Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Freeway Series Edition! This is the fourth 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. Despite the Dodgers and Angels terrible 2013 starts, Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development want to 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 first two months of the 2013 season and the Freeway Series that begins today. 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, the 2013 Dodgers and Angels. Hmmm…how can I put this delicately? What the hell happened??
Kristen says: While I love SABR and all of the increased attention even the average fan pays to statistics and analysis these days, the drawback is that no one is satisfied until they have a specific, detailed answer to performance questions these days and, I’m sorry, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. I mean, if there were a specific, detailed answer to the question of the Angels slower than molasses in a blizzard start to the season, don’t you think the problem would have been quickly solvable? In a nutshell, I think this was a perfect storm for the Angels. Heading into the season, player transactions were very tightly concentrated on beefing up the offense, and very much at the expense of the quality of the Angels starting rotation while virtually ignoring the bullpen. I was already queasy over the idea of assuming the offense would always pick up the pitching and then Murphy’s Law struck with a vengeance with a series of injuries taking out the only ace in the Angels pitching staff, turning the starting rotation and bullpen into personnel revolving doors, removing key set up pieces from the lineup and hampering the starts of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton – severely, in the case of Pujols. Does that fully explain the Angels start? Perhaps not for everyone, but when you throw in the added pressure of not living up to sky high expectations as each new calamity occurred, it explains things for me…not that I’ve been obsessing over this since Opening Day or anything…*whistles innocently*
Matt says: Well with the Dodgers I am still trying to figure out what is going on. This season hasn’t been the start we all expected for them. To be fair Injuries has hit the Dodgers pretty good but that’s no excuse. Between issues with batting with RISP, Bullpen meltdowns, and mismanagement in games the Dodgers have found themselves in a good hole.
Be honest. Do you think the Dodgers/Angels’ issues are fixable? How fixable? And what would it take at this point for you as a fan to call the season a success?
Matt says: Yes I do believe it is but that’s up to the Manager. Switch up the line up to where it’s more effective to get runs, Make better bullpen decisions and not put the same guys who keep blowing the game in. As far as what will make this season successful? Winning and getting back to the Playoffs is what will save this season. At the start all the expectations were going to be on but missing the playoffs after spending on the Starting Pitching and making changes will be a disapointment. They have to get it in gear ASAP.
Kristen says: Well, don’t look now but the Angels offense is back online, the pitchers are performing well enough and then some, and the guys have quite a nice little winning streak going on heading into the Freeway Series. And the cherry on top? Ace Jered Weaver is coming off the DL and scheduled to pitch on Wednesday…the game I have tickets for. Score! If this level of play continues, then I will count the Angels season a success, no matter what the standings say at the end. It’s not that I don’t care about making the playoffs, I very much do. And I’m not counting the Angels out at all. If they keep playing like this, anything is possible especially with two wild card opportunities. No, I’m just acknowledging the fact that when a team digs themselves this deep of a hole to start the season, they are no longer fully in control of their own destiny – final standings are as much a matter of the other teams having off days as your team having good ones, something that we as baseball fans know you can hope for all you want but never, ever count on.
There have been talk/rumors of Don Mattingly and Mike Scioscia possibly getting fired. Do you believe it’s time for them to go or should they even take blame?
Kristen says: Nope. Never. You will not see me calling for Sosh’s head over this. Not going to happen. I may cringe over his bullpen management from time to time…er…all the time and yes, there have been and will always be instances of mismanagement. But I really think that as fans we have a tendency to point to the handful of mismanaged plays and ignore the rest of the game. Besides, injuries aren’t the manager’s fault. Personnel changes are not the manager’s fault. And somehow, despite all of the setbacks, the Angels are climbing back into this race and I think that that speaks volumes for the players’ grit, of course, but also for Sosh’s ability to keep them together even through the rough times.
Matt says: I’m going to be straight up with Mattingly. From the looks of this he isn’t the right fit for the Dodgers. He has mismanaged games on his part and at times shows lack of fire but as of late he is starting to pick up that fire and take action. Benching Ethier and Kemp as well as calling out the team is a start right there. Now should he take blame. Yes but not ALL of it. Blame has to go around to everyone on their part. Mattingly has messed up on his part and it’s going to cost him his job at some point.
One more uncomfortable question: What do you think about emergency/closed door team meetings — players only or otherwise? Are they ever effective or do they just feed the drama?
Matt says: You know about those meetings I actually really like them. You have time to really air out whatever issues their are and talk about what you have to do as a team to get it going in the right direction. The Media will always make it more than what it needs to be but they are an effective way to talk as a team to get things going in a positive spin.
Kristen says: I think that, like any other tool, closed door meetings can be useful at times, useless at others and downright detrimental at others. I think a team meeting certainly can turn things around and, when such things become necessary, I do love it when the players show enough passion, initiative and team spirit to take ownership and have their own meeting. Here’s the thing though. Back in the day, fans would never hear about a closed door meeting or certainly not about every closed door meeting. Now we hear about every single one, often as they’re happening. Frequently we even hear what was said at the meetings – pretty contrary to the point of ‘closed door’ don’t you think? This is the part I don’t think it healthy. It adds to the drama and it also leads to the tail wagging the dog. When things start to go downhill, everyone expects a closed door meeting creating external pressure for the meeting to happen, rather than the meeting just occurring or not occurring naturally in keeping with the rhythms and chemistry of that particular team.
With the new schedule and league realignment, rivalry matchups including the Freeway Series have shrunk from 6 games to 4 for the season. Do you like this development or is it messing too much with tradition, albeit a relatively recent tradition?
Kristen says: I love the Freeway Series and the rivalry fan energy that both surrounds it at the ballparks and spills over into our work and social lives for a few days. I’m really going to miss that lasting for two full series and, to be honest, a shorter more compacted Freeway Series cuts into my ability to attend one game at each stadium, a mini-tradition Seth and I have enjoyed for a few years. But, at the same time, I get the necessity of trimming down the rivalry matchups under the new schedule. I also understand how awkward and underwhelming two series’ worth of rivalry matchups were under the old schedule for teams/fan bases who had no natural rival and were stuck with 6 games against an, in essence, MLB manufactured and assigned rival. So, while I’m disappointed for Angels and Dodgers fans, I get that this was the best course of action.
Matt says: Well I ALWAYS have enjoyed the freeways series. To be honest I don’t have an issue with the series being 4 games because you have 2 in LA then right then another 2 in Anaheim. So more of a 4 game series home and home. I know this will eventually end up being a Opening Day match up soon with the realignment so 4 games isn’t bad. Though I did like the 6 game format.
Make your predictions now. Which team will win the Freeway Series and with what record?
Matt says: With what I have seen from the Dodgers they for some reason can’t get it together. Against St Louis they were shut out where they didn’t even show up and Yesterday where errors took them out of the game. This series starts off with Greinke and Ryu so it’s not pitching that I am worried about but the lack of offense. With that said I see this series going 2-2. Dodgers taking one in LA and one in Anaheim but with the Dodgers I really don’t know what to expect out of them at times especially with a hot Angels team coming into Dodger Stadium.
Kristen says: The Angels are hot right now and, since the start of interleague play, have owned the NL, including the Dodgers. I predict the Angels will win 3 out 4.
Meet the Bloggers Bonus Question: Do you enjoy the Freeway Series and, if so, what is your first/best Freeway Series memory?
Kristen says: I can’t pick out one specific, favorite memory – there are just too many! But the thing I love the most about the Freeway Series and the warm, fuzzy sense of family tradition I get from it. Growing up, my family primarily rooted for the Dodgers, but the Angels were Grandpa’s team, so I always knew both teams and loved watching them play each other. And, coming from such a Freeway family, as it were, my parents always took my sister and I to at least one Freeway Series game. There was no interleague play when I was a child so the Freeway Series was a pre-season exhibition. This meant that the Freeway Series was frequently my first live baseball game after the long winter without, adding to the specialness of the occasion.
Matt says: Theres so many favorite memories and moments from this series. I enjoy the Freeway Series because it’s two teams that’s close to each other clashing. As far as my favorite/best Freeway Series memory wellll theres so many that I can’t pin point on one. Mine would have to be my first trip to Angels Stadium in 2009. The night before Juan Rivera (Angels player at the time) hit a walk off Home Run. This night Jarred and Jeff Weaver pitched against each other. The Dodgers won that night but what made it memorible was that it was my Very First Freeway Series that I witnessed (The First of Many).
The Angels are on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days and it’s an awful lot of fun! Ever since that wild and crazy Albert Pujols/C.J. Wilson double deal day, the Angels, usually only an occasional mention at this point in the offseason, are in the thick of every discussion on MLBN, ESPN, west coast sports radio and the like about the best rosters, lineups, rotations, etc. in baseball. In truth a lot of these discussions are vehement denials that the Angels have the best anything but, hey, it’s just nice to warrant being in the discussions this far out from the season. And it’s exciting that so many existing Angels players are getting their just praise in the middle of these discussions along with the well deserved praise for the feats of our newest acquisitions.
However, while I enjoy all the talk, it is just talk at this point and ultimately meaningless except as a diversion from the fact that there is no actual baseball on. While it is the job of the analysts and sports writers to speculate about best teams in baseball early and often, I just can’t. Not until baseballs have been pitched, hit, thrown and caught with regular season intentions for a good month or so, and certainly not this far back in December when even Spring Training is but a glimmer on the horizon. All I know at this point is that my team looks darned competitive so far and that makes me one happy fan and even more eager for the season to begin. Thank you Arte and Jerry!!
Trumbo and Kendrys Morales
The Angels tendered the injured Kendrys Morales, proving they are not ready to give up on him yet. The chatter about moving Mark Trumbo to third also seems to be increasing in more official sounding ways. I am highly in favor of both experiments. I think it’ relatively inexpensive to give Kendrys one more season to see if he able to return to anything like his former playing ability. Foot injuries suck, no lie. I tore my arch more than a decade ago and the thing still gives me a fair bit of pain from time to time and I’m not trying to play professional sports on it. So I’m not holding my breath that he will come back in any more than a DH capacity anytime in the next season or so, if he comes back at all. But the possibility of having Bam Bam back in the lineup in any capacity is worth another season’s experimentation.
As for Trumbo, he’s young. He’s cheap. He swings a hell of a bat. He’s team spirited and practical and willing to bust his ass to learn new positions. Remember, we drafted Trumbo as a pitcher. Then made him a corner outfielder when it looked like he was a blown out arm waiting to happen. Then made him a first baseman after Kendrys was injured and now it’s over to the hot corner. And every time he’s said sure thing Coach, busted out his glove and his notebook and practiced, practiced, practiced. And did I mentioned he swings a hell of a bat? I expect some growing pains at third throughout this experiment, but I think that the experiment is a worthwhile one.
One More Press Conference Thought
Over the last several seasons it has amused me to no end to watch MLBN and ESPN analyst after analyst call Jered Weaver, Jeff…sometimes realizing their error a short time later and correcting it…sometimes continuing to make the error. Apparently even millions of dollars can’t cure the curse of being a same initialed younger sibling. In fact, this offseason I have noticed a tendency to just refer to him as Weaver. I imagine a memo came down from on high saying that, now that Weaver the Elder has retired and there is but one of them still in the game, it’s just plain safer. Vin Scully is guilty of this as well, but I don’t think any memos will fix that. That’s akin to the teacher who had your older brother or sister first. It’s never going to change.
So, during the press conference when Albert Pujols began talking about his new teammates, you had to know what was about to happen…and sure enough it did. ‘…and with such a great pitching rotation with Danny Haren and Jeff Weaver…Jeff…Weav…Oh Mahn! I’m so sorry Mahn! I mean with Weaver…’ Albert never did actually say Jered. Apparently he agrees with that memo, sight unseen. Stick to the last name, it’s easier.
The Trevor Cahill Trade
I am not in the Billy Beane is a frickin’genius camp, nor am I in the Billy Beane is a frickin’ idiot camp. He’s a GM with a “surefire” method for beating the house at cards that, like most surefire methods, sometimes works out pretty darned well, occasionally very well indeed and, more often than not, doesn’t work out at all. Not so different from every other GM out there, really, except that his method has Hollywood publicity. Oh, and then there is the A’s dismal payroll to contend with but that is also not a unique problem in baseball.
Trading ace Trevor Cahill five entire years before free agency for a potential-ace-in-a-few-years and a couple of nothing-special-as-of-yet minor leaguers was certainly one of those head scratcher moves. I’ve heard a lot of speculation about the reasoning behind this deal. But tell me, am I the only one that thinks it’s less about the A’s current payroll and more about their desire to move to San Jose? An exaggerated, in your face, “this is what you’ve reduced us to” statement sure to garner enough attention that maybe, just maybe Selig will stop holding them in limbo and get the deal done already? Yes, I did spend my adolescence reading a lot of novels about intrigue, conspiracies and Machiavellian politics. Why do you ask? 😉