All work and no baseball makes Kristen a sad girl…a most unacceptable state of affairs if you ask Kristen, I can tell you that. Lacking the ability to add baseball to the equation, clearly it was time to mix in a little playtime. It’s a three day weekend, so naturally Seth and I lit out for Cambria and Paso Robles the second we were both off work and packed up on Friday night. Yeah, it was a 4 and half hour drive starting at 8 p.m. So what? Brown footed loons are naturally nocturnal…and diurnal and crepuscular for that matter, whichever natural activity cycle is apt to lead to greater work productivity and/or a good time. We’re adaptable like that. Anyway, as we noted walking around town this morning, the Cambria/Paso Robles/long weekend/random weekend thing has been our thing for as long as there has been an us. Some years, I think we use the house more than his parents do…other years I know we do.
And after this many years of coming up here to California’s Central Coast wine county, I can tell you that that natural cycles of baseball and California wine mirror each other in so many different ways it’s a wonder they aren’t more closely associated than the more traditional pairing of baseball and beer. Just to name a few:
- In California, wine’s biggest event, its Fall Classic if you will, is the Harvest and crush (literally what it sounds like) which occurs in October. And, much like in baseball, you really want to get it over with before you hit November if at all possible.
- While wine blending, bottling and selling can occur all year long depending on what varietals a winery offers, the majority of the blending, the tinkering with the 25 man roster if you will, occurs in February and March and again in the early summer months.
- Rookie wines can be excellent right out of the bottle, or take several years of aging and conditioning before they really show their stuff, and the aging almost always improves the end result.
- Some winemakers rely on their own farm system, growing the majority of their own grapes. Others rely on the farm systems of their colleagues. Trades and outright “free agency” purchases are common.
- Many amateur aficionados think they know almost as much as or ever better than the professionals…and a lot of them have blogs. 😉
- Both the aficionados and the professional raters rely on often obscure numbers and statistics that are not necessarily what the actual wine makers, being more of a by taste, gut instinct and experience sort, rely on when putting together the finished product.
- And then, there is the fickle finger of fate thing. Just as really promising rookies may fail to live up to their potential or excellent ballplayers suffer career ending injuries, sometimes nature says “nope, I don’t think so” in the form of a drought, or quite the opposite, or any number of other minor disasters and the grapes just don’t live up to their potential either.
This last bit really speaks to what’s happening in Paso Robles and I would imagine the rest of California’s winery regions this year. California didn’t really have much of a summer in 2011. And, while consistent balmy mid 70’s weather is wonderful for tourism and fantastic fodder for any number of movies, it absolutely sucks for grapes which need hot days and cool breezes at night in order to fully develop the sugars that eventually ferment into the delicious nectar we enjoy. That kind of weather was in short supply this off season, much like free-agent starting pitchers of quality.
And, much like baseball teams with said starting pitchers, wineries tried different things to insure victory, from leaving the grapes on the vines an extra long time, risking catastrophic rain storms, to stripping the leaves off to give the gapes the full benefit of the sun, risking malnourishment and, should the heat wave finally come, scorched grapes. Just as in baseball, some wineries lucked out and some did not (the Angels clearly falling in the former category here). And it’s safe to say that in both worlds a lot of teams/wineries have rebuilding years ahead of them. But here’s the thing about rebuilding years in wine or in baseball that a lot of folks forget. Rebuilding necessities can lead to unexpected levels of creativity and take us in directions we never thought we could go. And, every now and then, this leads to an even better result than anyone could have possibly imagined. I can’t wait to see how the fruits of 2011 and early 2012 work out for everyone, on the field and in my glass. Cheers!
So, I’m back. I took the weekend off for fun and frivolity but I’m back now. What’d I miss? Regale me with wondrous baseball happenings. Catch me up on all the news. *crickets chirping* Oh. Yeah. Never mind. It’s still January. *sigh*
At least there is a little bit of news coming out of the Angels front office of varying degrees of happy. First, the truly happy making news. The Angels and Howard Kendrick reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension one year before Howard becomes a free agent. I am thrilled. I adore Howard Kendrick, Mr. HK-47 himself or, as I am prone to cheer at appropriate moments (of which there are many!): HK-47. When you absolutely, positively have to regain the lead, accept no substitutes.
Back in 2009, the Angels had to send Howard back to AAA for a little while to work on his swing. And work he did, returning to the majors with the beginnings of what has become a clutch, consistent bat with more than a bit of pop. Howard has also turned into a darned good second baseman, with the glove, arm and brains to be a full partner in all of the Angels daring double play do. He even has the willingness and ability to sub in at first and in the outfield when the Angels occasionally Franken-infield has the need. Not to mention he’s a class act and seems like an all around nice guy. In short, my kind of ballplayer and an excellent asset for the Angels, hopefully, for years to come.
As for the cautiously good news, Keandrys Morales has been cleared to begin running again. Now, this is roughly the point at which all of the wheels fell off of this particular wagon last season…along with the axels and, well, quite frankly several of floor boards too…and extended pain and lack of mobility from scar tissue forced him into a second surgery. So who knows if this really means he’s coming back. But, well, it’s still more positive to hear that he has been cleared to begin running than that he hasn’t, yes?
And how about the not so happy news? The Angels signed Jorge Cantu to a minor league contract, he of the third base experience and the sometime power, sometime Mendoza bat. No, it’s not that have anything against the signing itself, I am just concerned about what it might mean, namely that the Angels are more concerned than they are letting on about Mark Trumbo’s stress fractured foot. It sounds like the foot should be healed enough to being baseball workouts just in time for Spring Training, which is closer to the five months it sounds like the doctors had been quoting as typical for such an injury…but is nowhere near the two to three months Trumbo and the Angels had been hoping for. Personally, even with a bevy of personal trainers involved I thought that two to three months was wishful thinking, but I am a little worried that we’ve gone from that to apparently signing insurance in case he doesn’t heal in five. Tough break, indeed, kid. Suffice to say, if this fan’s best wishes had actual healing properties, you’d have been back on your feet and sprinting already.
Happy New Year!!
I hope everyone had a great time last night and I wish you all the best in 2012!
New Year’s Day is traditionally a day for proclaiming resolutions for the year to come…and the wee hours in between New Year’s Day and January 2nd work just as well in a year where New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday. I don’t know about you all but it just isn’t New Year’s for me until I get to flop in front of the Rose Parade on TV with a nice brunch and a flute or several of champagne. I am not usually one to make specific official resolutions for myself. A general try to grow and improve in life is sufficient. In 2011, the Angels certainly did grow and improve over their 2010 season and it was a pleasure to watch. But there is plenty of room for continued growth and improvement in 2012. If the Angels happen to be in a more traditional New Year’s resolutions state of mind, I can certainly suggest a few resolutions they would do well to make for the coming season:
- Most importantly, everyone stay healthy! Take care of those hamstrings. Mind those groin muscles. Don’t let the walls get the best of quite so many arguments. Oh, and that freak plate jumping accident may have been a once in a lifetime thing and all, but how about we don’t jump on the plate anyway.
- Enough with the GIDPs already. This is a good resolution for everyone but Torii, and now Albert, I’m mainly looking at you.
- Think before you steal. Seriously. Thinking caps on and fully functioning. Successful base stealing is thing of beauty to behold and an Angels baseball staple. Caught stealing? Not so much on either count.
- Stop swinging for the fences every at bat, especially if that’s not really your swing. Watching all of you, I know this was not done to showboat. You were trying to kick start the offense which is admirable. But, more often than not, a nice solid line drive into the gap helps just as much as a homerun and always more than popping out.
- No runners left behind in 2012! Raise that RISP and more RBIs! This was a 2011 resolution, and you all definitely improved in this regard but what the heck? There’s always room for more improvement right?
- In 2011, you resolved to make the 8th inning a little less unnecessarily exciting. For 2012, let’s resolve to do the same for the 9th inning, shall we? Extra innings are only fun when we were already coming from behind and, while it’s certainly sweet of you to think of them, this economy has already given the antacid industry enough of a boost.
- Leave any woes from last season in the past. Everyone starts the 2012 season with a clean slate!
- You brought a lot of the old swagger and sense of fun back in 2011 and it was wonderful. Keep it up, please.
- I love seeing how Angels veterans always help out the rookies and the newbies and how quickly the rookies and newbies fit right in and really look forward to seeing it all over again in 2012.
A lot has gone on in baseball the last couple of days. I’d love to explain it all, but there is no time. Let me sum up.
Erick Aybar. Gold Glove winner. Congratulations! I have to say, that was a little unexpected. Pleasantly so, don’t get me wrong. He’s got the glove. He’s got the arm. He’s got that oh my God! ability to turn two when he shouldn’t even have been able to turn one with where he had to go to get the ball. He just also has that oh my God! ability to completely forget what to do with the ball a couple of games a season. That was the source of my surprise, not any lack of ability. I will say this though, because I know there are a lot of naysayers out there griping about Aybar winning the Gold Glove. Who votes on the award? Managers and coaches. Managers and coaches who apparently routinely drool over Aybar because folks keep offering to trade us for him. And I think that had a lot do with the voting. Not statistics, traditional, saber or otherwise, but what the coaches and managers saw with their own eyes.
And can I just tell you how happy I was to see not one, not two but four Angels make it to the top three for Gold Glove consideration? And with real shots a winning, too, unlike last season. I think that under the old format, Peter Bourjos might have won or come in a close 4th. And I think that Dan Haren should have won, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, this is one more reminder that while 2011 was not everything we hoped it would be, it was still forward progress over 2010.
As far as the Dodgers three Gold Glove and one Silver Slugger Awards go, I have to say, I was almost as excited to hear that as I was to hear about Aybar. As bad as some of us think our teams need good news? The Dodgers needed it more. A lot more. And Frank McCourt finally realizing that he needed to sell the Dodgers? Yaaaaaaaaaaay!! But, “I believe it is in the best interests of our organization, our loyal fans and the community at large.”? Really Frank? Wow. What a brilliant conclusion. However did you come to it? And what took you so f’n long you selfish asshat! Perhaps he finally noticed all of trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood this season clad in traditional Los Angeles “Frank McCourt as an evil, delusional, lifeforce sucking demon” costumes?
Not unexpected at all, however? No Angels were nominated for the Sliver Slugger Award. I know. You are all shocked, right? It’s okay. Maybe Dipoto can help us fix that for next season…or, you know, Mark Trumbo. I hope, I hope, I hope. And there’s always the possibility Kendrys Morales will be back…and in playing shape…and pick up where he left off with his bat…soon enough in the season to make a difference…and…and…hey! It could totally happen. This is baseball. Much like a team coming from 10 games behind in the Wild Card Race to win the World Series, anything is possible.
Then there’s the free agent free for all about to take off. Talk about stress…for other fans that is. As far as Angels free agents go, forget stressing over it. Joel Pineiro? Scott Kazmir? Fernando Rodney? Please, that right there is a recipe for stress relief. *clink, clink, clink* I would like to propose a toast to our soon to be departed free agent signing failures. Gentlemen, may you richly enjoy your new homes, far, far from Anaheim. And, while I wish you all well, if you suddenly have a Mike Napoli like transformation, especially one that helps knock us out of the post season that I then have to hear about. All. October. Long. Please understand that I’m going to take it poorly. Slainte!
And then there’s the Cubs! But this is long enough already. I will leave that for folks far more up on all things National League than I to discuss.
Baseball last week was bittersweet for me. We enjoyed a night at the ballpark Monday! But it was our last night at the ballpark of the season and the Angels lost, sounding the absolute final death knell in their post season hopes. But a little more sweet was added to temper the bitter Wednesday night when we all witnessed pure magic! An evening of baseball so amazing it can only be described with a Yogi Berra quote – it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over. My condolences to Red Sox and Braves fans, it’s not about rooting against your teams, it’s about loving the magic of a come from behind upset to begin with and then witnessing two within breaths of one another. Wow!
So, as for Monday night’s game? Well, it was a heartbreaker of game, an at that point expected heartbreak I quickly recovered from, but still. So many miscues and missed opportunities!
And that is not how I prefer to remember my season, especially when I had so much fun with the Angels for most of it…frequently frustrating fun as I have fully documented on these virtual pages, LOL, but fun even so. So imagine my delight when I reviewed the photos I took that evening and discovered a lot of smiling, fun shots of my favorite ballplayers that I think show off the great personality of the team as a whole. Instantly my goofy brain imagined strange scenarios and back stories for each of the photos because, really, I prefer to remember the season as fun:
All silliness aside, walking back to our car after the game Monday night, Seth and I rehashed the misses and mistakes. What if the Angels had played the first inning smoothly? What if they hadn’t stranded so many runners? What if, what if, what if. Seth declared that ‘what if’ was a metaphor for the whole season, though he said it wistfully and with some affection, not in anger. I agreed with him at the time, but the more I think about, the more I decided that Howie Kendrick’s last at bat was a better metaphor for the season.
Bottom of the 9th, two outs, one on base and the Angels are down by one. Were this the scenario back in 2009, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would get a double and the runner would score from first or on the very next at bat and my comeback kid Angels would have pulled it off again. Were this scenario last season, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would pop up or strike out, ending the game. Watching it all play out this season, I realized that I had absolutely no idea if Howie would be able to pull it off or not. With the 2011 Angels, you just never knew. And if that was sometimes frustrating, it was also sometimes amazing – a definite improvement over the previous season and an indication of growth in the right direction, giving me hope for 2012.
Look, 2011 was a season where there were darned few easy wins for the Angels. There were numerous contributing factors. Season long questions, first about the five spot in the starting rotation, then the four spot, then the five and back to the four and eventually both. Veteran bats failing at the same time rookie bats were learning. Not getting Kendrys back at first as expected – though in hindsight, they should have planned on that from the start – threw everyone for a loop and although Mark Trumbo became the first baseman for the team and how, there were the to-be-expected growing pains all season especially in April and May. Injuries, several of them to Torii Hunter which contributed in part to the bats situation. Cleanup spot by committee on a team with no natural cleanup spot hitter…which lead to a bunch of guys who are really excellent gap hitters, swinging for the fences and whiffing or popping out. (Trumbo is the cleanup hitter of the future in my opinion, but it was too early this season.) Then there was the bullpen. There was noticeable improvement over 2010 but, still, pick a day. They could be absolutely fantastic or the arson squad part deux. And, of course, the closer situation. From veteran closer gone bad to baby closer with flashes of brilliance amidst growing pains, that was another constant struggle this season.
All in all, the Angels won a lot of games but, for all of the reasons above and more, it was a grind to win almost every single one and I think that, quite simply, by the time we got to September the Angels were tired. Oh, in spirit they were willing and eager enough to get to the post season, witness the string of near comebacks. But I think that physically they were just too tired to take that next leap and carry themselves into the post season. And if they had made to the post season, I don’t think they would have made it past the first round, especially with the news that Mark Trumbo had been playing with a stress fracture in his foot for the last several games and was out. This isn’t a complaint at all, it’s an observation. I think they played their hearts out but, well, teams that are still capable of contending at the end, like the 2011 Rays, dig in harder to win even more when they find out that other teams in the race have lost. Teams that are just too tired to get there, like the 2011 Angels, collapse in relief to catch their breaths when they find out that other teams in the race have lost.
I wish it were different but I have a hard time being anything more than a little disappointed by it. I have watched a lot of So Cal baseball in my life, brilliant seasons, terrible seasons and everything in between, and I have to say that this was not a season that folks should get depressed over. This was a growing season that gives next season some promise. And, now, as we continue enjoying what so far has been a pretty fun post season – as fun as it can be without an Angels presence! – I will conclude this post with a few heartwarming thoughts for next season:
This last photo really struck a chord with me. Taken during the warm-up just before the top of the 9th, immediately after Mike Trout struck out looking, it appears to me that Peter Bourjos is consoling Trout a little bit. Who knows what they were actually saying to one another. For all I know, Trout was making sure his cleats are tied and Bourjos is laughing him or they weren’t even talking at all. But my photo, my interpretation – so consoling it is. And I think, as such, it’s a good message for everyone. Take heart Angels fans, they’ll get ‘em next season!
My husband just got a new job!! Lacking the ability to set off fireworks from my blog, execute a Nastia Liukin worthy tumbling run of joyous flips and whipbacks, or hire John Williams to compose an appropriately uplifting and celebratory musical score just for the occasion, I don’t think I can adequately explain the magnitude of our happiness over this news…so that extra exclamation point will have to suffice. He has a little bit of time in between jobs so to celebrate we headed up the coast for a long weekend at my inlaws’ place in Cambria.
However, just because I decided to take the weekend off from watching baseball games does not mean the Angels were supposed take the weekend off from playing them. Oh yes boys, I may not have been watching, so I missed all of the hit batsmen and other drama and will have to catch up when I return, but I saw those scores and can I just say? Yuck. Ouch. And what the hell was that?! And against a last place team too! Yes, this is baseball and in any given season the underdog pulls through a reasonable number of times but the fact remains that these are games the Angels needed to win. Good thing I am weekending in the land of relaxing views and copious amounts of wine!
Then on Sunday *poof* as if by magic, the bats reappeared (Hel-lo Erick Aybar!), as did the gloves and the arms. The pitching settled down. Our ace took the mound on short rest and, without the Texas heat compounding things, gave the team just what it needed. And ‘lo and behold we had ourselves a contending baseball team that actually played like one.
…which does , of course, raise the question, are the Angels still contending? After this weekend’s performance, salvaged on Sunday or not, do they still have a chance in Hell of making the playoffs? That’s a tough question…
I have a fantastic recipe for a chocolate mousse pie. It’s a deceptively simple recipe, just good bittersweet chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar and cream with splashes of vanilla and dark rum. The secret to the mousse is all technique and chemistry, so external factors like the weather or the temperature of the kitchen can ruin it all too easily. If something goes wrong and the chocolate in the ganache at the base of the mousse begins to seize, all you can do is whisk it for all you’re worth and hope you can get the whipped cream to blend in to make mousse. At this point, failure is almost certain and, chances are, all you will be left with is a sore arm and a lump of chocolate the consistency of greasy play dough sitting in a pool of thinning whipped cream. But every now and then, luck and just quick enough thinking are on your side, and everything whisks into a perfect suspension of chocolate in whipped cream awaiting only the addition of the meringue.
Honestly, I think this is where the Angels are right now. Whisking and hoping. They did a lot of damage this weekend and with only 10 games left in the season…I just don’t know. With Weaver pitching on short rest, we have our best possible pitchers lined up for the final series against Texas but more stars have to align on the way to that series for it to matter. We are 4.5 games out of first. It’s not just a matter of the Angels needing to win at this point, Texas needs to lose. A lot. But I haven’t thrown my cap – yes, the “ugly” one 😉 – down in disgust and given up yet. Any chance, no matter how small, is worth rooting for.
So, boys, for this next series against Toronto, did you remember to pack your bats? Gloves? Arms? Clutch? Drive? Best pitching performances? Fantastic! I trust you made a list and checked everything off just to be sure? Wonderful. Hopefully you rearranged your bags so you could bring all of this on as carryon luggage this time. We don’t need those bats or gloves to get lost at the airport again like they apparently did in Baltimore, now do we?
The 2011 Angels can’t score to save their lives and they can’t hit when it counts. Veteran bats have only come alive in alternating streaks all season – much like Torii Hunter’s slumbering bat waking with a vengeance into his current 15-game hitting streak – and the rookies and the gap hitters are pretty much carrying the line-up. The problem with that is that we can get guys on base, but we can’t bring them home, facts I haven’t shied away from mentioning all season.
And yet, the Angels have been in the thick of the division race, winning series and beating top teams all season long pretty much on the strength of their pitching and fielding alone. Two weeks ago, we were a mere game out of first place! So what happens when the pitching inevitably falters for a few games? Last week happens, with the disastrous road trip to Toronto and the Bronx. And if the fielding gets lax too? Well, then you have what could have been a season making series against the Texas Rangers turn into what we’ve seen on the field instead the last few days – something that could very well be season breaking if the Angels don’t pull it together and play their hearts out from tonight on through the rest of the season.
Another end result is that I, consummate baseball optimist, constant cheerleader and the self-proclaimed Pollyanna of Angels baseball actually started to despair for a few minutes Tuesday night. Tuesday was my husband’s birthday and his boss gave him the company seats, the OMG! company seats, on the field, in the first section on the dangerous side of the home plate screens, 10 rows back from the action. Awesome boss, yes? But sitting there, seemingly inches from the field, watching Erick Aybar lazily glance at the second playable line drive in as many innings shoot uncontested into the outfield for extra bases, in a game where our young starter was clearly struggling and needed all the backup he could get, I thought, “Well, that’s it then. If the Angels have just given up, the season is over.”
In fact, I think I waited this long to post our photos from the game, indeed anything about the Rangers series, in the hopes that Wednesday would give me something more cheerful to talk about. No dice. At least the lollygagging fielding was over by Wednesday, but not the gaffs. Balls were being thrown all kinds of places that weren’t anywhere near a glove. Erick Aybar decided to make an effort again for us Wednesday, but alternated between not being able to keep balls in his glove and not being able to get them out in time to actually throw them – which given the throwing situation might, in hindsight, have been a blessing in disguise, I don’t know – all night. Santana pitched a great game, but with the usual insufficient run support, and now with insufficient defense, it’s no surprise we lost.
So, are we done? The commentators all seem to think so. This was an important series, no doubt about it. We could be. If we can pull tonight off, we’re still six games out of first place in mid-August and that’s a tall order. But I did say my moment of despair was brief and, like it’s underlying message, I’m not giving up unless the Angels have given up…and even then I probably won’t give up unless winning becomes a mathematical impossibility, not a mere improbability, an impossibility. I’m stubborn like that. Monday and Tuesday notwithstanding, I don’t think the Angels have given up. Wednesday they still played badly but there were improvements – our pitching was back on track and the defense was at least hustling. And, here’s the thing. We were only one game out of first two weeks ago with only a handful of head to head games against the Rangers under our belt. We have seven more coming up including tonight. So, come on Angels, this division just got a whole lot tougher, but it’s still winnable.
So, tonight and going forward through August and September, we need to see a lot less of this – big bats taking knocking our pitching for extra bases -:
And a lot more of this, namely Angels in scoring position who then actually score and Angels on the base paths who just earned RBIs. And, I know I’m being extra, extra demanding here, but how about in several of the innings leading up to the 9th inning too?:
We need to start hitting pitchers who are hittable, and not right into double plays either. Derek Holland pitched a good game, but he was hittable:
No more injuries please!!! Everyone stay healthy:
It’s unfair to but so much pressure on our starting pitching, but that’s just the way things are this season, especially with the #4 spot in the rotation in such a state of flux, the rest of the rotation needs to be lights out as often as possible. With Garrett Richards unfortunately timed injury, they’re reinstating Joel Pineiro as a starter…oooooh boy. I just don’t know about that one. Prove me wrong, okay Joel? And the bullpen needs to be equally spot on. So why did we send this guy back to AAA?:
And why do we keep putting this guy in, in crucial situations? Tuesday was fine. Fernando Rodney pitches best when we’re already behind and don’t want to fall further behind, but I still don’t like seeing him take the mound:
And the fielding needs to be error free and full of hustle: