Tagged: Mike Napoli

Wine-ing Over Baseball…Or Is That the Other Way Around? Either Way, Yum!

For the last few years Seth and I have spent the second to last weekend of every October in Cambria and Paso Robles for the Wine Alliance’s Harvest Festival. Sadly, the Angels have either been out of it by this point or never in it to begin with so taking a trip away hasn’t been a tough decision. What will we do next year or in 2013 if the Angels are still in the thick of things? Well, suffice to say that is a conundrum I would love to have! It’ not like we’d have hotel reservations to cancel. We stay at his folks’ place. Yes, I know how lucky I am!

Random thoughts from the weekend:

1) Taking a trip up here in the middle of the post season doesn’t have to mean sacrifice for the baseball fan. There is usually someplace great to watch the game, a winery throwing a baseball party, like the one we attended last year, a local you hit it off with tipping you off to an open party somewhere, or something. Sights like this are not uncommon. Best. License. Plate. Ever…okay…maybe not ever, but still:

Cool folks abound in Paso Robles and you meet the nicest ones at bacon and wine pairings. Go figure. Photo by This is a very simple game...

2) Things are not always what they seem. I figured I’d get my tips on where to watch the game this weekend from the baseball winery. No dice. Because of the too mild weather, harvest is still going on instead of just finished and all of their biggest baseball fans are out working. No, I got my best tips – and excellent wine! – from the gentleman at the Pithy Little Wine Company, nestled in a gorgeous boutique looking tasting room in downtown. And thank you, good Sir, excellent tips they were.

3) There have been less bad calls this post season than I remember from other post seasons, but they’re still there.

4) I said it before and I’ll say it again, I miss having a Molina brother behind the plate.

5) Every time I sit down to watch Albert Pujols play I think, nah, he can’t quite live up to the hype no matter how good he is…only to be reminded a few plays later that, no, really, he is that good.

6) Even injured, Josh Hamilton is almost that good. St Louis fan walking into the bar for the first time in the 6th inning: What happened? How did Texas score that last run? Me: Josh Hamilton happened. St. Louis fan: Say no more.

7) Sitting down at the bar to watch the game, wherein you are rooting for St. Louis as your borrowed team, behind this sight is not as daunting as you might think. Hey, at least you know they’re all baseball fans and not going to start whining about wanting to change the station to football!:

Clearly these fine folks are disappointed Phillies fans, just latching on to another team for the rest of the month, LOL! True Texas fans the lot of them, great bsseball fans, and really nice folks. Photo by This is a very simple game...

8) Catching a ball I can understand. I would never lean out over the rail to catch a ball, even if I don’t agree with it, on some level I understand why someone might do this in the heat of the moment. But throwing a ball onto the field? Seriously? I can’t understand it at all. Kudos to the Rangers ushers for kicking him out…not that I expected anything less.

9) Cheese and wine pairing is wonderful. Small bites and wine even better. BBQ and wine pairing rocks. But a bacon and wine pairing is the best of all. Yes, bacon and wine. And I assure you, it was even better than it sounds, especially the wild boar bacon paired with rich cabernet. Yum! And it’s even better when you meet another baseball fan couple up from Los Angeles for the festival weekend. A Cubbie and a Red Sox fan – proof that two long standing curses (one broken and then some) can cancel one another out into a happy marriage.

10) I wished Mike Napoli all the best with the Rangers when he got traded and I meant it. But I have to confess, hearing the entire stadium chant Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li when he comes up to bat with runners in scoring position and seeing all of the signs that talk about how clutch he is makes me feel a little ill. Why couldn’t you have done some of that for us, Mike? I know you didn’t have as many opportunities, but you did have opportunities.

11) Regarding the previous bullet, I don’t know where this sort of October pettiness is coming from. I haven’t always been this childish about losing. They say adversity breeds character. Well, apparently, baseball “adversity” breeds the wrong kind of character in me. *sigh*

12) For a game where the final score was so darned uneven, it sure didn’t seem uneven in the middle. I swear Texas was on the verge of catching up every time they came up to the plate.

13) Cambria is small and internet access at the house is always sketchy and, in fact, non existent this weekend, but there are worse things. Spending the afternoon like this up the street at Moonstone Cellars, one of the wineries with free Wi-Fi while we plot our dinner and game viewing strategy (no TV at the house either), doesn’t suck. Tempranillo. Yuuuuuum!:

Wine, cheese, books, blogging _and_ the games on in 15! Is the heaven? No ma'am, just Cambria. Photo by This is a very simple game...

How Do You Enjoy the Post Season When Your Team Doesn’t Have a Post Season? + Really Josh Hamilton?

 

I answered one facet of this question in one of my very first blog posts, wherein I talked about choosing a team to adopt for the postseason. But that is only one aspect of the answer. For some folks the entire answer is a simple, you don’t. But that just doesn’t work for me. The stakes are too high, the players too good and the action too exciting to ignore…besides, this is the last small slice of baseball we get to enjoy before the cold lonely baseball-less months of late fall and winter begin.

So, how do you enjoy the post season when your team doesn’t have a post season? For me the answer is eagerly, excitedly and with a sense of fun, but also distractedly and with a sense of detachment. Witness, I am watching the games, as many as we can when so many of them start while we are at work, but our kitchen is clean. Our bills are filed. When the game is one the east coast and starts early for us, dinners are more elaborate than slapped together sandwiches. (Okay, we ate sandwiches for dinner this evening, but they involved left over pork loan, brie, sautéed apples and onions and a chipotle peach jelly. They were absolutely not slapped together. 😉 ) The laundry is not only folded but — gasp! — put away. Both my husband and I are more willing to pick up a few mid-week groceries on our way home from the office instead of trying to cram the trip into a lunch break while crossing our fingers that no one swipes them from the office fridge. For better or worse, these things are simply a lot less true during the regular season…even more so during an Angels post season.

So the answer is, you enjoy the post season much the same as you would otherwise, but with a passion that is purely generic in nature. Oh, many of the teams in the current post season excite me and there have been several truly great games so far to be sure. But I can tear my eyes away from the screen for a little while for even mundane chores…and I do. That would never happen with the Angels, but I can’t think of a single other team that would inspire adopted passion on the same magnitude. The only teams that come close for me are family teams.

If the Angels were out but the Dodgers, my childhood team and the team half my family roots for, were in? I know could summon a fair bit of passion. Not the same as for the Angels by any means but passion even so. When the Giants, the team whose orange and black colors the other half of my family bleeds, made the series, it wasn’t even the same as the Dodgers would have been, but it was in fact more special than the current post season’s offerings. That’s it…and those two teams still aren’t even close. So, I will continue to hoot and holler and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, but I think the kitchen won’t have any problems staying clean.

Oh, and for the record, my answer to the “who am I rooting for part of the question” is not as cut and dried as it was last season. My favorite non-Angels teams heading into the post season were the D-Backs, the Brewers and the Rays… *sigh* I wanted badly for the Rays to be able to go further, but what they accomplished was nothing short of miraculous and a joy to behold. So, I have been rooting for the D-Backs (though I won’t mind if the Brewers win instead…I do like them too), the Rays, the Cards and the Tigers. I will narrow it down further, of course, after the ALDS and then again for the World Series.

I’d love the D-Backs to take it all, because I adore Joe Saunders — and I miss him even though I wholeheartedly approved of the Dan Haren trade — and because Kirk Gibson was a childhood hero whom I still admire. Ryan Roberts grand slam against the Dodgers, where he paid homage to Gibby’s famous homerun as a Dodger with arm pumps down the first base line? Chills. Absolute chills. But I could find myself happily rooting for one of the other teams I mentioned should the D-Backs not make it past Friday. Because when you’re strictly a for the month of October, adopted fan, switching allegiances based on who won and any number of other frivolous reasons is not only acceptable, it’s darned necessary. 🙂

*      *     *     *     *

As several media sources reported, just before Tuesday’s game Josh Hamilton was asked about the success in a Rangers uniform of Vlad Guerrero last season and Mike Napoli this season. A leading question to be sure, but still…

Hamilton’s response? “I think we’re going to look at who we can get from the Angels next year.” Ouch. But whatever obnoxious truth there may be in that statement, nice Josh. Way to stay classy. Especially considering that the Rangers dropped Vlad like a hot potato the second they could no longer say ‘Who cares how much money we spend?! We’re filing for bankruptcy!’

Hey Josh, chances are Fernando Rodney is going to be available next season. Likely for a bargain price. Since the Rangers are so excellent at finding diamonds in the Angels rough, I suggest they dive on that grenade. With gusto!

Do You Believe in Magic? …and Not So Much: Reflections on Last Week and a Season of Growth for the Angels

Baseball last week was bittersweet for me. We enjoyed a night at the ballpark Monday! But it was our last night at the ballpark of the season and the Angels lost, sounding the absolute final death knell in their post season hopes. But a little more sweet was added to temper the bitter Wednesday night when we all witnessed pure magic! An evening of baseball so amazing it can only be described with a Yogi Berra quote – it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over. My condolences to Red Sox and Braves fans, it’s not about rooting against your teams, it’s about loving the magic of a come from behind upset to begin with and then witnessing two within breaths of one another. Wow!

Maicer Izturis and Peter Bourjos warm up before the bottom of the 1st inning. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, as for Monday night’s game? Well, it was a heartbreaker of game, an at that point expected heartbreak I quickly recovered from, but still. So many miscues and missed opportunities!

After sending one sailing into right field, Alberto Callaspo takes a moment to remind himself that Howie Kendrick is several inches shorter than Mark Trumbo. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I loved Mike Napoli as an Angel. I'm thrilled he's having a great season but when he faces the Angels, this is how I prefer to see him - slinking back to the dugout after striking out. I only wish we'd seen this more often. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

I absolutely miss Darren Oliver from the Angels bullpen. Not going to arbitration with him at the end of 2009 was a dumb decision in my opinion. He's a class act and I wish him well, but darned if I don't prefer seeing him walk off the mound defeated when he gos up against us. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And that is not how I prefer to remember my season, especially when I had so much fun with the Angels for most of it…frequently frustrating fun as I have fully documented on these virtual pages, LOL, but fun even so. So imagine my delight when I reviewed the photos I took that evening and discovered a lot of smiling, fun shots of my favorite ballplayers that I think show off the great personality of the team as a whole. Instantly my goofy brain imagined strange scenarios and back stories for each of the photos because, really, I prefer to remember the season as fun:   

Mike Trout appears to be jawing at Mike Napoli on 1st. "Seriously. You call _that_ a pick off attempt." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dino Ebel talks with Mike Trout at 3rd. "You're kidding!!" "'Fraid not Mike. The whole dugout dared you to touch Beltre's head. Better do it. You don't want Weave to post your phone number again." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter and Michael Young laugh over something at 2nd during a pitching change. "They really dared him to touch Beltre's head?! Oh, this is going to be funny Torii!" Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Beltre and Mike Trout at 3rd. "I know all about the bet, Kid. Don't even think about it!!" ...and yet, Trout's still thinking about it. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Adrian Beltre keeps Alberto Callaspo at 3rd. "Not you too 'Berto! Look, I already told the kid don't even think about it..." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Elvis Andrus and Erick Aybar during a pitching change. Could the two short stops be talkin' shop? "He he, yeah. The old empty glove tag at second. I'm tellin' ya. Coco falls for it and slides every time." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

All silliness aside, walking back to our car after the game Monday night, Seth and I rehashed the misses and mistakes. What if the Angels had played the first inning smoothly? What if they hadn’t stranded so many runners? What if, what if, what if. Seth declared that ‘what if’ was a metaphor for the whole season, though he said it wistfully and with some affection, not in anger. I agreed with him at the time, but the more I think about, the more I decided that Howie Kendrick’s last at bat was a better metaphor for the season.

Last minute fill in Howie Kendrick needs a little work on his first baseman's small talk skills, apparently. "Aw man! Elvis, you kicked up dirt all over my pants." Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Bottom of the 9th, two outs, one on base and the Angels are down by one. Were this the scenario back in 2009, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would get a double and the runner would score from first or on the very next at bat and my comeback kid Angels would have pulled it off again. Were this scenario last season, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would pop up or strike out, ending the game. Watching it all play out this season, I realized that I had absolutely no idea if Howie would be able to pull it off or not. With the 2011 Angels, you just never knew. And if that was sometimes frustrating, it was also sometimes amazing – a definite improvement over the previous season and an indication of growth in the right direction, giving me hope for 2012.

Michael Young and Elvis Andrus react as Mike Trout reaches second on an Erick Aybar wallk in the 6th. The Angels have bases loaded for the first time this game. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Look, 2011 was a season where there were darned few easy wins for the Angels. There were numerous contributing factors. Season long questions, first about the five spot in the starting rotation, then the four spot, then the five and back to the four and eventually both. Veteran bats failing at the same time rookie bats were learning. Not getting Kendrys back at first as expected – though in hindsight, they should have planned on that from the start – threw everyone for a loop and although Mark Trumbo became the first baseman for the team and how, there were the to-be-expected growing pains all season especially in April and May. Injuries, several of them to Torii Hunter which contributed in part to the bats situation. Cleanup spot by committee on a team with no natural cleanup spot hitter…which lead to a bunch of guys who are really excellent gap hitters, swinging for the fences and whiffing or popping out. (Trumbo is the cleanup hitter of the future in my opinion, but it was too early this season.) Then there was the bullpen. There was noticeable improvement over 2010 but, still, pick a day. They could be absolutely fantastic or the arson squad part deux. And, of course, the closer situation. From veteran closer gone bad to baby closer with flashes of brilliance amidst growing pains, that was another constant struggle this season.

It was already a tense enough interlude to be the climax of a musical's act 1 and then, during a pitching change, Bobby Abreu, Erick Aybar and Alfredo Griffen apparently decided to strike the appropriate poses to seal the deal. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

All in all, the Angels won a lot of games but, for all of the reasons above and more, it was a grind to win almost every single one and I think that, quite simply, by the time we got to September the Angels were tired. Oh, in spirit they were willing and eager enough to get to the post season, witness the string of near comebacks. But I think that physically they were just too tired to take that next leap and carry themselves into the post season. And if they had made to the post season, I don’t think they would have made it past the first round, especially with the news that Mark Trumbo had been playing with a stress fracture in his foot for the last several games and was out. This isn’t a complaint at all, it’s an observation. I think they played their hearts out but, well, teams that are still capable of contending at the end, like the 2011 Rays, dig in harder to win even more when they find out that other teams in the race have lost. Teams that are just too tired to get there, like the 2011 Angels, collapse in relief to catch their breaths when they find out that other teams in the race have lost.

I wish it were different but I have a hard time being anything more than a little disappointed by it. I have watched a lot of So Cal baseball in my life, brilliant seasons, terrible seasons and everything in between, and I have to say that this was not a season that folks should get depressed over. This was a growing season that gives next season some promise. And, now, as we continue enjoying what so far has been a pretty fun post season – as fun as it can be without an Angels presence! – I will conclude this post with a few heartwarming thoughts for next season:

Mike Trout takes another mighty swing at the plate. This at bat lead to an RBI single. I have a feeling that I will have many photos of Trout making good things happen for the Angels with his bat in the seasons to come and that is a definite silver lining to the 2011 season. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dan Haren pitches from the stretch. Poor Danny, if only that first inning hadn't happened. Hopefully with more seasoned rookie bats and an uninjured Torii Hunter in 2012, Haren and his rotation mates will have a lot more run support and such things won't matter as much. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Fernando Rodney chats with the Rangers bullpen. Well, they do say that when you're about to lose your job, networking is key. Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

This last photo really struck a chord with me. Taken during the warm-up just before the top of the 9th, immediately after Mike Trout struck out looking, it appears to me that Peter Bourjos is consoling Trout a little bit. Who knows what they were actually saying to one another. For all I know, Trout was making sure his cleats are tied and Bourjos is laughing him or they weren’t even talking at all. But my photo, my interpretation – so consoling it is. And I think, as such, it’s a good message for everyone. Take heart Angels fans, they’ll get ‘em next season!

Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout move into position at the beginning of the inning. "Cheer up Rookie. Next season is going to be awesome!" And indeed it will be. I just know it! Angels vs. Rangers, September 26, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Wild Card Wednesday. Pinch Yourself, Did That Just Happen Thursday. And Now Termination Friday?

“We find it’s always better to fire people on a Friday. Studies have statistically shown that there’s less chance of an incident if you do it at the end of the week.” – Bob Slydell (no, not that Bob, the other Bob) 

This is but one of many scenes in Office Space that is hilarious and at the same time so very, very true…which makes it just a little bit painful, which in turn makes it infinitely more funny. That human nature. Kind of a sick bastard, ain’t he? The mortgage industry, of course takes this several steps further. Friday isn’t just the day employees receive, as an old boss of my husband’s used to say, an invitation to the world, Friday is also the day banks fail, a fact which became all too apparent in bad old days of ’07, ’08 and ’09.

Imagine my colleagues and I at about 1:30 or so every Friday, just after the markets closed, scanning the headlines on Bloomberg and CNN to see who received a knock on the door from the FDIC this week, like so many baseball players on a cold streak eager to see how many guys were worse off and headed straight for the Mendoza line. And, oh yes, after the FDIC came calling on us, we performed this weekly ritual all the more attentively and with a great deal more snark. This was less a matter of schadenfruede running rampant, mind you, than one of absolute terror and paranoia channeled into research, gallow’s humor and a seemingly endless stream of Tom Lehrer parodies…as you do.

Usually Major League Baseball bears about as much resemblance to corporate life in any of its variations as the Metro Goldwyn Lion does to Calvin Coolidge, but watching MLBN today, I have to wonder. Terry Francona and Tony Reagins? Interesting. Have the Bobs been doing some consulting work? I mean, of course, in both cases this is being billed as “they stepped down” and also in somewhat differing reports as a mutual or collective decision but, really, any PR team worth their pay will try and get everyone involved to adopt that party line as soon as possible, so you just never know.

The whole thing was very interesting for me, because I was expecting the news about Francona, even though I don’t think he deserved it after what he has meant to Boston. But never in a million years was I expecting the news about Reagins, even though I think he did deserve it. The Angels tend to be a lot more warm and fuzzy with their front office staff over the last decade or so than they used to be, and more so than is good for them as a general rule. Maybe they were listening when Reagins was booed during the Jered Weaver contract press conference? Because try as Victor Rojas might to cover it up with a joke, they weren’t shouting “Tooooony, Toooooony” and it wasn’t funny.

So Francona is off to, one would assume, if not bigger and better things at least big and good things and Tony is…still employed with the Angels but as Assistant to Club Chairman Dennis Kuhl. I think this is fitting. Tony Reagins clearly loves the Angels and he’s tried to do right by the team just with very mixed results as a GM, Dr. Tony and Mr. Reagins as it were.

So, thank you Dr. Tony, with all of my Angels loving heart for the Jered Weaver extended contact. For Dan Haren. For Scott Downs. For Mark Teixeira, who was a brilliant rental signing it’s just too bad we couldn’t keep. And for Torii Hunter. And, in truth, for Alberto Callaspo who has quietly lead the team in batting average ever since. But for all the rest? For Scott Kazmir. For Fernando Rodney. For trading Mike Napoli (you can have Juan Rivera) for Vernon Wells for crying out loud? I tried to be pretty Pollyanna about that one because it’s not like I had a choice, but sheesh! For not being aggressive enough to really have a shot ai Teixeira…or any strong bats during this last off season…or, no offense to Callaspo but, a star third baseman with the cleanup bat we desperately needed at that time. For all of this large downside, I thank you for leaving, Mr. Reagins, with all of my Angels loving heart.

So, where do we go from here? I confess I am not exactly up on available GM candidates and the Angels have indicated they’re looking for someone young and untried anyway. Here’s hoping this winds up being more of a Dr. Tony, the deal ninja, style decision than a Mr. Reagins style decision.  And one way or the other, I hope they fix the Angels’ glitch.

Editor’s Note: So I am a bit behind on my posts. Work really piled on the projects this week and sometimes it’s all so much writing that I don’t have two coherent thoughts left amidst the jumble to string together for the blog. But have no fear, TIAVSG was born during the offseason by the barely glowing embers of a recently kindled Hot Stove, and this blog will surely continue though the post season and the off season…pics from my last game of the season and wrap up thoughts on the Angels season coming soon…Hey, come November and December especially, a girl’s gotta do something to keep the offseason blues away.

Stomped by Texas for Three Games Straight, Is There Any Hope For Our Boys in Halos?

The 2011 Angels can’t score to save their lives and they can’t hit when it counts. Veteran bats have only come alive in alternating streaks all season – much like Torii Hunter’s slumbering bat waking with a vengeance into his current 15-game hitting streak – and the rookies and the gap hitters are pretty much carrying the line-up. The problem with that is that we can get guys on base, but we can’t bring them home, facts I haven’t shied away from mentioning all season.

Alberto Callaspo prepares to pop out while Bobby Abreu, in the on deck circle, takes practice swings before he grounds out. Callaspo's mini-slump is new. He has the second highest batting average on the team just behind Howie Kendrick. But Bobby's absentee bat has been one of several veteran disappointments on the team this season. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jeff Mathis prepares to strike out for the second time this evening as Peter Bourjos takes practice swings on deck. We're used to Mathis' sub Mendoza average by now, but it sure hurts when isn't the only automatic out in the lineup any more. Bourjos, on the other hand, went 2 for 4 with an RBI, one of the rookies tryign very hard to pick up the slack in the lineup. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And yet, the Angels have been in the thick of the division race, winning series and beating top teams all season long pretty much on the strength of their pitching and fielding alone. Two weeks ago, we were a mere game out of first place! So what happens when the pitching inevitably falters for a few games? Last week happens, with the disastrous road trip to Toronto and the Bronx. And if the fielding gets lax too? Well, then you have what could have been a season making series against the Texas Rangers turn into what we’ve seen on the field instead the last few days – something that could very well be season breaking if the Angels don’t pull it together and play their hearts out from tonight on through the rest of the season.

Pitching Coach Mike Butcher joins Tyler Chatwood and Jeff Mathis on the mound. It was clear from the first pitch that Chatty wasn't himself this evening. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Another end result is that I, consummate baseball optimist, constant cheerleader and the self-proclaimed Pollyanna of Angels baseball actually started to despair for a few minutes Tuesday night. Tuesday was my husband’s birthday and his boss gave him the company seats, the OMG! company seats, on the field, in the first section on the dangerous side of the home plate screens, 10 rows back from the action. Awesome boss, yes? But sitting there, seemingly inches from the field, watching Erick Aybar lazily glance at the second playable line drive in as many innings shoot uncontested into the outfield for extra bases, in a game where our young starter was clearly struggling and needed all the backup he could get, I thought, “Well, that’s it then. If the Angels have just given up, the season is over.”

Erick Aybar looks embarrassed, as well he should after his half assed fielding earlier, as he and former teammate Mike Napoli chat during a pitching change. What could they be saying to one another? Naps: It's okay Erick, _we_ appreciate your fielding today *snerk*. Aybar: D'oh. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Russell Branyan and Peter Bourjos in the dugout during the Angels at bat. I know just how you feel, Russell. I know just how you feel. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

In fact, I think I waited this long to post our photos from the game, indeed anything about the Rangers series, in the hopes that Wednesday would give me something more cheerful to talk about. No dice. At least the lollygagging fielding was over by Wednesday, but not the gaffs. Balls were being thrown all kinds of places that weren’t anywhere near a glove. Erick Aybar decided to make an effort again for us Wednesday, but alternated between not being able to keep balls in his glove and not being able to get them out in time to actually throw them – which given the throwing situation might, in hindsight, have been a blessing in disguise, I don’t know – all night. Santana pitched a great game, but with the usual insufficient run support, and now with insufficient defense, it’s no surprise we lost.

Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick chat as they take the field and Howie confirms that Aybar's fielding was indeed half-assed this game. 'Hey, look at my uniform, I might have missed, but I at least dove for the ball'...or, you know, something like that. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

So, are we done? The commentators all seem to think so. This was an important series, no doubt about it. We could be. If we can pull tonight off, we’re still six games out of first place in mid-August and that’s a tall order. But I did say my moment of despair was brief and, like it’s underlying message, I’m not giving up unless the Angels have given up…and even then I probably won’t give up unless winning becomes a mathematical impossibility, not a mere improbability, an impossibility. I’m stubborn like that. Monday and Tuesday notwithstanding, I don’t think the Angels have given up. Wednesday they still played badly but there were improvements – our pitching was back on track and the defense was at least hustling. And, here’s the thing. We were only one game out of first two weeks ago with only a handful of head to head games against the Rangers under our belt. We have seven more coming up including tonight. So, come on Angels, this division just got a whole lot tougher, but it’s still winnable.

So, tonight and going forward through August and September, we need to see a lot less of this – big bats taking knocking our pitching for extra bases -:

Mike Napoli begins a swing as Jeff Mathis positions himself for the ball. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yorvit Torrealba at bat with Jeff Mathis catching. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Ian Kinsler takes a swing and fouls it off. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And a lot more of this, namely Angels in scoring position who then actually score and Angels on the base paths who just earned RBIs. And, I know I’m being extra, extra demanding here, but how about in several of the innings leading up to the 9th inning too?:

Howie Kendrick leads off third as Michael Young moves with the pitch. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter on first after knocking in a run with a single in the 9th. Mitch Moreland is playing first for Texas. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

We need to start hitting pitchers who are hittable, and not right into double plays either. Derek Holland pitched a good game, but he was hittable:

Derek Holland begins his wind up. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

No more injuries please!!! Everyone stay healthy:

Torii Hunter tells Mike Scioscia and a trainer 'Hell, no, you aren't taking me out of this game.' or words to that effect after fouling a pitch off of his own foot in the 7th. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

It’s unfair to but so much pressure on our starting pitching, but that’s just the way things are this season, especially with the #4 spot in the rotation in such a state of flux, the rest of the rotation needs to be lights out as often as possible. With Garrett Richards unfortunately timed injury, they’re reinstating Joel Pineiro as a starter…oooooh boy. I just don’t know about that one. Prove me wrong, okay Joel? And the bullpen needs to be equally spot on. So why did we send this guy back to AAA?:

Trevor Bell, up from Salt Lake City just for this game, takes the mound in the 3rd. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And why do we keep putting this guy in, in crucial situations? Tuesday was fine. Fernando Rodney pitches best when we’re already behind and don’t want to fall further behind, but I still don’t like seeing him take the mound:

Jeff Mathis tells reliever Fernando Rodney, would you stop walking batters and pitch a GD strike every once in a while...oh...maybe that's just what I want to tell him. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And the fielding needs to be error free and full of hustle:

Mark Trumbo and runner Mike Napoli move with the pitch. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo fields the ball cleanly and Ian Kinsler is out at first. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 
Thursday Night Addendum: Holy Trumbo Walk Off, Bat Man! That was awesome! This doesn’t change anything I said in my initial post – this division is still winnable for the Angels, but it’s going to take a lot of work and I will be rooting for them the whole way…but it sure makes me a lot happier about all things Angels and I think the team needed that even more than the fans did. Light that baby up! Shall we return the favor in Texas in a few weeks? Yes please!
 

More Musings on Spring Training and an Angels’ Great Retires

With a few more, significantly less than stellar, spring training games under our belt, Angels fans have learned several new things. For example, ouch, those Rangers guys sure can hit! Oh. Wait. We knew that already. I’d blame the loss on the kids – the Angels were playing with a mostly minor league squad that day – but it was really the homeruns that killed us and the first two – of four! – were off of regular pitchers and enough on their own to ensure a loss. At least Dan Haren was mad at himself about the homerun hit off him. A little anger can be motivating and spring training is the time to get motivated and shake off the rust.

But, Mark Trumbo can also hit! A line drive Wednesday and another bomb Thursday. It’s great to see he’s getting used to Major League pitching! Especially because Kendry Morales’ progress sounds steady but very slow. Kendry’s unlikely to be ready to play any time soon. Based on the fact that Trumbo has seen the most playing time of any Angel so far and all of it at first, I think it’s safe to assume that he’s Scioscia’s primary first base back-up plan. Trumbo’s still mixing a lot of clumsy plays in with the good ones, but with his bat coming around I’m softening up on this idea lot. Keep practicing hard and taking notes, kid, and this might just work out!

Torii Hunter found his bat today. Jeff Mathis and Howie Kendrick continue to find theirs while Brandon Wood temporarily misplaced his on the bus or something. And if any real conclusions could be drawn from this small sample size, I’d be dangerous. 😉

Ervin Santana may be the most unfortunately die hard Star Trek fan ever – convinced that in odd numbered years he’s supposed to suck. Yes, melodrama for humor’s sake is a perfectly reasonable coping mechanism. Why do you ask? I’m not actually panicking. I know it’s his first outing. I know he’s working on a new pitch. I know it’s just one spring training game. I know I still would have liked it a lot better if he’d nailed it.

Mike Napoli is a pretty classy guy and is handling the inevitable interview questions about the trade as well as anyone could ask. He’s being truthful – he appreciates the trade because it means he’s likely to get more playing time – while speaking well of both his former team and his new one. I still don’t like seeing him in another uniform but I wish him well and this takes a little bit of the sting out of the “just business” side of baseball.

Spring training doesn’t count for anything more than a means of everyone getting their work in and preparing for the regular season. Spring training records do not necessarily give any indication of how the team will look in the coming season. But boy do we scrutinize every pitch, swing and play anyway. It’s kind of like the initial stages of a new relationship. You know it’s going to take a while to get to know the person, so you try to keep your attitude light and casual. But every interaction still takes on exaggerated meaning as you try to figure out, does this have the potential for just an okay couple of dates, a really fun fling or something longer and more meaningful? Something that might even keep you cheering all the way through October?

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Angels great Garret Anderson announced his retirement on Tuesday after 17 years in the majors, 15 of them with the Halos. A key member of the 2002 World Series winning team, Anderson still holds numerous Angels franchise hitting records including those for hits, extra base hits, runs and RBIs. I will always remember him for his clutch performances both at the plate and in the field and for that gorgeous, graceful swing, one of the most beautiful swings in the game.

Watching him struggle on the Dodgers last year was hard. Seeing him fumble two hard hit balls against the left field fence at the Big A during the Freeway series was harder. I’m sure retirement was a difficult decision but I think it was time. I understand and applaud the drive to try and push out one more year and then another and another, but I really like to see the players retire while their peak years are still a lot fresher in the fans’ minds than the rough years at the end. My hat’s off to you Garret Anderson. Congratulations on your retirement. (For a great Garret Anderson tribute with wonderful personal stories, please visit fellow Angels’ blogger Mo’s Angels.)

This isn’t just a spring game. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!

The quote I used for my headline? It was easily the best comment of the night at Taps Fish House and Brewery where Seth and I decided to go for a late dinner in the bar Saturday. We were giddy from the live baseball treat of the afternoon – and scoring opening day tickets that morning! – wanted more and figured it wouldn’t take much effort to sweet talk the Taps bar staff into putting the Rockies/D-Backs game on one of the TVs. It didn’t. Our favorite bartender, the Angels fan who pumps us for details every time we hit Taps after a ballgame’s, eyes got huge when we asked for a channel change. “There’s still a game on! I thought I missed them all today.”

Well thank goodness for the MLB network’s delayed airing because I think all of the baseball fans in the bar were in the same boat. No one apparently thought to put the game on before we arrived, but the minute it was on the TV half of the eyes in the bar were glued to it…and it’s not like there were any Rockies or D-Backs fans in the bar, just a bunch of baseball starved locals. The headline comment came shortly after that from a guy sitting at one of the tables behind us. One of his friends chided him for paying so much attention to the game and this was his response, delivered loudly, with a great deal of passion and a sweeping gesture at the screen. We at the bar, several bartenders included, responded with approving hollers.

It was a great evening. Out with my husband, an honest to goodness game at the bar, good food, tasty beverages and a lot of baseball fans to talk to – from the friendly, talkative Red Sox fan beside me, to the Angels fans on both sides of the bar who echoed our boo when he used the term “rebuilding year” in reference to the Halos. In many ways, Taps is my ideal game day bar. I would spend more games there if I didn’t also spend so much money there every time I go.

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So imagine my excitement about the Angels/Dodgers game today! Meh. As it turned out, I would have been a lot happier if they had aired yesterday’s game instead. Today the Angels gave the starters and most of the second string the day off and let the kids have a work out. Alas, against the Dodgers first string, the kids were not alright. I’m aware that this is the nature of spring training. It’s more about giving everyone a workout, giving the kids some experience and a tryout and working through any issues before the season starts than it is about winning. But still, 5-0 ouch.

With the spirit of spring training in mind, I think there were a few important take aways. First, Kaz was throwing hard and throwing strikes! Even in the first inning and Scott Kazmir is prone to rough first innings. Granted, the Dodgers hit him – five hits and three earned runs in the two innings he pitched. But I think this was inconclusive, and I am not inclined to make excuses for Kaz. I think if he had the Angels starters behind him, that stat would have been better, more like two or three hits and one run. But you never know. I want to see more before the season starts but the fact that I do want to see more at all is positive. Maybe…maybe…well, we’ll see.

Here are some other thoughts I had watching the game. Bobby Wilson is taking spring training very seriously and looked strong both behind the plate and at bat. His increased speed and agility was a bright spot in the game for me. Hank Conger on the other hand looked rusty. I’m not really worried. I’ve seen him do a lot better than that, but if he wants a shot a starting catcher he needs to pick up the speed on his throw down to second a lot. I don’t know what to think of Mike Trout. He hit a nice solid single in the first inning and made one catch in center that his speed made look a lot easier than it was. Other than that, however, he looked like he kind of phoned it in, which I don’t like. But it is just one game. Mark Trumbo needs a lot of work at first. He made some good plays and some really clumsy ones. He’s wearing Mike Napoli’s Angels’s jersey number 44 this season and between the homerun yesterday and, alas, the lack of performance with runners in scoring position today, this seems appropriate. Fernando Rodney’s rustiness looks suspiciously like right where he left off last season.

Watching this game, it was obvious that, like most teams, the Angels have a lot of minor league players who will never be major league players. Andrew Romine, on the other hand? I liked his instincts when he came up this September, sliding across third with the ball to get the seemingly impossible force out. He had a good solid hit today and made one nice diving play at short, his throw just missing getting the speedy runner out at first. I look at him and think, interesting, maybe in a few years? Suffice to say, I need to see a lot more of spring training and the kids – and some of the veterans – need to play a lot more before I form stronger opinions. Fortunately, this was only game two and tomorrow the regular starters are supposed to play. And it’s all still exciting. In the words of random Taps bar guy, these aren’t just spring games. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!