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 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!