Welcome to I-5 Bias: the 2014 Freeway Series Edition! This post marks the happy return of what has been a fun, occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Matt and I were originally inspired to start this column by a huge shift in attention to the AL and NL West two years ago. Things have been up and down for my Angels and his Dodgers since then, but this season! Oh. My. Wow! This season!! Suffice to say, even though I’ve been in a busy real life enforced semi-retirement from blogging, when Matt asked me if I wanted to come back and do a Freeway Series I-5 Bias, both teams are so amazing, how could I turn that down? So, here we are once again 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? No, forget that. This season more than ever, it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted by our teams’ current records, the relatively new season schedule format, that thorny little Dodgers TV problem, and the ensuing fan and media commentary on it all, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snotty ones), please ask away:
The Angels and Dodgers both find themselves as strong playoff contenders in heated division races that are likely to come down to the wire. What has impressed you about both squads this season? What do you think of their chances in the postseason?
Matt Says: Well with the Dodgers I would have to say what impressed me about them is their starting pitching rotation. Having Kershaw Greinke and Ryu pitching is dangerous and always set the Dodgers up to win but now you have (Had) Beckett when he’s on it. The offensive serge that the Dodgers are on is really helping them as well. Even though the Dodgers got off to a really slow start it seems like they’re starting to find their groove and at the right time too. After sweeping the Giants and Braves they’re making it known that they are starting to get their groove and when they’re on a role then they’re a very dangerous team. As far as the Angels I think they finally have their complete game finally figured out. They’re absolutely deadly with their bats and they managed to make some moves to improve their bullpen especially with the addition of Hudson Street, Joe Thatcher, and Jason Grilli. What impressed me more is how Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Erick Aybar are hitting with Mike Trout as well as the impressive play of Kole Calhoun. I think they’ve finally made themselves known as a legit World Series Contender.
Kristen Says: The Angels offense makes me giddy. They’ve been so hit and miss – pun most assuredly intended – these last few seasons, especially for having so much potential. But this season? Wow!! And it isn’t just the usual suspects – of course Mike Trout, etc., have been impressive, but so have Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun and Erick Aybar. It’s nice to feel spoiled with hitting again. The starting rotation is not as impressive as it has been in years past, but they’re getting it done and I am impressed with the way Garrett Richards has really come into his own this year. But, even more than all of that, I love the guys’ fight. Walk off wins, come from behind wins and, yes, plenty of decisive wins as well – this season it feels like the Angels have the fight and the drive to pull a win from just about anything.
I know there has been some scoffing about the Angels chances in the postseason because the team doesn’t have the world beating pitching they’ve had in years past and, “as everyone knows” pitching wins championships. But, I have to say, the pitching is getting it done and in that scenario I actually think that the ability to fight for the win in close games is at least as important. And if you’ve ever followed this blog, you know that’s about as far as I will ever go in terms of making postseason predictions. I feel like there really is something to the old cliché about taking them one game at a time and, also, perhaps there’s a bit of superstition there for me as well.
As for the Dodgers, oddly enough I feel like I don’t know much about the team this season other than their strong record, and obvious highlights like Kershaw and Beckett’s no-hitters. In a normal season, Seth and I tune in to other games before each Angels game starts and after it finishes, frequently the Dodgers, although other AL West games feature highly as well. With nary a borrowed-from-the-original-minor-league-Angels LA logo in sight on TV most nights, I haven’t been able to follow the team.
August is unusually late in the season for the Freeway Series – normally we’re writing this column in June! What are your feelings on Interleague match ups this late in the season, just as the postseason races are really heating up?
Kristen Says: When the new schedule debuted, I thought I would hate having interleague play throughout the season, but as it turns out I don’t mind it. As long as we have interleague play – and I am one of the oddballs that actually looks forward to these unusual matchups, a baseball DC/Marvel crossover comic if you will – when we have it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the way the teams perform. And here’s the thing, even before the current interleague format, September wasn’t strictly reserved for divisional play anyway and, depending on how the season goes, and doubly so the moment the wild card came into play, it isn’t a given that the most exciting end of season games will be divisional games. As for the Freeway Series, specifically, happening in August? I think this is the best Freeway matchup we SoCal baseball fans have seen in years and, to me, having the games mean so much on top of it just makes it feel like one of those series I’m going to wind up describing as a privilege to watch. What’s the downside?
Matt Says: It’s really interesting but at the same time out of place. We’re usually seeing interleague teams as early as late May and now it’s all over the place. How ever I do believe with rivalries like the Freeway series being this late in the season it put more at steak. Right now you have two teams in the southland and down the I-5 from each other battling for their division and this game will have a lot on the line in terms of Postseason positioning. If you had a game like for example the Tigers against the Cardinals at this point of the season and both teams were in division races then the causal baseball/Sports fan would be attracted to this. At the same time it takes away the meaning of planning your summer seeing teams from the other league that you usually don’t see as much so I guess you can say I have mixed feeling about it. It has it’s positives and negatives.
What key players/match ups should fans watch for in this year’s Freeway Series?
Matt Says: Well as far as key players for the Dodgers (Not Named Yasiel Puig haha) one would have to be Matt Kemp. Kemp has been on an absolute tear as of late with the bat since the “drama” towards the trade deadline. Kemp been hampered with injuries left and right and I think he’s starting to come around now (.386 BA Post All-Star break). Another key player to keep an eye on for Los Angeles Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu, Who is predicted to be in the rotation during the series, is one of those pitchers where they give up a lot of hits but once he’s locked in then he’s on it. Why I have Ryu up here as a key player? Because as of last season (Rookie season) the Angels are batting .065 against him and if he can repeat his performance from their last meeting then it could be a long night for Anaheim. As far as Match-ups It would have to be the Dodgers starting pitching rotation against the Angels line-up. Monday and Tuesday being Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw this will be the first time the Angels see the two Post All-star break and with the game at Dodger Stadium (NL Park) it’ll be very interesting to see what line-up Scioscia puts out there. Then comes the games at Angels Stadium and the DH in effect you’ll have the struggling Dan Haren and Hyun Jin Ryu facing the Angels with their dangerous offense. I think that’ll be the key because you have one of Baseball’s best offenses in the Angels taking on one of baseball’s best pitching rotation in the Dodgers.
Kristen Says: Well, there’s this young kid called Mike Trout, and I understand he’s pretty fun to watch. 😉 I know, I know. Dodgers fans – and everyone else! – are already well aware. But you may not be as aware of the combination of Trout and Calhoun. They’re brilliant together in the outfield and a blast – often quite literally – to watch hit back to back in the lineup. I realize that my defensive bias is showing a bit here – this chick thinks homeruns are very nice indeed, but what she really digs is a perfectly executed 4-6-3 – but I will never tire of watching the fielding combination of Aybar, Kendrick and Albert Pujols. As for pitching matchups, I am most excited about Richards vs. Zack Greinke at the first game.
As you are probably aware, Time Warner and a number of cable providers are currently in a huge standoff over SportsNet LA, which controls the Dodgers’ TV rights, with the result that 70% of the Los Angeles Market is without Dodger games. As baseball fans and sports fans what are your thoughts on this issue and is this becoming a growing issue in sports television?
Kristen Says: As a fan of the game, this is such utter bullshit. I don’t usually swear on this blog, but let’s call a spade a spade. And, yes, I do see this as a growing problem in sports, not just in this sport. I think it really comes down to a question of what do teams owe their fans? The financial perks of lucrative, exclusive TV deals cannot be denied and often, though certainly not always, those benefits are reflected in the quality of the team the owners are able to put on the field. But if the fans can’t afford to see that team play? Or, as in this case, can’t have access to see them play even if they can afford it? Quite simply you have not done right by the fans. TV deal money needs to be balanced against fan access. If your team goes all the way to the playoffs and you don’t get to watch them until October, does the victory still count? Absolutely. But unless you were able to jump up and down in your living room, or at your local sports bar with friends, family and even random strangers for all of those key moments throughout the season, there is no way that victory tastes as sweet.
At the risk of being very long winded – I know, too late! – seasons like this Dodgers season make baseball fans, and I’m not talking about fair weather and bandwagon fans. No, I’m talking about the children of adult fans who grow up with the memory of a magical season, of the year their parents let them stay up late all summer just to watch the games because the team was that good, of the time they got to see their unshakable grandfather shed tears of joy over a long hoped for playoff berth…you know the kind of season I’m talking about because, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a baseball fan and largely because of memories just like these. I know that’s my story. Now, what if that magical season, the season, wasn’t broadcast on television where you could see it? Managers and GMs are always talking about the need to consider the bottom line importance of the intangibles. I think owners need to keep them in mind as well.
Matt Says: I think this whole thing is outrageous. You have a 70% of fans who can’t watch a game in their local market because cable companies don’t see eye to eye with each other on what price to pay to carry a channel? I think if you look or pay attention to this whole issue you have to say all parties involved are responsible. The Dodgers because they knew that when they took this deal the potential for fans not to see their team play and the Cable companies because all they’re doing more finger pointing than working to reach a possible deal for the people. For me I’m getting by just fine attending games and listening on radio but it would be better to actually get this channel that I’ve heard about. This is really becoming a growing issue in sports because it’s becoming about the money more than the fans being able to see their team play on TV. I mean you have the Pac-12 Network and their ongoing issue with DirecTV where people can’t see certain college games. You also had the issue with the Lakers channel when they moved to Time Warner and most of the market couldn’t see Laker games until three weeks into the season. I can list more examples but I think the readers get my point haha. Point being that while the money being pumped into a franchise to pay the players that can help and having their own network but at what price are fans paying? I think franchises look at least think about those who put the money into their pockets.
We joke about our I-5 bias, but the truth is that baseball has taken a huge shift out West. The Dodgers and Giants are battling it out for control of the NL West in a race where the loser is mostly likely to head to the playoffs anyway as a wild card team. The A’s and Angels currently hold the best records in baseball and are locked in a similar race in the AL West. In the AL, there’s even a chance that both wild card teams could come out of the AL West if the Mariners go on a tear. Would you say that having this many West Coast teams in such tight races is good for MLB?
Matt Says: Two years ago when we first did I-5 Bias I said that baseball’s power shift was swinging out west. Here we are with 5 teams out west gunning for the Postseason (Sorry Padres and Diamondbacks). The Dodgers, Giants, Angels, and A’s are making playoffs baring any big big collapse and the Mariners are right there in the thick of the wild card race. Yes this is great for the MLB right now because for once all the attention is out here. I think Baseball media’s east coast (And Midwest) bias is finally realizing that the excitement is really in the AL and NL West as well as the Wild Card races. To think this all triggered with the spending of the Angels, the ownership change with the Dodgers, the out of nowhere push of the A’s, the Giants as hard for me to say and now Robinson Cano and the Mariners. This is what we’ve been waiting for.
Kristen Says: Tight baseball races going down to the wire make a great season for everyone, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what division they occur in – though, this is definitely a case of the more the merrier. There’s a reason that, when I Google “the best night in baseball ever,” every single reference on the first page is to September 28, 2011. I didn’t even have a team still in the running at that point and I still agree with that title. As far as the West Coast more or less owning the wild card race this season, I’d say it’s a definite improvement over the idea that the then one wild card spot would almost certainly go to the second place East Coast team, and one step closer to true competitive parity, where those wild card berths would be hotly contested across all divisions right up until the end. Because as much as I love my West Coast teams, I think that would be the most fun for baseball fans in general.
Care to make any Freeway Series predictions?
Kristen Says: I hate predictions! *cue Stevie Wonder’s Superstition* But in this case I always make an exception because it’s the done thing. Under the old(er) schedule, when the Freeway Series was 6 games, I always came down in favor of my Angels because, well, history. Yes, I said it. Cope. But with only four games and the Angels once again down a key starting pitcher (C.J. Wilson came off the DL just in time for Tyler Skaggs to go on it), I predict the Angels and Dodgers will split the series.
Matt Says: I know I may sound biased here but I am indeed very realistic with this. I believe the Dodgers will take 3 of 4 in the Freeway series. The Dodgers have been playing very good baseball as of late during the past 8-9 games. Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig to name a few have been hitting pretty well after the All-Star break and the Dodgers pitching rotation falls into their favor especially against a team like the Angels. Also the Dodgers hold a good but slim lead over the Giants and they can’t afford to allow that lead to trim especially at this point of the season. The Angels on the other hand have been struggling on offense as of late and headed into the series with the Dodgers against that pitching staff is really something that Anaheim can’t afford to do. They’ll also be without Tyler Skaggs who has been pitching pretty well for them. Now honestly it could go either way and maybe even be a split like last season but I think the writing is on the wall for the Dodgers to take the series over their interleague rivals.
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the 2013 Season’s End Edition! This is the latest in what continues to be a fun, occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Matt and I were originally inspired to start this column by the huge shift in attention the AL and NL West have enjoyed. Between tough competitions down to the October wire, prominent postseason performances and some pretty loud player acquisitions, the AL and NL West, and frequently my Angels and his Dodgers specifically, have been big, big news. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? No, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
Understandably, I almost didn’t want to do this edition, given the Angels sad, sad finish. But I would be a poor sport indeed if I didn’t continue in light of my fellow blogger’s team’s huge success. So, *mumbles* Congratulations Dodgers and good luck. Angels, kindly get it together this offseason – pretty please! And hopefully the next postseason will have more of a both ends of the I-5 vibe – not that a Freeway Series with Vin Scully announcing and the Angels ultimately victorious – naturally! – isn’t a bucket list level dream of mine or anything…nope, not at all. *nods* But I digress…
For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted by our teams’ final season records and the ensuing fan and media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snotty ones), please ask away:
The Dodgers and the Angels both had abysmal starts to their seasons. But by the end of June, the Dodgers started to turn things completely around. What are your thoughts on the Dodgers comeback/why do you think they were able to turn their season around?
Matt says: It’s amazing to think about what the Dodgers did. At the begining a lot of things were going completely wrong. Injuries, Leaving runners on base, Errors, Mismanagement, I mean whatever you thought of it happened with the Dodgers. When they went on that run It was unbelieveable run and took first place, There was a feeling that this team could do something special. How they were able to turn it around? Honestly there was a number of things. Everyone started to trust one another, In an Interview before the Blue Jays Series Adrian Gonzalez and AJ Ellis said that everyone on that team started to trust each other. Taking a few pitches and not over do things knowing the next guy behing them. Anotheher was the pitching started to get better. If you look at the Dodgers Statisiticly pitching it started with their top two starting pitchers in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. In the 2nd half both are a world better with low ERA’s and great win-loss records so there was no doubt that they would get it together. The rest of the staff on the other hand really went on to shock me. Ricky Nolasco was really getting it together, Hyun Jin Ryu continued his success, and the Bullpen as a whole managed to get better and the addition of Brian Wilson made it better as well. Let’s also not forget about Yasiel Puig! I think he was the huge spark that the Dodgers needed with his play.
Kristen says: I think it was as close to a perfect storm of good as a team can get – things started clicking for the Dodgers when Yasiel Puig debuted right as key players started coming off the DL. This is, perhaps, an oversimplified explanation for a pretty epic comeback, but that’s all I’ve got and, really, it’s no worse than Vin’s Magic Castle explanation. 😉
And what are your thoughts on the Angels continually frustrating season/why do you think they weren’t able to turn their season around?
Kristen says: Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover it. Trust me, I watched something like 145 of 162. Seriously. There are a lot of things that went wrong – injuries, veterans failing to perform, an on again/off again offense – but I think that the worst thing, the truly irreparable nail in the coffin, was pitching. This is a team that had relied on stellar pitching for the last string of seasons and they went into 2013 without a true starting rotation and no improvements to speak of in a shaky bullpen. Then injuries and aging arms made the pitching situation even worse and the powers that be failed to make any moves that constituted so much as a legitimate patch before the trade deadline – not that they really had a lot of funds to make such a thing possible by that point in the season.
Matt says: The Angels were a team I thought would also get it together in the 2nd half of the season. They had the offensive fire power, Pujols, Trout, and Kendrick was doing their thing, Josh Hamilton was starting to come around but ultimately the Angels couldn’t get it done. You had the injury to Albert that put himout for the rest of the season and inconsistant play it just wasn’t good all around. I think what hurt the Angels was the inconsistant ball play. The inability to really put something together to make a run hurt them. In the AL West you can’t afford to lose series against the A’s and Rangers and expect to make up ground. Droping games against Seattle and Houston didn’t help at all either. I believe the Angels needed to get it together consistantly and didn’t.
With postseason baseball coming for the Dodgers what is their biggest strength and weakness? How far do you think they can go?
Matt says: Their biggest strength will be pitching. I always preach that pitching will win you championships. Look at the Giants in 2010-2012 and look at the Phillies 2008-2009. Both had a great pitching staff that lifted them to World Series appaerances/Championships. That’s what the Dodgers needed and they tackled it well the Dodgers pitching staff is getting it done at the right time and when it’s really needed. Kershaw and Greinke in game one and two is scary enough and the bullpen has been lights out. As far as their weakness I do believe it’s their health. Dodgers for some reason have this issue with staying healthy and that tend to hurt them a lot. Right now L.A. have Matt Kemp out for the season with a ankle injury and the status of Andre Ethier is really up in the air right now. This team must stay healthy in order to really make an impact. I do believe the Dodgers can go far. It’s going to be difficult because they have a lot of good teams to pan up against and will be on the road. I think the Dodgers can make it to the World Series due to their pitching and talent.
Kristen says: I think pitching is the Dodgers biggest strength and an on again, off again offense is potentially their biggest liability. They sure aren’t hitting right now but even the last few games leading up to the postseason aren’t always an indication of play come October. If the Dodgers start hitting again, they could go pretty far.
What, if anything, do you think the season fallout will be in the Angels organization? Is there anything this team can do to get back on track for 2014?
Kristen says: I feel like Sadusky in National Treasure, “Someone’s got to go to prison, Ben.” I don’t know or even really want to predict who is going to leave but it’s certain that someone, and probably several someones, will. There are rumors flying far and wide about Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia. On the one hand, if you take injuries out of the equation, Jerry Dipoto is responsible for the pitching situation – he dismantled the old starting rotation to build this one. One the other hand, Scioscia has managed four teams that failed to make the post season in a row, two of them with losing records…and don’t think we haven’t noticed that this is the first season Arte Moreno has failed to respond to questions over Sosh’s future with with instant unwavering support. So is it one or both of these guys or will it be a massive player shift? Or, D, some of all of the above? Personally, I’d like the fallout to be enough player movement to get an actual starting rotation going into 2014 without throwing all babies out with the bathwater to accomplish it. But I learned a long time again that I don’t think like a team owner, especially not this team owner, so I doubt it will be that.
Matt says: I don’t think much will happen in the Angels Organization really but ig I had to pick I do believe the Angels will let go Jerry Dipoto. He has made splash signings with Albert Puljos, CJ Wilson, and Josh Hamilton but really nothing much has come out of it. He also failed to get the Angels true help which was to upgrade the pitching staff. I do believe that there is something that this team can do to turn it around in 2014 and that’s to get pitching help. They have the offensive firepower and enough of it but now is the time to really lock down on pitching if they want to make an impact in the AL West.
After winning the NL West the Dodgers came out of their clubhouse and celebrated in the Diamondbacks pool in the outfield. This was controversial and commentators have expressed differing opinions on the matter. What is your take on the celebration?
Matt says: Well I maybe in the majority that actaully don’t have an issue with this. I honestly think the Diamondbacks and media are making a huge deal out of it than we are or the Dodgers. If anything it started with them saying that the Dodgers couldn’t comeback out to celebrate which puzzles me. It was all done when everyone was out of the stadium and Los Angeles didn’t mean any harm over it at all. I understand the sportsmanship and classiness of celebrating but lets not forget when the Dbacks clinched they went swiming in their pool in 2011. It’s really no issue at all really and I think it’s bigger deal to Arizona than anyone else.
Kristen says: On the one hand, I think the DBacks telling the Dodgers not to come back out of the Clubhouse to celebrate on their field was out of line and contrary to baseball tradition. So, if the Dodgers had just come out of the Clubhouse and celebrated on the field, I wouldn’t have any objections. But come on Dodgers, you can’t tell me that a large part of your motivation to celebrate specifically by jumping in the DBacks’ pool wasn’t sticking it to a division rival with whom you have bad blood and have brawled this season, knowing that such an action would really piss them off. While that is certainly an understandable, human motivation it isn’t exactly a classy one. So, do I think the Dodgers are evil? No. But they sure aren’t winning any kudos for sportsmanship this season. Of course, did they actually set out to? Probably not.
So, baseball fan boys and girls, what does the 2013 season have to teach us about pre-season media hype?
Kristen says: Well, both the Dodgers and the Angels were heavily hyped to go all the way. The Angels…yeah, ‘nuff said. *sigh* While the Dodgers have made it to the post season in style for sure…but with significant help from guys who weren’t even on the team when the predictions were made. Look, an MLB season is too long and complicated to ever listen to the preseason predictions with anything more than the kind of interest a diehard baseball fan shows any MLB news when there are no live games on yet and a ‘that’s nice’.
Matt says: I think it taught us something very valuable. Baseball isn’t played on paper. If you were to tell me the Giants, Angels, Nationals and Blue Jays wouldn’t even come close to playoff contention then I would think you’re crazy. This season basically showed us a lot when it comes to pre-season media hype. The Dodgers and Angels got off to bad starts but the Dodgers managed to get it together in the second half of the season and the Angels struggled which was disapointing to see. I think we will all be more careful when we take a look at things in the pre-season but this was another example of how anything can happen in baseball.
Get to Know Your Bloggers Bonus Question: Do you have any favorite memories and moments from the MLB Postseason?
Matt says: Well I do have a few memories and moments from the MLB Postseason. The Dodgers sweeping the Cardnials in 2009 is one that sticksout because St Louis was a heavy favorite and it really shocked a lot of us when the Dodgers swept them out of the playoffs. Another was the Cardinals/Rangers World Series. It was sad to see Texas lose it when they had two chances at winning it but amazing to see the Cards win it thanks to David Freese heroics but I think my favorite has to be the Red Sox and Yankees 2004 Series where the Yankees were up 3-0 in the series and was bound to win the series only for the Sox to pulloff an amazing comeback to win the ALCS which was crazy to see. I hope to see some this postseason as well that we can talk about for years to come.
Kristen says: You all know what I’m going to say here, right? ‘Erstad says he’s got it. Erstad makes the catch!’…except, favorite memory though that was, I wasn’t strictly back to being a baseball fan in 2002. I was a bitter, bitter lady over the strike, and I’d been raised a Dodgers fan, after all. No, I wouldn’t come back to baseball until I fell head over heels in love with the Angels about three seasons after the 2002 series. Sad, but true. But I do remember when they won. My grandfather was a lifelong Angels fan going back to the Minor League PCL days, but he passed away in 1990 and missed the team’s truly good years. It’s maudlin, but I remember catching the end of game 7 on TV and wishing that somehow he knew, as you do.
Now, with my odd mixed fan base baseball background, I also have vivid warm fuzzies over 1988, and that first Saturday game, building the Lego castle of the weekend all along the den floor with my sister while we watched the World Series. Memories of Vin Scully’s, ‘And look who’s coming up…’ and just knowing who I was going to see when I put down the Legos and looked up at the screen, because Kirk Gibson was my hero, so of course he would come in at just the right moment to win the game like it was some sort of fairy tale.
Ah childhood! But I guess that’s part of why I really get into doing this whole I-5 Bias thing, even when my team blows so many goats for the season that they actually made me momentarily happy the regular season has ended. Oh well, here’s looking forward to 2014 and hopefully less drama and more editions of I-5 Bias where I get to brag about my guys. Cheers!
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).
Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Early Spring Training Edition! This is the second in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉 ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions prompted by spring training, the World Baseball Classic and recent media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:
What player(s) should we keep an eye on during spring training? Are there any young minor leaguers Angels/Dodgers fans should pay special attention to?
Kristen Says: Well, I don’t think I have to tell anyone to keep an eye on the usual suspects. 😉 In fact, at least this early on in spring training, I wish fans would keep less of an eye, or at least a more casual eye on some of the bigger names. Josh Hamilton going 0 for 3 in his Angels February spring training debut merits a top Yahoo headline today? Really? *shaking my head and laughing* As for some of the players who aren’t already on every fan’s radar but should be, with Bobby Wilson no longer on the team, Hank Conger will be trying to make this season finally be the season that sees him start and stay on the 25-man roster. His batting average was the only thing standing in the way before and this spring he’s off to a great start. Peter Bourjos spent 2012 on the bench but is slated to finally share the outfield with Mike Trout in 2013. He should be both thrilled to play again this spring and extra eager to prove himself. Outfielder Kole Calhoun and short stop Andrew Romine will start the season in the minors on the 40-man roster but are exciting up and comers likely to become 25-man roster fixtures in the seasons to come.
Matt Says: Well for the Dodgers there’s two players that fans should keep an eye on. Yasiel Puig and Zack Lee. Puig as you know was the first major International signing that the Dodgers made in the middle of the season. Many scouts say he has good Power but is still Raw and needs more coaching. Fans will finally get to see what he is all about this Spring and we’ll get to see if he is ready or needs more time. Zack Lee is another player who is listed as the #1 Prospect in the Dodgers Organization. This is a guy who I believe will be called up this season (If any injuries are to hit). If not we will see him in Triple A.
Teams often find a hidden gem in a non roster invitee. Which NRI player(s) have the best shot at making the Roster come opening day?
Matt Says: Dodgers tend to find hidden gems with the NRI players. I will say one who has a good shot would be Peter Molan and Mark Lowe. The Dodgers want to add a Veteran presence in a young bullpen and both of them have a good shot at making it but will have to beat out Stephen Fife and Josh Wall just to get on the 40 man roster. Molan you may remember was with the Braves last season but was hit with Injury problems and Lowe was with the Rangers as well but didn’t play as much. Only one of them will make it on the 40 man roster in my opinion.
Kristen Says: Barring any injuries or other oddities *knock on every scrap of wood in a 40 mile radius!* I think the Angels came in to spring training with the 25 and 40-man rosters pretty much set in all respects except perhaps the bullpen. I think that if NRI relief pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi continues to have a good Spring, he will have a shot at making the roster for Opening Day but I don’t expect any of the other Angels NRI players to make the roster for a couple of seasons yet.
Are there any issues or unanswered questions that you hope to see your team work out in spring training?
Kristen Says: For me, at least, the biggest question still facing the Angels is the starting rotation. I’m thrilled with the addition of Jason Vargas, but once I get past Jered Weaver and Vargas, I am full of questions. Will C.J. Wilson’s bone spur surgery mark the reappearance of the strong, reliable, successful C.J.? And will we get to see this C.J. in the second half too? Which Tommy Hanson will we see? And so on. I bounce back and forth between optimism and queasiness on the subject and really hope that spring training ultimately gives us a strong indication of positive answers to those questions. A secondary question for me is how quickly will the planned outfield configuration of Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right shape up? I don’t ask how well because I don’t really think that’s a necessary question — an all young, talented centerfielder outfield is a pretty drool-worthy prospect. At the same time, Trout and Hamilton are both used to calling the shots in their respective outfields and Bourjos spent most of 2012 — unfairly — on the bench so it may take him a few games to get used to taking charge again and will definitely take all three of them a few games to get used to each other’s range and working together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what spring training is for – and I do love the fact that so many games are on TV now so that we get to watch the process.
Matt Says: Well for sure it isn’t Chemisty haha. I honestly think there’s a few questions and issues that I would like to see the Dodgers workout. One is being Hanley at Shortstop. Hanley isn’t the best defensive Shortstop out there and we all know he was at 3rd for a reason with the Marlins last year. Hanley will have to get fielding down at short and only has so much time with the Dodgers before he goes and plays in the WBC with the Dominican Republic. The rotation after Kershaw and Greinke is also a mystery as well. Dodgers had a deep rotation which could see guys either traded or moved to the bullpen. #3-4-5 will be up in the air pending on how Capuano, Harang, Beckett, Billingsley, Lilly, and Ryu pitches through the spring. Right now it’s projected to be Beckett, Billingsley, and Ryu but that could all change.
The Dodgers are well represented in the 2013 World Baseball Classic with five players participating. The Angels only have one player participating. How do you feel about this? Do you think it’s more important to have the cream of MLB represented in the WBC or for teams and players to conserve their talent for the regular baseball season?
Matt Says: I for one Love the World Baseball Classic. I like that the Dodgers are well represented in this because they’re playing for their country which is something they don’t get to do that much. I honestly would like to see the MLB’s best play in the classic but can understand if the Player don’t want to play..Notice I said player because I feel it’s up to them if they want to play in the Classic. Through the past few weeks we have seen teams step in a block players from play in the tournament and that I think is not fair. I get that teams don’t want guys hurt playing but it’s the same risk if you have them play in a Spring Training game. In my opinion I think it’s more important to have players ready for the Regular season but the WBC is played in the Spring and the players will have their rest before the Season starts but that’s for the players to decide. You see players like Mike Trout who declined to play to work with the Angels and that I can understand and respect.
Kristen Says: I think it’s great for the Dodgers to be so well represented in the WBC and most years I would be happy to see the Angels equally well represented. However, after all of the injuries of 2011 and 2012 and with so many very young players still learning how to keep positive momentum all the way through the second half of the regular season, I am glad that this Angels team largely opted not to participate. There will be other WBCs with more Angels participation. In general, while it would certainly be exciting to have all of the best in baseball playing in the WBC, I think this is a question best left up to the individual players. As with the Angels, I completely understand when players, knowing their own pre-season training needs, decide that they would prefer just to concentrate on the regular baseball season and skip out on the WBC. Look, half the fun of the WBC is seeing MLB greats playing for their home or ancestral countries, so excellent MLB participation isn’t going to guarantee a strong USA team regardless – though I do think we have a strong, competitive team this year and am excited to have tickets to the USA/Mexico game in a few weeks. I also don’t think that teams should step in to block players from participating in the WBC unless there is a legitimate injury concern in the sense of a frequently or recently injured player.
We had a Freeway Series showdown — naturally! — during the MLB Network’s recent Face of MLB contest and Matt Kemp beat Mike Trout. Thoughts? Reactions?
Kristen Says: On the surface, the Face of MLB contest is just a fun, silly way to pass the offseason time. On a deeper level though, I think the results demonstrate the effect of changing technology on the way fans interact with the game. With the increasing popularity of social media, constant MLB-wide highlights streaming across a baseball dedicated cable channel and all of the different ways we have to stream games online and watch out of market games on TV, baseball is no longer about just getting to see “our team” and the handful of, primarily East Coast teams, that at one point held an almost “National Brand” status. There was a time, not so long ago, when West Coast ballplayers would have been eliminated in the first round of any such competition. Now we fans still root the hardest for our own teams – as it should be! — but we are also aware of the daily exploits of talented players on every team regardless of rank and market size and I think that’s wonderful! As for Matt Kemp beating Mike Trout in this competition quite handily, this season I think that’s as it should be. Both are exceptionally talented players but Trout is a brand new face while Kemp is an established a team leader with several MVP level seasons to his credit. However, as Trout continues to live up to his potential, I expect that the results of any such future contests will quickly start shifting in Trout’s favor. 😉
Matt Says: I didn’t vote or anything for this because I don’t see the point in it but I find it to be something that adds for the fans. Last year Mike Trout was in the same position Kemp was in 2011. Great season only to not be named MVP due to his team not being in the Playoffs. Honestly I believe this is a great honor for both players to be recognized but in my opinion this was for the fans to make that call which we all knew who everyone was voting for. I just want to know outside of Dodgers/Angels fans who voted for who haha.
Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: As a fan, do you look forward to spring training or can you take it or leave it?
Matt Says: As a fan yes I do and for many reasons. One it signals that Baseball is back after a long off-season and seeing Free-Agents sign and moves being made in the winter. Also allows fans to get a good look at players like a Kershaw and Kemp play and get their pre-season done, New players like Grenkie and Ryu play with their teams for the first time, and get a good look at the Top Prospects in the farm system play in MLB Uniform and see if they’re the real deal. Best part is actually going to see Spring Training and actually getting to meet the players. Yes people spend a lot of money to attend opening day or Opening night but it’s the only time fans can catch Baseball at a cheap price and in a location (Well to me and Kristen) where it’s not far at all. This year will be my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona and I am honestly looking forward to it. I understand some fans say they’ll wait till Opening Day to see what the team is about and that’s fine but with me being such a Baseball Junkie I like to see the Prospects and NRI guys just to see what my team will be working with.
Kristen Says: I love spring training and look forward to it every year! Yes, this is partially because of how stir crazy I get in the offseason. However, a big part of my spring training love is the glimpse it gives us inside the teams’ preparations for the season. I love watching my favorite players shake off the rust and work back into their regular season form and I enjoy watching new players and/or existing players in new positions work to blend seamlessly into the team unit. No, the games aren’t the same quality as regular season games, especially this early on. And, yes, once we get past about March 15th, I will be Jones-ing hard for the regular season to start. But the more casual vibe of spring training has an undeniable charm all its own and serves as the perfect appetizer before the regular season main course. (I decided that this was a more mature metaphor than Foreplay/Long Time, if you will. Aren’t you all so proud? 😉 )
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!
Tuesday evening was clear in Los Angeles. Clear, balmy and gorgeous. Perfect weather for a ball game! As we headed out to Dodger Stadium for game two of the traditional Freeway Series before the regular season begins, I was filled with nostalgia. I remember bouncing around my parents’ house with my sister, waiting for our dad to come home from work so we could head out for the Freeway Series. This was long before Interleague Play, back when this was the only time each season that my father’s Dodgers would play his father’s – and now my – Angels, and we tried to attend one of the games each year. I remember Dodger ball caps and Mom making sure we packed our jackets. I remember keeping score in the pages in the program with my loopy, little girls’ handwriting and I can almost taste the salty, sweet combination of rollo candy bar pieces and ballpark peanuts I preferred back in the day – clearly this blogger was a fiend for salted caramel long before it became a thing. See, Mom and Dad weren’t big on us eating candy bars – smart Mom and Dad! – but on game nights, my sister and I each got to pick out one from 7-11 to enjoy during the game.
And it was in this frame of mind, jonesing hard for a live baseball game, and smiling with happy memories, that we arrived in Chavez Ravine. The view from historic Dodgers Stadium is stunning. From the vista over Downtown Los Angeles on the 110 freeway side of the parking lot, to the view of the mountains behind the centerfield wall, to gates of the stadium itself, it is nonstop pretty.
Relishing the feeling of just being at the ballpark – and the view from my stylists’ season seats in the second row of the upper deck right behind the plate! – I took a few photos of the warm ups while the light was still good. It is not surprising to see Dodgers and Angels hanging out chatting before the game. How many players have moved along the 5 freeway switching the red hat for the blue one or vice versa? How many sets of brothers have we had playing against one another in these match ups? Exactly.
Of course, then the Dodgers took the field and they read the lineups. Albert Pujols at first. Ervin Santana on the mound with his trusty catcher Bobby Wilson. Good, good. All very good. Alberto Callaspo at third, Erick Aybar at short, Torii Hunter in right. Very good. Bobby Abreu in left, Vernon Wells in center and Maicer Iztuis at second??? Okay, so we’re playing with the B+ team today. Ho hum. And, sad to say, I knew this was going to be one of those Spring Training games where we didn’t push very hard just from that fact alone. I’m not saying the B+ team can’t win games, just that in an exhibition game starting with the B+ team on the field (no Fleet Pete in center, no white hot Kendrick and Trumbo bats in the lineup in and around Pujols’) when you know that, as the innings progress, we’re going to switch to the B, B- and C+ teams for practice? Exactly.
Oh well. Being at the ballpark is seldom if ever a bad time. The group of season ticket holders around my stylist’s seats is really nice. We told them not to mock Sue too hard over our red hats as she had already given me plenty of grief over them and that got some laughs. They all greeted one another with a cheery “Happy New Year!” in honor of the new season. I love it! And there were a few a great plays to enjoy even as parts of the complete A team languished in the dugout.
What do you want, it was a weird little exhibition game. They played nine full innings even though the Dodgers had already won, just like the day before when the Angels had already won, because that’s what the managers wanted. The Dodgers were even nice enough to let the pinch hitting Kendrys Morales bat a second time, calling him the DH that time which so funny over the National League speakers. That’s why I say, as much as this is a rivalry, it’s a relatively sibling like one. Eventually we saw more of the A team come back out to join the rookies, though I must say in a Regular Season game I would prefer to have both Trumbo and Pujols’ bats in the lineup rather than having Trumbo replace Pujols.
Loss and all, it was still a fun evening and a nice little tide me over until Friday’s season opener. And while I do love Angels Stadium more, we certainly don’t have anything like this view: