking: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches with bacon and TJ’s guacamole (hence the lazy). Quick and dirty, but tasty. And the wine was amazing – Mitchella’s 2007 Cabernet which tastes of black currants and dark chocolate. Yum!
We were better rested on Saturday and grilled up a feast for the evening game. Tri-tip, rubbed with olive oil, crushed garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, which my husband grilled to that perfect state where the meat has an amazing crust, but is a gorgeous medium to medium rare throughout when you slice into it. Tri-tip is an absolutely glorious cut of beef that I am sorry to say we Californians have not shared much with the rest of the country. Trust me, you are very sad. You just don’t know it. 😉 We served it with black beans, fresh tortillas and queso fresco and squash lightly sautéed with garlic and black pepper. Paired with Dead Nuts, Chronic Cellars luscious Zinfandel, Petite Sirah blend, it was a fantastic meal…and the Angels won, so if I were inclined to superstitions on that front I would say they prefer us to make more of an effort for the game, LOL.
It’s a tragic, growing problem witnessed at ballparks across America. Starting pitchers in their prime, wasting away with dwindling win percentages due to lack of run support. Minimal run support may not seem like a problem in the beginning. It’s true, the average ace pitcher can survive on a mere run or two per game for several starts in a row, when necessary, and even seem to thrive. But make no mistake, a team’s chronic lack of run support will strike hard at the records of even the most unbeatable pitchers eventually.
Angels baseball players, don’t let this heartbreaking affliction continue to harm your favorite starting rotation. You might think the solution to such a huge problem is beyond your means but all it takes is a few quality at bats. You don’t have to hit homeruns, though we wouldn’t turn them down. Triples, doubles, even several singles a game with runners in scoring position will provide your starting pitcher with ample run support through good starts and bad.
That’s right, all it takes to return that wicked little smile to the face of a nasty pitcher in your clubhouse is a few more hits with runners in scoring position. And remember, when you give the gift of run support, you’re not only helping a deserving pitcher but you’re giving yourself the heartwarming satisfaction that only comes from knowing you made a difference…and from knowing you helped beat the visiting team into submission, of course.
So Angels, this evening, the rest of the week and on through the rest of the season, please open up your stance, swing from the heart (Stop hitting the ball anywhere near Coco Crisp!) and bring those runners home! Your pitchers are counting on you for support.
Angels fans are standing by.
Oh my god! The Angels lost five in a row! Weaver’s choking and Torii’s all washed up because he dropped the ball. It’s 2010 all over again. The Angels are driving me to drink. And the sky is falling. And the end of the world is coming this weekend. And, and…insert list of increasingly dire sounding hyperbole here…
Actually, it was my husband who drove me to drink. Literally. In a car. Because he’s a sweetie and a half and it was our circle’s standing Wednesday night happy hour. And the further reality is, I am pretty far from panicking. Because this is not 2010. I repeat. This is not 2010.
Mind you, I’m not trying to put a pretty face on the last two weeks. This is an ugly slump and that’s all there is to it. But here’s the thing. That really is all there is to it. It’s a slump. Does it point out team weaknesses? Yes, much like any other slump does. Slumps aren’t generally known for being caused by strengths.
But, unlike May 2010, we only just slipped below .500. We haven’t been dancing around trying to climb up to it for several weeks. This season, we have a couple of guys in the bullpen in regular use that I trust every time they take the mound…which doesn’t mean they aren’t going to mess up from time to time, like this week for example, but more often than not we do have some reliable relievers. This season, the bats have been slumping off and on but this does mean that at least they have also been on at times, definitely not the case this time last season. Current scouting reports are starting to get around on our formerly hot hitting rookies, exposing some of their youthful mistakes, like Peter Bourjos’ penchant for fastballs high and away outside the zone. At the moment, it’s affecting their averages and they just need time to adapt again, much like they all managed to do when they made the jump to the big leagues.
We have given our starting pitchers run support in 2011, just not so much this month. Some of the fielding errors in this slump were the result of guys getting used to recent changes in the infield and outfield, changes that will cease to be novel soon. And, unlike the Angels great June last season, wins so far this season have been because of things the team had done right, not because of adrenaline in the aftermath of losing a teammate for the season to a crazy accident. Also, this season, when the Angels are down, I see them fighting back to regain/gain the lead. They aren’t always successful but, unlike 2010, they aren’t just giving up either.
Is Jered Weaver choking? No. I think he’s still recovering from the flu and losing so much weight in uncomfortable fashion. In hindsight, Weaver probably should have skipped his start against the Red Sox and rested a few more days before jumping back into the fray. He was showing signs of improvement to my eyes before Monday’s game. I think coming home to warmer weather might get him back on the healing track. And as for Torii, I think folks should also look at his amazing Gold Glove catch in the 7th inning before they really start judging the final missed catch. One shows us why he is a 9 time Gold Glove winner and the other shows why he’s made the switch to right. Taken together, the catches show us an Angels veteran who can still play great ball but has a few more off days than he did in his prime.
The last two weeks were a perfect storm of events resulting in a slump and the Angels just need something to break the cycle. The bad road trip is all over now. I hope the return to home cooking and their own beds is enough to jar the Angels out of this slump. If not, then I’m sure the start of Interleague play is just the ticket, hopefully this weekend but, if not, then certainly right after. Even in a bad season like 2010, the Angels do love to play the National league. Come to think of it, maybe the Angels need a standing happy hour too, like we have in my circle of friends. Forget team meetings and laying down the law. Go out together and relax for the evening. Have a tasty beverage or three. Talk, laugh and unwind until people start saying things that are so silly, they have you laughing for days after at the memory of it all. It does wonders for one’s ability to break the cycle of a bad week – or two! – let me tell you.
You all know the feeling. You have a really long day at work (or school), or even an outright bad day. You come home and all you want to do is relax in front of a good game, preferably cuddled up with your honey, and cheer. But, alas, this time it’s not a good game. And somehow the day is just that much more deflating for it. This has been the story of my last week and change.
I am in the final stages of a huge project and I’ve been working 12 hour days during the week and eight to ten hour days on the weekend to get it done. It’s a great project and I am thrilled to be involved but these have been long days, days in which I hoped to help the the last few hours of work (or, you know, the first few hours of the weekends work) feel less like work by completing them in front of a good game. Instead, I got last week’s not-the-series-we-wanted-it-to-be against the White Sox, followed by the weekend’s not-the-series-we-wanted-it-to-be against the Rangers and then this latest mini really-not-the-series-we-wanted-it-to-be against the A’s. Sure there were a few high points, but they were buried in a mound of blah. And it just didn’t pay to be an Angels starter this weekend. Come on Angels, haven’t you considered my needs in all of this? 😉
This evening, as you might have inferred from the score, was especially terrible. Shut out 14 – 0. Ouch. The Angels had no pitching. No bats. And I swear someone rubbed butter in a few of the gloves just to see what would happen. MST3K-ing our way through Transformers II this Saturday? An excellent strategy for turning a bad, bad movie into a really fun evening and a nostalgic nod to the bad movie Fridays of our college years. MST3K-ing our way through an Angels game, on the other hand? That’s a last resort coping mechanism I would prefer not to employ again. But, desperate times, my friends. Desperate times.
…First, a brief digression for the sake of the uninitiated:
MST3K (n) – Mystery Science Theatre 3000. a cult American comedy series featuring a human and his robot sidekicks living on a space station, forced by an evil scientist to watch a series of bad Sci-Fi C and D movies for research. The audience watches the so-bad-it’s-laughable movie with the series characters, who are depicted as silhouettes at the bottom of the screen and provide a hilarious running narrative to that episode’s feature.
MST3K (v) – the act of improving any less than desirable spectacle by providing your own snarky, ideally hilarious, running commentary to the events in question. MST3K-ing is best when indulged in by a moderate sized group of quick wits, though it only outright requires two.
And now we return you to your originally scheduled MLBlogs programming…
So, my question for the team (Of course, they read this blog and take my comments very seriously. Why do you ask? 😉 ) is this. Are you done now? With the botched plays, the WTF base running, the broken clutch at the plate, the wasted great starts, the self-destructing bullpen and all of the unnecessary “excitement” between outs two and three? Every team has off games and every team experiences minor slumps over the course of the season. So, are you done with that now? Are you ready to put it all behind you and play great baseball again? This season you have already shown that you can hit, you have great gloves and boy can you pitch and, this last week notwithstanding, all in the same game even. I love you guys like crazy and will keep watching no matter what you do, but I think we’d all have a lot more fun if you wrapped up this slumping thing and moved on from it like I know you can…oh, and someone give Jordan Walden a hug please, because boy did he look like he needed one after Monday night’s game.
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So, about Kendrys Morales. He got a second opinion on the broken ankle. He will have additional surgery soon and be out for the rest of the season. And my reaction? I’m thrilled. Yes, you read that right. Between the plateau, the setbacks and the pain he it sounds like he was continuing to experience, I had serious concerns about scar tissue and his ability to return to playing in any kind of good condition. I want Kendrys back and playing now as much as anyone, but I want him to have a career playing like he used to even more. I would rather do without him for the rest of the season, than bring him back too early and risk killing his career.
Back to back wins. Now that is the way to end our season match-ups against the Red Sox! Wednesday night was downright magical. I am used to watching the Angels east coast games on delay, so it was a nice treat for me, if not for the players, to hear that the game was just resuming from a 2 and a half hour rain delay as I was turning off the freeway from my evening commute. So we got to watch a full game’s worth of innings live – that game went late! Then today, to catch snippets of the game on the radio and know that my tired Angels were apparently a lot less tired that the Red Sox with Pawtucket reinforcements? Well, that was even better.
Coming home to watch losses on Monday and Tuesday was just a downer. I wasn’t particularly down on the Angels season prospects, mind you. Outside of games involving teams from Boston (and Kansas City) they’ve been playing really well this season. But getting pummeled is always a downer, especially when you know the outcome could have been different.
These last two games though? Wow! Heads up plays. Stellar pitching. Bats, bats and more bats! Hey, this visiting team on the field? They looked suspiciously like my Angels! Way to go guys! Way to recover. And, Mr. Vernon Wells, I am glad to see you get your swagger back, sir, and deservedly so. Seriously, another home run over the monster. A couple of great plays against the monster. And I love the way he runs the bases when he’s on a roll. Just when I think he was a little too daring, he reaches the bag standing up or with an unhurried slide just ahead of the ball. Of course, when I talk about base running, I have to mention Peter Bourjos, who recovered nicely from two bad games and lit up the basepaths – and, apparenlty, Kevin Youkilis! – with his speed.
Torii’s hitting again, warming up with the summer weather as predicted – even though it was cold and wet in Boston. Heck, everyone was hitting these last two games, including Bobby Abreu with the game winning hit among others, and Mark Trumbo with another shot over the monster. I have to give love to the bullpen too, which more than rose to the occasion. I am starting to love seeing Scott Downs and Rich Thompson striding out to the mound. And Trevor Bell was lights out, shutting Boston down for the last four innings Wednesday. And the fielding! Did anyone else see the play at the plate? Perfect throws from Wells and Aybar to Jeff Mathis at the plate who positioned his feet and body so perfectly, that he rolled Marco Scutaro with the tag and brought his sliding feet to a halt against Mathis’s own feet three inches shy of the plate. And the way, Mathis then popped up instantaneously to stare Youkilis down at second. Chills. I have a major soft spot for catchers, as I may have mentioned in this blog a time or ten, so this was my favorite play of the series – absolutely gorgeous to watch.
So, do I think this means the Angels are past their troubles with the Red Sox and can play them on even footing from now on? Would that I could say yes, but I think the weird, uneven rivalry goes back too far for that. However, this is a great start. It leaves the team in the right mood going into their next home stand and sets the proper tone for all future encounters with the dreaded Red Sox – who I was amused to hear serenading Youkilis with Biz Markie’s Just a Friend at every at bat. Now that’s man-crushing open and unrestrained, and quirky to boot, and I have to admire them for that, even as the incongruity of it all amused me to no end.
My friends and I play a lot of board and card games. Anything silly, strategy heavy or, ideally, both is held in high regard. One of them, a card game called Munchkin, is both a send-up of and homage to role playing games, kung fu theatre, sci-fi, superheroes, Lovecraftian horror and a lot of the other stuff you love as a kid…okay, a lot of the other stuff I loved as a kid…or, you know, as an adult in a couple of those cases. 😉 It’s an extremely silly game but also contains a fair bit of strategy. How longe do you collaborate with the other players to beat the monsters and steal their treasure? When do you start stabbing people in the back to win? Can you form alliances you can later betray? You know, great corporate world prep kind of stuff.
Hey Kristen, this is highly entertaining and all. Sounds like a fun game. But is there, oh I don’t know, a baseball tie-in in here somewhere? Yeah. Wait. I’m getting there.
Most of the cards that give you advantages in this game, will also give you a disadvantage in certain situations. For example, the boots of buttkicking card gives you a +3 against monsters because, one would assume, you could stomp on them more effectively, but will also give you a -1 if can’t kill the monster and have to “run away” because, well, they’re heavy.
Fascinating, Kristen. But is there like a +4 centerfielder lurking in here somewhere or a Mendoza line card (+5 defense/-2 offense) because, frankly, I’m not seeing any baseball tie-in. Quiet you. *clears throat* Ahem.
My point is this. For whatever reason, for the past two seasons, the Angels seem to have a -6 against the Red Sox. (Other seasons would certainly qualify as well, but we seemed to have turned the corner in 2009.) I’m not saying the Sox haven’t played good ball when our two teams met, because they have, in many cases excellent ball. It just that lately the Angels seem to slump no matter what and strange things happen. Our bats disappear. Players botch routine plays left and right – Peter Bourjos has had two errors this season. Both of them were dropped routine pop-ups while playing the Red Sox. The great bullpen adventure becomes more Frank Miller than Stan Lee. Most streaks, pitching, hitting or otherwise grind to a halt. It’s weird.
This season, the Angels have taken two out of three against the first place Indians, the Rangers when they were hotter than hot, the Blue Jays and, most recently, the hot and getting hotter Rays. So one would think that we would at least split our series with the Red Sox but, apparently it never works out that way. Come on guys, this is mental! Look at who you have beaten and look at how lights out you’ve been when you’ve played your best this season. Now, pull it together, back up Haren and give him some run support – no runners left behind! – and you can win this one and then turn around and do the same thing for Santana!
As you probably deduced from the above or any number of news reports this evening, Jered Weaver’s undefeated streak came to an end, which was always going to happen eventually. As Dan Haren said in an interview after his loss, no one is going to finish the season at 27 and 0. He was recovering from a stomach virus during which he lost a reported 9 pounds – which really shows up on that lanky frame, 6’7″ or not – and had to spend some time in the hospital with an IV to restore fluids.
Suffice to say, he didn’t have his usual spark. His pitch counts were higher, things were just slightly off…and the really scary part is that he still could have won the game with a little more run support. And that’s not even addressing the crappy umpire call that lead to Pedroia being in a position to smack in the 2nd and 3rd of those runs and changed the game…of course, one of our runs benefitted from a less blatant bad call, so I can only complain so loudly *whistles*. What I’m saying here is, contrary to what some media folks are saying, the streak was not a fluke. Weaver is good and he is tough – and now we know just how tough! – and he will rack up more wins, as will the rest of the rotation who aren’t exactly chopped liver. Go Angels!