Friday’s Angels looked much like Monday through Thursday’s Angels, only with much better fielding than on several of the previous days. While this was an improvement, it was not enough to yield a different result and they lost four to two. The Angels aren’t exactly getting killed on the field this season. Most of the losses have been close. But it does go to show that if you aren’t scoring many runs, then your pitching and fielding have to be absolute perfection game in and game out in order to compensate for it, and that just isn’t feasible for any team.
So, cut to last night’s seven to five victory over the Royals. What changed? Several very important things as it turns out:
The veteran bats came alive. I admit it. I was less than pleased when I saw Vernon Wells batting cleanup last night. But he waled on the ball, going three for four with nice solid base hits that moved runners around the bases and lead to Wells scoring a run each time he made it on base. Howie Kendrick also went three for four, with two RBIs. Bobby Abreu had a key hit and he and Torii Hunter worked counts into walks for needed bodies on base. I cannot tell you how nice it was to see all of them on in one game!
We put runners on base and scored runs in multiple innings. If you look at the typical 2011 Angels box score, the one to three runs scored by our heroes usually occur all in one inning, often early in the game and then they don’t score again. This has not been an effective strategy. Last night, the Angels scored four runs in the second – more than their game average already – added a fifth run in the third and then game back to put two runs on the board and regain the lead in the 8th.
Our fielding was stellar. The Angels fielding has been good for most of 2011, but last night it was just on fire and it was equally on fire all around the diamond. Double plays. Two beautiful plays at the plate, including one highlight reel play on a perfect throw from Torii in right. Great catches all over the field and heads up back up.
We stole four bases! Stolen bases is one of many areas where sabermetrics and I have to agree to disagree. A team doesn’t have to be loaded with power hitters to win as long as they know how to consistently manufacture runs. The Angels know how to manufacture runs. This is one of Mike Sciocia’s specialties as a manager. They just haven’t been doing it consistently. Last night, the final two runs were the result of situational hitting, stolen bases and smartly taking advantage of a few Royals mistakes. This is a great sign and hopefully the beginning of a re-emerging trend. Now let’s just hope Alberto Callaspo, who pulled a hamstring during a successful double steal, is able to move from being day to day back to an everday player soon. This injuries trend is one that can stop any day now.
Looking at the season strictly from a numbers standpoint, one win by no means offsets six straight losses, even when the rest of the division helpfully loses again. But I never think numbers tell the whole story, especially in early June. They’re more like a guideline, actually. 😉 This was a good solid win, a pretty win if you will, the end result of several missing pieces coming together for the Angels all at once while other team strengths continued. If the Angels can capitalize on the momentum from this game heading into interleague, I think they can start putting together enough wins for significance from any standpoint!
Friday (and Saturday!) Gourmet, Wine & Angels
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread? Well, the chefs – read, Seth and I – were tired after a long week and indulged in a bit of lazy cooking: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches with bacon and TJ’s guacamole (hence the lazy). Quick and dirty, but tasty. And the wine was amazing – Mitchella’s 2007 Cabernet which tastes of black currants and dark chocolate. Yum!
We were better rested on Saturday and grilled up a feast for the evening game. Tri-tip, rubbed with olive oil, crushed garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, which my husband grilled to that perfect state where the meat has an amazing crust, but is a gorgeous medium to medium rare throughout when you slice into it. Tri-tip is an absolutely glorious cut of beef that I am sorry to say we Californians have not shared much with the rest of the country. Trust me, you are very sad. You just don’t know it. 😉 We served it with black beans, fresh tortillas and queso fresco and squash lightly sautéed with garlic and black pepper. Paired with Dead Nuts, Chronic Cellars luscious Zinfandel, Petite Sirah blend, it was a fantastic meal…and the Angels won, so if I were inclined to superstitions on that front I would say they prefer us to make more of an effort for the game, LOL.
According to the wisdom of the post season ad campaigns, you can’t script October. While that is certainly true, I would argue that you really can’t script the other six months leading up to October either. It’s May 1st and the Indians have the best record in baseball while the Twins have the worst. ‘Nuff said. Any game has the potential to surprise and shock you, perhaps not as dramatically in the regular season as in the post season, but that potential is still there. This weekend’s Angels games were full of surprises for me, some pleasant, others groan worthy.
I didn’t expect Joel Pineiro to pitch such a strong game fresh off of the DL – seven innings with three strike outs, giving up only four hits and one walk, a nice surprise to say the least. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a Matt Joyce homerun and the Rays’ James Shields was pitching an even better game than Pineiro. With Shields dealing and the Angels unable to catch him in even one mistake for eight innings, I didn’t expect Torii to catch a piece of the ball in the 9th, or Howie to bring him home after the pitching change. With the exhilaration of tying the game up and getting through the bottom of the ninth unscathed, who could have imagined losing to a walk-off wild pitch in the tenth? Welcome back Joel! The guys really owe you run support next time and I tip my cap to Shields.
Cut to today when Angels fans tuned in to see ace Jered Weaver take on Alex Cobb, a 23-year old rookie right hander brought up from the minors just for the occasion, only to watch rookie vs. rookie instead as a nasty bout with the flu scratched Weaver’s start and Tyler Chatwood took the mound in his place. From there, nothing proceeded according to normal expectation. Chatwood actually lost his composure and took an entire inning to recover, giving up five runs in the process. Things looked grim in the first and I was really worried the Angels were going to give up, but with a Hank Conger solo homerun in the 2nd inning, they started to catch up instead.
Chatwood and the Bullpen kept the Rays from scoring again. Yes, our Bullen absolutely rocked! Rich Thompson had a great inning. Fernando Rodney nearly scared us to death by walking his first batter, but redeemed the walk and yesterday’s wild pitch when he helped with a tight double play and struck out the final batter. And I can tell I am going to adore Scott Downs. Calm and collected on the mound, he even calmed the infield down with jokes and a self deprecating smile after he accidentally turned a near certain double play into a single out and then returned to sitting batters down one by one.
The Angels’ bats were back and the team tied things up with help from Torii, Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo and others. But the best play of the game was one of those baseball surprises I live for. Homeruns are fun and all, but this chick digs cleverly manufactured runs. With one out in the 8th inning, Torii on third and Vernon Wells on first, Conger hit a hard line drive to second base for an unfortunate sure double play. Running on contact, Wells was within tagging distance of Ben Zobrist when he fielded the ball, but stopped just out of Zobrist’s reach. Wells then feinted toward first when Zobrist leaned in to tag him, drawing Zobrist and first baseman Casey Kotchman into a brief, unnecessary pickle during which they tagged first to get Conger out…and paid no attention to Torii who dashed home and scored. Wells was then tagged out in short order to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Rays did not score in the 8th and Jordan Walden shut everything down like clockwork in the 9th. After such a dreadful first inning, I was not expecting a lit halo but, yay! I certainly didn’t expect a televised game to have me yelling and cheering myself hoarse with the same unrestrained passion I might exhibit at the ball park either…and neither, I’m sure, did my neighbors. Sorry guys!
And there is even an unexpected silver lining to come out of Weaver’s scratched start. Through a quirk of scheduling, the Red Sox originally weren’t going to face Weaver this season…But now Weaver will start on Monday or Tuesday as his health permits. I have a feeling this series against the Sox will be very different from the last one Yay!!
At the risk of sounding very Mother Hen-ish, did everyone see the information about the switch to WordPress this coming weekend on MLBlogosphere? It sounds like the changes are going to be fantastic! But we need to make sure we have an updated email address attached to our accounts and a couple of other things in preparation for the transition….oh, and be prepred for no blogging this weekend – The Horror! 😉 Okay, maybe this is less Mother Hen, than a project management holdover from numerous system changes at a previous job.