I’m very excited! Look what the mailman brought me:
World Baseball Classic tickets! Yes, Seth and I are going to spring training this year — a first for both of us! It will be the Arizona Baseball Extravaganza. We have our accommodations set, the requisite time off work and a fun, full list of spring training plans. We have tickets to Angels vs. D-Backs on 3/8, Angels vs. Rockies on 3/9 and the WBC games at Chase field for our evening’s entertainment. Sunday, we’re still not sure. We might go to the WBC game, or see what other ST game we can nab cheap lawn seats at, or maybe just grab breakfast and head back to L.A. So, hey, if anyone else is going to ST that weekend and wants to say ‘Hi’ and/or if any of you ST veterans have a great restaurant, bar and/or other must see suggestions, please let me know in the comments. Like I said, we’re very excited spring training newbies.
The itinerary sounds like heaven to Seth and I, but I am aware that this is a lot of baseball. The last time we tried to baseball all day long, at the Angels/A’s double header, we discovered a noticeable, yet far from unworkable, difference in our baseball thresholds. If you recall, the first game wasn’t exactly a short one and the second game went into extra innings. I wanted the second game to go on for as many innings as necessary for an Angels victory — an Angels victory that, alas, did not materialize — while suddenly, about the 10th inning, after some 9 hours of baseball, Seth was ready to be done. We stayed until the end — because he loves me very, very much and is a wonderful husband — but that last inning was a little much for him.
Now, we have agreed that what this really says is that I am a crazy person and not that he is a wimp. No, really, I would be that insane fan still watching the game from our seats at 2 a.m…in the 18th inning…on a week night…in the rain…with an early meeting awaiting me the next day, while Seth would have more sensibly wanted to go home sometime around midnight or so and at least be dry while catching the end of the game on the radio. However, knowing that this crazy person/passionate yet more sensible fan discrepancy exists is highly useful information and is the reason we’ve left the exact number of WBC we’re attending TBD and Sunday wide open to any whim that might take us. We’ll figure out what makes us both happy this trip, and know better how to plan for future baseball trips. But, however things work out, I know we’re going to have a blast together! We always do.
In the meantime, yes, I know the Angels have yet to win a game. I guess that’s supposed to concern me, but I have a really hard time getting too wound up about the overall record of extra early Spring Training games, when we’re still changing pitchers every single inning, changing the majority of the lineup at the 3rd/4th inning and again at the 6th/7th inning and during which few if any of the regular players are even on the field. And especially not when most of the pitchers MLB-wide are so very, very rusty. This is the very reason we have spring training — so that it’s February and March that look like this, instead of April and May. So, for now, I’m just going to revel in the glorious sounds of baseballs striking leather gloves and the crack of the bat on nicely hit balls — all of which sound so much clearer and more true to the live sounds of the ballpark on a ST broadcast than they do on a regular season broadcast where you have so much more crowd noise and sound-baffling cement – and in the promise of hearing those sounds live and seeing more improved performances and more regular players in just a few weeks.
(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)
It all started with an absolute dearth of run support — because if what the rest of the Angels’ starting rotation experienced early in the 2012 season was a lack of run support, then clearly we must resort to stronger vocabulary when describing the strange case of Ervin Santana. In his first six starts of 2012, the team scored exactly three runs for Santana and all three of those came during his rocky first start against the Royals. The end result was an 0 and 6 record that belied his steady improvement over that time period which culminated in two quality starts, including the final game of that stretch wherein he struck out 10.
Unfortunately for Santana and our impressions of his season, his quality starts only overlapped with the Angels improving offense for two wins in May before his control slipped again. Then Santana began having entirely different issue with runs, namely with giving them up, frequently in the form of early inning bombs launched solidly into the stands. After a dismal performance in Colorado that can only partially be blamed on the stadium’s notorious altitude, fans had all but forgotten any quality starts.
But just as more and more fans were calling for a change, ‘Hey, that Garrett Richards kid looks pretty good. Once Jered Weaver comes off the DL, couldn’t we…’ Santana threw everyone a curve, pitching a one-hit shutout against the D-Backs that for six and two-thirds glorious innings was perfect in every sense of the word. Okay, so what do you do with a conundrum like that? It’s the strange case of Ervin Santana, indeed.
We all know the Angels’ most likely answer. Sometime this week, perhaps even as I post these thoughts, Jered Weaver will come off of the DL and Garrett Richards will head back to AAA. The Angels typically back the veteran, but in this case I don’t think fans should take issue with the decision. Yes, the four games leading up to Saturday’s gem were ugly, but Saturday didn’t happen in a vacuum. Lost amid the Angels’ April and early May offensive woes were enough strong starts to indicate that Santana’s latest flirtation with control issues, however hot and heavy it may have seemed, is just the same old on again, off again fling he’s had his entire career and not an all encompassing, season long relationship.
Looking at Santana’s record for the last four seasons, he heats up with the weather, giving the Angels strong Julys and Augusts, even during seasons where he’s struggled. I’m not saying that every start is going to be sunshine and rainbows from here on out but, given the near perfection we just witnessed, I think the Angels would be foolish not to at least see what late June and July have in store. If this weekend turns out to be an aberration and Santana’s control reverts to Colorado-like performances, it’s not like they can’t bring Richards (who pitched his own weekend gem) back up again.
Besides, we Angels fans know how our team has a tendency to torture…er…thrill…um, er…thrillingly torture?…us with more excitement in the eighth and ninth innings than is strictly necessary even at the best of times. Smart fans stocked up on plenty of antacid back in March. You know, just in case…
This week, the Angels proved once more that not only can you go home again, but you can rack up the Ws while you’re there. Okay, so Dodgers Stadium is more of that ‘on again, off again friend’s house where you sublet a room for a lot longer than originally intended during the awkward transition between your suddenly waaaaay too small first apartment and your first home purchase’ for the Angels than an actual home, but you get the general idea.
Seth and I went to the Tuesday night game, the only game the Angels lost in the series…of course my Dodgers fan sister went to the Wednesday night game, and that was her first baseball game in years, so we can’t always get what want and sometimes the Rolling Stones just might write a song about it, or something like that.
Tuesday night, the Angels only scored on Dodgers errors, which kind of sums up that game, really – neither team played particularly well. Joe West was just being Joe West, which is to say terrible and arrogant in his own ineptitude while he was at it. But the fact of the matter is that if the Angels had played better ball the blown call would not have mattered. It pissed me off most mightily at the time, but such is baseball. Sometimes you win the terrible calls, sometimes you lose the terrible calls and sometimes only great calls rain down upon both teams…just generally not in games officiated by Joe West.
The rest of the series, however, was great. Go figure, the “still best record in the majors even though they’ve been losing more since Matt Kemp went on the DL again” Dodgers have a pretty good team and the Angels gave them a run for their money and won. I prefer it when the Angels are hitting a little better and not leaving so many guys on base. However, they usually came up with just what they needed to do to win (Like Erick Aybar coming through in the clutch with a homerun into the Dodgers bleachers?!? Wow!! You just can’t script this stuff!) and I tend to think that the bats were suffering from a little altitude lag, if you will, after the series in Colorado rather then this being indicative of a troubling trend. I think they’ll be fully recovered this weekend.
The pitching looked good. Oh, Garrett Richards had those rocky first two innings, but he recovered, and Jerome Williams looked great, he just was left in one inning two long, hind sight being 20/20. And C.J. was dealing. The bullpen was decidedly the good bullpen and defense made me all kinds of happy…on Monday and Wednesday at any rate. This time out, Albert at 3rd looked really awkward on Tuesday – I mean reeeeeaaaaaalllly awkward – and the rest of the infield kind of followed suit, leading to a wise retuning of everyone to their normal positions in the 7th. Hey, small sample sizes. This could still work to get Kendrys in the lineup one or two more times this month…or not. We’ll see.
And now I leave you with a return to one of my favorite pastimes last season, fun with captions:
One of the best things about starting this blog has definitely been my interactions with fellow bloggers. You are all amazing, inspiring writers and a lot of fun to read, the perfect accompaniment to any baseball season good or bad. And, in the last few weeks, two fun opportunities have come my way as a result of these interactions.
Our colleague Matt, who writes the kickass Dodgers MLBlog Dodger Familia Thoughts, hosts a Live Radio/Podcast called Think Blue Weekly on Blog Talk Radio. He has invited me to join him for a special Freeway Series episode this Sunday at 8 pm PT. So, if you would like to hear me embarrass myself in public – I’m very much a blogger not a talker 😉 – or, more importantly, check out Matt’s work, tune in at this webpage http://www.blogtalkradio.com/think-blue-weekly on Sunday.
In other news, in addition to this blog I am now a columnist with L.A. Angels Insider, a much larger, well respected member of the Halosphere. Please check them out!
As for the Angels, ah, Interleague! Interleague play is back in full swing for 2012 which means, of course, that the Angels are on a tear. I’m one of those odd duck baseball fans who actually enjoys Interleague play – teams playing at highly unusual venues, DC/Marvel comic mash up worthy matchups, AL pitchers batting, need I say more? The fact that the Angels happen to kick ass at Interleague play is merely the icing on the cake – rich, delicious, cream cheese butter cream icing thickly slathered over every inch of the cake’s exterior and in between each moist layer, mind you, but the icing never the less.
Just a couple of random thoughts from the weekend:
- So far Colorado has been good for most Angels batting averages but it has truly been the Trouty and Torii Show! Those two need their own theme song to accompany a montage of their hits and feats of daring do from the series so far. Maybe it could be kind of like M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, only punctuated with the sounds of clobbered baseballs flying off of wooden bats instead of machine guns.
- Sometime closer, sometime setup man Ernesto Frieri has proven that he is in fact human, having given up two hits as an Angel now, but continues to blow away the competition. Okay, so two guys reached first. It’s not like it did them any good. Listening to MLBN rehash Brandon McCarthy’s ‘Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ tweet it occured to me that what he should have tweeted was ‘Frieri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ because unlike Siri, Ernasty knows how.
- So Albert Pujols can play third and Kendrys Morales looked pretty darned good at first, all things considered. Neither is a great long term option at this time. Besides, I seem to remember hearing something about Pujols’ throwing elbow having issues when he spends too much time at third. Cardinals fans or other longtime Pujols fans, care to confirm, deny, or otherwise elaborate? But it’s nice to know that the Angels do have this option. And, yes I’m a softy, but seeing Kendrys’ huge grin over getting to play in the infield once again, however briefly, was touching and sweet.
- LaTroy Hawkins is back from the DL and he looked pretty darned good! Welcome back good sir. The bullpen has been trying valiantly in your absence with some definite success – and some scarier moments I’d rather not remember sufficiently to write about them – but we need every good arm we can get! And Jered Weaver is expected to throw off the mound on Monday and return from the DL on schedule. Reportedly his back feels fine now. I pretty much want to just type ‘yay’ over and over again with many, many exclamation points, filling this page The Shining-style but, you know, in a psycho happy way instead of just a psycho way over that bit of news, but I’ll spare you…for now. Once he’s officially back with the team, I make no guarantees. 😉
In no particular order:
- Newflash, watching the Angels win is far, far better than the alternative and this week has certainly offered sufficient evidence of both outcomes to prove that theory.
- I think our offense has narcolepsy. They’re awake, they’re awake! Nope, they’re down for the count again. Hey, they’re awake! Whooops, not any more. But overall I do think they’re getting better.
- Oh yeah, and Albert Pujols hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform today and we were…sitting in our living room watching it on TV. 😉 Had you going there for a minute didn’t I? But seriously, I am glad he hit it. I am thrilled that he got that monkey of the decidedly non rally variety off of his back. Now, hopefully everyone can stop fixating on the homeruns, especially Albert, and he can just get back to hitting his game. The rest will come…as long as he stops pressing like he was again on the very next at bat.
- On a semi related frivolous note, I suppose that now, even though he is absolutely not superstitious and shaving the goatee off had nothing to do with trying to change his luck, *nods – uh huh, we believe you Albert ;)* we’ll be seeing a lot more of clean shaven Albert.
- The Angels’ dugout reaction to the homerun was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. In case you missed it, they didn’t just give Pujols the silent treatment. The entire dugout, players, coaches, assistants, everyone, left the dugout and went back into the tunnel so that Albert was greeted with a ghost town after crossing the plate. He cracked up and ran into the tunnel after them and they all boiled out together, laughing, clapping him on the back and high fiving everyone in sight. It was beautiful, hilarious and touching! You are all great teammates!!
- These Blue Jays? They’re pretty darned tough. The first pitch swinging – especially the connecting part – was really throwing our pichers off and those outfield arms are sick!
- What the heck was up with that Tim Welke call at first in the Rockies/Dodgers game? All I know is that all of those terrible old jokes about women and parallel parking must forever cease because rearranging the to match a punch line of “because Tim Welke says three feet away is that same thing as on the bag” would be much funnier.
- This was a terrible week for injuries. Obviously the most poignant was Mariano Rivera. Watching him tear up while talking to reporters about missing the season made me tear up. I don’t think it’s possible to be a baseball fan and not love and respect Mariano. My heart goes out to the Yankees family and I was so glad to hear that he will not retire because of the injury but plans to rehab for a return in 2013 instead.
- It’s not nearly as serious or sad as Mariano, but the Angels temporarily lost the only two relievers who don’t scare me on a regular basis to injury within the span of three pitches in the 9th inning today. Scott Downs injured his knee dodging a one out single and then LaTroy Hawkins broke a finger fielding the comebacker turned into game winning double play during the very next at bat.
- So, um, given the previous point, the next few series might be a little interesting, hopefully in the sense of enthralling and intriguing as opposed to the Hoban Washburne definition of ‘Oh my god, oh my god, we’re all going to die.” My solution? *Adopts her best Lumbergh impression* Jered, Danny, Ervin? We’re gonna need you to come back in and pitch in the 8th inning, okay. Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, we’re also gonna need you to go ahead and keep pitching in the 9th, too…” Seriously, it may be the only solution!
- No, I’m sure plenty of perfectly normal people mix that many references together in one thought. Why do you ask?
- Completely off topic, but you’re used to that from me by now – I saw The Avengers this afternoon after the game and it rocks all socks, stripy and/or otherwise, everywhere. No worries, there will be no spoilers here. But let me just say that I have been jonesing for The Avengers movie ever since the teaser end of Iron Man before Samuel L. Jackson uttered word one, standing there in the unmistakable Nick Fury eye patch with all of my Heinlein reading, Star Wars loving, Hitchhiker’s quoting, former comics devouring, pair of 10-D carrying geek girl’s heart. So the bar was high and I still think the movie turned out to be everything a comic book action movie should be.
- I’m on Twitter now. Yep, I finally broke down and decided that ‘everyone else is doing it’ was as good an excuse as any. I’ve found some of you so far. If you like tweeting with fellow bloggers, please come find me at @SimpleGame. 🙂
…Or is it? Oh, I don’t mean are the Angels still keeping Jeff Mathis. Jerry Dipoto made his first personnel move as the Angels manager on Wednesday, trading rookie pitcher Tyler Chatwood to the Rockies for catcher Chris Iannetta and, by all accounts, one of his next moves will be to non-tender Jeff Mathis and I am beyond okay with this. I think Mathis is a good guy and the pitchers love him. And he is rather good at take down plays at the plate. But there are also all of the mental errors in throw down situations and, ugh, that batting average. Yes, Mathis has a pretty swing to be sure but, after this many seasons, I’ve stopped waiting for the pretty swing to become a productive swing and just reflexively cringe whenever the guy steps into the batter’s box.
Suffice to say, I’m not going to miss Mathis much and would be thrilled to get an actual bat in the catcher’s position. And, initially, I was quite seduced by Iannetta’s lifetime .238 average and typical double digit season homeruns numbers…okay, so they’re just barely double digit and .238 isn’t that great a batting average for anyone who isn’t a catcher but compared to the lifetime .197 average and “he holds the record for most home runs…hit on opening day…on his birthday” stats that I’m used to? Please, that there is a hitting dynamo.
…But then I slowed down my ridiculous happy dance and began to think, hmmm. Rockies player. Batting in the land where balls hit with a stick fly freely into the upper deck and pitchers fear to tread. What are this guy’s road splits like? Ugly, as it turns out. Looking up to Mathis’ .197 most seasons, in fact. And the happy dance is slowing down. Sllloooooooowing down. And we’re stopping now. Well, yuck. And by yuck I really mean something that rhymes with yuck and has more of a Van Halen album title-ish vibe to it, but this is a family blog, or something like that.
I’m not crying foul on this trade yet. Maybe I’ve just been scarred by Vernon Wells’ last season and the home/away splits that preceded it. Maybe Iannetta’s splits have more to do with really feeling comfortable with the home crowd, the home clubhouse, home cooking, home anything but the Earth’s yellow sun like properties that Coors Field has on the would-be Superman bats of hitters ranging anywhere from mediocre to awesome. Maybe?? Or, maybe my pessimistic thoughts are more akin to realistic thoughts in this case.
In an interview today on Clubhouse Confidential Jerry Dipoto was asked about this very thing and chose the more optimistic interpretation of the splits. On the one hand, of course he would, he just made the deal! On the other hand, he did work for the Rockies and has some insight into the players. Then again, when asked what primary characteristic sold him on Ianetta, Dipoto said, He walks. A lot. Okay. So, what then? Iannetta is the Italian demi-god of walks?
Anyway, National League folks, or anyone else who knows a lot more about this player than I, lay it on me. What do you think of this acquisition?
And as for the trading away Tyler Chatwood, I don’t mind it terribly. I thought he was good, poised beyond his tender years, and showed promise as a bottom half of the rotation starter. I was less than thrilled with his strikeout to walk ratio and with how early and how well and thoroughly he sputtered out during his rookie season. I know that it will take another season to determine if that’s indicative of a long term flaw or just rookie stretching out and growing pains, but I still don’t view trading him as a bad thing, not that I would have minded keeping him either. Of course, if the Rockies turn around and trade him to the Rangers tomorrow and Chatty proceeds to take revenge on the team who scorned him by having a career year and sitting our asses down one by one all season long, I may revise my opinion somewhat.
Scarred, who? Me? 😉
The quote I used for my headline? It was easily the best comment of the night at Taps Fish House and Brewery where Seth and I decided to go for a late dinner in the bar Saturday. We were giddy from the live baseball treat of the afternoon – and scoring opening day tickets that morning! – wanted more and figured it wouldn’t take much effort to sweet talk the Taps bar staff into putting the Rockies/D-Backs game on one of the TVs. It didn’t. Our favorite bartender, the Angels fan who pumps us for details every time we hit Taps after a ballgame’s, eyes got huge when we asked for a channel change. “There’s still a game on! I thought I missed them all today.”
Well thank goodness for the MLB network’s delayed airing because I think all of the baseball fans in the bar were in the same boat. No one apparently thought to put the game on before we arrived, but the minute it was on the TV half of the eyes in the bar were glued to it…and it’s not like there were any Rockies or D-Backs fans in the bar, just a bunch of baseball starved locals. The headline comment came shortly after that from a guy sitting at one of the tables behind us. One of his friends chided him for paying so much attention to the game and this was his response, delivered loudly, with a great deal of passion and a sweeping gesture at the screen. We at the bar, several bartenders included, responded with approving hollers.
It was a great evening. Out with my husband, an honest to goodness game at the bar, good food, tasty beverages and a lot of baseball fans to talk to – from the friendly, talkative Red Sox fan beside me, to the Angels fans on both sides of the bar who echoed our boo when he used the term “rebuilding year” in reference to the Halos. In many ways, Taps is my ideal game day bar. I would spend more games there if I didn’t also spend so much money there every time I go.
So imagine my excitement about the Angels/Dodgers game today! Meh. As it turned out, I would have been a lot happier if they had aired yesterday’s game instead. Today the Angels gave the starters and most of the second string the day off and let the kids have a work out. Alas, against the Dodgers first string, the kids were not alright. I’m aware that this is the nature of spring training. It’s more about giving everyone a workout, giving the kids some experience and a tryout and working through any issues before the season starts than it is about winning. But still, 5-0 ouch.
With the spirit of spring training in mind, I think there were a few important take aways. First, Kaz was throwing hard and throwing strikes! Even in the first inning and Scott Kazmir is prone to rough first innings. Granted, the Dodgers hit him – five hits and three earned runs in the two innings he pitched. But I think this was inconclusive, and I am not inclined to make excuses for Kaz. I think if he had the Angels starters behind him, that stat would have been better, more like two or three hits and one run. But you never know. I want to see more before the season starts but the fact that I do want to see more at all is positive. Maybe…maybe…well, we’ll see.
Here are some other thoughts I had watching the game. Bobby Wilson is taking spring training very seriously and looked strong both behind the plate and at bat. His increased speed and agility was a bright spot in the game for me. Hank Conger on the other hand looked rusty. I’m not really worried. I’ve seen him do a lot better than that, but if he wants a shot a starting catcher he needs to pick up the speed on his throw down to second a lot. I don’t know what to think of Mike Trout. He hit a nice solid single in the first inning and made one catch in center that his speed made look a lot easier than it was. Other than that, however, he looked like he kind of phoned it in, which I don’t like. But it is just one game. Mark Trumbo needs a lot of work at first. He made some good plays and some really clumsy ones. He’s wearing Mike Napoli’s Angels’s jersey number 44 this season and between the homerun yesterday and, alas, the lack of performance with runners in scoring position today, this seems appropriate. Fernando Rodney’s rustiness looks suspiciously like right where he left off last season.
Watching this game, it was obvious that, like most teams, the Angels have a lot of minor league players who will never be major league players. Andrew Romine, on the other hand? I liked his instincts when he came up this September, sliding across third with the ball to get the seemingly impossible force out. He had a good solid hit today and made one nice diving play at short, his throw just missing getting the speedy runner out at first. I look at him and think, interesting, maybe in a few years? Suffice to say, I need to see a lot more of spring training and the kids – and some of the veterans – need to play a lot more before I form stronger opinions. Fortunately, this was only game two and tomorrow the regular starters are supposed to play. And it’s all still exciting. In the words of random Taps bar guy, these aren’t just spring games. It’s live baseball! It’s been like four months, man!