Oh, please excuse me. Just indulging in a bit of morning-before-the-game-after-an-off-day-and-Angels-moved-another-half-game-closer-to-a-wild-card-berth levity over here, with apologies to Barnes & Barnes and, of course, Dr. Demento.
Ah the Trout heads, as fans and various Angels vendors affectionately refer to these goofy, bright red, fish shaped, nerf weapon of a piece of head gear if I ever saw one, hats. So disturbingly silly they’re absolutely awesome, am I right? Of course I am. Look, even Angels players know how great these things are:
Basically, the way I see it, these hats are but one more strong testament to the unbelievable power of Mike Trout. Don’t buy it? Look, Southern Californians simply do not wear stupid hats. Not for team spirit. Not for unity. Not for nothing, unless they’re Mickey Mouse ears or, apparently, Trout heads. See that? No stats or proof of increased game attendance needed. Simply put, Angels fans are awesome and Mike Trout is bigger than Mickey Mouse. 🙂
…and all of this – the photos, the parody, the silliness – because the Angels successfully completed their sweep of the White Sox, the A’s lost to Texas last night while the O’s moved no further ahead in the standings, and I am getting so excited for this next series I can barely contain myself! Thank you for indulging me in my silliness, dear reader. We now return you to your regularly scheduled MLBlogs programming.
This post was brought to you by letters S, G and K, the number 27 and the zany stir craziness an off day this late in the season has been shown to produce in lab animals and the occasional friendly neighborhood Angels blogger.
This end of the regular season prep, ball park therapy is great and all, but I have to say that my second session was significantly less satisfying than my first. Eight innings of solid pitching love from Zack Greinke went sadly unrequited by the Angels offense and were outright spurned by the bullpen in the 9th. It was deflating. (No, worries though, subsequent Angels victories have buoyed my spirits, but I’ll get to that. 🙂 )
Now, I didn’t expect the Angels to sweep the Rangers by any means. I was fairly certain they‘d win the first game with Jered Weaver on the mound. But, to be honest, I rather expected the Angels would lose Wednesday night’s game. Of course all of my jokes about CJ Wilson being the Arlinington Candidate are just that, but the facts of the matter are he’s rarely been good for much of the second half and he hasn’t been good against the Rangers this season. I did, however, think the Angels had a real chance to take the series on Thursday and, as it turns out, they did have chance. They just didn’t seize that chance, as attested to even more strongly by the long line of 0’s peppered with a few 1s and one 2 in the hit column than Ernesto Frieri’s errant pitch turned nifty souvenir for some “lucky” fan in fair territory in the 9th. Like I said, deflating…until the White Sox series!!
I know, I know, it’s only two wins and the Angels now have a long, long, looooooooong shot ahead of them to earn a wild card berth. But that would be practicality and rationality speaking. I think all diehard baseball fans are just a little bit crazy to begin with and only become more so when the post season is still a faint hope. To wit, one win against the Rangers and I was hopeful. Two straight losses against the Rangers and I believed that those faint notes I was hearing in the distance were the fabled fat lady going through her warm up scales…
…But one solid Angels victory against the White Sox (with way more than the mere requisite pieces of flair in my estimation!) and I start thinking dreamy eyed Angels happy thoughts again. You know, all the Angels have to do is sweep the White Sox and then it would just like winning both the Sox and Rangers series, right? I mean, the White Sox are only in first place in their division with a few players having career years. Pshaw, how hard could that be? Then Baltimore won today and I started hearing those scales again only to have hope return when the A’s lost. Now with a second Angels victory, I’m back to dreamy thoughts of a sweep…hey it could happen. Jered Weaver is on the mound tomorrow.
And then? Okay, now I will be rational. The Angels really can’t afford to lose more than one or two more games before the end of the season and the A’s have to lose a lot more than that. The Angels have to stop filling the bases up with no outs only to strand every runner at the end of the inning. The starters and bullpen need to need to be spot on. No more base running gaffes. No more fielding gaffes. Practically speaking, the Angels need to play playoff baseball now and for the rest of the season however long that may be. Possible? Oh hell yes. Probable? We shall see. Fun? Absolutely! More ball park therapy, please. Stat!
And, in the meantime, enjoy a few more pics from the ballgame on Thursday:
(Editor’s Note: Edited to add in the photos I didn’t have time to add in before. 🙂 )
All season long, I’ve said that when the Rangers bring their best game and the Angels bring their best game, the Angels can compete with the Rangers and win. The Angels have had an off and on kind of season but those occasions where they did bring their best game to the Rangers have borne me out on this. Now, the Rangers most certainly did not bring their best game to Tuesday night’s opener at the Big A and the end result was…well…let’s go with absolutely, stupendously awesome!
Yeah, I know. I usually prefer a close hard fought game that still ends in a lit Halo, but you know what? Every now and then watching your team deliver a good old fashioned one-sided beat down of a game from the stands is good for the soul, not to mention morale…oh, and let’s not forget the appetite. Angels fans get a free Chronic taco if the team scores 10 or more runs at home and Seth and I plan on enjoying ours this weekend. …Besides, it’s not the like the Angels absolutely brought their best game either and it’s not like Texas wasn’t going to come right back out fighting soon or, you know, like the very next night. *facepalm* So, totally munching on the tacos of satisfying victory, that’s us. 😉
…or, at least, of a satisfying victory because, you know, Wednesday’s game and all that. But back to Tuesday’s game. It was more fun. The offense rocked with only a few lineup holes. The base runners never let up. And, after a bit of a shaky start, Jered Weaver buckled down and more than earned his 100th career victory. (And with only 51 losses. Not too shabby).
The only bad parts of the evening were Tanner Scheppers injury in that bizarre play at the plate (oh, I loved the two runs, and Mike Napoli missing the throw and drilling the umpire instead, but not the injury) and the lack of Angels fans attendance. Come on folks, these games still count. Landing a wild card berth is going to be difficult but it’s still possible so come on out and cheer our guys on! That said, I was amused at Rangers fans tweeting derisively about this same attendance. Yes, attendance at this game was in fact sad, but come on, weren’t your players just complaining about low attendance and lack of support from Rangers fans as recently as 2010? A year your team went to the World Series? Yeah, kind of forgot about that part there Mr. and Ms. Pot, now didn’cha? Awk. Ward! 😉
*wipes hands* So, mischief managed on that front. Down to the more important business. What do I think about the Angels’ wild card chances? Well, I think they have a chance, but they’re going to have to win every series and probably sweep one or two of them from here on out to take advantage of that chance. Last night’s loss didn’t help, but it’s not the absolute end of the world. There’s still the runner match tonight. So, yes, it’s possible. But it’s a tricky kind of possible, you know, like the Cardinals and Rays getting in last season. That kind of story doesn’t happen in baseball every season or even every other season…but it does happen. We’ll know better in another few games so, in the meantime, Go Angels!! And fans, let’s take ourselves out to the ballgame and shout that loudly and in person, shall we?
In the meantime, it’s that time again so I’ll leave you with a few photos of Angels September call ups making an appearance in this game:
In their last 5 games, the Angels have:
- Scored 46 runs!
- Allowed the opposing team to score 44 runs.
- Hit 15 home runs!
- Allowed the opposing team to hit 10 home runs.
- Struck out 30 batters!
- Were struck out 48 times.
- Came from behind to tie or pull into the lead so many times, they reminded me of the 2009 Angels who were among the league leaders in that regard.
- Blew the lead so frequently that none of those comebacks amounted to anything.
- Beat the division leading Rangers 2 times, one of which was more of a good old-fashioned shellacking.
- Lost to the division leading Rangers 2 times and the White Sox once, just for good measure.
- Left 40 guys on base.
- Went to the bullpen 16 times – 4 times apiece in the last three games.
- Moved out of 3rd place (yay!) to tie the A’s for 2nd.
- Shot past the A’s to a 2nd place that was just 3 games out of 1st place.
- Sank right back into 3rd place one game further out of 1st than they started.
- Brought me to my feet cheering repeatedly.
- Sat me right back down again in exasperation complete with loud expletives and an annoyed fist bump on the table for good measure repeatedly.
Wow! There is an inordinate amount of both !!! and #$@! in that list. Come to think of it, I suppose this is true in different ways both for Angels fans and for fans of the opposition. So what on Earth are we supposed to make of a crazy, simultaneously hot and cold, brilliant upside, scary downside team like this? I would say that the Angels really need to get key players back off the DL in top form, or top August form at any rate, and figure out what’s broken with the starting rotation and fix it. This list just illustrates what those who have been watching the games already know – so many important pieces, essential to having a shot at the post season are already present, accounted for and how in the way the Angels are playing right now.
However, the sick and amazing bullpen of a few weeks ago has become a sick and ailing bullpen in the absence of Scott Downs. As much as Andrew Romine looks like he can fill a big league short stop’s shoes in a few seasons, the defense and the base paths are both missing Erick Aybar. Recent, blessedly brief, stints with various strains for Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo did the lineup no favors. And the starting rotation is kind of, sort of, maybe just starting to come together…maybe. But Dan Haren did push back another start due to back issues. (On the one hand, way to go Danny for admitting you’re hurting and taking the steps you need to fix it. On the other hand, ouch. We need him back strong and we need him back now.) Ervin Santana is restricted to three innings until he can get his head straight. And Zack Greinke, if the small sample size of the last two starts are any indication, is still working through his home vs. road issues, though I do admire a pitcher who toughs out a bad few innings and finishes strong.
The other thing I would take from this Jekyll and Hyde list is that the Angels season future is unclear. I know that a lot of folks saying it’s over now, that this Rangers series was the “the moment” and the Angels blew it. But I don’t buy that. Oh, I believe in momentum, but I also think that trying to pick out what “the moment” is in any season as it’s happening is impossible. It’s a little too much like writing history as it happens. Oh, plenty of people do write history as it happens and I can tell you as a history major that historians do value such analysis…but as primary source documents not as their intended purpose. The 2012 season is moving quickly. But we do have two solid months of baseball left and, for the Angels, much of that baseball will be played in the AL West. If they can get some guys back or start playing around their absence with more grace, well, anything is still possible.
I’ve never really cared for the last few days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline. Oh I know they’re supposed to be exciting, filled with stimulating fan trade speculation, debates and the thrilling sense of possibility for teams in the post season running or close to it. But while I enjoy the discussion and debates, and I’m not immune to the sense of possibility, for me it’s always tainted with faint traces of an impending sense of doom. Perhaps it’s a lingering hangover from some of the crazier – because they weren’t all crazy – deals Tony Reagins used to pull this time of year. Perhaps it’s just the intense degree to which I hate parting with favorite players I’ve grown attached to, and I know that if you’re going to get someone good, well then, you’d better give up someone good.
Either way, it seems to me that buying and selling teams alike are just as likely, and perhaps more so, to do themselves harm as good this time of year. Think about it. What kind of decisions do we make when our need is great, the options are far from plentiful and the asking price is predictably obscene? Sometimes desperation and opportunity lead to brilliance but more often…uh huh. Exactly. Yes, GMs typically do a better job than you or I in such situations, but the comparison still has merit. For every Rangers scoring Cliff Lee tale there is an Angels “scoring” Scott Kazmir story, or much, much worse.
No this doesn’t mean that I’m arguing against all trade deadline wheeling and dealing or even that I wish the Angels would abstain from it. It just means that when it comes to thoughts of trade discussions surrounding my team, I spend most of the last few days of July in a state of hmmmm…how shall we say? Cautiously optimistic worry? Hopeful panic? Serene terror? Yeah, any those will do. Flip a coin. And this season in particular I don’t want to give up the most obvious trading chips – Peter Bourjos, Hank Conger, etc. – and I don’t like a lot of the options being discussed, especially when those options are discussed in terms of some or *gasp!* all of the Angels most obvious trading chips.
So, imagine how wonderful it felt to finally exhale and feel my heart rate return to normal ranges when it was announced this afternoon that the Angels landed Zack Greinke. And that the price for these coveted riches was infield prospect Jean Segura (who is excellent but blocked by Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, much like Alexi Amarista before him) and two AA pitching prospects, instead of the frequently discussed Bourjos, Conger, Santana and half the farm. Oh yeah, it felt that good.
Am I completely thrilled with the deal? No. I worry about Greinke. While I think that, in many ways, the Angels will be a good match for working with his anxiety issues and he’s certainly a great pitcher, I lost a lot of respect for Greinke when he gave up in Kansas City because he didn’t like the way the season was going, admitted it and couldn’t seem to understand why folks got so mad about it. And then there’s his little pitching in away games issue. Also, I think that unless Greinke signs a lengthier contact preventing him from going free agent at the end of this season, this was a more expensive deal than I would have liked, even without giving up Bourjos, et al. However, in the larger context of trade deadline deals, notoriously desperate and expensive as they are, this deal really is pretty good. Ever since our magical December 2011, we Angels fans have referred to GM Jerry Dipoto as the JeDi Master and, if Greinke performs to his capabilities as an Angel and especially if we keep him, Dipoto has proven once again that he is just that.
As much as I am happy with this deal – with the caveats and concerns mentioned above – I am even happier that it means a lot of this Angels crazy talk can die down now, because I was getting seriously twitchy for awhile there. I did not want James Shields, another pitcher out of Tampa Bay going through a rough patch. Yes, Shields is way more talented than Kazmir but still, I worry. And I did not and do not like Francisco Liriano for the Angels. I can’t see how he would be much of an upgrade from Ervin Santana. He’s plenty wild and crazy himself. Yeah, I know. After a while I was starting to sounding downright Suessical with my “do not likes” and “do not wants,” even to my own ears. Hmmm…I do not care if he hits a ton I do not care if his contract’s far from done. While I actually like green eggs and ham, I did not want that lazy, pouting HanRam. (So, thank you Dodgers for taking him right off the table early. Best of luck to you!)
You laugh, but just try having all of this goofiness in your head. Oh well, I will be better now that deal is done and as close to sane as I ever get about Angels baseball come August 1st. Welcome to the Angels Zack Greinke. Hopefully this is the beginning of a beautifully mutually beneficial partnership.
What’s the best cure for the old “post All Star Break, my Angels have been playing in the Eastern Time Zone so I haven’t caught a game in more than a week and, oh by the way, they weren’t playing so hot” blues? Well, I don’t know about you, but heading down to the Big A the second the Angels got back in town to watch them beat their biggest division rival soundly worked for me! What a night, what a game! And what’s the best cure for the old “Rangers came back the next day and stomped all over the Angels” blues? I suggest having a selective short term memory – forget about Saturday’s game, relive Friday’s and hope for a better Sunday! So to that end…
All the way down the 57 freeway to the stadium on Friday night Seth and I kept hearing about a playoff atmosphere, and, to be honest, I mocked the radio more than a bit. A playoff atmosphere? Yes, the Angels were facing the Rangers, but for the first of the 13 games before seasons’ end and it’s only July. However, entering the gates it was clear that if the radio announcers were exaggerating, it wasn’t by much. I have never been to a playoff game — a deficiency I’d love the opportunity to correct this season! — but this was definitely close to what I imagine a playoffs atmosphere would feel like. The stadium was packed, the fans were pumped and, behold the icing on the cake, in an unannounced giveaway, the Angels were handing out ThunderStix:
As for the game? Well, this is how the serious playoff contending Angels play as opposed to that other team that shows up sometimes…sometimes, including Saturday. Jered Weaver set the tone early. He got the first batter out only to give up a home run to Elvis Andrus on the next at bat. But did he crumble? Hello, this is Jered Weaver we’re talking about. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time a Ranger crossed the plate that game. Weaver only really got into trouble one more time that game – bases loaded with one out in the 3rd and Josh Hamilton at the plate. But he got himself out of trouble by coaxing Hamilton into a double play. Inning over — hit the road Jack. 😉
The Angels bats were more than ready to follow Weaver’s dominant lead, getting the one run back in the first inning and following it with five more as the game progressed. The TnT boys went off with clutch, productive singles in the early innings and then in spectacular fashion in later innings. Mark Trumbo’s 6th inning TrumBomb was, in essence, a line drive turned run seeking missile over the centerfield fence, much like the hit that made Big Papi bounce up and down like a gleeful child during the Home Run Derby. Mike Trout followed his lead the next inning with an opposite field bomb of his own.
As impressive as TnT was, they shouldn’t completely overshadow the rest of the Angels offense. Albert Pujols, looking every inch the Albert of old, went 3 for 4, advancing runners and scoring a run of his own. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar brought in two runs a piece with clutch hits and a productive out. And so on. I really feel like when the offense is functioning this well as a unit, the Angels are one scary team! So how about we see some more of this offense this week, okay guys?
Much has been made of the Angels “BlowPen” this season, the new version of the “Arson Squad” of old, but I feel like after a very rough initial start, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri and some oft discussed key moves, they’ve had more good days than bad. Kevin Jepsen, of all people, has returned from his DL stint in pretty good form. And while it will take a lot more quality relief outings for the Angels Family to stop holding our collective breaths when he takes the mound, he was effective again. Things got a little too exciting when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in the 9th, I guess just to let us all know we shouldn’t take a five run lead for granted…um…thanks? Yeah, no. But still, no runs, no foul. Light that baby up and enjoy the Friday Night Fireworks!
And so the moral of our story is: Hand out ThunderStix…er…I mean TnT Stix every home game for the rest of the season!!! Oh, yeah. And, you know, quality pitching starts and effectively thundering bats are probably a good idea too! 😉
As I mentioned just before the Freeway Series, part one, I had the opportunity to crash Matt’s Think Blue Weekly PodCast for the Freeway Series episode. At the end of the Podcast, Matt, his podcast partner and I all made predictions about the Freeway Series outcome. My prediction? The Angels will take the series 4 to 2 and, would you look at that? 😉 Actually, if we had not been so pressed for time at the end, I was also going to predict that the Angels would drop one game at each stadium (yup and, sadly, I attended both of them) and that those games would be the one pitched by Santana (yup, though not for the reason I expected) and the one pitched by Garrett Richards (well, we can’t be right about everything. Richards wound up pitching two Freeway Series games because of a few starting rotation oddities, earned wins in both appearances and looked pretty darned convincing while doing it).
But the most important prediction of all was that it was going to be a fun series and, indeed, it was, the highlight of another Angels dominate interleague season and continued Freeway Series bragging rights. Sorry Dodgers! …except, you know, not really. 😉
Anyway, here are a few important Angels trends that either emerged or intensified during Interleague:
Mike Trout is a beast! No. You’re not listening to me. Mike Trout. Is. A. Beast!! Seriously, even more so than we already knew. Called up on April 28th, Trout took off running – very, very fast indeed – coming into his own almost immediately. Then somehow during interleague play, he played even better. The 20-year old rookie lead all AL players during this time with 30 hits, 21 runs scored and 15 stolen bases, dropping onto the AL batting average leaders list like a bomb in 2nd place on the first day that he qualified. He has since moved into first place just above Paul Konerko. So, in response to that weird Bleacher Report ‘hey, could the Dodgers trade for Mike Trout’ talk over the weekend, I sincerely hope that I speak for Jerry Dipoto when I say, ‘that’s a clown question, Bro, now excuse me while I laugh uproariously.’ (Editor’s Note: Thank you, Bryce Harper, for gifting us all with this decidedly not cliché gem. I hope you keep your spirited way with words throughout your career.)
The starting rotation is taking the rotation part of their name a little too literally for anyone’s tastes, but it’s all working. Jered Weaver is back off the DL and looked great in his first outing. Ervin Santana had a few rough at bats at the beginning of his last outing, then got mean and delivered a 10 strikeout gem that should have won him the game. Unfortunately, Jerome Williams was hospitalized with breathing problems after his last outing and went on the 15 day DL. Although it sounds like Williams is ready to come back roughly as soon as he is eligible, this still could have been a disaster without Garrett Richards stepping in to fill his shoes. Like I said, it’s an overly rotating rotation, but it’s working.
Angels bats are hot, hot, hot…except when they’re not. When they’re not, other things don’t click well either and the team has a hard time winning. Fortunately, the downswings through spells of cooling bats seem to take a lot less time to recover from these days before someone – Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, etc. – gets hot again and brings the rest of the offense back online with them.
Oh the errors, when they happen they happen in groups. The Angels have several players getting limited playing time at the moment and when they come in, not shockingly there are some issues with rust and errors. Peter Bourjos seems to be able to do this right, bounding around the outfield, running down every ball in site like a happy puppy whose owners finally let him really run, in those late innings and occasional games where he gets a start. Though, even in the case of Bourjos, there’s a little bit of rust on that fine arm. Anyway, this situation is partly to blame for Maicer Izturis’ errors in the Saturday game. Why Sciosia didn’t stick with Alberto Callaspo who had a great game on Friday makes little sense to me. I am absolutely not advocating a return to the ever varying, magic 8 ball, lineup, but it would be nice if something could be done to keep the utility guys ready to come in and play off the bench. Food for thought as we move into July.
The bullpen not only wasn’t scary, they were good. Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Latroy Hawkins were already good. But now Frieri and Downs have the best combined ERA for any pitching duo currently in the majors (with the requisite number of innings pitched, yada, yada, yada). But it isn’t just those three stalwarts. Hisanori Takahashi, Jason Isringhausen and Jordan Walden all delivered consistent solid innings as well, a trend which could make all the difference in the months ahead.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Angels are still 4.5 games behind Texas in the AL West. (Though, hey, at least for the moment they’re 1st in the running for the 2nd Wild Card spot.) Now, 4.5 games may seem like it’s still a lot, but here’s this thing, even if you aren’t buying the ‘we’re only just getting to the All Star Break’ argument, the Angels still have 12 games left against Rangers including, per recent tradition, the last three of the season. Suddenly, 4.5 games doesn’t seem like much, does it?
And now we conclude our time here on this post with, Fun With Captions! (In my mind, that has a Pigs in Space worthy bit of theme music heraldng it, just so you know. 😉 ):