Welcome to I-5 Bias: the 2013 Season’s End Edition! This is the latest in what continues to be a fun, occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Matt and I were originally inspired to start this column by the huge shift in attention the AL and NL West have enjoyed. Between tough competitions down to the October wire, prominent postseason performances and some pretty loud player acquisitions, the AL and NL West, and frequently my Angels and his Dodgers specifically, have been big, big news. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? No, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
Understandably, I almost didn’t want to do this edition, given the Angels sad, sad finish. But I would be a poor sport indeed if I didn’t continue in light of my fellow blogger’s team’s huge success. So, *mumbles* Congratulations Dodgers and good luck. Angels, kindly get it together this offseason – pretty please! And hopefully the next postseason will have more of a both ends of the I-5 vibe – not that a Freeway Series with Vin Scully announcing and the Angels ultimately victorious – naturally! – isn’t a bucket list level dream of mine or anything…nope, not at all. *nods* But I digress…
For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted by our teams’ final season records and the ensuing fan and media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snotty ones), please ask away:
The Dodgers and the Angels both had abysmal starts to their seasons. But by the end of June, the Dodgers started to turn things completely around. What are your thoughts on the Dodgers comeback/why do you think they were able to turn their season around?
Matt says: It’s amazing to think about what the Dodgers did. At the begining a lot of things were going completely wrong. Injuries, Leaving runners on base, Errors, Mismanagement, I mean whatever you thought of it happened with the Dodgers. When they went on that run It was unbelieveable run and took first place, There was a feeling that this team could do something special. How they were able to turn it around? Honestly there was a number of things. Everyone started to trust one another, In an Interview before the Blue Jays Series Adrian Gonzalez and AJ Ellis said that everyone on that team started to trust each other. Taking a few pitches and not over do things knowing the next guy behing them. Anotheher was the pitching started to get better. If you look at the Dodgers Statisiticly pitching it started with their top two starting pitchers in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. In the 2nd half both are a world better with low ERA’s and great win-loss records so there was no doubt that they would get it together. The rest of the staff on the other hand really went on to shock me. Ricky Nolasco was really getting it together, Hyun Jin Ryu continued his success, and the Bullpen as a whole managed to get better and the addition of Brian Wilson made it better as well. Let’s also not forget about Yasiel Puig! I think he was the huge spark that the Dodgers needed with his play.
Kristen says: I think it was as close to a perfect storm of good as a team can get – things started clicking for the Dodgers when Yasiel Puig debuted right as key players started coming off the DL. This is, perhaps, an oversimplified explanation for a pretty epic comeback, but that’s all I’ve got and, really, it’s no worse than Vin’s Magic Castle explanation. 😉
And what are your thoughts on the Angels continually frustrating season/why do you think they weren’t able to turn their season around?
Kristen says: Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover it. Trust me, I watched something like 145 of 162. Seriously. There are a lot of things that went wrong – injuries, veterans failing to perform, an on again/off again offense – but I think that the worst thing, the truly irreparable nail in the coffin, was pitching. This is a team that had relied on stellar pitching for the last string of seasons and they went into 2013 without a true starting rotation and no improvements to speak of in a shaky bullpen. Then injuries and aging arms made the pitching situation even worse and the powers that be failed to make any moves that constituted so much as a legitimate patch before the trade deadline – not that they really had a lot of funds to make such a thing possible by that point in the season.
Matt says: The Angels were a team I thought would also get it together in the 2nd half of the season. They had the offensive fire power, Pujols, Trout, and Kendrick was doing their thing, Josh Hamilton was starting to come around but ultimately the Angels couldn’t get it done. You had the injury to Albert that put himout for the rest of the season and inconsistant play it just wasn’t good all around. I think what hurt the Angels was the inconsistant ball play. The inability to really put something together to make a run hurt them. In the AL West you can’t afford to lose series against the A’s and Rangers and expect to make up ground. Droping games against Seattle and Houston didn’t help at all either. I believe the Angels needed to get it together consistantly and didn’t.
With postseason baseball coming for the Dodgers what is their biggest strength and weakness? How far do you think they can go?
Matt says: Their biggest strength will be pitching. I always preach that pitching will win you championships. Look at the Giants in 2010-2012 and look at the Phillies 2008-2009. Both had a great pitching staff that lifted them to World Series appaerances/Championships. That’s what the Dodgers needed and they tackled it well the Dodgers pitching staff is getting it done at the right time and when it’s really needed. Kershaw and Greinke in game one and two is scary enough and the bullpen has been lights out. As far as their weakness I do believe it’s their health. Dodgers for some reason have this issue with staying healthy and that tend to hurt them a lot. Right now L.A. have Matt Kemp out for the season with a ankle injury and the status of Andre Ethier is really up in the air right now. This team must stay healthy in order to really make an impact. I do believe the Dodgers can go far. It’s going to be difficult because they have a lot of good teams to pan up against and will be on the road. I think the Dodgers can make it to the World Series due to their pitching and talent.
Kristen says: I think pitching is the Dodgers biggest strength and an on again, off again offense is potentially their biggest liability. They sure aren’t hitting right now but even the last few games leading up to the postseason aren’t always an indication of play come October. If the Dodgers start hitting again, they could go pretty far.
What, if anything, do you think the season fallout will be in the Angels organization? Is there anything this team can do to get back on track for 2014?
Kristen says: I feel like Sadusky in National Treasure, “Someone’s got to go to prison, Ben.” I don’t know or even really want to predict who is going to leave but it’s certain that someone, and probably several someones, will. There are rumors flying far and wide about Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia. On the one hand, if you take injuries out of the equation, Jerry Dipoto is responsible for the pitching situation – he dismantled the old starting rotation to build this one. One the other hand, Scioscia has managed four teams that failed to make the post season in a row, two of them with losing records…and don’t think we haven’t noticed that this is the first season Arte Moreno has failed to respond to questions over Sosh’s future with with instant unwavering support. So is it one or both of these guys or will it be a massive player shift? Or, D, some of all of the above? Personally, I’d like the fallout to be enough player movement to get an actual starting rotation going into 2014 without throwing all babies out with the bathwater to accomplish it. But I learned a long time again that I don’t think like a team owner, especially not this team owner, so I doubt it will be that.
Matt says: I don’t think much will happen in the Angels Organization really but ig I had to pick I do believe the Angels will let go Jerry Dipoto. He has made splash signings with Albert Puljos, CJ Wilson, and Josh Hamilton but really nothing much has come out of it. He also failed to get the Angels true help which was to upgrade the pitching staff. I do believe that there is something that this team can do to turn it around in 2014 and that’s to get pitching help. They have the offensive firepower and enough of it but now is the time to really lock down on pitching if they want to make an impact in the AL West.
After winning the NL West the Dodgers came out of their clubhouse and celebrated in the Diamondbacks pool in the outfield. This was controversial and commentators have expressed differing opinions on the matter. What is your take on the celebration?
Matt says: Well I maybe in the majority that actaully don’t have an issue with this. I honestly think the Diamondbacks and media are making a huge deal out of it than we are or the Dodgers. If anything it started with them saying that the Dodgers couldn’t comeback out to celebrate which puzzles me. It was all done when everyone was out of the stadium and Los Angeles didn’t mean any harm over it at all. I understand the sportsmanship and classiness of celebrating but lets not forget when the Dbacks clinched they went swiming in their pool in 2011. It’s really no issue at all really and I think it’s bigger deal to Arizona than anyone else.
Kristen says: On the one hand, I think the DBacks telling the Dodgers not to come back out of the Clubhouse to celebrate on their field was out of line and contrary to baseball tradition. So, if the Dodgers had just come out of the Clubhouse and celebrated on the field, I wouldn’t have any objections. But come on Dodgers, you can’t tell me that a large part of your motivation to celebrate specifically by jumping in the DBacks’ pool wasn’t sticking it to a division rival with whom you have bad blood and have brawled this season, knowing that such an action would really piss them off. While that is certainly an understandable, human motivation it isn’t exactly a classy one. So, do I think the Dodgers are evil? No. But they sure aren’t winning any kudos for sportsmanship this season. Of course, did they actually set out to? Probably not.
So, baseball fan boys and girls, what does the 2013 season have to teach us about pre-season media hype?
Kristen says: Well, both the Dodgers and the Angels were heavily hyped to go all the way. The Angels…yeah, ‘nuff said. *sigh* While the Dodgers have made it to the post season in style for sure…but with significant help from guys who weren’t even on the team when the predictions were made. Look, an MLB season is too long and complicated to ever listen to the preseason predictions with anything more than the kind of interest a diehard baseball fan shows any MLB news when there are no live games on yet and a ‘that’s nice’.
Matt says: I think it taught us something very valuable. Baseball isn’t played on paper. If you were to tell me the Giants, Angels, Nationals and Blue Jays wouldn’t even come close to playoff contention then I would think you’re crazy. This season basically showed us a lot when it comes to pre-season media hype. The Dodgers and Angels got off to bad starts but the Dodgers managed to get it together in the second half of the season and the Angels struggled which was disapointing to see. I think we will all be more careful when we take a look at things in the pre-season but this was another example of how anything can happen in baseball.
Get to Know Your Bloggers Bonus Question: Do you have any favorite memories and moments from the MLB Postseason?
Matt says: Well I do have a few memories and moments from the MLB Postseason. The Dodgers sweeping the Cardnials in 2009 is one that sticksout because St Louis was a heavy favorite and it really shocked a lot of us when the Dodgers swept them out of the playoffs. Another was the Cardinals/Rangers World Series. It was sad to see Texas lose it when they had two chances at winning it but amazing to see the Cards win it thanks to David Freese heroics but I think my favorite has to be the Red Sox and Yankees 2004 Series where the Yankees were up 3-0 in the series and was bound to win the series only for the Sox to pulloff an amazing comeback to win the ALCS which was crazy to see. I hope to see some this postseason as well that we can talk about for years to come.
Kristen says: You all know what I’m going to say here, right? ‘Erstad says he’s got it. Erstad makes the catch!’…except, favorite memory though that was, I wasn’t strictly back to being a baseball fan in 2002. I was a bitter, bitter lady over the strike, and I’d been raised a Dodgers fan, after all. No, I wouldn’t come back to baseball until I fell head over heels in love with the Angels about three seasons after the 2002 series. Sad, but true. But I do remember when they won. My grandfather was a lifelong Angels fan going back to the Minor League PCL days, but he passed away in 1990 and missed the team’s truly good years. It’s maudlin, but I remember catching the end of game 7 on TV and wishing that somehow he knew, as you do.
Now, with my odd mixed fan base baseball background, I also have vivid warm fuzzies over 1988, and that first Saturday game, building the Lego castle of the weekend all along the den floor with my sister while we watched the World Series. Memories of Vin Scully’s, ‘And look who’s coming up…’ and just knowing who I was going to see when I put down the Legos and looked up at the screen, because Kirk Gibson was my hero, so of course he would come in at just the right moment to win the game like it was some sort of fairy tale.
Ah childhood! But I guess that’s part of why I really get into doing this whole I-5 Bias thing, even when my team blows so many goats for the season that they actually made me momentarily happy the regular season has ended. Oh well, here’s looking forward to 2014 and hopefully less drama and more editions of I-5 Bias where I get to brag about my guys. Cheers!
It’s been awfully hard to write about the Angels this season, largely because they’ve been…well…pretty awful, but not 100% of the time. And I do so hate to put up a thoroughly ranting post, no matter how well deserved, just as the team is in the middle of doing something unexpectedly good the next day. Hey, every fan’s just a little bit superstitious, right? (A truth that could have easily been included in Avenue Q, right alongside the Internet is for Porn and such.) And, I equally hate posting commentary filled with praise and slowly rekindling hope just as the team proceeds to dash those hopes by ending whatever modest streak they had going in spectacular fashion, yet again. I suppose I should try to analyze this mess but, while I like SABR just fine and was more than a bit of a math geek back in my school days, that doesn’t exactly make for my kind of writing. Besides, when I start thinking about the Angels 2013 season, instead of analysis, I find myself mired instead in the midst of so very many sad little what ifs…so, finally, I decided to just go with that.
The 2013 Angels: What if…
…The Angels’ Hot Stove pitching maneuvers didn’t remind me quite so much of Shel Silverstein’s poem Smart?
…Albert Pujols had been given or insisted upon (because I’m still not clear on who was the most stubborn in this case) a chance to really rest and heel his foot issues early on in the season…or had accepted/been assigned the DH role from the beginning.
…Jered Weaver landed a bit differently in Texas back in April and hadn’t broken his arm? Of course, broken arm or not, hitting the DL at that point might have been necessary anyway. He was having a rough time pitching and many speculated he was already injured.
Heck, what if at least half a dozen what ifs regarding injuries this season — step right on up and pick your favorite!
…The offense stranded just a few less guys on base each week…hit into just a few less double plays each week…fired on all cylinders a few more times each month.
…Angels fielding looked like…well, for lack of a better phrase…Angels fielding, real Angels fielding I mean, a few more times each month.
…Run support, quality starts and effective bullpen pitching weren’t such strangers from one another.
…Among Josh Hamilton’s many considerable talents, was more of an ability to take a pitch from time to time.
…Going to the bullpen made me think “roll a pair of 10Ds to see if bullpen self destructs” a little less often.
…The starting rotation didn’t make me think quite so often of Wayne Campbell’s gun rack…because, seriously, do two regularly functioning pitchers really necessitate anything quite so grand as a full rotation?
…I had an easier time writing angst/my ability to write about the Angels wasn’t so proportionally tied to the team doing something remotely approximating well. *snerk* Hey, then I might actually have had a consistent blog going this season.
…Waxing metaphorical on the current state of the Angels farm system didn’t have me looking more at post Dustbowl imagery than that of a thriving agricultural center.
…The team had played just a few more really good, fun to watch games each month because, let’s be honest here, they have actually managed to play a few like that here and there, a scant couple of which might even be described as epic.
What if. What if. What if. None of mine are colossal what ifs. Most are, in fact, quite small instances of what if this or that had happened just a little more or less often. Most of the bones of a contending team are in the clubhouse right now, so I can’t help but think that’s all it would have taken for this Angels team to at least be looking at .500 from more of a northern vantage point, possibly even to have realistic thoughts about an October. But neither the season not the players played out that way.
So, I leave you with one last what if, a what if that can’t help but pop into my mind during Angels seasons both good and bad. What if my grandfather, a lifelong, diehard Angels fan, were alive to see this year’s team and hear all of my what ifs today? I mean, this was a man who began his fandom attending and frequently sneaking into PCL Angels games during the Depression and who never failed to listen to the Major League incarnation of his beloved team on the radio in all the time that I knew him. Well, I definitely think he’d be shocked by recent contract expenditures though less so and certainly significantly less pleasantly so than he would be by that gorgeous World Series Trophy. I think he would be disappointed in this season, but I also think that, having lived through so many terrible seasons I could probably expect some comments to the effect that at least today’s fans have a real reason to hope for great things most seasons.
Now, do I feel that sharing this thought is supposed to make everything all better? That just because the Angels have quite the long history of seasons ranging from disappointing to god awful, somehow one more utterly terrible season is no big deal? Absolutely not. But the thought of this imagined lecture which I can almost hear in his voice, does give me some perspective and, if I’m to be honest, a bit of a smile – you know, memories of our grandfathers and all that. This season is terrible. Barring a miracle, it is also over. And that is disappointing on a scale that will no doubt have us all speaking of the team of 2013 in dark, bitter tones to our own grandchildren. But for all of that, it is just one season. And, unlike with the Angels teams of my grandfather’s day, once a few gaffes have been corrected and hamstringing contracts dealt with, a hopefully wiser front office will actually have the means to put together a contending team again. It may not be next season. It may not be the season after that – though I sure hope it doesn’t take that long. But it will happen. And that’s more than fans of Grandpa’s era could say with anything more than the most wishful of thinking.
Writers are often purported to be an angsty bunch, pouring out the prose most effectively in a fit of anger or sadness. But not I. Words flow from my fingers through the keyboard most easily when I’m in a good mood and this blog is no exception. I don’t want to yell at my Angels, I want to cheer for and celebrate them. Now, is this more a factor of there being little truth to the stereotype about writers or of the fact of my being a hack, I cannot say. 😉 But I can tell you that I’d far rather continue writing the post I started in a fit of baseball fan euphoria on Sunday than anything “inspired” by last night’s game against the Rangers…but, don’t worry. You know me. I’ll bring it back around eventually.
Oh what a difference a series or even a game can make in the mood of the baseball fan! Especially when that series finds my previously slumping Angels sweeping the Tigers, scary offensive lineup and all! You would think that, as a lifelong baseball fan, I would thoroughly grok the whole 162 game season concept and not get so worked up over a series or even a week here or there. But, in truth, I think that’s only possibly for the more casual fan, the fan who skims the box scores far more often than they find the time to sit down and watch a game. Because, when you watch most of those 162 games, the no less true for being so very clichéd concept of this being a marathon not a sprint, becomes strictly academic in the face of the fact that you are living the season game by game. Heck, sometimes it doesn’t even take a series to provoke a completely disproportionate to the sample size at hand move to despair or jubilation. Especially this early in the season, sometimes just a game will do it. I certainly found myself embracing an impractical surge of optimism after watching the Angels’ walk off win against the Astros from the Big A two Saturdays ago. And a game like last night’s game against the Rangers, a game which laid bare all of the Angels flaws over the course of nine innings – see, I told you I’d bring this back around! – would have eaten at me, planting nagging doubts about the season, even in June or July.
Thus, last post I was desperately searching for a reason to stay optimistic and this weekend I was trying to temper my optimism with sane practicality and with only limited success…until last night. After the first game against the Rangers, the stark reminder of the Angels flaws did temper that optimism, but it didn’t kill it. Yes, I know the Angels are far from out of the woods yet in terms of the standings…yes, even this early in the season and I will remind anyone who says ‘no it’s too early to worry at all’ to look at last season. Yes, the starting rotation is a real problem, especially for the duration of Jered Weaver’s DL stint, and the bullpen is worse. And, yes, there is an awful lot riding on a potentially brilliant but frustratingly streaky offense. But the weekend’s sweep of the Tigers did at least show us what an Angels team with a fully functioning offense can do when the different components of the pitching staff combine for at least a passable performance, and what that team can do is win! Now, when the offense takes a while to come online, or is scoring but still strands too many runners in scoring position while any aspect of the pitching outright self destructs? Well, hang on to your hats ladies and gentlemen, this season could get a little interesting by all appropriately Hoban Washburne definitions of the word.
So those are the realistic concerns from the past week and change, but what about the happier observations?:
- Is there anything hotter in baseball than your team’s walk off win? I mean, seriously. Is there anything more, dear lord, ‘Is it getting warm in here or is it just me?,’ I think I need several moments to recover and quite possibly a cigarette, hotter in baseball than a walk off win…especially one you witness live? No. Quite simply, there is not, as I was reminded from our seats at the Big A two Saturdays ago and again just this past Sunday.
- When the offense is clicking it can and will pick up even so-so pitching…and the offense is heating up. Okay, Josh Hamilton needs to catch the warming trend and we’d like Mike Trout to steal more again, but for the most part they’re starting to look really good more games than not.
- Promising youth explosion! If we had to have so many injuries early on – and, let’s face it, we’d all prefer that the Angels did not, but here we are – then at least the team has found two legitimate gems in the form of Garrett Richards and Luis “Lucho” Jimenez. When he last joined the Big League team, Richards had promising stuff but little seasoning. Returning from more time in the minors with a lot more polish, the youngster still has some work to do, but has nevertheless been one of the brighter spots in the rotation. And Lucho, replacing the ailing Alberto Callaspo, is simply a revelation. Good instincts, good hands, serious athleticism, some speed and no small amount of pop in his bat, not to mention an attitude with just the right amount of cockiness and an infectious grin. I find myself hoping that Lucho is Callaspo’s permanent replacement and I’m one of the fans usually counted among Callaspo supporters.
- Even in our sketchy bullpen there are a few standouts. Scott Downs is Downs again. Jerome Williams is a confidence inspiring sight taking the mound in long relief and recent call up Michael Roth sure impressed in his Angels debut…in fact, one wonders why we haven’t seen him since. (Editor’s Note: Ah, that would be because apparently Roth is temporarily joining the starting rotation beginning tonight. I’m awfully excited to watch that. It’s only the Rangers, kid, and Yu Darvish. No pressure. 😉 )
- Our outfield!! Trout, Peter Bourjos and Hamilton. I cannot get enough of the great plays from these three guys. And Bourjos haters? You go right on hating because, let’s face it that’s what you’re going to do anyway despite anything I say or, you know, logic. But don’t look now, Bourjos is hitting. Well!! And he’s getting on base too. Once Hamilton settles in at the plate, this trio will be unstoppable.
And that’s basically the long and the short of it. Which Angels tendencies will have more of an impact on the standings by season’s end? Well it really is too soon to tell, no matter how I feel on a game by game basis. But I have more optimism than I did when last I checked in and that, dear reader, is seriously something…something I for one needed badly.
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Opening Day Edition! This is the third in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉 ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the end of spring training and the World Baseball Classic and, of course, Baseball Fans’ Christmas Morning, otherwise known as Opening Day. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:
So, about those less than stellar spring training records? Are you concerned? What, if anything, did you learn about your team from spring training?
Kristen says: I’m not really concerned about the Angels spring training record (or, truth be told, the Dodgers either for that matter). Split squads facing full squads. Pitchers taking the mound in unconventional innings for unusual stretches of time. Players pulled both more and less quickly than they usually would be. Minor leaguers finishing what the big leaguers start. Spring training play is just too different from regular season play for the one record to say anything predictive about the other. Besides, lately the Angels have started off their seasons with a crappy April and early May. The terrible spring training record gives me a small, odd hope that they’ve somehow gotten it out of their systems earlier this season. Now, having watched more spring training games than not, I can tell you that I am still really concerned about the Angels bullpen and only somewhat less concerned about the back end of the starting rotation. Here’s hoping that I’m just a hopeless worrywart without cause.
Matt says: as far as the records I’m not concerned at all because if you look at spring training most of the time it’s the minor league guys and Non roster guys playing so no need to worry at all. As far as what I learned in Spring I learned a few things. 1- the Dodgers minor league system is in great hands and 2- Dodgers have depth.
After watching spring training, what player(s) have particularly impressed you? What player(s) you look forward to seeing this upcoming season?
Matt says: One player I am really looking forward to seeing and Impressed by is Josh Beckett and here’s why. While Beckett isn’t going to be a Cy Young Award winner he is going to produce for the Dodgers. I believe the change of scenery will really help him this season. Another player that impressed me was Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu will have to adjust to the MLB style of play but without a doubt he can for sure get it done. He will be a treat to watch this season. Yasiel Puig also impressed many Dodger fans this spring. Even though he was sent to Double A due to no room on the roster he will be something else once he’s called up.
Kristen says: I’m still head over heels enamored with the Angels outfield — Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton. They had their rough games and bouts of butterfingers this spring training but I really got the impression they learned to work well together. Watching Bourjos get his centerfielder’s confidence back after a season spent largely on the bench was a kick and a half, as was watching Hank Conger kill it at the plate.
This is the first season with two 15 team leagues and interleague play every day. In fact, the Angels are one of the teams opening the season with an interleague series. What are your thoughts on this?
Kristen says: I’m an oddity among hardcore baseball fans in that I actually enjoy interleague play and look forward to all of the odd matchups — perhaps it’s a throwback to my childhood and all of those great DC/Marvel comic mash ups. 😉 So, on many levels, I am excited to see the Angels take on the Reds. In fact, my only annoyance with the Angels season opener is not that it’s against a National League team. It’s that the series takes place on the East Coast and most of the games are early, sticking me with the unappealing choice of either catching games that take place while I’m at work only in bits and pieces on the radio and in phone updates, or watching them on delay knowing full well that there is no way I will be able to avoid knowing the outcome of the game prematurely unless by some miracle I can avoid the entire internet, the radio, television and basically all human contact until I’m finished watching the game. I know. Not bloody likely.
As for this being the first season with two 15 team leagues, I love having an equal number of teams in both leagues at last, but still have some serious reservations about that equal number being an odd one. We’ll see how this works out.
Matt says: I honestly believe is a pretty cool yet odd thing. With Opening Day it’s the start of the season and you always want to start the season off on the right foot. Interleague games to start the season will be an odd one but will also be fun. A good example is Angles and Reds. The Reds pitching staff against the Angels line up at Great American Ballpark is a game that catches many eyes. AL vs NL contenders. I believe it is a great treat for baseball fans.
What are your thoughts on your team’s Opening Day 25-man roster? Do you have any issues or just plain surprises?
Matt says: Justin Sellers is a player that surprised me. I would’ve thought Alex Castellanos or Ellian Herrara would be on the roster but Mattingly wanted to go with Defense. Paco Rodriguez is also another surprise but the kid shown that he can pitch. That’s for a fact. He can really pitch and has a bright future with this team. Other than that I see no other surprises on the 25 man roster. Most are healthy which is great.
Kristen says: The 25-man roster is more or less what I expected. There were no surprises for me in terms of the starters and I am completely happy on that front, ecstatic even. I was thrilled, though not surprised, that Hank Conger made the roster. Hopefully 2013 is his year to really make an impact! I was pleasantly surprised to see Andrew Romine make the bench list and am excited to see what he can do. I’ve had a soft spot for the kid ever since I saw him pull off a tough force play at third with a long distance slide across the bag with the ball, just ahead of the runner. He’s rough around the edges and needs work at the plate but has good instincts and an appealing versatility. My only issue is that even, with a large personnel shuffle in the bullpen, I still don’t trust them to be consistently reliable. Prove me wrong guys. I would love nothing more than to be making heartfelt, happy mea culpas to the bullpen at the end of the season.
The World Baseball Classic was big news and now the media are debating the impact it will have on the regular season. What are your thoughts?
Kristen says: I think it’s a mixed bag and that the effects will differ from player to player. I’m thrilled silly that the Angels’ participant, Erick Aybar, emerged from the WBC with a May and June like hot bat that he shows every intention of maintaining. In the case of Aybar, who regularly plays pretty much year around between the regular season and the Dominican League, I think he actually has a chance of maintaining it and other teams will be in this same, happy little boat. Other players may start out hot but fade early having, effectively, started playing hardcore, competitive baseball a month earlier than their teammates. And, of course, WBC related injuries — many of which would not have happened during less intense ST play — will be an issue for a few teams, including the Dodgers. What we have to remember, however, is that if the unfortunate end of the WBC related effects spectrum is enough to tip the seasonal balances for any team, then one of any number of the sort of injuries/issues that managers have to anticipate during the regular season might well have had the exact same effect.
Matt says: I honestly believe it will. Hanley’s injury was something that could’ve Happened in a Spring Training game. What many fail to realize is that the WBC gets players into 9 innings shape instead if slowly getting into that game by game. It gets them ready and going and if their teams make playoffs then the atmosphere will have them set to go. So I believe for the good it will have them ready.
Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: So, Opening Day. Do you have tickets to your team’s home opener and what, if any, Opening Day traditions do you have?
Matt says: yes I absolutely do. This is my first FULL season as a season ticket holder and I am looking forward to it. A tradition I always have is I check my stuff the night before and put it in one place. Then I get there the next day for batting practice and to see all the festivities. Opening day is really great.
Kristen says: I am bouncing off the walls excited! Yes, we do have tickets to the Angels home opener, though it’s just about the latest home opener for any team this season so I still have a ways to go before I get to see my guys play live. For the last three seasons, our tradition has been to go to the Angels home opener. In seasons like this one where that doesn’t coincide with Opening Day, our tradition is just to watch as much baseball as possible and really soak it in after the long winter without, preferably accompanied by a nice bottle of red…or two. Sadly, this year all traditions will be bucked. I’m sick, so no wine, and the Angels are playing at 1 p.m. on a weekday so, really, no Angels. Thus this year’s ‘tradition’ is apparently watching not my team and being frustrated until the Angels hit Texas. But, you know what? Today umpires will call out those magical words, ‘Play ball!’ twelve times in regular season play, so I simply can’t be bothered to wipe the big, silly grin off of my face long enough to be upset about much of anything. Baseball is back!
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition! This is the second in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉 ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions prompted by spring training, the World Baseball Classic and recent media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:
What player(s) should we keep an eye on during spring training? Are there any young minor leaguers Angels/Dodgers fans should pay special attention to?
Kristen Says: Well, I don’t think I have to tell anyone to keep an eye on the usual suspects. 😉 In fact, at least this early on in spring training, I wish fans would keep less of an eye, or at least a more casual eye on some of the bigger names. Josh Hamilton going 0 for 3 in his Angels February spring training debut merits a top Yahoo headline today? Really? *shaking my head and laughing* As for some of the players who aren’t already on every fan’s radar but should be, with Bobby Wilson no longer on the team, Hank Conger will be trying to make this season finally be the season that sees him start and stay on the 25-man roster. His batting average was the only thing standing in the way before and this spring he’s off to a great start. Peter Bourjos spent 2012 on the bench but is slated to finally share the outfield with Mike Trout in 2013. He should be both thrilled to play again this spring and extra eager to prove himself. Outfielder Kole Calhoun and short stop Andrew Romine will start the season in the minors on the 40-man roster but are exciting up and comers likely to become 25-man roster fixtures in the seasons to come.
Matt Says: Well for the Dodgers there’s two players that fans should keep an eye on. Yasiel Puig and Zack Lee. Puig as you know was the first major International signing that the Dodgers made in the middle of the season. Many scouts say he has good Power but is still Raw and needs more coaching. Fans will finally get to see what he is all about this Spring and we’ll get to see if he is ready or needs more time. Zack Lee is another player who is listed as the #1 Prospect in the Dodgers Organization. This is a guy who I believe will be called up this season (If any injuries are to hit). If not we will see him in Triple A.
Teams often find a hidden gem in a non roster invitee. Which NRI player(s) have the best shot at making the Roster come opening day?
Matt Says: Dodgers tend to find hidden gems with the NRI players. I will say one who has a good shot would be Peter Molan and Mark Lowe. The Dodgers want to add a Veteran presence in a young bullpen and both of them have a good shot at making it but will have to beat out Stephen Fife and Josh Wall just to get on the 40 man roster. Molan you may remember was with the Braves last season but was hit with Injury problems and Lowe was with the Rangers as well but didn’t play as much. Only one of them will make it on the 40 man roster in my opinion.
Kristen Says: Barring any injuries or other oddities *knock on every scrap of wood in a 40 mile radius!* I think the Angels came in to spring training with the 25 and 40-man rosters pretty much set in all respects except perhaps the bullpen. I think that if NRI relief pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi continues to have a good Spring, he will have a shot at making the roster for Opening Day but I don’t expect any of the other Angels NRI players to make the roster for a couple of seasons yet.
Are there any issues or unanswered questions that you hope to see your team work out in spring training?
Kristen Says: For me, at least, the biggest question still facing the Angels is the starting rotation. I’m thrilled with the addition of Jason Vargas, but once I get past Jered Weaver and Vargas, I am full of questions. Will C.J. Wilson’s bone spur surgery mark the reappearance of the strong, reliable, successful C.J.? And will we get to see this C.J. in the second half too? Which Tommy Hanson will we see? And so on. I bounce back and forth between optimism and queasiness on the subject and really hope that spring training ultimately gives us a strong indication of positive answers to those questions. A secondary question for me is how quickly will the planned outfield configuration of Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right shape up? I don’t ask how well because I don’t really think that’s a necessary question — an all young, talented centerfielder outfield is a pretty drool-worthy prospect. At the same time, Trout and Hamilton are both used to calling the shots in their respective outfields and Bourjos spent most of 2012 — unfairly — on the bench so it may take him a few games to get used to taking charge again and will definitely take all three of them a few games to get used to each other’s range and working together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what spring training is for – and I do love the fact that so many games are on TV now so that we get to watch the process.
Matt Says: Well for sure it isn’t Chemisty haha. I honestly think there’s a few questions and issues that I would like to see the Dodgers workout. One is being Hanley at Shortstop. Hanley isn’t the best defensive Shortstop out there and we all know he was at 3rd for a reason with the Marlins last year. Hanley will have to get fielding down at short and only has so much time with the Dodgers before he goes and plays in the WBC with the Dominican Republic. The rotation after Kershaw and Greinke is also a mystery as well. Dodgers had a deep rotation which could see guys either traded or moved to the bullpen. #3-4-5 will be up in the air pending on how Capuano, Harang, Beckett, Billingsley, Lilly, and Ryu pitches through the spring. Right now it’s projected to be Beckett, Billingsley, and Ryu but that could all change.
The Dodgers are well represented in the 2013 World Baseball Classic with five players participating. The Angels only have one player participating. How do you feel about this? Do you think it’s more important to have the cream of MLB represented in the WBC or for teams and players to conserve their talent for the regular baseball season?
Matt Says: I for one Love the World Baseball Classic. I like that the Dodgers are well represented in this because they’re playing for their country which is something they don’t get to do that much. I honestly would like to see the MLB’s best play in the classic but can understand if the Player don’t want to play..Notice I said player because I feel it’s up to them if they want to play in the Classic. Through the past few weeks we have seen teams step in a block players from play in the tournament and that I think is not fair. I get that teams don’t want guys hurt playing but it’s the same risk if you have them play in a Spring Training game. In my opinion I think it’s more important to have players ready for the Regular season but the WBC is played in the Spring and the players will have their rest before the Season starts but that’s for the players to decide. You see players like Mike Trout who declined to play to work with the Angels and that I can understand and respect.
Kristen Says: I think it’s great for the Dodgers to be so well represented in the WBC and most years I would be happy to see the Angels equally well represented. However, after all of the injuries of 2011 and 2012 and with so many very young players still learning how to keep positive momentum all the way through the second half of the regular season, I am glad that this Angels team largely opted not to participate. There will be other WBCs with more Angels participation. In general, while it would certainly be exciting to have all of the best in baseball playing in the WBC, I think this is a question best left up to the individual players. As with the Angels, I completely understand when players, knowing their own pre-season training needs, decide that they would prefer just to concentrate on the regular baseball season and skip out on the WBC. Look, half the fun of the WBC is seeing MLB greats playing for their home or ancestral countries, so excellent MLB participation isn’t going to guarantee a strong USA team regardless – though I do think we have a strong, competitive team this year and am excited to have tickets to the USA/Mexico game in a few weeks. I also don’t think that teams should step in to block players from participating in the WBC unless there is a legitimate injury concern in the sense of a frequently or recently injured player.
We had a Freeway Series showdown — naturally! — during the MLB Network’s recent Face of MLB contest and Matt Kemp beat Mike Trout. Thoughts? Reactions?
Kristen Says: On the surface, the Face of MLB contest is just a fun, silly way to pass the offseason time. On a deeper level though, I think the results demonstrate the effect of changing technology on the way fans interact with the game. With the increasing popularity of social media, constant MLB-wide highlights streaming across a baseball dedicated cable channel and all of the different ways we have to stream games online and watch out of market games on TV, baseball is no longer about just getting to see “our team” and the handful of, primarily East Coast teams, that at one point held an almost “National Brand” status. There was a time, not so long ago, when West Coast ballplayers would have been eliminated in the first round of any such competition. Now we fans still root the hardest for our own teams – as it should be! — but we are also aware of the daily exploits of talented players on every team regardless of rank and market size and I think that’s wonderful! As for Matt Kemp beating Mike Trout in this competition quite handily, this season I think that’s as it should be. Both are exceptionally talented players but Trout is a brand new face while Kemp is an established a team leader with several MVP level seasons to his credit. However, as Trout continues to live up to his potential, I expect that the results of any such future contests will quickly start shifting in Trout’s favor. 😉
Matt Says: I didn’t vote or anything for this because I don’t see the point in it but I find it to be something that adds for the fans. Last year Mike Trout was in the same position Kemp was in 2011. Great season only to not be named MVP due to his team not being in the Playoffs. Honestly I believe this is a great honor for both players to be recognized but in my opinion this was for the fans to make that call which we all knew who everyone was voting for. I just want to know outside of Dodgers/Angels fans who voted for who haha.
Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: As a fan, do you look forward to spring training or can you take it or leave it?
Matt Says: As a fan yes I do and for many reasons. One it signals that Baseball is back after a long off-season and seeing Free-Agents sign and moves being made in the winter. Also allows fans to get a good look at players like a Kershaw and Kemp play and get their pre-season done, New players like Grenkie and Ryu play with their teams for the first time, and get a good look at the Top Prospects in the farm system play in MLB Uniform and see if they’re the real deal. Best part is actually going to see Spring Training and actually getting to meet the players. Yes people spend a lot of money to attend opening day or Opening night but it’s the only time fans can catch Baseball at a cheap price and in a location (Well to me and Kristen) where it’s not far at all. This year will be my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona and I am honestly looking forward to it. I understand some fans say they’ll wait till Opening Day to see what the team is about and that’s fine but with me being such a Baseball Junkie I like to see the Prospects and NRI guys just to see what my team will be working with.
Kristen Says: I love spring training and look forward to it every year! Yes, this is partially because of how stir crazy I get in the offseason. However, a big part of my spring training love is the glimpse it gives us inside the teams’ preparations for the season. I love watching my favorite players shake off the rust and work back into their regular season form and I enjoy watching new players and/or existing players in new positions work to blend seamlessly into the team unit. No, the games aren’t the same quality as regular season games, especially this early on. And, yes, once we get past about March 15th, I will be Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. But the more casual vibe of spring training has an undeniable charm all its own and serves as the perfect appetizer before the regular season main course. (I decided that this was a more mature metaphor than Foreplay/Long Time, if you will. Aren’t you all so proud? 😉 )
Pitchers and Catchers report today!! Okay, granted with a few exceptions. But, still, pitchers and catchers report today. *happy dance* I know, I know. To the baseball fan, it’s ‘Play ball!’ that’s the truly wonderful phrase, the phrase we all rank highly on any list of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. ‘Pitchers and catchers report!’ just doesn’t have the same impact…most of the time. Today, however, ‘pitchers and catchers report’ means that the long, looooooong winter without baseball is over. It means that players will begin throwing baseballs, conducting drills and preparing for the main event, Opening Day, any moment now. It means that spring training ‘play ball’s will soon ring out loud and clear across Florida and Arizona and that official, regular season ‘play ball’s are not far behind. So why don’t you just take a moment, let that phrase roll off your tongue again and really savor it this time. Pitchers and catchers report! Today is sounds absolutely gorgeous, doesn’t it?
In honor of this beautiful day — my personal first day of Spring regardless of what the calendar says — I have decided to finally share my “resolutions” for the 2013 Angels, resolutions that I think the team should keep in order to help make their high potential for a fantastic 2013 season a reality. Hey, I know these sorts of things are traditionally done in January but what the heck. I missed that with my little blogging break and I might argue that today is the start of the baseball year anyway:
- Health is a common resolution, right? So let’s start there. Obviously no one ever wants to get injured or sick and Angels players are a tough bunch, often playing while injured. But when you look at the issues the team has had the last several seasons — with the offense, the bullpen, the starting rotation — the need to work around injuries and illnesses has played a significant role in each of those issues. So, as much as injuries are absolutely just a part of the game, play hard and with joy and passion but, while you’re doing that don’t forget to do all of your stretches/take up yoga or Pilates/ lift from the correct position/don’t hit the wall unless you have a shot at making the play/avoid walking into toe breaking brick patios/take your vitamins/whatever it takes to stay healthy. (And, hey, as I write this I am recovering sloooowly from the ick that’s going around my office and wishing desperately that I’d taken my own advice, so there you go. Healthy >>>>>>>>>>>>>not healthy.)
- Along the same theme as health, I would really love to see all aspects of the Angels’ game working at the same time. Last season, it seemed like the offense found their stride only to have the starting rotation hit a rough patch. Then the starting rotation would right themselves for a few games only to have the bullpen fall apart. Mind you, despite these issues, the team still won 89 games. So it stands to reason that if the Angels can really get on a role in 2013 with all of their strengths working at the same time, this could be really special season!
- Free Peter Bourjos! Picture it, an outfield with Bourjos in center flanked by Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton. Mike Trout truly is one amazing centerfielder, but Bourjos is even faster, runs even better routes and has a similarly golden glove (and, seriously, if both of these kids don’t get actual, for real Gold Glove awards in the plural sooner rather than later in their careers, that will be a crime). So, putting the two of them in the outfield together?!! Plus Hamilton?! I get goose bumps just thinking about it. And let’s just quit it with all of that Bourjos can’t hit talk, shall we. Yes, last year, coming into the game sporadically, often in the middle or at the end of the game, sometimes with weeks in between at bats, his batting average was terrible. But when given a full season to play the year before that, he may have started out slow but he finished with a more than respectable .271. Is a .271 average really higher than we should expect from Bourjos in a normal season like some say? Perhaps. But instead of continuing to speculate, why don’t we find out, really find out…you know, by leaving him in for more than a handful of games at a stretch. Look, even if Bourjos’ normal batting average turns out to be like .250, that’s a lot better than 2012’s alternative of Vernon Wells.
- Accomplish the above ^^ without losing Mark Trumbo’s bat. Barring any scary slumps — which means, Mark, stay out of the Home Run Derby unless you can do it without f-ing up your swing, ‘kay? — Trumbo should be a lineup constant, primarily in the role of DH but also as an occasional substitute outfielder, as needed.
- Hey, Sosh, fewer lineups, please. Now I understand that having multiple starting lineups for specific occasions can serve a useful purpose, as can shaking things up from time to time. And I do realize that giving up having 100+ lineups for 162 games is probably harder for you than quitting cigarettes is for most people. So I’m not asking you to go cold turkey and pick just one lineup to stick with for the rest of the season. But how about choosing one basic lineup with a small handful of situation specific variations — for example the ideal infield and outfield for Angels fly ball pitchers, the ideal infield and outfield for Angels groundball pitchers, and whatever? And, hey, maybe you could stick with each situation’s lineup for a while to really see if it works instead of switching them up at the drop of a hat? Hmmmm…What’s that you say? Probably not? Yeah, I thought as much. But hey, you can’t blame a girl for trying.
- Stay healthy.
- Players who tend to swing between off years and on years, I really hope to be cheering for the best version of you, so to speak, in 2013. For example, I really want to see the 2012 Kevin Jepsen again, or even a continuing, positive evolution of him. Because 2012 Jepsen was a revelation, pulling all of the occasional glimpses of skilled reliever we’d seen in previous seasons into a solid, reliable reliever who saved the Angels bacon a lot. Among my other biggest wishes in the category? I want to see the .300 + hitting Albert Pujols, the bone-spur free, kick ass version of C.J. Wilson, and I want to see “amazing feats of baseball awesomeness” Josh Hamilton, not the “caffeine ailments and special eye issues uniquely related to blue eyed folks” Josh Hamilton…because I’ve got a pair of baby blues of my own, Josh, and I call shenanigans on you there. 😉
- Another common resolution is to try new places/styles/foods/fill in the blank with a sense of adventure instead of fear. For the Angels, I think this specifically refers to new opposing pitchers. Facing a new pitcher should a be a light hearted adventure filled with all kinds of fun games, like home run derby and “how many bases can I steal?” not the sort of fear and over thinking that makes rookie pitchers look like Cy Young candidates.
- Fans and players alike: prepare for a full year of Mike Trout magic!!! But at the same time, let’s keep the same attitude of wonder and amazement we had in 2012 instead of heaping all of the expectations of last year’s stellar season on his young, albeit strong and capable, shoulders. I have not a doubt in my mind but what every year with Trout is going to be something special, but keeping some sort of running game by game comparison of last season’s home run totals and on base percentages with this season’s creates a stupid kind of pressure and is just going to drive everyone crazy…especially if you tend to do this out loud and while sitting next to me at the Big A. I’m just sayin’. 😉
- Oh, and last but certainly not least, the best resolution of all, again for fans and players alike: let’s have fun with the 2013 season! That, and did I mention stay healthy?
And, with that, I’m going to cease my giddy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day bouncing around the house and go back to getting some serious work done. *boingy, boingy, boingy* *sigh* Okay, apparently I’m going to continue my giddy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day bouncing around the house while getting some serious work done. 2013 is going to be amazing, I can just feel it!
Alright then. That’s over now. And by ‘that’ I mean football season. The Super Bowl was fun and all. Yes, I know that mistakes were made on both sides but, hey, I was entertained, especially in the 2nd half. And Jacoby Jones made me exclaim colorful variants on “No way! That’s so great! Wow!” on several occasions. I mean, I only watch maybe 4 football games a year, so I don’t really know what’s normal, but his performance looked pretty special to me. However, my point is, it’s over now. Even the postgame crying, cheering and speeches part. Heck, with the Ravens’ win, the jokes and gripes about the power outage will probably even taper off sooner than they would have otherwise. So, to make a long story short — too late! – can we have baseball now please? I know, I know. Just a few more days until pitchers and catchers report and then it isn’t really that much longer until Opening Day but…but…that’s just not good enough. I want baseball now. *sigh* Oh well, in the meantime…
I do wish Albert Pujols would drop the idea of trying to play in the World Baseball Classic. I know that he enjoys playing for the Dominican Republic and would love to continue doing so but the man just had knee surgery. Yes, it was a minor procedure, he had it back in October and allegedly the knee feels good. Sure, everything could be just fine. But what if it’s not? Look, Pujols had a notoriously slow start last season, a fact which I certainly found frustrating at the time but have never held against him. However, judging from Twitter, Facebook and behavior at the games, many other Angels fans have barely forgiven Albert for the slow start, if at all. Especially in light of this environment I think that it would be an excellent PR gesture on his part if Pujols made it clear that his commitment to the Angels is a priority and that he won’t do anything that even gives the appearance of risking his health for the season in any way…any way such as, for example, playing in the World Baseball Classic right after knee surgery instead of going through the normal Spring Training warm up into readiness for the season.
Besides, it’s clear that this is what his bosses expect of him as well. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto is diplomatically quoted as saying “It’s our understanding that Albert will be with us the entirety of spring training and we look forward to having him.” I don’t imagine that Dipoto intended that as a suggestion and, really, baseball can’t be so very different from more normal sorts of jobs in that, seriously, it’s best to do what your boss wants you to do. Now, I understand that WBC insurance doesn’t cover players who had surgery in the offseason and therefore MLB is unlikely to approved Pujols playing for the Dominican Republic. For that I am grateful. But given Pujols’ insistence that he wants to play, I have a concern that somehow, someone will make an exception. Really, it would be best for all concerned if Pujols chalks this up as being just one more of those “Gosh, it sucks to be a responsible adult sometimes,” decisions we all have to make from time to time and moves on.
In other news, C.J. Wilson is set to be a Head and Shoulders Mane Man for 2013. I’ll admit it, the Joe Mauer commercials cracked me up and part of me is looking forward to seeing if Wilson’s delightful sense of humor comes out in the commercials. However — gosh, am just a giant curmudgeon today or what? — a larger part me is saying, ‘Really? Another distraction, C.J.?’ Hearing about the resurgence of Wilson’s bone spur problems last year – which he had offseason surgery to correct — I do believe that pain and physical issues were far more significant contributors to Wilson’s 2012 issues on the mound than his plethora of taxing extracurricular activities. And I absolutely believe players should be able to take advantage of endorsement deals that come their way. However, I can’t help but feel that this situation falls into the same category as the one I outlined for Pujols above – an obvious, ‘I care deeply about my commitment to the Angels and will not do anything that even gives the appearance of jeopardizing that’ gesture is in order, perhaps toning down a few of his other side activities until he’s shown post bone spur removal ace stuff again for a while.
All appearances to the contrary, however, I am not all gloom and doom. It’s really just the relative lack of news in the offseason skewing things. I am thrilled the Angels hired Omar Vizquel and his 11 Gold Gloves of talent and experience as a new Infield Coach. Seeing Mike Trout in the Subway Super Bowl commercial made me smile – okay, smile and shout “Trout!” but, seriously, who’s keeping track? While none of the Angels recent minor league especially acquisitions excite me one way or the other, I am pleased with what these moves symbolize – a realization that the team needs to bulk the farm system back up soon. I’m not sure if these are the right moves for the job but, still, they’re a start. And, most important, Angels pitchers and catchers report in one week. I may not be very good at waiting patiently for Opening Day – okay, so I’m not good at it at all – but I will have a lot more tide me over news shortly.
Hello all. Rumors of my blogging demise have been greatly exaggerated! …Well, just exaggerated at any rate. But it was seriously touch and go there for a while. We’re talking nearly Brazil, Tuttle eaten by great cascades of paperwork, here. And I’m the one that created all of the paperwork! But I digress…
So the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton! And just how busy was I with my months’ long hell project for work in the middle of all of this delicious Hot Stove madness? Busy enough that I didn’t find out until Seth called me that morning on a break — Seth does not generally have to break Angels news to me. Busy enough that the ensuing conversation went something like this:Seth: So did you hear the news about Josh Hamilton? Me: *typing* No. Did he sign today or something? That’s early. Seth: Yeah, he’ll be wearing red in 2013. Me: *still typing* Red? *pause in thought while still typing* So is he staying with the Rangers after all, then? Or did the Red Sox nab him? Seth: *laughing* Noooo. He’ll be wearing our red. The Angels signed him. Me: *abruptly stops typing* *begins making largely unintelligible noises that it’s safe to assume denote shock and excitement* Seth: *affectionately laughs at me*
So, the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton!!! *happy dance*
…and I had no clue until about an hour after it happened. Yeah, so what does that make me? Exactly. A big damn dork, sir. Well, since Thursday I have completed my hell project, caught back up on holiday obligations and vacillated emotions on the Hamilton signing between variations on elated, excited and giddy, and cautious, concerned and nervous. But you know what, I’ve settled on giddy. I think excitement is the way to go. So, why the conundrum in the first place? After all, he is a five-five time All Star, former MVP, regular play of the week making, routine topper of one or more AL batting stat charts.
*pauses happy dance for discussion and logic* Well, I’m not particularly bothered by the contract. It’s less than the ridiculous from any team’s perspective 7 to 10 years he was supposedly originally seeking and the Angels were planning on spending serious money one way (Zack Greinke) or another (any of the other high priced names bandied about in Halos news circles) this offseason. Spending it on a 31-year-old whose name is regularly listed among the best players in the game and who hits .285 with 43 homers in a year where his team is mad at him for sloughing it? Well, let’s just say that if colossal sums of money are going to be spent anyway, I think there are far worse ways they can be spent.
And, no, I’m not concerned about the “obvious” thing. Yes, Hamilton’s past issues with drugs and alcohol are well documented along with his two public relapses as a Texas Ranger. To my eye, Hamilton has his life well under control in this area. Look, there’s a reason the proper term for people who deal with addiction issues is recovering not recovered. There is always the potential for relapse, even for those who are far further removed from their addictive behaviors than Hamilton and have attained decades of sobriety. But the fact that Hamilton has kept his relapses to one evening in each instance of behavior that would only qualify as a kind-of-wild Saturday night for a lot of single baseball players who don’t have issues with addiction, before climbing right back up on the wagon with renewed dedication to his sobriety tells me that no team should worry about ramifications from drug or alcohol use. Yes, there are temptations aplenty in Los Angeles but those temptations are present in every city fielding a Major League Baseball team, including Arlington, along with most towns that do not. I don’t think this is a legitimate concern.
I do, however, have a small concern about Hamilton’s playing time, namely that he has only played in more than 133 games two seasons in his Major League career. Now the fact that the primary reason for Hamilton’s numerous DL stints is because he plays hard does balance this drawback heavily in my opinion, but it’s still there. I also have concerns about Hamilton’s attitude, but only on occasion. Look, by all accounts, Hamilton is a great clubhouse guy. In interviews he comes across as affable, warmly chatty, humorous and caring. He’s an unselfish fielder, no matter where he’s moved in the outfield during a game. And his charitable activities are impressive. I believe him to be a genuinely nice guy. But there are times…strange Monster induced eye ailments keeping him out of games…throwing a coach under the bus after breaking an arm attempting to slide home…seeming to give up those last few weeks in Texas…when this big, talented, joyful kid of a baseball player seems more like a pouty brat. This isn’t a deal breaking concern from my perspective. I don’t expect it to come up very often in Hamilton’s relationship with the Angels as it didn’t in his relationship with the Rangers and, as mentioned before, his overall stats are still a plus during such times. However, it is clear to me that when Hamilton is unhappy there are repercussions on the job. Just something for Angels fans to keep in mind, along with the whiffing slumps that can and do come with such a free swinging style, while we’re doing our happy dances.
So, there you have it. There are a few drawbacks to this deal to keep in mind and the Angels still need to do something more with the starting rotation – Please Santa Jerry, please!! But the prospect of Hamilton’s bat in the lineup protecting Albert Pujols, or protected by Pujols (and, all things being Scioscia, probably both before season’s end) coming soon on the heels of Mike Trout turning a hard hit single into a triple, a bunt into a double or some other feat of amazement, makes me positively gleeful. Unexpectedly having too many outfielders is a potentially useful problem for the Angels to have depending on how it’s handled. And this was the first weekend in forever that I didn’t bring any work home with me. On the whole, I’d say it’s all rather giddy making. *resumes happy dance with exuberance*
Mention the Angels 2012 bullpen to a group of fans and you’ll get quite the array of reactions. Cringing. Anger. Shaking fists. Tears. Laughter…of the crazed sort, mind you. And, occasionally, nostalgia. (After all, fans did dub the bullpen of 1970s, the Arson Squad because, when called upon, they tended to have the opposite effect of putting out the fire…and that’s putting it mildly.) And those reactions are absolutely justified. Despite a few bright spots and clutch performances, the Angels 2012 bullpen had 22 blown saves to their…um…credit, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL. Suffice to say, heading into the offseason, bullpen help needed to be one of Jerry Dipoto’s top priorities.
Dipoto and the Angels took a positive step Wednesday in signing Ryan Madson. Assuming he returns to his usual quality form following recovery from Tommy John surgery, having Madson’s strong arm in the 8th or 9th inning should improve the Angels ability to hold leads. This deal is potentially a great start towards fixing the bullpen for the 2013 season and, fortunately, Dipoto seems to see it that way too, hinting that he has a few more bullpen plans up his sleeves during the interviews surrounding Madson’s signing.
Cautiously pleased though I was with the deal, it didn’t do a whole lot to ease the tension I’ve been feeling about the Angels roster since Dipoto started letting players go. Despite the disappointment of 2012, I just didn’t think the Angels needed that much work. So many of 2012’s woes – Albert Pujols’ painfully slow start, back troubles hobbling Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, injuries and slumps and tigers and bears, oh my! – seemed like such random, one-time only streaks of terrible luck that, in my mind, the 2012 Angels should have treated the offseason much like the 2011 Braves did, as a chance to rest, heal, recover and not do anything drastic from a personnel standpoint. In my mind, the Angels just needed to fix the bullpen, sign Zack Greinke, lose Ervin Santana (because his awesomely nasty vs. “just a bit outside” pitching mood swings aren’t swinging nearly often enough or well enough to the positive end of the spectrum to justify putting up with the negative these days) keep almost everyone else, smile and wait for pitchers and catchers to report.
Getting rid of Torii Hunter and Dan Haren (whose bad year was truly uncharacteristic and, I think, won’t be a repeat occurrence in 2013) left me with feelings of deep unease and a sense of “where do we go from here?” I understand that the idea is to save enough money to sign Zack Greinke but that just seems like an awful lot of eggs in one highly expensive and only possibly attainable basket. I mean, even if the Dipoto is successful in landing Greinke, what about the rest of the starting rotation and the hole-ridden offense?
Trading Jordan Walden to the Braves for Tommy Hanson on Friday helped me feel a bit better. Hey, the Angels now have a for-certain 3-man rotation with one potential 4th that doesn’t scare the hell out of me – Jerome Williams. Progress! I liked Walden but he really doesn’t seem to have the temperament to maintain control and get outs once batters start hitting him…and then the pre-glasses Wild Thing emerges and things get a little scary. I think the addition of Madson is a safer bet. As for Hanson, I’m a little concerned about his back issues last season, and less concerned about his shoulder issues two season ago which seem to have healed. Basically, between that and the velocity drop offset by the increasingly nasty delivery, it feels like the Angels traded for Dan Haren’s younger, more economical self. But Haren worked out very well indeed for the Angels for the better part of two seasons so I am cautiously optimistic about this deal.
Now the team just needs another starter (Greinke, hopefully. If that won’t absolutely break the bank.), to fill at least one key hole in the starting lineup, oh, and adding a little bit more stabilization in the bullpen couldn’t hurt either. No problem, right? Yeah, there went that breathing easier thing again. Yes, I know, I know. It’s only December 3rd. The Winter Meetings are just getting started Monday morning and there’s a lot of offseason left — a lot, a lot even. Anything is possible…but the pickings are slimmer this year and I just can’t shake the feeling that we created too many holes to fill in an attempt to land one key piece that would have only just filled or offset the preexisting holes anyway. Oh well, bring on the Winter Meetings.
Hello Blogosphere. I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday! For the last eight years or so Seth and I have hosted Thanksgiving so that we can celebrate with both our families at once – that and to show off the kind of cooking chops we seldom have the opportunity to flaunt all in one meal outside of holiday scenarios. This year, however, my mother wanted to host Thanksgiving for the combined family and it was actually lovely to have the night before mostly off and then head to my parents’ house for Mom and Dad’s good cooking. It was kind of like being a kid again…well, some kind of precocious (read, obnoxious) foodie kid with a cranberry, polenta crusted tart in tow, at any rate.
It is nice to go home sometimes and just catch up with everyone. We talked a lot about work. Family. Politics. You know, the usual. Oh and, of course, a bit of baseball. My father said that he is fed up with professional sports these days…followed by the pause for comedic effect, the merrily twinkling eyes and the affectionate, “that’s why I root for the Dodgers.” This followed by some more serious Dodgers roster talk (not yet knowing of the impending TV deal, of course), similar Angels talk, a lot of good natured ribbing at the expense of both teams and more than a little head shaking over our two So Cal teams. See, I come by my outlook on the game honestly.
Among our baseball topics – Mike Trout. I was a little surprised to find out that my dad was paying attention to Trout’s season because he’s very busy and doesn’t always pay attention to AL doings. But, then again, Trout was quite a story in 2012 and he is every bit the sort of player my father adores – a good kid playing the game extremely well and playing it the right way. So, of course, if two folks are discussing Mike Trout in late November you know what had to come up don’t you? Da dum…….da dum…da dum da dum da dum da dum…da da da DUM! But of course, the AL MVP vote. What else? And if you think for one second that I’m going to use this holiday conversation snippet as an excuse for a very delayed post about my thoughts on the AL MVP vote, well I have one thing to say to you: Thank you. Clearly you’ve been reading this blog for a while. 😉
No worries, though. This is absolutely not a bitter fest. Yes, I thought Mike Trout should have won MVP. That’s how I would have voted were I in the baseball writers’ shoes. But I am neither shocked nor upset over the outcome. Here’s the thing, both Trout and Miguel Cabrera had stellar seasons – MVP level stellar seasons. I happen to feel that a player like Trout who excelled across the board at offense, defense, speed and any other skills test you want to throw his way is more valuable to his team than a player who only beats him out in terms of offense but, at the same time, I cannot deny that being the first player to win the triple crown in 45 years is a highly compelling argument. Both guys carried their team at various points. Both guys were clutch. Both guys hit milestones during the season. The Tigers made it to the playoffs, but the Angels had a better record in a stronger division. Cabrera’s booming bat lead the Tigers to victory in September as the While Sox collapsed. Trout’s bat slumped in September but he still lead the Angels to victory with his speed and his glove while the A’s simply could not lose. As I said, I liked Trout for MVP, but both candidates were excellent choices and I’m certainly not going to complain about Cabrera winning the honor.
I do, however, have a complaint about the way the discussion and debate were framed, both leading up to the AL MVP vote and since the winners were announced. I really dislike the fact that so many people writing/talking/arguing about this subject just blast the other side for the paragraph after paragraph as if the opposing candidate were unworthy even of nomination until the final few sentences when they toss in a sheepish, ‘oh, by the way, [the other guy] had a pretty good year too.’ And I outright hate all of the “Miguel Cabrera is an old school, old stats candidate whose contributions must be judged with your eyes, while Mike Trout is a new stats, SABR candidate whose contributions must be judged one paper” idiocy. Ummmm…have you seen Mike Trout play?? If you need paper to judge that, well that’s your business but I wouldn’t admit something like that in public. 😉 And as for Cabrera, his offense looks good whether we’re using old stats or new. This isn’t a new stats vs. old stats argument. It’s that same “better offense vs. strong offense/better defense/better speed combination” phrased in terms of stats and on that debate, agree or agree to disagree, the baseball writers have spoken…for the 2012 season at any rate.
So, congratulations to Miguel Cabrera on winning MVP, one more on a nice list of 2012 accomplishments and, well, congratulations to Mike Trout too while we’re at it. Earning 2nd place in the AL MVP voting in one’s rookie season is hardly an accomplishment to sneeze at and the kid has his own, equally well deserved, long list of 2012 accomplishments.
Oh, before I sign off though, I do have one more Trout related rant…this offseason it seems that few MLBN and online discussions of the awards, the Angels 2012 season or Mike Trout can go by without snark, tsk tsking and/or contemptuous sighs over the Angels’ “terrible decision” not to bring Trout to the bigs right out of Spring Training “for whatever reason.” Baseball analysts (and various and sundry bloggers…and Chris Rose), would you quit harping on this subject and just do a little quick research already. Trout was so sick during Spring Training that he lost something like 10 pounds and barely had a Spring Training to speak of, then got well only to suffer through a bout of tendonitis in his shoulder. Had the Angels brought him up in April, under those conditions, it would hardly have been a recipe for Trout success and might well have been a recipe for injury or illness disaster. Whether you want to look at it as the Angels looking out for the player or looking out for their investment (and I tend to assume it’s a little of both and there’s not a thing wrong with that), the decision was a good one. And I say that even as a fan who suffered though that terrible, awful, no good, very bad, oh how I even hate bringing it up again, April. < /rant >