What do you make of a team that can’t get it done at the plate for three games straight against the A’s, games that were about as close to do or die as it gets, but then rallies to shut out the A’s for the 4th game and never stops fighting to come back – twice! – to win their first game against the Royals? A team that falls victim to their own bullpen on Saturday only to be saved by a stellar bullpen performance on Sunday? I feel like I’ve been asking these same questions and similar ones all season long and darned if I’m any closer to an answer in September than I was in April. Here’s the thing though, despite the setbacks, the Angels continue to make progress in the Wild Card race. And that fact makes me giddy excited. These Angels may be alternating between frustrating and exhilarating, but they are absolutely not giving up and October is not out of the question by any means. Oh…and when they’re exhilarating, the way they play the game makes up for a lot.
Jered Weaver’s Back
Back and simply as good as ever! Putting at ease any concerns fans had about an adjustment period, Weaver picked up right where he left off before his bicep tendonitis issues. Looking every bit his old self, Weaver shut the A’s bats down, allowing the Angels to salvage one game from the series. Clearly, Angels’ bats and fielding were also to thank for this victory, but Weaver’s strong return set the tone and turned things around at a point when the Angels season was on the very brink of the point of no return. The decision for AL Cy Young winner may not be as clear cut in Weaver’s favor as it was before his injury, but if that isn’t the very definition of Ace then I don’t know what is.
There Are Only 2.5 Weeks Left in the Regular Season!
I simply cannot wrap my brain around this fact. I feel like the 2012 season has just flown by. Enough with this football thing! Off the television set with it, I say…at least temporarily. It can’t be football season already. We need, like another month or more of the regular baseball season. I am absolutely loving how crazy, awesome this year’s September baseball has been and, of course, I love October baseball for its own self, completely separate from the regular season. But September and October mean that November is not far behind and November means the beginning of the long countdown to April and I’m really not ready for that yet, so there.
What’s that you say? Therapy?! Pshaw! Whatever for? I say the only solution is to go to as many games as I can during the Angels last regular season home stand. (Which begins tonight. *sob*) Now, that’s my idea of therapy and, lucky me, my “sessions” begin with seats tonight!!
So in the current baseball world order, the AL absolutely dominates the Home Run Derby, the NL sometimes allows the AL to score during the All Star Game, but only when they’re feeling especially generous, and the NL also just pretty much owns Ron Washington. Do I have that about right? Oh what a difference a few years makes! And that’s a good thing actually. Sports trends, both winning and losing, are meant to be bucked and dynasties to be crumbled. In the end, it makes all of the teams work harder and the whole thing just that much more fun for the fans.
As for this year’s All Star Game, wow. And, by wow, I mostly mean yikes! And, to a lesser degree, *facepalm* While it did contain many memorable and touching moments, I’m sorry but out and out shellackings are always a snooze fest, especially for the fans rooting for the shellacked. I do understand what I perceive to be Ron Washington’s motivation to allow all of the starters an opportunity to hit before he removed them from the game, and to allow each starting pitcher to finish a full inning, but I just can’t get behind it. Trying to give everyone a chance to really play is an absolutely lovely sentiment…for Little League.
Yes, the All Star Game is an exhibition meant to delight the fans and give the players a chance to share the field with the best of the best among their peers. But it’s also supposed to be a good game. An entertaining game. A game both sides are trying their hardest to win. And then there is that tiny little matter of the All Star Game determining home field advantage in the World Series, the importance of which should be crystal clear to Washington after two very painful demonstrations in as many years. If the team you have on the field isn’t getting it done and you have a dugout full of All Stars at your disposal, you might want to flip some folks out before the 6th inning, or maybe get the pitcher off the mound before he allows that 5th run, even if it is only the 1st inning. I’m just sayin’.
Oh well, at least the Angels All Stars played well. And I do love hearing the MLBN analysts and other national media oohing and aahing over Angels players, especially when it’s so richly deserved this season. Of course, for Angels fans, the highlight has to be the Home Run Derby. TrumBomb. TrumBlast. Heck even TrumBoner. All of these phrases coined by Angels fans and our local media for our hometown hero have now reached the National consciousness as they tripped off the tongues of Derby commentators with increasing frequency and passion while a veritable TrumBlitz assaulted the walls and waterfalls of Kaufmann Stadium.
In fact, while Trumbo placed third in the Derby, I think it’s safe to say that after Monday night, the national baseball viewing public experienced the latter phrase themselves, at least a little bit. Don’t worry, America, you don’t need to call your doctor if it lasts for more than 4 hours. We’re going on two seasons out here in Southern California with only positive side effects. And the best thing about Trumbo’s Home Run Derby performance? What the analysts kept saying of Prince Fielder is just as true for Trumbo, that is his normal, everyday swing. All of those stupendous, crazy, I can’t believe he hit the ball that far and didn’t even fully extend his arms bombs? Yeah. Normal. Let’s just say that batting practices before Angels games are pretty epic.
Anyway, if you’re interested, I wrote more about Mark Trumbo’s Home Run Derby appearance and tackled the dreaded Home Run Derby Curse for the LA Angels Insider blog. If you get the chance, please check it out. 🙂
Sunflower & Show Me State Boo Birds
Yeah, I couldn’t very well write an All Star festivities article, however brief, without attacking this divisive subject, now could I? Here’s my 2-cents on Royals fans booing Robinson Cano for the entirety of his Home Run Derby appearance and I would love to get your take on it in the comments, along with your Trumbo Love and other ASG thoughts you may wish to share. My apologies to Billy Butler fans everywhere, but Cano clearly made the correct choices in assembling his Home Run Derby team. The AL team absolutely rocked with the lone exception of Cano himself. Where Cano Royally – pun well and thoroughly intended – f’d up is not in neglecting to include a Royals representative on the team, it was the fact that he had previously indicated he would like to include a Royals representative on the team, that he felt it was the right thing to do, and then neglected to include said Royals representative. Cano never should have made such a comment – or promise depending on your perspective – unless he had every intention of abiding by it.
Okay, so he messed up. Very painful lesson learned. But did the punishment really suit the crime? No, I think it was excessive. I understand why fans booed Cano. I understand why they continued to boo him and to applaud his mounting failure to hit the ball out of the park. I understand that this was funny on some level. In fact, initially, I was laughing. But fans carried the joke way too far. When it was obvious the Cano was floundering. When it became painfully clear that Cano’s poor father – whom I do not believe fans intended to harm or insult in any way – could no longer give his son a decent ball to hit, it was well past time to let up. If fans had booed Cano and yucked it up for the first 5 outs, maybe even the first six, and then stopped, they would have still made their point and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
You know how there’s a fine, fine line between an amusing heckler and an outright bully who makes fans from both sides uncomfortable? For the first four outs, Royals fans were on the amusing heckler side of that divide. But, somewhere between the 4th and 6th outs, they waltzed right over that line and into uncomfortable bully territory, which is even more unfortunate in light of that fact that the rest of the 2012 All Star festivities were 100% classy. While I think that, much like booing Cano for his entire performance, such a punishment would be excessive for this particular crime, Royals fans, don’t be surprised if Bud Selig says this is why you can’t have nice things for another four decades.
When I get sad, I stop being sad and be AWESOME instead! True story. – Words to live by from the immortal Barney Stinson
So games 2 and 3 of the Angels opening series didn’t go exactly the way we had planned…or, you know, anything remotely like we had planned. Opening Night was pretty darned awesome! And more of an indication, I think, of what the season will be like than a pair of extremely early season games where, while this was not the only issue, two ace quality, workhorse pitchers were working through a bit of the old dead arm.
So, the morals of this weekend are:
- Don’t be sad, be awesome instead – and this goes triply for the fans.
- Dead arms and early season fielding jitters will pass of their own accord, as will some of the plate issues. And even with those plate issues, the offense already looks better than that of the last two years. But, even so, let’s stop swinging a) for the fences and b) at stupid pitches.
- Relax and just play your game.
- Clearly Seth and I need to be at these games. I mean, hello? They won when we were in the stands. (Of course, I am completely joking about that last point. Of course. *whistles innocently* But if say, anyone extra superstitious in a position to just happen to let a pair of season tickets fall off a truck and into my hot little hands felt the need to take me seriously, who would I be to say no? And I would like to state, for the record yet completely apropos of nothing of course, that said theoretical tickets would not have to be Diamond Club, or anything fancy like that. Quite the contrary, we would be perfectly happy continuing to root, root, root for the home team from mere mortals’ seats, so long as they’re in decent camera range. 😉)
*relieved sigh* Well, that’s out of the way. Now let’s all concentrate on the sheer Angels awesomeness we are sure to see sooner rather than later this month. And, to get you into that frame of mind, I give you a visual recap of the complete awesomeness that was Opening Day…and if you think I have used variants on the word awesome a few too many times in this post, I ask you, what would Barney Stinson say to you? Uh huh. Thought so. ;):
Opening Days tend to have the same ingredients MLB-wide – the giant flag covering the outfield, the local military color guard, the players from both teams lining the base paths as their names are called, the military flyover and the VIPs throwing out the first pitch. But that certainly is not to say that every Opening Day is the same, or that these details aren’t special. In fact, the universality of this format is part of what makes it special, lending the affair a ceremonial, special occasion air like a wedding or a graduation. And, much like the parties involved in those examples, each team manages to make the details their own:
The energy from the crowd was absolutely unreal. I have been to Opening Days before and I have been to well attended games before, but this was something completely different. And while I am sure that many in the stands were brand new Angels fans, brought to the stadium by the hype and excitement of the Angels well publicized off season acquisitions, I’m not going to join in the griping about that. I say, welcome. Come join us. Get to know the team and stick around for the seasons to come. However the rankings fallout by season’s end, this is going to be fun!
So, the game itself. Just how good was the game? It was so good that I was hoarse until evening on Saturday. So good that I kept thinking Saturday was Sunday. No joke. That first regular season ballpark experience of the year was so much fun and excitement packed into one game that it seemed to me like it must be an entire Saturday, not just a Friday night. And here are a few of the reasons why:
And, just because this is my blog, here’s some silliness too:
And if that isn’t enough awesome to get you in the right frame of mind for the next few series, just wait. The Angels will get you there eventually. I’m sure of it.
Friday’s Angels looked much like Monday through Thursday’s Angels, only with much better fielding than on several of the previous days. While this was an improvement, it was not enough to yield a different result and they lost four to two. The Angels aren’t exactly getting killed on the field this season. Most of the losses have been close. But it does go to show that if you aren’t scoring many runs, then your pitching and fielding have to be absolute perfection game in and game out in order to compensate for it, and that just isn’t feasible for any team.
So, cut to last night’s seven to five victory over the Royals. What changed? Several very important things as it turns out:
The veteran bats came alive. I admit it. I was less than pleased when I saw Vernon Wells batting cleanup last night. But he waled on the ball, going three for four with nice solid base hits that moved runners around the bases and lead to Wells scoring a run each time he made it on base. Howie Kendrick also went three for four, with two RBIs. Bobby Abreu had a key hit and he and Torii Hunter worked counts into walks for needed bodies on base. I cannot tell you how nice it was to see all of them on in one game!
We put runners on base and scored runs in multiple innings. If you look at the typical 2011 Angels box score, the one to three runs scored by our heroes usually occur all in one inning, often early in the game and then they don’t score again. This has not been an effective strategy. Last night, the Angels scored four runs in the second – more than their game average already – added a fifth run in the third and then game back to put two runs on the board and regain the lead in the 8th.
Our fielding was stellar. The Angels fielding has been good for most of 2011, but last night it was just on fire and it was equally on fire all around the diamond. Double plays. Two beautiful plays at the plate, including one highlight reel play on a perfect throw from Torii in right. Great catches all over the field and heads up back up.
We stole four bases! Stolen bases is one of many areas where sabermetrics and I have to agree to disagree. A team doesn’t have to be loaded with power hitters to win as long as they know how to consistently manufacture runs. The Angels know how to manufacture runs. This is one of Mike Sciocia’s specialties as a manager. They just haven’t been doing it consistently. Last night, the final two runs were the result of situational hitting, stolen bases and smartly taking advantage of a few Royals mistakes. This is a great sign and hopefully the beginning of a re-emerging trend. Now let’s just hope Alberto Callaspo, who pulled a hamstring during a successful double steal, is able to move from being day to day back to an everday player soon. This injuries trend is one that can stop any day now.
Looking at the season strictly from a numbers standpoint, one win by no means offsets six straight losses, even when the rest of the division helpfully loses again. But I never think numbers tell the whole story, especially in early June. They’re more like a guideline, actually. 😉 This was a good solid win, a pretty win if you will, the end result of several missing pieces coming together for the Angels all at once while other team strengths continued. If the Angels can capitalize on the momentum from this game heading into interleague, I think they can start putting together enough wins for significance from any standpoint!
Friday (and Saturday!) Gourmet, Wine & Angels
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread? Well, the chefs – read, Seth and I – were tired after a long week and indulged in a bit of lazy cooking: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches with bacon and TJ’s guacamole (hence the lazy). Quick and dirty, but tasty. And the wine was amazing – Mitchella’s 2007 Cabernet which tastes of black currants and dark chocolate. Yum!
We were better rested on Saturday and grilled up a feast for the evening game. Tri-tip, rubbed with olive oil, crushed garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, which my husband grilled to that perfect state where the meat has an amazing crust, but is a gorgeous medium to medium rare throughout when you slice into it. Tri-tip is an absolutely glorious cut of beef that I am sorry to say we Californians have not shared much with the rest of the country. Trust me, you are very sad. You just don’t know it. 😉 We served it with black beans, fresh tortillas and queso fresco and squash lightly sautéed with garlic and black pepper. Paired with Dead Nuts, Chronic Cellars luscious Zinfandel, Petite Sirah blend, it was a fantastic meal…and the Angels won, so if I were inclined to superstitions on that front I would say they prefer us to make more of an effort for the game, LOL.
What a difference a few days makes. Shutout by the Royals on Wednesday and shutout for seven of nine innings on Tuesday. Blast and damn. < broken record > The Angels hit in both games, just not with runners in scoring position. </ broken record > Heck, we even managed to load up the bases twice today, once with no outs, and have no runs to show for it. No, Scott Downs should not have given up the homerun today and Joel Pineiro should not have given up five in the third yesterday. But the offense needs to stop putting our starters and relievers in a position where they have three or less, often less, runs to work with, especially when we can and have done much better.
Six runs on Sunday, ten on Monday, three on Tuesday and none today. I really don’t want to have to come up with a “Tanana and Ryan, then two days of cryin’” like slogan for the 2011 offense, thank you very much, but that’s certainly the way things looked in May. Okay, now </ broken record >.
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Tanana and Ryan, then two days of cryin’. This, of course, was the Angels own special version of the more famous “Spahn, then Sain, then pray for rain.” from back in the days when Frank Tanana and Nolan Ryan lead the Angels four-man starting rotation. I can’t remember if I learned that one from life-long Angels fan grandfather or from any number of trivia and history books I devoured as a young lass. Either way, the Angels pre-game shows and Angels weekly continue to air snippets from the 50th Anniversary celebration documentary and are currently in the middle of the Tanana/Ryan era and I can’t help but think of my grandfather.
I’ve written of my grandfather’s Angels fandom on this blog before and of my own upbringing rooting for the Dodgers – and don’t think there wasn’t a small, or perhaps not so small, amount of youthful rebellion in my father choosing to root for the Dodgers over his father’s Angels…well, youthful rebellion and maybe Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had a little bit to do with it too. Grandpa passed away a few years after the Dodgers won the Series in 1988, so he never saw my conversion to Angels fandom, though I bet he’d have been tickled by it.
If I close my eyes I can still hear the particular sound of the radio playing the baseball game on the floor next to Grandpa’s armchair in the dining room, punctuated with short bursts of an announcer’s voice growing excited over a play; an announcer’s voice that was both less melodic and more enthusiastic than that of Vin Scully, with whom I was more familiar. And I can hear the occasional sounds of my grandfather’s hand slapping the arm of his chair softly in approval as he kept one ear on the game throughout our visits.
It’s funny what you remember and funnier still what you inherit from family. The hand slap of approval, for example? My father does the same thing. I remember distinctly from childhood, on the few Sundays my Dad took time to watch a game, being able to tell you from pretty much any room in the house if the Dodgers, or USC or anyone playing Notre Dame was doing well by the deep, happy sounding thump of his hand against the coffee table or the arm of his chair. One. Two. Three. And then continuing louder and more insistent, like fans slapping the backs of seats at a game, if the action on the TV screen continued, eventually resulting in a whoop of joy and a resonant “All right!”
My father’s approval slap is significantly louder than Grandpa’s was. I think this has less to do with any difference in enthusiasm than it does with an understanding that slapping the chair arm too loudly in my grandparents’ house probably would have violated my grandmother’s sense of decorum with company over, even family company, and resulted in the radio’s banishment to the workshop in the garage. Much to my everlasting amusement, during a particularly good Angels game last season – hush you, there were a few – I paused mid cheer because I was suddenly overcome with these memories of Grandpa, Dad and baseball and couldn’t think why…until I noticed my own right hand, poised to continue slapping the coffee table with enthusiasm. I don’t know when I started doing that. It was completely unconscious on my part. But it makes me smile to think that I have my mother’s laugh and my father’s – and his father’s – cheer.
And all of this remembering and recounting helps remind me that these 2011 Angels, frustrating though a few things have been this season, are not my grandfather’s Angels in the best possible way. It would have surprised and thrilled him to no end to root for a team that could smooth over some rough edges and contend, let alone one with such talent – five quality starters, a bullpen that can get the job done, gold glove winners in the outfield, and a bumper crop of talented rookies. Okay, he would have seen flickers of recognition in the lack of power displayed by the lineup thus far and the occasional wilder exploits of the bullpen, but only flickers. It’s June and these Angels are only two games out of first.
Perspective achieved. Rest up today guys and enjoy some home cooking, or whatever gets you ready to hit and play a great game. The Yankees are coming to town and we’ve got Weaver on the mound on Friday and Howie Kendrick returning to the lineup. Time to go win some ballgames!
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My fingers are crossed for Dan Haren! More blah Angels luck this week – he experienced a “tweak in his back” during Wednesday’s bullpen session significant enough to fall down. He will be evaluated tomorrow in order to determine if he will make his scheduled start on Saturday. If he has to sit the start out, this will be the first scheduled start Haren has ever missed…ever, as in entire career. He’s old school like that, one of the reasons I like him and love having him on the team so much. I want Haren to maintain his streak because I want this to be nothing and him to remain in top condition. But if this isn’t nothing, please, please, sit out a start or two to prevent worse issues down the line.
Mark Trumbo hit a homerun into the top tier of the K’s waterfall. Following almost immediately on his heels, Peter Bourjos hit a homerun. Torii Hunter smacked two homeruns into the stands and went three for five! Bobby Abreu hit two doubles (he went four for five!) and Hank Conger hit one. Alberto Callaspo was a clutch singles machine and Russel Branyan contributed as well for a total of 15 Angels hits. Hel-lo offense! Of course, after Ervin Santana gave up two homeruns in the first inning and six runs in the first two innings, the Angels needed every single ounce of that offensive effort to pull off today’s 10 to 8 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Even though Santana had a bad start, I can’t say enough good things about today’s come from behind victory. The team really pulled together with today’s areas of strength working overtime to pick up the slack from today’s areas of weakness. Santana was able to focus and pull himself together after the initial beating from the Royals offense and give the team four good, scoreless innings after that. Rich Thompson had an uncharacteristically shaky outing but Kevin Jepsen was able to come in strong and set the Royals down with more heat than we’ve seen from him in a while. Fernando Rodney gave us a few heart palpitations with his pitch counts but still went one, two, three to finish the game, Jordan Walden having thrown too many pitches Sunday to close. And behind it all was the fielding and offense picking everyone up where they needed it.
I’m sure some folks are going to focus on the things the Angels did wrong today, and there is a fair bit to focus on there. But I would rather focus on everything they did right and the fact that together, as a team, they did not give up for one second. Every time the Royals added more runs to the scoreboard – and they were hot, hot, hot, playing excellent baseball for most of the day – the Angels rallied and pressed even harder to catch up. Well done and light that baby up!
Tales from the DL
Is it just me or does nearly every team have way too many DL woes this season? I know we do. But from all reports Howie Kendrick should return from the DL for this weekend’s homestand against the Yankees, which can only mean good things for the offense, not to mention our current Franken-arrangements in the infield and outfield. Vernon Wells is tentatively scheduled to return the following homestand. I am glad because the Franken-arrangements can only last for so long before we have tired ballplayers and no good options to spell them, that and I think he was starting to turn the page at the plate.
Scott Kazmir, on the other hand, continues getting beaten to a bloody pulp by the opposing teams’ offense in his AAA rehab assignment. His AAA E.R.A. is 36.00 and that’s with lasting roughly only three innings per outing. I was rooting for him to get better. But I thought that ship might have sailed after his first two starts back in April. Now, sadly, I am sure of it.
A spectacular, improbable come from behind win. A heartbreaking extra innings loss following a brilliant pitching performance by Jered Weaver. Dan Haren’s luck finally changed as the offense rallied to his support early and often. What a weekend! And that’s just the baseball part. So, what was the best part of my weekend?
Peter Bourjos’ amazing catches? Whether we’re talking about the catch on Friday or any of the others this weekend, Bourjos was a human highlight reel. And he wasn’t too shabby at the plate either. (I’m ignoring the hot potato incident with Torii Hunter in right field as a one-time only thing, unless proven wrong.)
The fact that the offense came out to play in two out of three games? Erick Aybar, Torii Hunter, Alberto Callaspo, Bobby Abreu and Mark Trumbo, I applaud you! Now, how about the offense coming out to play for three out of three games in Kansas City? The Angels need to redeem themselves in KC this week.
The exciting come from behind win on Friday night? By the way, arent the Twins supposed to be a last place team? Because they sure weren’t playing like it this weekend. They were a very good team this weekend. The Angels seem to bring that out in other teams. Um…thanks??
Jered Weaver’s nine lights out, two-hit, shutout innings? All that and no W? Very sad and very frustrating for Weaver, I’m sure. But that doesn’t make the feat any less fantastic.
The game night (of the board and card variety) we hosted on Saturday? That’s right, we decided to be social at the expense of some of the ballgame. Me, a few of my favorite smart asses in the whole wide world, a moderately epic quantity of wine, good food and games, games and more games until the wee hours of the morning. It was just what the doctor ordered for some much need stress relief.
Kicking some strategy game ass on Saturday? Yes gentlemen, I may have consumed more wine than you but don’t think that means I will wale on you any less. *evil laugh*
Turning the TV off on Saturday, because we had non-baseball friends over, when Jered Weaver was mid-gem, before the traumatically disappointing end? In hindsight at least, this is a good thing.
Dan Haren finally getting a much deserved 5th win? It’s funny. Haren has joked in interviews that after losing a few games where he pitched lights out, his next win would probably be a less than stellar performance with full run support…and that is exactly what happened. I don’t care, Haren’s a little off is better than a lot of pitchers on and the man was due.
Mark Trumbo’s homerun into the upper deck? And this was on an inside pitch where he couldn’t extend his arms!
The Bullpen? Well, on Friday and Sunday at least. Yes, Walden let things get a little more exciting than necessary Sunday but he pulled it off. They all did. They came to the mound for their inning or part of an inning and got it done.
Hitting the bike trail with my husband after the ballgame on Sunday? It was only a 6 and a half mile ride in and around Santa Fe Dam. I might even have said pathetic once. But it’s been two years since I was last able to ride my bike and bike riding was pretty high up on the list of things my knee might never quite be up to again, so I’m going to go with Bravo! …and thank you reformer Pilates.
The weekend’s not over yet because we both have Monday off, the game starts at 1:30 and there is still the possibility of many of these things happening all over again?
Yeah, these are all great things, but I’m going to go with that last one!