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.
Finally sitting down to write again while watching the final games of the World Baseball Classic, I tip my hat to Puerto Rico for defeating reigning champion Japan, but I also have to belatedly tip my glass to Team USA. While I wish they could have made it this far and clearly theirs was not as great a finish as we’d hoped — certainly not as great a finish as the players had hoped — it was much better than I expected after catching the USA vs. Mexico game. And, hey, I have the last of the Balvenie RumCask in the glass I am tipping, so I can honestly say that a) this is a quality toast and b) that I may actually shed a tear or two in a moment…though certainly not for Team USA. 😉
Taking the not-particularly-way-back machine to one week ago, I return to the subject of our Annual Baseball Extravaganza, Spring Training Edition. For Seth and I, this was a trip filled with firsts — our first trip to Spring Training and our first World Baseball Classic game. Friday afternoon we left Tempe Diablo stadium when the Arizona sky opened up and poured water and ice, checked into our hotel, wrung as much water as we could from our jeans (serves us right for trying to pack light, I suppose) and headed to Chase Field to watch Team USA and Team Mexico battle to move to the next round in the WBC. Yes, that’s a lot of baseball. *Big silly grin* My kind of vacation.
The energy walking into Chase was incredible. Our seats were excellent, in the third row just a section and change behind first base. In my opinion half of the fun of the WBC is seeing our MLB players in different uniforms, playing for their home country or for Team USA. It was an absolute kick to see so many players I adore but don’t get to watch nearly as often as my Angels – R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer, Eric Hosmer and the list goes on – playing together in red, white and blue, especially on the same field with Adrian Gonzalez, Sergio Romo and everyone else playing for Mexico. Sadly, the game itself was one sided and ho hum. Mexico hit, ran and hit and ran some more while USA played like…well…like an MLB team in their second or third week of Spring Training. I had the wrong angle to tell if Dickey was having an off night or if Mexico simply has no issues hitting a knuckleball. Not that it mattered, because the outfield couldn’t seem to make a play to save their lives, a development I was not expecting given the quality of the players involved. Mind you, I had a blast and am excited we had tickets to see the game but, in the end, my excitement and enjoyment were more because we got to see a WBC game than because the game itself was anything special.
A couple of observations:
The strangest thing about the game: Oddly enough, I scould not get used to the sounds. As I mentioned, it poured in Arizona that Friday so Chase Field wisely took advantage of all modern conveniences and this became the first baseball game I have ever watched under a closed roof. I was plenty grateful for the roof, mind you, especially sitting there still damp from the epic deluge and hail that ended the Angels game that afternoon. But at the same time I was reminded how much the traditional sounds of the game are part of the whole experience for me. Under a roof you still get the crack of the bat, etc., but it’s flatter and somewhat muted. It just doesn’t sound right…kind of Langoliers-ish for any of you out there who devoured Stephen King to the degree I did as a child. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baseball played underneath a retractable roof is decidedly better than a game called for inclement weather, or than sitting in the stands dripping wet, cold and absolutely hating life for that matter. But the game is still best enjoyed outside.
The best thing about the game: As I said, the energy was incredible! You hear a lot about games with a playoff atmosphere. Now, I have yet to afford the privilege of being at an actual playoff game — though that is indeed one for the bucket list — but I have been at several hard contested, end-of-the-season games that folks later describe as having a playoff atmosphere and I can definitely attest to the fact that that kind of energy is wild, intense and wonderful. I also had the luck of being at the Big A for every pitch of Jered Weaver’s no hitter (No, I probably won’t stop mentioning that for a few seasons yet. Why do you ask? 😉 ) and the energy at that game was positively electric to the point where you could feel it on your skin. The energy at the WBC game was palpable, like that, but less intense. It was a rowdy, fun, the-crowd-is-absolutely-into-it-and-hanging-on-every-pitch kind of energy and, yet, at the same time it was casual. This wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, it felt like everything a simple every day game can and should be, and this during a relatively lopsided, uneventful game. If every regular season MLB game could feel like that? Well, I would probably love going to baseball games even more, something I did not think possible.
2012 ended in the usual whirlwind of fun holiday activity. Now that we’re calmly ensconced in the early days of 2013, I finally had the chance to sit down and think about the baseball year that was for an Angels “year in review” highlights post. Hey, I already covered my season gripes as they happened. Now is the time to remember the fun parts. There are already a lot of fantastic Angels 2012 highlight posts out there with killer statistical breakdowns and insightful analysis and, quite frankly, they cover all of that better than I ever could. So, instead, I like to concentrate on those things — Angels specific, baseball general, personal accomplishment and otherwise — that made my Angels baseball season. So, without further ado, here are my personal Angels season highlights, in no particular order:
Mike Trout. Watching this gifted young man take the field in Angels red every day was easily one of the highlights of my baseball fandom so he was easily one of the highlights of my season. I mean, is there anything this talented kid can’t do? The bat. The glove. The speed. The instincts. The heart. The highlight reel nature of the way he plays every single game. The way he makes it all look so effortless. The best rookie season on record! And to top it all off, Trout is a genuinely nice young man who loves the game. Thinking about Trout’s 2012 season makes me giddy. Thinking about all of Trout’s Angels seasons to come gives me chills.
Jered Weaver’s no hitter. I mean, really, Jered Weaver in general. Our ace. Our hometown hero. Our tough, ass kicking, take no prisoners, “give me the ball coach, I’ll find a way to help the team win even when I’m hurting,” goofy, sweet, team leader from the mound. Once again, and even while suffering a back injury in the middle of the season, Weaver delivered a Cy Young worthy season performance that was just, alas, minutely less Cy Young worthy than the even more stellar performance of a rival (two this season). Oh well. Keep plugging away Weave, it’ll happen for you one year! In the meantime, there are so many things about Weaver’s season that I could list here because they also made my season – the career high 20 wins, surpassing 100 victories, notching his 1,000th strikeout – but, at the same time, it could only be the no hitter. It was epic. It was historic. And I was privileged enough to be there.
Chris Iannetta catching Weaver’s no hitter. Chris Iannetta brought a bit of pop and clutch back to the Angels backstop position (hey, I said a bit — but .240 is aces over .174). He hit it off swimmingly with the pitching staff. He caught Weaver’s no hitter. But it was what we learned a few days after the no hitter that really blew me away. Iannetta suffered a wrist fracture when he was hit by a pitch…in the second inning. He caught seven innings of a no hitter with a fractured wrist. Wow! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know the special place that bad ass catchers will always hold in my heart, so this absolutely had to make my list.
Torii Hunter playing like a kid again. Torii, Torii, Torii. I certainly don’t agree with every single thing you say in the media, but man am I going to miss seeing you in Angels red. Angels Announcer Mark Gubicza once exclaimed, after a particularly dazzling Hunter play, followed by a particularly infectious Hunter smile, ‘Does anyone love playing this game more than Torii Hunter?’ As much as Torii? Certainly. But more than him? Absolutely not. I don’t think it’s possible. Getting to see Torii play a career year on the field while watching him mentor the younger Angels, especially Trout, with the deft hand of a born teacher was definitely a season highlight.
Albert Pujols’ first Angels’ home run and the team clearing the dugout to tease him. Yes, Albert had a slow season start. An epically, painfully, disappointingly slow season start. But did I not caution patience and optimism during that time? And did it not pay off? By the end of the season, Albert put up numbers that were comparable to his 2011 season (up here, down there, identical in a few places) despite the slow start. Yes, I know that he is aging and his numbers will probably be up and down and then eventually just down over the duration of his contract and we’ll discuss all of that when it happens. But I enjoyed watching him once he hit his stride as an Angel and I loved this moment in particular because you could tell, all in one moment, how deeply Pujols cares about his own performance. That Pujols may be aging but he’s still got it. That there are some things on the field that can still bring even the most cynical of Angels boo-birds cheering to their feet. And how supportive the Angels are of their teammates – not to mention how wonderfully, endearingly silly this team can be. It was such an inspiring? …exhilarating? …touching? …you know what? None of those words on its own really sums it all up so let’s just go with “baseball”…it was such a baseball moment!
Ernesto Frieri. Otherwise known as, yet more proof that Jerry Dipoto knows way more about baseball than I ever will. Ernesto who? I said when the Angels traded for him. But Frieri became a fan favorite in our house in short order after concluding his first appearance as an Angel. A shy, sweet seeming kid who still has a charming wide eyed, “I can’t believe I’m actually in the Bigs” attitude away from the mound, Frieri becomes Ernasty as soon as he gets the ball and then pitches miss bats and coufound batters at an impressive rate. Yes, there were bumps in the road. But Frieri made me smile and think hopeful, optimistic thoughts every time he walked on to the field. And, in a season that was most certainly not without its own bumps, that was a big deal.
Continued Fan Trips – San Diego. Seth and I have been trying — very slowly and for the time being locally as dictated by the almighty budget — to watch a game at every MLB ballpark. In 2012 our “Annual Baseball Extravaganza” took us to San Diego for the Angels interleague series against the Padres. Although this was just before the Angels took off on a winning tear, we had a blast. Petco Park is a fantastic baseball venue. Travelling to see your team play away is a great experience – not to mention one that will make you feel like a couple of diehard fans in a heartbeat — and we got to spend quality baseball – and pub crawling — time with a good friend who lives in the San Diego area. Total season highlight.
MLBlogs, yes MLBlogs. 2012 saw the retirement of several blogs that I consider to be among the greats and – not to wax too Shawshank-y here — while I absolutely understand that the need to move on from such a huge undertaking may strike some, the Blogosphere is definitely lesser for their absence. I am now doubly grateful for those bloggers who continue blogging! Heck, this winter I briefly entertained the idea of retiring my own blog, not that mine is even in the same league as the aforementioned blogs. This blogging thing, it’s a blast and a half but it can also be a lot of work, especially when actual work commitments begin to get intense. But then I thought about what a season would be like without having this forum to share my giddiness and my frustrations, and that really didn’t seem like much fun. I was reminded that posting here and chatting with everyone was a highlight of my 2011 season, it was absolutely a highlight of my 2012 season and I look forward to it being a highlight of my 2013 season. If that means that from time to time I need to just relax and post a little less frequently, so be it. Thus, MLBlogs is essential to my 2012 list — plus, this past season I was invited to join in a few blogger collaborations, another fun highlight of my season and something I look forward to doing more of in 2013.
Happy New Year, all!! I hope your 2013 is filled with so many good things that you can’t even remember those inevitable rough patches come year end. 🙂
Ace (ās) noun
1) A playing card, die, or domino having one spot or pip.
2) A military aircraft pilot who has destroyed five or more enemy aircraft.
3) An expert in a given field.
4) A starting pitcher who confounds opposing batters deep, deep into the game, giving his/her team everything they need to win.
5) A starting pitcher with the power to bring his/her team’s losing streak to a crashing halt with the power of one start.
Yeah, that last one’s my favorite definition too!!
Jered Weaver is having a Cy Young worthy season so far and currently leads the league in wins, E.R.A. and WHIP – though he is uncharacteristically lagging in strike outs – and if it weren’t for that one awful start in Texas his lead in each of those categories would be sizable indeed. Oh yeah, and then there is the little matter of that No Hitter. Jered Weaver is an Angels Ace and then some!
So what’s the problem? Well, as any Angels fan can tell you, going into the season we all thought our team had Weaver plus another 2.5 starting pitchers who could fit the definition of Ace – the 1/2 ace being Ervin Santana because, well, some years he’s ace-like, other years he’s really not. And the season sure started out that way. No, really. It absolutely did! Remember? C.J. Wilson had as many or slightly more wins than Weaver throughout April and May, and poor Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were pitching their hearts out but seemingly couldn’t buy runs from our offense to save their lives? The Angels scored three runs for Santana in his first start and not a single run after that for his next five starts? Okay, good. I see this is starting to ring a bell.
Then Mike Trout came up from AAA, Albert Pujols became comfortable at the plate and how, and the offense got hot. So naturally the Angels’ stellar starting pitching began to…suffer just about every Murphy’s Law calamity in the book. Hence the problem: what started out looking like four Aces and a more than decent number five starter became one Ace and four clubs…as in balls clubbed over the fence both at a fair clip and in startling quantities. Queue the little girl from Strictly Ballroom: My, that was unexpected!
So what do you do with a situation like that? Well, lately the answer is ‘not win a whole heck of a lot.’ Granted, the starting pitching situation is far from being the Angels only problem at present but it is a pretty big one. Fortunately, it’s one I think could right itself in the next few starts. Not definitely will, but could – and I’m 75% certain that ain’t just my inner Pollyana talkin’. Check my logic. Clearly there are no problems with Weaver. And as for newly acquired and thus far winless Angels starter Zack Greinke? Well, the winless part isn’t entirely his fault and, more importantly, he’s Zack Greinke. He should settle down eventually and be just fine…though also scoring runs for him when he pitches well would still be a nice gesture on the part of the offense. Haren looks much healthier and is pitching much better since his DL stint and seems more willing to listen to his body, witness his delaying his 2nd start back. To my eye, he’s still not getting the full back extension at the point of release that he used to. (And there are probably other changes I don’t see. I am sooooo not a pitching coach.) I suspect this is a question of unlearning the newer mechanics his back troubles dictated he adopt for the first half of the season. I have hope that this can happen quickly provided he doesn’t reinjure himself.
Now Santana and Wilson are the big questions marks for me. Santana actually did look a lot better in his last start which was intentionally limited to 15 outs. This thrilled me to no end, but I’m aware it’s a small sample size. Tonight’s game will be very telling. As for Wilson, he’s had problems with fading in the second half for as long as he’s been a starter – ask any Rangers fan. If I were C.J. Wilson, knowing this, I would curtail my non baseball hobbies starting after the All Star Break through Halloween. It couldn’t hurt and very likely might help. We know the closed door meeting he just had with the managers was supposedly about finding the strike zone rather than nibbling, but I wonder if it didn’t touch on this subject as well? If it didn’t, they really should be discussing this and soon. This also seems like a fixable problem if everyone, including C.J., has the right attitude about it.
Anyway, the Angels are just plain frustrating right now – a subject I touched on with a bit of whimsy at L.A. Angels Insider, if you’re interested. But they are far from being hopeless and if the starting pitching can get back to realizing its potential soon, suddenly the Angels become post season hopefuls all over again.
Editor’s Note: It is still a small sample size but Ervin Santana looked pretty good to me last night. Oh, he did have one very bad inning to be sure, but he started out with a 1-2-3- inning and then recovered from the bad one to not allow another run for the next 4 and change. Oh, and the Bullpen also had a great night. So. We’ve got that going for us… 😉
So, Kristen. How was the ballgame?
Oh, it was nice. Fun. You know. They threw the ball, caught the ball and hit the ball. Couple of good plays. Just another Halo victory, as the announcers say. Oh…yeah…there was one other thing…
OMG!!! OMG!!! Jered Weaver threw a no hitter!!! And it was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my entire life. He was so on, he made it look effortless. I am still bouncing with excitement as I type this hours later and might quite possibly still be cheering were it not for the fact that I am hoarse from all of the cheering I did at the game – my neighbors are grateful and they don’t even know it, he he. Congratulations, Jered! This was beyond well deserved!!!
So, yeah. That was the first no hitter I’ve ever seen in person, a thought I heard echoed by many, most of whom are older than I and have therefore seen a great deal more live baseball, as the jubilant crowd lingered, mingled and eventually meandered their way out. It was just so magical that I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave. I know I had to pry myself away from the rails. So, now I am going to try to string together a few coherent thoughts about the game and the Angels beyond just exclaiming Wow!! over and over again, but I can’t make any promises on that front. As I said before, I’m pretty giddy.
So, as you may have heard a place or two…or ten…thousand, the Angels had a rough April. Enough pieces were there for a winning team, but those pieces just weren’t working together or at the same time. The team desperately needed not just a spark, but several sparks in rapid succession, sufficient to get a fire a going. So, starting Friday, the team makes several needed changes. Spark. Last night Jerome Williams pitched a gem, a complete game, three-hit shutout. Spark! And the offense started to pick up – Hello Torii ‘Homerun’ Hunter and Howie ‘one double shy of the cycle’ Kendrick! Spark!!
Then Jered Weaver takes the mound and flat out deals – 9 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. He threw 77 of his 121 pitches for strikes. Spark! Spark!! Spark!!!
And to top it all off, finally gifted with a lineup that simultaneously contained all of the teams’ best hitters, the Angels offense just went to town. Nine runs on 15 hits?! Baseballs were flying over the wall, zinging into the outfield, sneaking through the infield. It was a sight to behold. Spark! SPARK! Whooooosh. Conflagration? I hope so. We’ll find out this series when we face the Blue Jays.
Yes, we could look at sweeping the Twins as just the Angels beating up on a team that had an even worse April than we did. The Angels just did what they were supposed to do, big deal – except that in this case it is. The Angels did what they were supposed to do, which means that all of those sparks are starting to catch fire. Hip hip and ten thousand huzzahs. Keep it going boys and soon everyone’s going to catch on fire. So, Dan Haren. Weaver one upped Williams. You’re a competitive fellow. How about it? Care to try for the one up like you did last season? It could be fun!
So back to this whole no hitter thing. Being there was almost indescribable, but I’ll try. The crowd was sparse. Way too sparse for my tastes. Blame the aforementioned April woes combined with a weeknight game on a night that really looked like the morning’s rain might resume at any moment despite what the weather reports said. But by the fifth inning this small crowd was so excited, so invested in every pitch, that the feeling was absolutely electric and it filled the stadium.
Everyone knew what was going on. Ball players like to say they never look at the scoreboard but the fans make no such pretenses. And we all kept looking at each other, giving thumbs up and high fives. Bouncing up and down. Cheering. Pumping our fists and banging on the empty seats. All jumping out of our skins to shout out loud that which tradition forbids us from so much as whispering before the outcome of the final pitch…well, except for these two obnoxious ladies who from the 6th inning on would not shut up with the “Catch it Torii, catch it. Don’t spoil the no hitter!” “Way to go Pete, you saved the no hitter!” and so on. Look, I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe that saying no hitter during a no hitter, unless of course the person you’re saying it to is the pitcher in question, will have any impact on the game. But there are some traditions you just don’t break, and this is one of them. For the most part, they were simply ignored. And after that final out, the crowd went nuts chanting “Weaver, Weaver!” and jumping up and down.
And can I just say how heartwarming it was to see our hometown hero who made it clear in no uncertain terms last season that he loves this team as much as we do, accomplish so much at home in front of friends and family! Watching him exchange emotional hugs with his parents and then sweep his new bride – who has a great name, by the way, even though she spells it funny 😉 – up into an embrace before the press conferences began? This was a slice of what baseball used to be.
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And the absolute icing on the evening’s seriously delectable cake was our seats. Some season ticket holder with a very exclusive location just couldn’t make the game this evening – bet they’re kicking themselves now, don’t you? – and put their tickets up for sale online. I really will never be able to thank them enough because not only were Seth and I there for this amazing game, we watched it from the front row of the Knothole Club, the Club level restaurant in right field just to the “It’s outta here!” side of the foul pole. The view? The service? The food? Amazing! This game made its own ballpark experience. We would have enjoyed ourselves in even the cheapest of cheap seats. But having the rare opportunity to enjoy such luxurious surroundings and a perfectly unobstructed view of the magic on the mound made it even better.
So, 2011 is drawing to a close and it is my tradition to take a few moments and write up my top Angels Baseball moments for the 2011 season. It should be noted that, as this blog is now just over a year old, tradition means I am doing it for the second time. Hey, traditions have to start somewhere, right? …But I digress. These are not the Angels only highlights for the season or even necessarily the ones that folks who get paid to analyze this kind of stuff would point out. There are enough articles about that floating around out there already. No, these are the highlights, both Angels and personal, that made my baseball season, in no particular order:
Jered Weaver! Both the season he had – which, were it not for Verlander’s even more amazing season would have easily been a Cy Young season – and the fact that he signed a contract with the Angels through 2016. I loved every minute I spent watching this homegrown dynamo on the mound and look forward to many more in the seasons to come.
Being Wrong. Yes, sometimes being wrong is a great thing and I am thrilled that I was wrong to have worried about Mark Trumbo taking over at first base. My concerns were based on his rookie call-up outings and the issues he had getting into position for plays during Spring Training. But the AL Rookie of the Year runner up worked hard to improve quickly at first and was a bright spot in an offense that was otherwise anything but. None of this guarantees that Trumbo will also be good at third base, but he has more than earned my interest in seeing what he can do in yet another new position.
Ervin Santana’s No Hitter. A former on one season then wild as all get out the next pitcher, Santana showed he has gained considerable consistency following up on his excellent 2010 season with another quality season, and how! The no hitter was merely the most obvious indicator of thischange, but what an indicator it was.
Dan Haren’s 1 hit shutout. And we were there!! Having a full season with Haren on the team would have been a highlight in and of itself, but getting to see this game, live and in person, with a great view of every nasty pitch going over the plate was absolute baseball magic.
Young Angels’ feats. I said it many times throughout the regular season, the Angels rookies and practically rookies made my season. Whether it was watching Peter Bourjos’ dramatic plays in center, Tyler Chatwood’s development on the mound or Mark Trumbo slowly make opposing pitchers start to take notice, the Angels “kids” made the game a lot of fun to watch and gave me significant hope for future seasons.
Personal Game Attendance at an All-Time High! So I tallied it up and we went to 22 games this season, two of which were the Angels/A’s double header. Wow! So. Ummmm…Hon, when you read this, remember how that fact of that being absolutely (Wonderfully!) crazy is tempered by my folks and your boss giving us tickets. 😉 Being at the game so often gave us the chance to catch a lot of season highlights. Bourjos’ first home run of the season. Trumbo’s first big league homerun. A couple of flying Bourjos catches. An I can’t believe he caught that Torii Hunter catch…and that was just during the Haren 1-hit shutout game, no kidding. There was even more than that over the course of the other 21 games. I only hope that tickets are not so expensive this season that we have difficulties getting to the game. I don’t have to go to 22 games (Though I will never turn it down!) but if I don’t get to the ballpark every couple of weeks or so, crankiness is likly to ensue. 🙂
Travelling for Baseball. Seth and I have talked about eventually seeing a game in every Major League stadium for years, but it has also been years since we’ve been able to do any real travelling. This season we finally got started on our plans and while we may have started small we started well, travelling up to the Bay Area to visit with friends and watch games at the Coliseum and AT&T Park. So. Much. Fun! This coming season, the way things look, I think we may only be able to make it down to Petco Park in San Diego, which is local but still progress.
And last but not least…I hesitate to include this winter’s signings only because at the moment Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson have not had the opportunity to take a single swing or deliver a single pitch for the Angels. We suspect they will be strong, difference making additions to the team but while it’s all still just on paper, it’s only highly probable, not actual. But I will add this to my list: last year at this time I was writing about Hot Stove Grief (Hey, this is a serious disorder. Wipe that smirk off your face!) and feeling like the front office was just phoning it in. Today I feel like the front office is really working to put the best team on the field they possibly can and I am hopeful and excited for the season to begin. What a difference a few months make!
Trade deadlines. Unexpected fireworks at the Sunday Angels, Tigers game. And an anniversary. It’s been quite the full weekend. Too full to cram everything into one coherent post so, in no particular order, here are some of the things on my mind:
- I am pleased the Angels didn’t make a move before the non-waiver trade deadline. We could certainly use a reliable bat, but I didn’t see anyone would really help the Angels sufficiently enough to justify what it would cost us to land him. No trading the rookies!! Or the near rookies for that matter!
- The announcers on the national broadcasts, be it ESPN or Fox, are terrible and one of the back-handed perks of being a smaller market team is not having to deal with them very often. On the flip side of this equation, hearing someone new drool in surprise over Peter Bourjos’ speed in the outfield, Mark Trumbo’s bat, Howie Kendrick’s clutch glove and the like never gets old.
- If he had to get tossed, I wish Jered Weaver had gotten himself tossed one inning earlier because that finally got the offense awake and fired up enough to score some runs. With one more inning, who knows what could have happened.
- About Weaver getting tossed. Usually the amount of trash talk that goes on during a game is entertaining and probably helps guys keep a competitive edge. When it gets carried away, however, I feel the urge to knock heads together and tell everyone involved to grow up and just play baseball. This should have been over and done with after Weaver barked at Magglio Ordonez (who likely was just waiting to see if it was fair) and he came by the mound a few innings later for a little chat. But then things had to get even more stupid. Carlos Guillen was no more waiting to make sure the ball was fair than Weaver accidentally let the ball slip at Alex Avila’s head. Enough already!
- Of course, I finally sat down with the game just in time for the real blowup in the 7th inning and had to catch up on the preliminaries leading up to it after the fact. Seth and I have been trying to get in extra long bike rides every other Sunday or so, today we tackled the San Gabriel River Trail…all of it. 38.9 miles from the trail head one long block above our house in Azusa down the river all the way to the ocean in Seal Beach. It was absolutely awesome!! But grueling enough that I didn’t have it in me to tack on one last mile’s tour around the parking lot after we left the trail to make it an even 40. Today, my jurisdiction ended right here, when the trail did. Next time.
- In his post game interview today, Justin Verlander referred to Erik Aybar’s bunt “attempt” in the 8th inning as bush league. No, sweetheart, that wasn’t bush league. Your throw to first? Now that was bush league. I’m sorry, but I have never understood the “unwritten rule” against busting up a no-hitter with a bunt. Is the team being no hit supposed to just roll over and let the opposing pitcher have the no hitter? Hell no. That cheapens the whole concept. A baseball team should continue trying to win, no hitter or not, by whatever means they have at their disposal. And if you are a Cy Young candidate caliber pitcher in the middle of a no hitter, and a guy who routinely leads the league in bunt singles comes up to bat, and you aren’t prepared for him to do just that, is that really something you want to admit to in public, let alone gripe about? Truly it defies logic.
- Nothing in the above rant is meant to take away from Verlander’s amazing pitching performance. His fastball was faster in the 8th inning than it was in the 4th and every bit as accurate! There is a reason he has garnered all of the accolades he has this season, he’s earned every single one. I put Jered Weaver in the same category. However on Sunday Verlander was the better pitcher and Weaver let himself get rattled a little too easily, provoked or not.
- Mike Trout shared the outfield with Peter Bourjos on Wednesday for Santana’s No Hitter and then pinch hit for Bobby Abreu on Friday…and hasn’t played since. I don’t think this, the not playing much part, is the usual plan for 19 year old prospects with promise and for good reason. Trout needs to play almost every day. So if we’re not going to play him a few times a week in more than a pinch hitter role – and I do understand that our outfield is crowded and Trout has a few things to work on – then send him down to AAA until September.
- And last, but certainly not least, a personal note to my wonderful husband where I know he will read it: Happy 12th Anniversary! From the first date that adamantly was not a date at all – until it absolutely was! – to now, hands down, this is the best. Sumer fling. Ever! And we’re just getting started. 🙂