When you absolutely, positively, have to halt a baseball team’s downward momentum with a win, forget the AK-47, call in a Dirtbag. And when you have the option to call in two back-to-back in consecutive starts, one of whom is your freshly back from the DL ace? Well, your decision is clear. Seriously, accept no substitutes. So, yeah, between the two of them and with timely backing from the Angels offense, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas halted the Angels brief post-8 game winning streak slide…
…aaaand then the Angels sadly passed out of the Dirtbag part of the starting rotation and promptly gave it up to the Astros. Yes, pitching was far from the only problem in that game. The Keystone Cops defense was equally to blame and, really, the offense could have cowboy’d up. But the pitching really, really, didn’t help. So what are we left with then? Weaver, then Vargas, then a whole lot of fans crying and swearing? Yes, I’m aware that my comment lacks the traditional cute little rhyme to sum up the fans feelings on the rest of the starting rotation, but my feelings towards them today are decidedly less than cute, so there you go. Anyway, rather than dwelling on that any further heading into the next Angels game. I’d prefer to concentrate on happy thoughts, in the hopes of a victory over the mighty, mighty Astros. *facepalm* Specifically, I’d prefer to talk about going to the Big A last Wednesday…
With rivalry series throughout MLB shortened from three games at one venue and three at the other to two and two under the new realigned schedule, I knew I had to buy tickets for my annual Freeway Series fix early. In fact, knowing how popular the annual Angels vs. Dodgers, battle for I-5 supremacy usually is, I bought our tickets to the Wednesday night game in the series the day individual tickets went on sale. And I made sure to nab us pretty good seats as well, just because.
As it turned out, this was such a brilliant decision that I wish I could actually take credit for thinking it through any further than that. May was a terribly busy month for Seth and I. Between work, family and one really nice weekend away, we had every weekend and most nights booked for the month. Wednesday was our one and only trip to the ballpark in May, a nearly unprecedented dry spell in the history of our household. And can I just tell you how glorious it was to see all of that beautiful green and take in the sights and sounds of the ballpark again? Never mind. You’re all fans. You understand.
But, even more importantly, Wednesday was also Jered Weaver’s first game back off the DL and it turned out to be one heck of a great game on top of that. As I said before, when you absolutely, positively, have to halt a baseball team’s downward momentum with a win…well, sadly, accepting substitutes is exactly what the Angels have been forced to do since Weaver broke his elbow in Arlington way back in early April. And, while those substitutes have gamely tried to fill the Weave’s perfectly odd sized and incredibly hard to fill cleats, it just simply could not be done and the Angels have really, really missed his tough, winning presence on the mound. Heading to the game I was so excited to be there for Weaver’s return, but mildly concerned that he would overthrow, an issue he’s experienced on some occasions after enduring a long time in between starts. Fortunately, overthrowing was not an issue. Weave was just Weaver. Throwing deceptive stuff. Striking guys out and coaxing fly outs with an admirable regularity. Getting even tougher and dialing in harder after each of the few hits he gave up. Setting the Angels up for a victory. Welcome. Back. Jered!! We have all missed you so much!
And Weaver’s performance was not the only highlight of the evening. In the stands, the mixed blue and red crowd absolutely rocked. I understand there were altercations in other sections but the Dodgers and Angels fans in our section? Well, we just enjoyed giving each other friendly grief and commiserating over a season that hasn’t been anything like either team had hoped so far. On the field, the offense had Weaver’s back with one patented, honest-to-goodness TrumBomb, doubles from Iannetta, Trout, Aybar and Iannetta again, and hits from almost the entire lineup. The outfield impressed, per their usual really. And although we all prefer a healthy Albert Pujols in the position, it was awfully nice to see Mark Trumbo enjoying being in his proper element at first base. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the bullpen. They were pretty good, actually. Downright awesome, in fact. Right up until Ernesto Frieri gave up two homeruns in the 9th that is, just for extra spice I’m sure. You know, making sure all of the fans felt they’d gotten their money’s worth of excitement. Considerate lad, that one. Fortunately, the Angels had enough of a lead to absorb those blows with only minimal antacid ingestion on the part of the fans – because you know they’d long since stopped selling alcohol – and the good guys were victorious. No blood. No actual falling behind. No extra innings. No foul. All’s well that ends in a lit halo!!
So, the moral of this story is quite simple and carries an important message for the rest of the season. Angels, I don’t care if you win pretty or win ugly. I don’t care if you win by a landslide, one run or anything in between. I don’t care if you have to scare me half to death and drive me to the liquor cabinet swearing all the way on your way to doing so. Just win. Please win. Win a lot. Oh, and how often can we reasonably ask Weaver and Vargas to take the mound? I only ask because, well, in the team’s current situation, it could prove to be useful information. Maybe.
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).
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.
Yes, Seth and I did continue our relatively new tradition of attending the Angels home opener this year. And, yes, that was the better part of a week ago and I should have posted about it days ago. But I’ve sort of been holding off, waiting for the Angels to give me a reason to write something positive and cheerful. *sigh* Can you blame a girl? At this point I can see that the Angels are just mired in a terrible slump right now and it may take them awhile to work through it, a fact I am embracing with the sort of frustrated patience and loyal resignation that may indeed be unique to sports fans. However, thinking back on the Angels’ opening day, I can honestly say that even knowing today how the rest of the series turned out, that initial walking through the gates magic of the home opener still stands, and that seemed worth writing about.
Weeknight baseball games in the greater Los Angeles/Orange County area are tricky to time right under the best of circumstances. First pitch is at 7:05. Seth and I get off work at 6…ish…often a very large ish. And traffic is, well, storied and with reason. By now we’re pros at getting to the stadium, rushing to our section and sinking into our seats just in time for first pitch. Arriving any earlier takes a certain amount of luck and luck was not on our side that evening. We missed the dramatic home opener team introductions, the giant flag on the field and most of the other Opening Day traditions.
No matter. We caught the flyover from the parking lot and looking straight up at six WWII AT-6 fighters flying low in formation is all kinds of cool no matter where you’re standing. Watching the planes bank and head away while the stadium staff checked bags and tickets helped settle me out of rushing mode and into a more celebratory frame mind – a helpful reminder that this was not just any game. The feeling continued and grew as we rushed through the stadium toward our seats, goose bumps of anticipation rising on my arms as all of those familiar Angels pre-game sounds surrounded us. Train’s Calling All Angels. The historical news reels announcing the creation of the Angels franchise and subsequent team milestones. Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town as the guys start to take the field, all prompting a welling of excited emotions that led to the following internal exchange – yes, I talk to myself and myself talks back. What of it? 😉
Are you…are you crying? No. S’dusty. The stadium’s barely been used in months.
Good. Because you know that thing about baseball? That thing about how there’s absolutely no crying in it? No, really. S’just dusty. Really, really dusty.
Okaaaaay, so I teared up a little…er…a lot. I will cop to becoming strangely emotional and sentimental over really odd things. But, hey, it was the home opener. Tears may have been a little over the top but if you’re a baseball fan and your home opener doesn’t provoke some sort of emotional response, might I suggest a trip to the doctor’s to check up on your heart, because it’s already clear that you have no soul. 😉
And if only the game itself had been at all good. As good C.J. Wilson handily dealing with those first two batters, perhaps, before he began to blow chunks, giving up three runs before the Angels were able to finally make that third out. Or, as good as innings three through six, perhaps, after Wilson had, quite admirably, calmed down and pitched well and the Angels started to score, eventually taking a small lead. If only any of the things, then that initial, walking through the gates excitement would have remained even if the A’s had still managed to win. But as it stands? With the miscues. The bad pitches. The sloppy play. The 13 frickin’ LOBsters! The eventual near blowout. That excitement remains relegated to the joy of being back at the stadium after the long winter away and is far removed from the game itself. *sigh* Some seasons are like that.
Now, if only I could laugh about my own disappointment over one game out of 162. But the Angels’ had been paying well, well below their potential leading up the home opener and it seems to be getting worse. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m resigned to the fact that this is just something the team is stuck in the middle of and might not find their way out of for a while. Meanwhile the injuries, starting with Jered Weaver, and the other hits just keep on coming. I firmly believe that this is not what the rest of the season will look like. This team is too talented to never find their rhythm and play well together. Now, will they be able to that before they lose enough games that they’ve effectively blown their season in April no matter how well they play May through September? Well, that is the $127.8 million question, now isn’t it? I honestly do not have a feel for the answer right now and I am dying for some sign of life for the team to justify even the smallest return of my usual sunny optimism.
I can tell you what I do know though. As a fan this just feels icky right now. My brain is a morass of conflicting thoughts, all of them tending toward the grumpy. I absolutely do not want to hear, ‘It’s early still. I mean, this is a marathon not a sprint.’ and the usual platitudes as if this is no big deal. With each game the Angels play like this, we draw exponentially closer to too late. At the same time, don’t let me hear anyone saying it’s over. Not yet. The season is in real danger but it could still be salvageable, so just take that talk right on over to someone else’s blog. Oh and, warning, because this behavior is already showing up on Twitter and FaceBook in full force, if anyone starts quoting that lame, pointless and beyond trite, “But back in 2002 the Angels started the season terribly and…” to me, I really will start throwing things at you. Yes. Through the internet.
And now, I am out of time. I am heading off to my second game of the year, so I may post catch up photos from Opening Day later, and hopefully with a brain spinning with the sort of giddy, early optimism that a few wins this weekend could still bring out in me.
Finally sitting down to write again while watching the final games of the World Baseball Classic, I tip my hat to Puerto Rico for defeating reigning champion Japan, but I also have to belatedly tip my glass to Team USA. While I wish they could have made it this far and clearly theirs was not as great a finish as we’d hoped — certainly not as great a finish as the players had hoped — it was much better than I expected after catching the USA vs. Mexico game. And, hey, I have the last of the Balvenie RumCask in the glass I am tipping, so I can honestly say that a) this is a quality toast and b) that I may actually shed a tear or two in a moment…though certainly not for Team USA. 😉
Taking the not-particularly-way-back machine to one week ago, I return to the subject of our Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition. For Seth and I, this was a trip filled with firsts — our first trip to Spring Training and our first World Baseball Classic game. Friday afternoon we left Tempe Diablo stadium when the Arizona sky opened up and poured water and ice, checked into our hotel, wrung as much water as we could from our jeans (serves us right for trying to pack light, I suppose) and headed to Chase Field to watch Team USA and Team Mexico battle to move to the next round in the WBC. Yes, that’s a lot of baseball. *Big silly grin* My kind of vacation.
The energy walking into Chase was incredible. Our seats were excellent, in the third row just a section and change behind first base. In my opinion half of the fun of the WBC is seeing our MLB players in different uniforms, playing for their home country or for Team USA. It was an absolute kick to see so many players I adore but don’t get to watch nearly as often as my Angels – R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer, Eric Hosmer and the list goes on – playing together in red, white and blue, especially on the same field with Adrian Gonzalez, Sergio Romo and everyone else playing for Mexico. Sadly, the game itself was one sided and ho hum. Mexico hit, ran and hit and ran some more while USA played like…well…like an MLB team in their second or third week of Spring Training. I had the wrong angle to tell if Dickey was having an off night or if Mexico simply has no issues hitting a knuckleball. Not that it mattered, because the outfield couldn’t seem to make a play to save their lives, a development I was not expecting given the quality of the players involved. Mind you, I had a blast and am excited we had tickets to see the game but, in the end, my excitement and enjoyment were more because we got to see a WBC game than because the game itself was anything special.
A couple of observations:
The strangest thing about the game: Oddly enough, I scould not get used to the sounds. As I mentioned, it poured in Arizona that Friday so Chase Field wisely took advantage of all modern conveniences and this became the first baseball game I have ever watched under a closed roof. I was plenty grateful for the roof, mind you, especially sitting there still damp from the epic deluge and hail that ended the Angels game that afternoon. But at the same time I was reminded how much the traditional sounds of the game are part of the whole experience for me. Under a roof you still get the crack of the bat, etc., but it’s flatter and somewhat muted. It just doesn’t sound right…kind of Langoliers-ish for any of you out there who devoured Stephen King to the degree I did as a child. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baseball played underneath a retractable roof is decidedly better than a game called for inclement weather, or than sitting in the stands dripping wet, cold and absolutely hating life for that matter. But the game is still best enjoyed outside.
The best thing about the game: As I said, the energy was incredible! You hear a lot about games with a playoff atmosphere. Now, I have yet to afford the privilege of being at an actual playoff game — though that is indeed one for the bucket list — but I have been at several hard contested, end-of-the-season games that folks later describe as having a playoff atmosphere and I can definitely attest to the fact that that kind of energy is wild, intense and wonderful. I also had the luck of being at the Big A for every pitch of Jered Weaver’s no hitter (No, I probably won’t stop mentioning that for a few seasons yet. Why do you ask? 😉 ) and the energy at that game was positively electric to the point where you could feel it on your skin. The energy at the WBC game was palpable, like that, but less intense. It was a rowdy, fun, the-crowd-is-absolutely-into-it-and-hanging-on-every-pitch kind of energy and, yet, at the same time it was casual. This wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, it felt like everything a simple every day game can and should be, and this during a relatively lopsided, uneventful game. If every regular season MLB game could feel like that? Well, I would probably love going to baseball games even more, something I did not think possible.
2012 ended in the usual whirlwind of fun holiday activity. Now that we’re calmly ensconced in the early days of 2013, I finally had the chance to sit down and think about the baseball year that was for an Angels “year in review” highlights post. Hey, I already covered my season gripes as they happened. Now is the time to remember the fun parts. There are already a lot of fantastic Angels 2012 highlight posts out there with killer statistical breakdowns and insightful analysis and, quite frankly, they cover all of that better than I ever could. So, instead, I like to concentrate on those things — Angels specific, baseball general, personal accomplishment and otherwise — that made my Angels baseball season. So, without further ado, here are my personal Angels season highlights, in no particular order:
Mike Trout. Watching this gifted young man take the field in Angels red every day was easily one of the highlights of my baseball fandom so he was easily one of the highlights of my season. I mean, is there anything this talented kid can’t do? The bat. The glove. The speed. The instincts. The heart. The highlight reel nature of the way he plays every single game. The way he makes it all look so effortless. The best rookie season on record! And to top it all off, Trout is a genuinely nice young man who loves the game. Thinking about Trout’s 2012 season makes me giddy. Thinking about all of Trout’s Angels seasons to come gives me chills.
Jered Weaver’s no hitter. I mean, really, Jered Weaver in general. Our ace. Our hometown hero. Our tough, ass kicking, take no prisoners, “give me the ball coach, I’ll find a way to help the team win even when I’m hurting,” goofy, sweet, team leader from the mound. Once again, and even while suffering a back injury in the middle of the season, Weaver delivered a Cy Young worthy season performance that was just, alas, minutely less Cy Young worthy than the even more stellar performance of a rival (two this season). Oh well. Keep plugging away Weave, it’ll happen for you one year! In the meantime, there are so many things about Weaver’s season that I could list here because they also made my season – the career high 20 wins, surpassing 100 victories, notching his 1,000th strikeout – but, at the same time, it could only be the no hitter. It was epic. It was historic. And I was privileged enough to be there.
Chris Iannetta catching Weaver’s no hitter. Chris Iannetta brought a bit of pop and clutch back to the Angels backstop position (hey, I said a bit — but .240 is aces over .174). He hit it off swimmingly with the pitching staff. He caught Weaver’s no hitter. But it was what we learned a few days after the no hitter that really blew me away. Iannetta suffered a wrist fracture when he was hit by a pitch…in the second inning. He caught seven innings of a no hitter with a fractured wrist. Wow! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know the special place that bad ass catchers will always hold in my heart, so this absolutely had to make my list.
Torii Hunter playing like a kid again. Torii, Torii, Torii. I certainly don’t agree with every single thing you say in the media, but man am I going to miss seeing you in Angels red. Angels Announcer Mark Gubicza once exclaimed, after a particularly dazzling Hunter play, followed by a particularly infectious Hunter smile, ‘Does anyone love playing this game more than Torii Hunter?’ As much as Torii? Certainly. But more than him? Absolutely not. I don’t think it’s possible. Getting to see Torii play a career year on the field while watching him mentor the younger Angels, especially Trout, with the deft hand of a born teacher was definitely a season highlight.
Albert Pujols’ first Angels’ home run and the team clearing the dugout to tease him. Yes, Albert had a slow season start. An epically, painfully, disappointingly slow season start. But did I not caution patience and optimism during that time? And did it not pay off? By the end of the season, Albert put up numbers that were comparable to his 2011 season (up here, down there, identical in a few places) despite the slow start. Yes, I know that he is aging and his numbers will probably be up and down and then eventually just down over the duration of his contract and we’ll discuss all of that when it happens. But I enjoyed watching him once he hit his stride as an Angel and I loved this moment in particular because you could tell, all in one moment, how deeply Pujols cares about his own performance. That Pujols may be aging but he’s still got it. That there are some things on the field that can still bring even the most cynical of Angels boo-birds cheering to their feet. And how supportive the Angels are of their teammates – not to mention how wonderfully, endearingly silly this team can be. It was such an inspiring? …exhilarating? …touching? …you know what? None of those words on its own really sums it all up so let’s just go with “baseball”…it was such a baseball moment!
Ernesto Frieri. Otherwise known as, yet more proof that Jerry Dipoto knows way more about baseball than I ever will. Ernesto who? I said when the Angels traded for him. But Frieri became a fan favorite in our house in short order after concluding his first appearance as an Angel. A shy, sweet seeming kid who still has a charming wide eyed, “I can’t believe I’m actually in the Bigs” attitude away from the mound, Frieri becomes Ernasty as soon as he gets the ball and then pitches miss bats and coufound batters at an impressive rate. Yes, there were bumps in the road. But Frieri made me smile and think hopeful, optimistic thoughts every time he walked on to the field. And, in a season that was most certainly not without its own bumps, that was a big deal.
Continued Fan Trips – San Diego. Seth and I have been trying — very slowly and for the time being locally as dictated by the almighty budget — to watch a game at every MLB ballpark. In 2012 our “Annual Baseball Extravaganza” took us to San Diego for the Angels interleague series against the Padres. Although this was just before the Angels took off on a winning tear, we had a blast. Petco Park is a fantastic baseball venue. Travelling to see your team play away is a great experience – not to mention one that will make you feel like a couple of diehard fans in a heartbeat — and we got to spend quality baseball – and pub crawling — time with a good friend who lives in the San Diego area. Total season highlight.
MLBlogs, yes MLBlogs. 2012 saw the retirement of several blogs that I consider to be among the greats and – not to wax too Shawshank-y here — while I absolutely understand that the need to move on from such a huge undertaking may strike some, the Blogosphere is definitely lesser for their absence. I am now doubly grateful for those bloggers who continue blogging! Heck, this winter I briefly entertained the idea of retiring my own blog, not that mine is even in the same league as the aforementioned blogs. This blogging thing, it’s a blast and a half but it can also be a lot of work, especially when actual work commitments begin to get intense. But then I thought about what a season would be like without having this forum to share my giddiness and my frustrations, and that really didn’t seem like much fun. I was reminded that posting here and chatting with everyone was a highlight of my 2011 season, it was absolutely a highlight of my 2012 season and I look forward to it being a highlight of my 2013 season. If that means that from time to time I need to just relax and post a little less frequently, so be it. Thus, MLBlogs is essential to my 2012 list — plus, this past season I was invited to join in a few blogger collaborations, another fun highlight of my season and something I look forward to doing more of in 2013.
Happy New Year, all!! I hope your 2013 is filled with so many good things that you can’t even remember those inevitable rough patches come year end. 🙂
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Hot Stove Edition! This is the first 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 recent Hot Stove 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 questions prompted our teams’ offseason activities 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 snarky ones), please ask away:
Which of your team’s offseason moves do you think was the strongest?
Kristen says: I imagine everyone is expecting me to say Josh Hamilton here. Hamilton was a huge signing and should be a boon to the team, combining with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo to make the Angels offense a formidable one indeed (at least on paper — I am very careful about how excited I allow myself to get before the teams actually take the field when, as any longtime baseball fan can tell you, anything can happen). However, I actually think the Angels strongest move was the most recent — the trade for Jason Vargas. As a player, Hamilton is definitely on another level than Vargas and will probably contribute more to the team directly. But trading for Vargas set the rest of the Angels roster in ways that will benefit the entire team and make Hamilton’s talents that much more effective. In addition to providing another reliable, workhorse arm to a starting rotation that needed exactly that, the Kendrys Morales for Vargas trade ensured that the Angels do not have to make less advantageous trades to get said arm. They no longer have to worry about trading the more versatile slugger Mark Trumbo, whose bat has the potential to be more explosive in the lineup with Hamilton. They no longer have to worry about trading Peter Bourjos, who can instead be the gold glove caliber centerfield anchor between Hamilton and Trout in what should be a truly scary Angels outfield — oh, and having Bourjos and Trout tear up the base paths together won’t hurt either.
Matt says: As important Pitching was this off-season I’m not going to say it was Zach Greinke or Ryu. I think the strongest was Mark McGwire as the Dodgers hitting coach. The Dodgers had issues with getting hits and runs in games and that hurt the Dodgers playoff chances. Look at what Mark did as hitting coach with the Cardinals. They were pretty much in the top ten in Runs, Batting Avg, and OPB. For a Dodger Team with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford that’s going to be huge help for them.
What, if anything, do you think your team still needs to do?
Matt says: I still think the Dodgers need to address the Bullpen and bench. Dodgers lack a LHP out the pen. Scott Elbert is still out, Paco Rodriguez isn’t really ready for a full stent like that, and missed the chance at resigning Randy Choate. The only thing the Dodgers did for the bullpen was resign Brandon League. They have Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang out there on the trade block so maybe they trade them for Bullpen help. Bench wise I believe the Dodgers have to address getting a 4th Outfielder because lets be honest Yasnel Puig isn’t really ready quite yet. They traded for Skip Shoemaker which help but a 1st/3rd Baseman off the bench along with a 4th Outfield will really help.
Kristen says: Well, if we were asking these questions earlier in the week, I would have said that the Angels need another starting pitcher in bold, italicized, all caps, 24 point font. But, thank you Santas Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno, that seems to be taken care of – see previous response. Instead I’m going to enter complete fairy tale land here (Well, it is Christmas after all — might as well wish big!) and say that I think the Angels need to move Vernon Wells, even if it means eating almost all of that huge contract. Nothing against Wells himself — he has been a smiling example of good attitude, trying hard to improve at the plate and gracefully moving wherever the team asked him to, including the bench. But this acquisition just hasn’t work out, and that’s putting it mildly. I would love it if any of the, quite frankly, trade porn rumors surrounding one team or another showing interest in Wells worked out…even if the deal is for practically nothing! The Angels would seriously benefit from having the room on the 25-man roster and I think Wells himself would benefit from the chances offered by that supposed panacea, the change of scenery.
Now that we know what you want your team to do, what do you think they will do? Any trade/move/signing predictions?
Kristen says: I think that, with the Vargas trade, the Angels are pretty much done. I suppose that you might hear about a smaller move here or there — one lesser known bullpen pitcher or non-top minor league prospect for another, but other than that they’re done making deals for the offseason. Although, if Jerry Dipoto chooses to see this as a challenge — because of course the Angels read my blog 😉 — and moves Vernon Wells just to spite my prediction, I certainly wouldn’t mind being wrong.
Matt says: I think the Dodgers will end up Trading Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano along with Dee Gordon for a Left Hand Arm out the bullpen. Theres been rumors about Andre Ethier being traded but I don’t see that happening at all. As far as signings go I believe the Dodgers will look into the Market for a Outfielder or Corner position player off the bench but at the same time I think they’re done.
There is A LOT of money being spent in LA/OC these days. A LOT OF IT! Does your team’s payroll size or amount being spent worry you at all?
Matt says: To be honest yes it does. With the amount of money being put into the Dodgers I would hope winning comes with it. You can’t buy wins or world series and playing Yankee ball can only work when done right. I fear of the Dodgers being like the Red Soxs. All the money being spent and no playoff apperance or anything. Not only that but the fear of Contracts back loading up to where the Dodgers can’t do anything in the future but the Dodgers said they have deep pockets and a new 2 Billion dollar TV deal is coming in soon so we shall see what happens but I can’t say it doesn’t worry me or isn’t in the back of my mind. Everyone tries to play Yankee Ball but the only way that works is if you get the players that fit and generate wins.
Kristen says: Absolutely. Spending this much money should scare anyone. Every player, no matter how talented, is a risk. No one wants to see it happen but any player has the potential to age, slump, lose their swing/pitching location/etc., fail to mesh with a given team and (God forbid) get injured. And when you’ve spent outrageous sums of money acquiring that player, the end result of any such occurrence is devastating because suddenly you’re priced out of just eating that paycheck one way or another to move the player off your roster. And if this happens on several such deals? Yeah, say hello to a nice block of ever-so-much-fun-for-the-whole-team-family “rebuilding” seasons. No. Thank. You!
Here’s the thing though – I think that more and more teams are going to need to come to terms with this level of spending as we go on. Teams are wisely locking up their talent before they hit free agency with greater frequency, leaving smaller free agency pools for teams in a buying mode to fight over. Nothing against Zack Greinke — he’s one hell of a pitcher and I wish the Angels had been able to keep him — but do you really think he would have garnered this impressive a contact if the Giants, Phillies and Angels had allowed Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver to hit the free agency market in 2013 as scheduled? And Greinke is just the latest example of this phenomenon. And, of course, when quality players are making those kinds of dollars you know that marquee players will command even more from their current team or on the FA market (Holy Staggering Albert Pujols Contract, Batman!!). The end result is that, while the Dodgers and Angels may seem to be leading the charge at the moment, more and more teams will be joining in that charge out of necessity over the next several seasons — as a trend this is both kind of exciting and very scary.
The MLBN analysts seem to think that the Dodgers and Angels offseason moves are all about one upping each other. Do you think there is any truth to this? How do you feel about that?
Kristen says: To quote Annie Savoy, “Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” Or, from the owners’ perspectives it’s also a business. I’m sure Arte Moreno and Magic Johnson and partners do consider things like Los Angeles/Orange County market share when they’re making decisions about advertising, overall ballpark experience and the price of parking, beer, etc. But I highly doubt that this thinking extends to personnel decisions. Competitive teams that win games and reach the Postseason make fans happy and draw them to the ballpark. In order to do that, it’s far more important to be competitive within one’s own division than with an interleague rival as I’m sure all owners and GMs involved are well aware. I can see why the timing of some of the Angels and Dodgers free agency signings lead to the comments in question on MLBN, but I think that both the signings and their timing had little to do with Freeway Series rivalry. Yes, the Angels wanted Zack Greinke and so did the Dodgers. But at least half a dozen other teams also seriously wanted Greinke. He was the best free agent starting pitcher on the market this season. Once the Dodgers signed Greinke, I’m not surprised that the Hamilton signing followed so quickly on its heels. Suddenly the Angels had a lot less pokers in the big money free agents fire and could just concentrate their efforts on Hamilton.
Matt says: You know that’s an interesting question. I honestly don’t think it’s one upping at all and theres two reasons for that. 1- The Dodgers and Angels are filling needs that prevented them from making the playoffs. Thing was it just so happen the Angels signed Hamilton in the heat of the Dodgers making serious moves. 2- The Angels turned out to be the mystery team that was after Hamilton and got him just like last year with Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson So they’ve done this before. People predicted the Dodgers having money to throw at Free Agents before Off-Season. I don’t believe it’s one upping at all but It has caught the attention of the National Media so I like the westcoast attention the Baseball Media is giving.
Now on to something really important – the annual LA/OC billboard war. Which team do you think will have the most/best billboards plastered all over town?
Matt says: Hahaha It was a year ago when the Angels had billboards all over LA/OC until the Dodgers got new owners. I believe it’ll be fairly even. In the OC you have Albert Pujols, Jarred Weaver, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout where in LA you have Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Adrian Gonzalez. I believe the Dodgers will have them posted all over L.A. knowing Magic and his promoting of the Dodger brand and the Angels will do a lot of marking themselves as well. It’ll be interesting to see.
Kristen says: *snerk* The “billboard wars” always make me smile and laugh. I take the 605 freeway to work. Most seasons that freeway is littered with Dodgers billboards heading south and Angels billboards heading north as if both teams were making a concerted effort to convert their rival fan base. Honestly, the arrival of the billboards is one of my favorite So Cal signs of spring. Last season at the height of all of the Frank McCourt ick in L.A., the Angels rather dominated the local billboard space and, as much as I like seeing red everywhere I look, it just wasn’t nearly as much fun as when it’s a “battle.” (Yes, mine is a long and boring commute and I take my simple pleasures where I can. Why do you ask?) However, between Arte Moreno (who made his fortune in advertising and billboards, don’cha know) and Magic Johnson (who also seems to have an admirable grasp of the importance of good marketing) I am sure both that teams will being trying to convert us all once again this season — looking forward to it, in fact!