Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Opening Day Edition! This is the third in what we hope will be an occasional, throughout the season collaboration between this Angels blogger and Matt Lowry of Dodger Familia Thoughts, a great Dodgers blogger and friend of this blog. Between two Giants World Series wins in three years (sorry Matt 😉 ), the AL West making quite the exciting splash in September 2012 and the ensuing Postseason, and recent shrewd personnel moves throughout the AL and NL West, MLB’s attention sure seems to be packing up and heading west these days. Matt and I are both incredibly excited by this development and especially by all of the attention our teams’ offseason moves have brought to my Angels and his Dodgers. So we thought that we would share our perspective on these two Freeway Series rivals, to entertain, inform and, hey, to spark conversation and debate. Why not! East Coast bias? Nah, forget that. From now on it’s I-5 bias instead!
For this edition, we have posed six Angels and Dodgers oriented questions to be answered on both of our blogs prompted by the end of spring training and the World Baseball Classic and, of course, Baseball Fans’ Christmas Morning, otherwise known as Opening Day. We hope you enjoy this continuing freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:
So, about those less than stellar spring training records? Are you concerned? What, if anything, did you learn about your team from spring training?
Kristen says: I’m not really concerned about the Angels spring training record (or, truth be told, the Dodgers either for that matter). Split squads facing full squads. Pitchers taking the mound in unconventional innings for unusual stretches of time. Players pulled both more and less quickly than they usually would be. Minor leaguers finishing what the big leaguers start. Spring training play is just too different from regular season play for the one record to say anything predictive about the other. Besides, lately the Angels have started off their seasons with a crappy April and early May. The terrible spring training record gives me a small, odd hope that they’ve somehow gotten it out of their systems earlier this season. Now, having watched more spring training games than not, I can tell you that I am still really concerned about the Angels bullpen and only somewhat less concerned about the back end of the starting rotation. Here’s hoping that I’m just a hopeless worrywart without cause.
Matt says: as far as the records I’m not concerned at all because if you look at spring training most of the time it’s the minor league guys and Non roster guys playing so no need to worry at all. As far as what I learned in Spring I learned a few things. 1- the Dodgers minor league system is in great hands and 2- Dodgers have depth.
After watching spring training, what player(s) have particularly impressed you? What player(s) you look forward to seeing this upcoming season?
Matt says: One player I am really looking forward to seeing and Impressed by is Josh Beckett and here’s why. While Beckett isn’t going to be a Cy Young Award winner he is going to produce for the Dodgers. I believe the change of scenery will really help him this season. Another player that impressed me was Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu will have to adjust to the MLB style of play but without a doubt he can for sure get it done. He will be a treat to watch this season. Yasiel Puig also impressed many Dodger fans this spring. Even though he was sent to Double A due to no room on the roster he will be something else once he’s called up.
Kristen says: I’m still head over heels enamored with the Angels outfield — Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton. They had their rough games and bouts of butterfingers this spring training but I really got the impression they learned to work well together. Watching Bourjos get his centerfielder’s confidence back after a season spent largely on the bench was a kick and a half, as was watching Hank Conger kill it at the plate.
This is the first season with two 15 team leagues and interleague play every day. In fact, the Angels are one of the teams opening the season with an interleague series. What are your thoughts on this?
Kristen says: I’m an oddity among hardcore baseball fans in that I actually enjoy interleague play and look forward to all of the odd matchups — perhaps it’s a throwback to my childhood and all of those great DC/Marvel comic mash ups. 😉 So, on many levels, I am excited to see the Angels take on the Reds. In fact, my only annoyance with the Angels season opener is not that it’s against a National League team. It’s that the series takes place on the East Coast and most of the games are early, sticking me with the unappealing choice of either catching games that take place while I’m at work only in bits and pieces on the radio and in phone updates, or watching them on delay knowing full well that there is no way I will be able to avoid knowing the outcome of the game prematurely unless by some miracle I can avoid the entire internet, the radio, television and basically all human contact until I’m finished watching the game. I know. Not bloody likely.
As for this being the first season with two 15 team leagues, I love having an equal number of teams in both leagues at last, but still have some serious reservations about that equal number being an odd one. We’ll see how this works out.
Matt says: I honestly believe is a pretty cool yet odd thing. With Opening Day it’s the start of the season and you always want to start the season off on the right foot. Interleague games to start the season will be an odd one but will also be fun. A good example is Angles and Reds. The Reds pitching staff against the Angels line up at Great American Ballpark is a game that catches many eyes. AL vs NL contenders. I believe it is a great treat for baseball fans.
What are your thoughts on your team’s Opening Day 25-man roster? Do you have any issues or just plain surprises?
Matt says: Justin Sellers is a player that surprised me. I would’ve thought Alex Castellanos or Ellian Herrara would be on the roster but Mattingly wanted to go with Defense. Paco Rodriguez is also another surprise but the kid shown that he can pitch. That’s for a fact. He can really pitch and has a bright future with this team. Other than that I see no other surprises on the 25 man roster. Most are healthy which is great.
Kristen says: The 25-man roster is more or less what I expected. There were no surprises for me in terms of the starters and I am completely happy on that front, ecstatic even. I was thrilled, though not surprised, that Hank Conger made the roster. Hopefully 2013 is his year to really make an impact! I was pleasantly surprised to see Andrew Romine make the bench list and am excited to see what he can do. I’ve had a soft spot for the kid ever since I saw him pull off a tough force play at third with a long distance slide across the bag with the ball, just ahead of the runner. He’s rough around the edges and needs work at the plate but has good instincts and an appealing versatility. My only issue is that even, with a large personnel shuffle in the bullpen, I still don’t trust them to be consistently reliable. Prove me wrong guys. I would love nothing more than to be making heartfelt, happy mea culpas to the bullpen at the end of the season.
The World Baseball Classic was big news and now the media are debating the impact it will have on the regular season. What are your thoughts?
Kristen says: I think it’s a mixed bag and that the effects will differ from player to player. I’m thrilled silly that the Angels’ participant, Erick Aybar, emerged from the WBC with a May and June like hot bat that he shows every intention of maintaining. In the case of Aybar, who regularly plays pretty much year around between the regular season and the Dominican League, I think he actually has a chance of maintaining it and other teams will be in this same, happy little boat. Other players may start out hot but fade early having, effectively, started playing hardcore, competitive baseball a month earlier than their teammates. And, of course, WBC related injuries — many of which would not have happened during less intense ST play — will be an issue for a few teams, including the Dodgers. What we have to remember, however, is that if the unfortunate end of the WBC related effects spectrum is enough to tip the seasonal balances for any team, then one of any number of the sort of injuries/issues that managers have to anticipate during the regular season might well have had the exact same effect.
Matt says: I honestly believe it will. Hanley’s injury was something that could’ve Happened in a Spring Training game. What many fail to realize is that the WBC gets players into 9 innings shape instead if slowly getting into that game by game. It gets them ready and going and if their teams make playoffs then the atmosphere will have them set to go. So I believe for the good it will have them ready.
Bonus Bloggers’ Bias Question: So, Opening Day. Do you have tickets to your team’s home opener and what, if any, Opening Day traditions do you have?
Matt says: yes I absolutely do. This is my first FULL season as a season ticket holder and I am looking forward to it. A tradition I always have is I check my stuff the night before and put it in one place. Then I get there the next day for batting practice and to see all the festivities. Opening day is really great.
Kristen says: I am bouncing off the walls excited! Yes, we do have tickets to the Angels home opener, though it’s just about the latest home opener for any team this season so I still have a ways to go before I get to see my guys play live. For the last three seasons, our tradition has been to go to the Angels home opener. In seasons like this one where that doesn’t coincide with Opening Day, our tradition is just to watch as much baseball as possible and really soak it in after the long winter without, preferably accompanied by a nice bottle of red…or two. Sadly, this year all traditions will be bucked. I’m sick, so no wine, and the Angels are playing at 1 p.m. on a weekday so, really, no Angels. Thus this year’s ‘tradition’ is apparently watching not my team and being frustrated until the Angels hit Texas. But, you know what? Today umpires will call out those magical words, ‘Play ball!’ twelve times in regular season play, so I simply can’t be bothered to wipe the big, silly grin off of my face long enough to be upset about much of anything. Baseball is back!
Just before 5 p.m., feeding time for our baseball addiction, Seth and I crept down the mountain from the Yosemite cabin to catch the game at a truly delicious barbecue joint in Oakhurst. We have meals to cook at the cabin, despite the lack of stove, and things we want to do in the evenings that preclude a 90 minute round trip just to find an available television, so we knew we were only going to catch one more game this vacation and, as it turned out, we picked a fun one. I chose this evening’s game because I wanted to see a great pitchers’ duel and just hoped that Barry Zito would hold up his end of the bargain by building on his heroic NLCS outing. I never expected that a pitchers’ duel would fail to materialize because Justin Verlander was having an off night. But, you know what? Those cheesy Postseason commercials really are true: you can’t script October.
Usually I don’t enjoy a blowout as much as a close game, even when the winning team is the team I’m rooting for, but who could possibly call themselves a baseball fan and not enjoy Pablo Sandoval’s three homerun game? …Well…okay, fine…Tigers fans get a pass on this one. 😉 Sandoval is now only the fourth player to hit three home runs in a Postseason game. Talk about complete and utter Panda-monium in the Bay Area! Also, I think that this one-sided score doesn’t really tell the whole story. From what I saw, yes, the Tigers absolutely gave up when Verlander got shelled, but they also recovered and tried valiantly to get back in the game at the end there, it was just too little, too late. The end result was a dazzling display of highlight reel worthy diving and leaping defensive plays on both sides. With the Tigers showing strong signs of life at the end to the point that the Giants blew through three relievers to get the last three outs, tomorrow’s game could be a different story. But, a story with a similar Giants ending or one more to the Tigers liking, who can say. See previous comment about commercial cliches, scripting and October.
Woah, Woah, Woah. What’s with all this Giants Stuff?
Okay, okay. I know what you all must be thinking, reading my last few posts. Is this an Angels blog or some sort of weird hybrid Giants/Nationals/Orioles blog heavier on the west coast bias than on the east? Have the Angels finally driven this blogger so crazy that she’s lost all focus? Now that’s just crazy talk. Of course this is an Angels blog. But this is October, the Angels almost-an-October never quite materialized, and I will be damned if I spend the month mourning the lack of Angels to such a degree that I miss out on the LAST FEW WEEKS OF BASEBALL before the looooong wintery time without.
Even as a huge fan of the game, it’s so much more fun to root for someone than just to watch with no skin in the game, so once the Angels are out of the running, I pick other teams to root for. Borrowed skin, as it were. No, this isn’t being a bandwagon fan. Bandwagon fans hop on that bandwagon in good times and pretend they’re diehards from way back before jumping right off again in bad times. No bandwagon fans here. I am simply shamelessly loving the one I am with, namely your team, for a week or two or however long they last in the postseason because I can’t be with the one I want…and I have absolutely no problem explaining that. …Also, yes, my father did raise me with an appreciation for the classics and generally excellent taste in music. Why do you ask? 😉
This postseason my adopt a team philosophy has lead me to root for the Nationals – because they’d never been to the World Series as Expos or Nationals and I like rooting for a lovable underdog – the Orioles – because of their long World Series drought, see previous discussion of the Nationals – the A’s – because they had a fun team this season despite the fact that I almost never root for another AL West team also I couldn’t very well break tradition now and root for the Yankees – the Tigers – see previous conversation about the A’s – and the Giants because of family ties…
Our Blogger Heroine’s Strange Origins
…Long story shortened, I am the lone living Red sheep (my grandfather was a diehard Angels fan) in a family split on both my mother’s and my father’s sides between the Dodgers fan base and the Giants. Oddly enough, this means I grew up with a weird affection for both teams. But Kristen, how can you like both teams? Don’t you know about the Dodgers/Giants rivalry? Hello, did you not just read the previous two sentences? I have family on both sides of the rivalry…family who share food across the table at holiday gatherings…holiday gatherings that take place in the months following the baseball postseason. Savvy?
Such passion, while often contentious, is also contagious so, as improbable and downright wrong as this sounds, I have both an affection and a respect for the Dodgers and the Giants that still pales in comparison to my diehard passion for the Angels. I follow the Dodgers and the Giants out of the corner of my eye while I’m watching the Angels all season. I know the players on both teams and generally wish them both well. If either the Dodgers or the Giants makes it to the Postseason and there are no Angels to root for, then I’m rooting for that team. If both of them ever make it to the Postseason and there are no Angels to root for, well then I’ll probably root for the Dodgers – my immediate family are the Dodgers fans, so I grew up going to games in Chavez Ravine – and try to lay low on FaceBook when the cousins start trash talking. So, you see, it doesn’t matter that I felt nothing particularly for or against the Reds, that I generally like the Cardinals, and that I think the Tigers have a pretty fun team this season. This Giants rooting thing was as inevitable as it is fun and strictly relegated to an Angel-less October.
Silly as it sounds, after Sunday’s game I felt somewhat deflated. But two better spring training outings for the Angels was all it took to return the buoyancy to my mood. First and foremost, the regular pitchers and most of the core bullpen candidates both days looked good – a little rust here and there, a couple of instances where the pitch placement could still use a little work, but on the whole very good.
I got to see the debut of our most likely new outfield configuration – all centerfielders, all the time with Vernon Wells in left, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right. I loved it! Between the three of them they cover a lot of ground and seem to work well together. Bourjos seemed to have a little trouble calling off Wells at first, but he came around much like he did last season with Torii and Bobby Abreu.
I think I have now seen the real Mike Trout and I too am impressed. That was a heck of a catch at the end of this afternoon’s game and he made it look absolutely effortless. And when he does get the bat on the ball, you can see the power there. I like this all centerfielder outfield idea and think Trout will fit in just fine when the time comes to replace one of the centers currently in the corners.
We’re nailing the double plays!! One of the first indications I had that things were amiss in 2010 was how few and far between the jaw dropping double plays, once an Angels hallmark, had become. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the guys nailing that 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 again! Also, the fielding so far has been error free, which is especially nice to see so early in spring training.
We have bats! Everyone who should be hitting has had at least one good solid hit in the last three games (remember, each player in question has only played about one full game worth of innings in those three games) except Torii, and Torii’s bat usually doesn’t really heat up until late April. I would jump for joy if it happened earlier, of course, but I’m not going to panic when it doesn’t. Yes, this does mean that Jeff Mathis, Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and even Brandon Wood all had hits – Wood’s a hard hit double in his spring training debut today. I don’t know if this will last in all cases but it sure was good to see.
Certain old bad habits were still evident. Eighth and ninth inning excitement: Monday’s game against the A’s was 8 to 2 Angels going into the eighth inning and the final score was 8 to 7. Stranding runners on the bases: seven runners were left in scoring position in today’s game against the Reds. Failing to strike again: today’s game was another score in the first inning and never again outing. Aybar’s base running: he’s like the little girl with the little curl and today’s game was one of the horrid outings. But I’m not really concerned about this, this early on. These observations, good and bad, are all based on one two-game snapshot and I think early spring training games, where the pitchers change every one to two innings and all of the regular position players are out of the game by the 6th inning, are not the best representation of how the regular season will progress. I’m just grounding myself by taking note of the worrisome things along with the hopeful ones.
The baseball fever is so thick in my house that my husband actually convinced me to go play catch with him in the park the other day. Seth never played baseball growing up, not beyond the usual neighborhood pick-up games. I played softball in the local park and rec ponytail league from t-ball up through the beginning of high school but I haven’t touched a glove with any intent beyond catching a ball at batting practice in more than 15 years. So it was odd that he would ask and odder still that I would accept. I think that maybe seeing all of the young minor leaguers play a day game in such a small setting brings more nostalgia for the games you played in your own youth than a regular baseball game.
Playing catch? It’s not like riding a bicycle. Not after more than 15 years anyway. My arm is so much spaghetti, it’s embarrassing and, after this much time, it actually stings to catch the ball bare handed. But I’m still reasonably reliable with the glove and was even able to jump and stretch high to catch a few like back in the old days. And the unmistakable thunk of a perfect throw landing solidly in his glove the few times I managed a good one is absolutely addicting – childhood, laughter and fun all bottled up in a single sound. Yes, I will do this again. It was a lot of fun and I am way too stubborn not to give it another try. Besides, I’m not talking trash here but, um, I’m not the one with the sore shoulder today…he he he.