Tagged: Records

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!
 

Angels Started Out Hot But in the End Just Burned. New Series, Move Down.

 Do you ever have one of those days where odd things seem to parallel your mood or activities? You think of a song and change the station on the radio only to find that song? Or a coworker randomly starts the same conversation you just had that morning with your mom? Does this ever seem to happen with the baseball team you follow? Saturday, was my husband’s birthday “observed” – as opposed to Tuesday, his actual birthday, when we have tickets for the company seats at the Big A, whoo hoo! We hosted a pizza party/game night in his honor, so I knew that, between the prep, the party and the clean-up, I wasn’t going be able to pay as much attention to the Angels play as I would like to. Little did I know the Angels themselves wouldn’t be paying much attention to their play this weekend. Yikes!

The baseball/life parallel was a beautiful thing on Friday night. We cleaned the house and I baked a dark chocolate cake. Making this cake is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. If you cream the butter and sugar long enough and take a sufficiently light, careful hand with the folding, you have an almost ethereally light, fluffy cake. Fold too quickly or too long, or outright mix the batter, and you develop the glutens to the point where you basically have bread. A nice calm no doubter of a game was just what the doctor ordered.

Melt the chocolate, blend, combine. Vernon Wells hits a homerun. Dry ingredients, buttermilk, whipped egg whites, gently fold. Ervin Santana going strong. Back until the cake is springy to the touch. Double play to finish the game. Howie to Aybar to Tumbo. Light that baby up. And now let’s finish mopping the floor. Excellent. Great Friday! And can I just say that between their humorous sign campaign response to the sign stealing accusations and their classy welcome for Vernon Wells, I love Blue Jays fans!

Saturday, however, the whole baseball/life parallel thing started to suck. Big time. Yes, I needed to chop and prep all of the pizza toppings. Yes, I needed to make the double vanilla, cream cheese icing for the cake and that involves whipping thick ingredients. Yes, Seth had to work so I was on my own and frustrations from the game lead me to chop and whip with greater…hmmm…shall we say efficiency. But come on Angels, I didn’t need that kind of help! I’m strong lady. I can chop onions, mushrooms, garlic and the like in a good mood, would have preferred to in fact.

I was concerned about this particular Jered Weaver start heading into the game anyway. He doesn’t pitch as well when circumstances muck up the rotation. Just like in May, when illness delayed his start, Weaver seemed to come back throwing too hard and with less control after his extra rest. And for a guy who lives by pinpoint precision against a hot hitting Blue Jays team on yet another day where the Angels own bats stood still? My recipes were on the right track. This recipe, however, was one for disaster. And Pineiro’s two innings on top of it all? Ouch. Clearly he’s not working anything out in the bullpen. Is he injured? Is it psychological? Would Dave Duncan consent to maybe call and whisper to him over the phone? I got nothin’. But then I had the birthday party and a house full of people, wine to pour, pizzas on the grill and a really great time, all perfect distractions from any thoughts of Angels.

So, Sunday this would have to end right? We capped off a thoroughly decadent late night with a thoroughly decadent morning – sleeping in until first pitch and then lounging on the sofa to watch a good match up with a breakfast of leftover prosciutto pizza with blue cheese, apples and caramelized onions. And the beginning was great. Torii Hunter’s homerun. Dan Haren was dealing. Peter Bourjos smokin’ down the base paths. But it was not to be. After the game I could see one more parallel. I had a really happy Saturday night, and I was feeling it Sunday morning to a certain extent, hence the lounging. But some of the Angels and Mike Scioscia, love him though I do, must have had an even happier Saturday night. How else do you explain Bobby and Trumbo’s base running in the 9th?  Or Scioscia’s decision to go to Fernando Rodney in the 10th?

The parallels, however, have to end now. See, Seth and I are going to be enjoying pizza, cake and other party leftovers easily until Thursday, but the Angels better not be keeping too many leftovers from their weekend. Torii’s hitting streak. Bobby’s reemerging bat. The fielding perhaps. The fact that Jered Weaver is such a stud, that even after giving up eight runs in less than five innings on Saturday, he still has the lowest E.R.A. and the third lowest WHIP in the majors. These are good leftovers to keep. But the lack of clutch, the inconsistent bats and the scary bullpen moments? Leave them on the road. The Rangers are coming to town for a four game series and with this disastrous road trip the Angels are four games behind them. This isn’t the last stand of the season right here, right now but it sure is time to get serious about winning again.

Santana Pitches Another Gem and Pineiro…Well, Let’s Just Not Talk About That

Forgive me comissioner, for I have sinned. It’s been three weeks since my last Angels’ Stadium session…Hey, church of baseball and all that. 😉

Yes, Seth and I had our fair share of baseball on vacation, but it had been three weeks since we last visited the Big A. For this reason, and just plain not wanting to waste tickets, we arrived at the game on Tuesday night. Even though he had a loan customer right at closing, I was writing on deadline and the copy wasn’t flowing, and we both left work about 15 minutes before first pitch. Even though I was worried I would spend the whole game with attempts to describe open enrollment and systems migrations creatively percolating ineffectively in my brain. Even though the game was flying so quickly we arrived in the bottom of the 4th inning…ouch! Even though, I was still going to have to get on the computer and write some more when we got home. 

Here’s the funny thing about all of those worries and even thoughs, they tend to vanish once I walk inside a ballpark. For me it starts with the excitement of the fans as you walk through the gates, especially the younger children who are literally bouncing and wiggling with excitement. But the best part of that initial “I’m at the ballpark!” sensation is the first glimpse of the field from the concourse. The perfect green of the grass, the deep red of the clay and the bustle of the players, moving with the crack of the bat, all lit so brightly that it almost seems unreal, like a movie set. Gorgeous! Yes, I did have to write until after midnight when I got home, but getting to take in even the last five innings of the game was completely worth it, and I knew that the minute I saw the diamond peeking at us over the rows of field seats.

Mark Trumbo takes a swing (no, not that swing, but a good looking swing even so). Immediately after seeing that gorgeous green, Mark Trumbo blasted a Trumbomb an estimated 457 feet into centerfield. You know, just in case we had any lingering doubts about our decision to head for the ballpark. We cheered and whooped with packs of Angels fans along the concourse as we headed for our seats. And can I just say how much fun it is to hear the folks at MLBN picking up the term Trumbomb from Angels fans and giving this young man some well deserved recognition.

Trumbomb time?! Mark Trumbo takes a swing. Joe Mauer is catching. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo, in the hole for his next at bat, grins, possibly over something Peter Bourjos (to the left) said. Grin away, Mark! That was homerun number 20. He has a serious shot at beating Tim Salmon’s club rookie homerun record of 31.

Mark Trumbo, in the hole for his next at bat, grins, possibly over something Peter Bourjos (on the left) said. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Sunset over the Angels scoreboard. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was also a beautiful night and just the right temperature for an evening out at the ballpark.

Sunset over the Angels' scoreboard. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Ervin Santana had another dominant outing on the mound. It wasn’t a no-hitter. He started out a little wild, walking the first batter, Denard Span, on four pitches. And I was getting antsy listening on the radio on my way down to Anaheim. But Santana quickly got everything under control, eventually delivering a complete game, five to one win.

Ervin Santana takes the mound for the Angels. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

“Well, I figured I would throw strikes and you guys would provide error-less defensive backup.” Of course, I have no idea what Bobby Wilson, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar really said out there, and I’m sure that whatever it was it was it was much more strategic, but my inner imp of the perverse must speculate. Bobby Wilson had a strong game on both sides of the plate. I was sorry to see Hank Conger go back to AAA, though I think it’s probably for the best in terms of playing time and Hank getting his swing back. But getting to see Bobby play more and have the chance to shine is a nice consolation. Bobby and Jeff Mathis are supposed to split the catching duties at least until September call-ups.

Bobby Wilson, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar meet on the mound. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Brian Duensing takes the mound for the Twins. I always enjoy watching Duensing pitch – especially when we’re hitting him! His delivery, with that high pointed toe kick, is like a ballet dancer – all grace, control and strength. I don’t think he pitched badly so much as the Angels just had his number this time out…which was refreshing after last season, let me tell you.

Brian Duensing takes the mound for the Twins. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii Hunter takes a strong swing. Not to be outdone, Mr. Hunter took one deep for a solo homerun in the very next inning. I like this kind of competition. Come on guys, everyone try to keep up with Trumbo!

Torii Hunter begins his swing. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

The team congratulates Torii Hunter after his homerun! Can I just tell you how weird it was to see Bench Coach Rob Picciolo setting at Mike Scioscia’s desk? Or rather at the desk where Mike Scioscia sometimes hovers briefly while he wanders from the rail to the bench and back again? Scioscia is not protesting the one-game suspension meted out in response to Sunday’s Tigers game firewoks, and  served his sentence inmmediately, missing this game. On the way to the game I teased Seth that of course we knew the Angels would win this one. Scioscia’s bench coaches always have a perfect record.

Mark Trumbo, Russell Branyan, Bobby Wilson and the rest of the team congratulate Torii Hunter after his homerun. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dan Haren and Jered Weaver have a long chat in the dugout. They were laughing earlier in the inning, though they look serious here. I wish Haren had talked Weave out of appealing the suspension, if they even discussed it. I think appealing the decision is just more posturing. He isn’t going to get to duck missing one start and it would be a lot better for the team if Weave missed this weekend’s start against the Mariners instead of a later start against the much tougher Blue Jays or our pesky division rivals the Rangers, just one game ahead of us at the moment.

Dan Haren and Jered Weaver chat in the dugout. Especially after Sunday's game, one wonders what they might be discussing. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Joe Mauer at bat and out at first. I’m not going to lie, I have a soft spot for the Twins. Playing the Twins is like playing old friends…old friends that you really want to beat handily, of course. I like a lot of the players on the team. I usually wind up rooting for them in the post season when they outlast the Angels, etc. It was nice to see Mauer playing again, and as catcher too at that. He even got a hit, though I was only pleased for that after the game and only then because it didn’t lead to any runs. 😉

Joe Mauer takes one low. Bobby Wilson is catching. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Well played, Trumbo. Mauer, you're out! Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Such a first baseman! By which I mean both of them, of course. Mark Trumbo and Michael Cuddyer chat after Cuddyer reaches first, offering strong anecdotal evidence in support of the Chatty Cathy/First Baseman stereotype. The friendly conversation to total game face in a split second conversion always amuses me.

Mark Trumbo and Michael Cuddyer chat after Cuddyer reached first. First basemen! Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Cuddyer chats with Erick Aybar when he reaches second too. Yes, this is the same inning. Okay, so Cuddyer is clearly the chattier Cathy, but he’s been a first baseman longer. He knows more people. Give Trumbo time.

Erick Aybar and Michael Cuddyer chat at second base. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jeff Mathis, Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar hang out in the dugout during an Angels at bat. This photo amuses me for two reasons. First, this particular perch seems to be a coveted spot that almost always goes to the pitchers, but for whatever reason the position players got it this game. And two, Jeff Mathis appears to be either giving or receiving hitting advice…no offense Jeff, but I really hope it was the latter.

Jeff Mathis, Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar in the dugout. Is Mathis giving hitting advice or receiving it? Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Vernon Wells is out at first in the 8th inning. Wells had a fine game. He went two for three, walked and scored a run. But I liked the way this photo turned out the best, so there it is.

Vernon Wells is out at first, as Michael Cuddyer throws the ball back to the mound. Angels vs. Twins, August 2, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And as for this evening’s debacle? After four bad starts, I am officially worried that Joel Pineiro has lost  hissinker ball to an extant that may be hard to recover from this season…and don’t think my Kaz scars have healed sufficiently that I’m not jumping to dark thoughts about his abilities next season as well. However, as the title of this post suggests, I don’t want to talk about that right now.

Congratulations Ervin Santana!!!

Taking the mound Wednesday morning for the Angels and Indians rubber match, Ervin Santana did his best to make absolutely certain no pre-game write-up will ever discuss his history of failure against Cleveland again. I’d say he was successful. Wouldn’t you? 😉

Santana’s first win against Cleveland was only MLB’s third no-hitter this season, the first of his own career, and the Angels first solo no-hitter since Mike Witt pitched his perfect game against the Rangers in 1984. (Witt and Mark Langston combined for a no-hitter against the Mariners in 1990). I tell you, there are serious perks to having the number three guy in your starting rotation be of such a high caliber that when he has his control, he could be the number two or even number one guy on a lot of team’s pitching staffs. The Angels may not have the Phillys Four Aces, but you’ve got to love two aces, two not quite aces and one ace in training. Won’t get you much at the poker table, it’s true, but in the AL, it could get you pretty far indeed.

Congratulations Ervin! Very well deserved! What a personal accomplishment and what an accomplishment for the team! And well we’re at it, let’s not forget the rest of the team who helped get Santana there – Santana certainly didn’t forget them in his always humble comments after the game. Special recognition should be given to Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Howie Kendrick and Mike Trout for their bats. Torii, Howie, Bourjos and Mark Trumbo for their defense and Bobby Wilson for calling one heck of great game. The Angels have now won three series in a row and 11 of their last 14 series. And the Twins appear to have taken my Glamour List – The Baseball Edition #10 to heart, so today is a very good day indeed. 🙂 

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve mentioned once or twice in this blog that my husband and I sometimes refer to Santana as Hobbes. Well, stills from today’s no-hitter game footage, finally allow me to explain myself with a few helpful visual aids. Check this out.

Mild mannered, affable, everyday teammate with one of the sweetest, most endearing smiles in the majors:

Ervin Santana image courtesy of MLB.com; Hobbes image scanned from Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat

With game face firmly in place: 

Ervin Santana image courtesy of MLB.com; Hobbes image scanned from Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat

 Uncanny, no?

Just remember, who kicked the most behind at Calvinball? That’s right. Not Calvin. Hobbes did. Coincidence? I think not!

*    *    *    *    *

One more reason why I wish I had played hooky and stayed home to watch this game, out of a very, very long list? (Yeah right, like I’ve ever been that irresponsible in my entire life, sigh.) Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout playing together in the same outfield, with Bourjos in center and Trout in left, batting one behind the other in the same line-up. I managed to listen to the radio for Bourjos’ triple – man, that kid can fly! – immediately followed by Trout’s veteran quality battle with the pitcher culminating in a sacrifice fly to deep right center and a game tying RBI. And I got chills. Seriously. It was like the best teaser trailer for the Angels 2012 season ever. Ever.

Angels Sweep the Nationals, Presidents’ Race and All

The Angels swept the Nationals and, oh yeah, we went to a baseball game on Monday! Work has been plentiful, all consuming, fun and, occasionally, FUn this week – I came home from Monday’s game and moved a project along until 2am, that kind of fun. Between that and the games I suddenly looked up, it’s Thursday already and I haven’t posted my photos. Oh well…

Our seats for Monday night’s game were just to the foul side of the foul pole down the first base line, in the second row. Prime visitor’s section this. And, indeed, we set in front of and behind two families of Nationals fans vacationing in Los Angeles and next to a Phillies fan and his young daughters who were here on one of the middle stops of a larger baseball tour vacation. They had just come from Seattle and were headed out to Arizona then Texas. So jealous! When everyone has the right attitude, visiting fans can be a kick to enjoy the game with and all parties involved in this particular case were really nice and a lot of fun to chat/snark with.

Bobby Abreu leads off of second. Being on the field level, these seats were excellent for catching glimpses of personality on the field, some of which I got on camera. As you can see, Bobby is a talker on the base paths, especially at second base. He always wears a huge smile and gestures broadly with his hands so it is unclear for the most part if he’s goofing around, talking trash, just shooting the breeze or what. Probably a little of columns A, B and C. What little I catch of it on TV is pretty darned funny…and of course he has 13 stolen bases (not bad for one of the few ballplayers left who are older than me :)) so perhaps this is all part of his strategy. Get ‘em laughing, then break for third?

Bobby Abreu takes a lead off as he chats with the second baseman. Trash talk? Shooting the breeze? Who can say, but this is a classic Bobby on the basepaths moment. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Vernon Wells at bat. These seats were not, however, the best for views or photos of the plate. The first base umpire is always in the way. That’s okay. Ssometimes I enjoy having a closer vantage of the outfield and plays at second. Wells is continuing to heat up in June. He hit a single this at bat, which eventually lead to a run and then went four for five on Tuesday with a crucial two-run homerun. And Angels fans are starting to respond. Both developments are very welcome indeed.

Vernon Wells at bat while baserunner Bobby Abreu has lead off far off frame and Nationals First Baseman Michael Morse waits for a possible throw down. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Catcher Bobby Wilson and Pitching Coach Mike Butcher meet with Ervin Santana on the mound. Santana got off to an uneven start, giving up homeruns in the 2nd and 4th, but settled into a good rhythm after that. He lasted eight innings and on the Angels, starters don’t pitch in the 9th inning unless they’re pitching a shutout or something equally spectacular, so that’s pretty darned good.

Pitching Coach Mike Butcher and Catcher Bobby Wilson come out to the mound to give Ervin Santana a pep talk. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Just a random shot of the Angels bullpens. The bullpens at the Big A are terraced, which is a little unusual. The Angels bullpen on the lowest “step” in the front. And if you look at the photo you can see the Nationals in the visitor’s bullpen one step up and behind the home bullpen. Starting another “step” above the visitor’s bullpen you have the Left Field Pavilion seats. In this bullpen shot you can see Angels relievers Michael Kohn (standing up), Fernando Rodney, Hisanori Takashi’s translator, Hisanori Takashi and Jordan Walden kneeling down and…what? Praying? Vomiting? Spitting sunflower seeds? Catching a few ZZZs? Probably the real answer isn’t nearly as funny so I’m going to go with one of mine.

The Angels back to back home and visitors' bullpens. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The Nationals brought the Racing Presidents with them to Anaheim for the series. So was this a) an incredibly stupid idea, b) a fine example of Interleague sharing of baseball cultures and traditions, or c) I really hate Interleague and fail to see how these two comments are mutually exclusive? You make the call. I initially thought the idea was kind of dumb, only because this is the Nationals’ tradition and it’s the Angels ballpark. But it was kind of fun to see and it provided a between innings icebreaker with the Nationals fans around us. I took the opportunity to ask, so, what’s the deal with Teddy? He’s really never won? I mostly knew the answer, but it was fun hearing all about the goofy, fun tradition from fans. We’d been talking a little between innings before that, but talked a lot more often after: relievers we love/who make us cringe, hitters who are starting to do better than their batting average indicates, overinflated contracts…it turns out Angels fans and Nationals fans have a frightening amount in common.

Teddy Roosevelt prepares to loose again in the Nationals Presidents' Race...of Anaheim? Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Abe Lincoln and George Washington are neck and neck...in Anaheim? Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty meet with Pitcher John Lannan on the mound. All was going well for Lannan and the game was tied 2 to 2 until the Angels started hitting in the 6th. The Angels scored their third run shortly after this meeting and then Lannan was pulled. I love the photo because of the facial expressions and body language. I can only imagine the conversation that went with it. McCatty: Alright then, how are we going to get out of this? Lannan: Well, gee I don’t know Coach. I thought maybe I’d throw some strikes and get him out.

Pitcher John Lannan looks bemused as he meets with Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty on the mound. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo grows impatient during the meeting on the mound –  again, with being able to catch glimpses of personality from these seats. Mark Trumbo is usually as professional in demeanor as a veteran so I was amused to see him visibly impatient at another break in this already lengthy at bat, with his cheeks puffed out like an exasperated little kid. Very cute actually. He ground into a double play this at bat, but was pretty solid at the plate this series. His average is creeping back up again and he is the American League’s rookie homerun leader with 13. Coincidentally, the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa is the Rookie Major League homerun leader.

Mark Trumbo stands at the plate and puffs out his checks with impatience during a time out for a meeting on the mound. Alberto Callaspo is in the on deck circle. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during the subsequent pitching change. ‘Damn Werth, you have lots of friends over here too. You’re a real popular guy in Anaheim.’ Suffice to say, Angels fans were heckling Werth all night, which isn’t surprising. There are a few folks I see regularly in this section and the left most corner of the right field MVP section (Season ticket holders? Maybe, maybe not.) who heckle pretty much everyone, occasionally even our own players. Whether or not that was the topic of the outfielders’ conversation, I’m sure Werth is used to it by now.

The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during a pitching change. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells joke after Peter snags a fly ball to end the inning. The outfield chemistry is shaping up much better as the months role by. This is very helpful, especially with various assorted centerfielders, corner outfielders turned DH and the occasional second baseman flopping roles in the outfield on a regular basis to accommodate injuries, Interleague and random acts of lineup juggling.

Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos joke after Bourjos snaggs the catch. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yes that is Torii Hunter right in front of me in right field. The news report prior to Monday’s game was that Torii took batting and fielding practice Monday and looked good enough to return soon, possibly as soon a Wednesday. Imagine our delight when they brought him in as an unexpected substitution in the top of the 8th inning. The whole crowd erupted and we went especially crazy in the seats around right field with our welcome backs.

Torii Hunter returns to right for the first time since hitting the wall against the Marlins. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jorda Walden takes the mound in the 9th. Unfortunately this would prove to be another blown save for Walden, his third in a row, when he gave up a two-out homerun to Danny Espinosa. The young Nationals fan in front of us turned around and informed me “Blown Save”. Thanks kid, I kind of figured that one out on my own. No liner notes needed. So, am I worried about Walden? No. Not at all. When I started advocating making the rookie our closer, I knew there would be some growing pains. This is a kid who had every intention of being a starter and never thought about the closer’s role until it turned out he had quite the aptitude for it this season. So far, he has 18 saves (including last night’s) which is respectable. And when he does blow it, instead of crumbling, Walden is right back in the game to get the next batter. Monday night when he gave up the homerun, he threw the next pitch for a called strike and then coaxed the batter into a ground out to end the inning. And he was right back in the game on Wednesday night with a 1-0 lead on the line and got the save. That says something to me. We will probably witness a few more growing pains this season, but I have no doubts that Jordan Walden is our closer.

Jordan Walden takes the mound in the 9th for what would become his third blown save in a row. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Scott Downs pitches in the 10th as Howie Kendrick (who moved to first base in the 8th when Torii came in to the game) moves into position. I mentioned we were chatting about relievers with the Nationals fans? Well, Scott Downs is one of the few I never worry about. When I look over to the bullpen and see Downs warming up, with that distinctive haircut easily identifiable across the field, I breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, he has an off outing here and there, but by and large he comes in and gets it done and he has five wins for the season, as many as some teams’ starters, to prove it. Monday night and the rest of the Nationals series was no exception.

Scott Downs begins a pitch in the 10th as Howie Kendrick moves into position at first. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Brian Bixler stands on second flanked by second baseman Maicer Izturis and third baseman Alberto Callaspo. Bixler reached 2nd on an uncharacteristic fielding error by Maicer. There were an annoying number of Angels fielding errors this series actually, but we recovered from all of them to sweep. I hope the errors are more an indication of tiredness from the epic Four Corners Road Trip than anything more trend setting, shall we say.

Brian Bixler leads off second, as Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo move into position. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Peter Bourjos takes a long lead off third. I think it is safe to say that Bourjos has worked through his slump at the plate. He went four for five on Monday with one RBI and was a crucial component of the 10th inning rally, knocking a ground rules double into the stands mere feet from my seat, that put Callaspo in scoring position for Maicer Izturis’ walk-off single. Yes, when that happened I tapped the young Nationals fan in front of us on the shoulder and informed him “Walk off.” Fair’s fair right? Acutally, everyone was laughing both over the “Blown Save” and the “Walk Off.”

Peter Bourjos takes a deep lead off third. Angels vs. Nationals, June 27, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Stop the Tragedy of Minimal Run Support Today!: Another Very Special Post from TIAVSG

It’s a tragic, growing problem witnessed at ballparks across America. Starting pitchers in their prime, wasting away with dwindling win percentages due to lack of run support. Minimal run support may not seem like a problem in the beginning. It’s true, the average ace pitcher can survive on a mere run or two per game for several starts in a row, when necessary, and even seem to thrive. But make no mistake, a team’s chronic lack of run support will strike hard at the records of even the most unbeatable pitchers eventually.

Angels baseball players, don’t let this heartbreaking affliction continue to harm your favorite starting rotation. You might think the solution to such a huge problem is beyond your means but all it takes is a few quality at bats. You don’t have to hit homeruns, though we wouldn’t turn them down. Triples, doubles, even several singles a game with runners in scoring position will provide your starting pitcher with ample run support through good starts and bad.

That’s right, all it takes to return that wicked little smile to the face of a nasty pitcher in your clubhouse is a few more hits with runners in scoring position. And remember, when you give the gift of run support, you’re not only helping a deserving pitcher but you’re giving yourself the heartwarming satisfaction that only comes from knowing you made a difference…and from knowing you helped beat the visiting team into submission, of course.

So Angels, this evening, the rest of the week and on through the rest of the season, please open up your stance, swing from the heart (Stop hitting the ball anywhere near Coco Crisp!) and bring those runners home! Your pitchers are counting on you for support.

Angels fans are standing by.

Angels Slump Continues – Is It Time to Panic Yet?

 

Oh my god! The Angels lost five in a row! Weaver’s choking and Torii’s all washed up because he dropped the ball. It’s 2010 all over again. The Angels are driving me to drink. And the sky is falling. And the end of the world is coming this weekend. And, and…insert list of increasingly dire sounding hyperbole here

Actually, it was my husband who drove me to drink. Literally. In a car. Because he’s a sweetie and a half and it was our circle’s standing Wednesday night happy hour. And the further reality is, I am pretty far from panicking. Because this is not 2010. I repeat. This is not 2010.

Mind you, I’m not trying to put a pretty face on the last two weeks. This is an ugly slump and that’s all there is to it. But here’s the thing. That really is all there is to it. It’s a slump. Does it point out team weaknesses? Yes, much like any other slump does. Slumps aren’t generally known for being caused by strengths.

But, unlike May 2010, we only just slipped below .500. We haven’t been dancing around trying to climb up to it for several weeks. This season, we have a couple of guys in the bullpen in regular use that I trust every time they take the mound…which doesn’t mean they aren’t going to mess up from time to time, like this week for example, but more often than not we do have some reliable relievers. This season, the bats have been slumping off and on but this does mean that at least they have also been on at times, definitely not the case this time last season. Current scouting reports are starting to get around on our formerly hot hitting rookies, exposing some of their youthful mistakes, like Peter Bourjos’ penchant for fastballs high and away outside the zone. At the moment, it’s affecting their averages and they just need time to adapt again, much like they all managed to do when they made the jump to the big leagues.

We have given our starting pitchers run support in 2011, just not so much this month. Some of the fielding errors in this slump were the result of guys getting used to recent changes in the infield and outfield, changes that will cease to be novel soon. And, unlike the Angels great June last season, wins so far this season have been because of things the team had done right, not because of adrenaline in the aftermath of losing a teammate for the season to a crazy accident. Also, this season, when the Angels are down, I see them fighting back to regain/gain the lead. They aren’t always successful but, unlike 2010, they aren’t just giving up either.

Is Jered Weaver choking? No. I think he’s still recovering from the flu and losing so much weight in uncomfortable fashion. In hindsight, Weaver probably should have skipped his start against the Red Sox and rested a few more days before jumping back into the fray. He was showing signs of improvement to my eyes before Monday’s game. I think coming home to warmer weather might get him back on the healing track. And as for Torii, I think folks should also look at his amazing Gold Glove catch in the 7th inning before they really start judging the final missed catch. One shows us why he is a 9 time Gold Glove winner and the other shows why he’s made the switch to right. Taken together, the catches show us an Angels veteran who can still play great ball but has a few more off days than he did in his prime.

The last two weeks were a perfect storm of events resulting in a slump and the Angels just need something to break the cycle. The bad road trip is all over now. I hope the return to home cooking and their own beds is enough to jar the Angels out of this slump. If not, then I’m sure the start of Interleague play is just the ticket, hopefully this weekend but, if not, then certainly right after. Even in a bad season like 2010, the Angels do love to play the National league. Come to think of it, maybe the Angels need a standing happy hour too, like we have in my circle of friends. Forget team meetings and laying down the law. Go out together and relax for the evening. Have a tasty beverage or three. Talk, laugh and unwind until people start saying things that are so silly, they have you laughing for days after at the memory of it all. It does wonders for one’s ability to break the cycle of a bad week – or two! – let me tell you.