The Angels continue to hit in spectacular fashion, both those you would expect and those you would not expect. 39 hits and 31 RBIs in the last three games, even with the loss to Milwaukee? Whooooo hooooo! Granted, batting averages don’t really count for much in Spring Training because the pitching takes so long to get into season shape and the number of minor league pitchers each batter sees. However, the bats seem to be warming up more as the pitching warms up and this I will take as a hopeful sign for the season.
Starting rotation issues, however, are giving me concerns where I did not expect to have any just two weeks ago. Now it sounds like Joel Pineiro will spend a few days on the DL at the beginning for the season. I understand. I want him to pitch strong for as much of the season as he can and back precautionary decisions especially now before the season starts. So much for the 4th rotation spot, for now…though after Scott Kazmir’s last start, who knows?
Which brings us to our 5th starting rotation spot…well…How do you solve a problem like Scott Kazmir? And, yes, that did emerge from my head set to a Rodgers and Hammerstein approved tune. Thanks – or blame, depending on your point of view – to Red State Blue State. I wanted Kaz to regain his old form. I was really pulling for him. There were hopefully signs in several of his Spring Training starts – more control in one game, more strikes thrown in another, more consistency, etc. But it never all came together in one game, which in and of itself already has overtones of 2010. Then, on Thursday against the Brewers, he incurred eight hits and ten runs in five innings pitched. Owwwww-ch. And yet it still sounds like Kaz is our 5th starter. Which leaves us where exactly? Praying for rain every 5th start? That would be one baseball tradition I would prefer not to embrace.
Matt Palmer did pretty well today, pitching to contact with the infield and outfield living up to their capabilities. Hmmm…is he an alternative plan or is he bullpen bound, no ifs, ands or buts? Oh well, I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday after the game, when Mike Scioscia has promised he will announce the starting rotation, the 25 man roster and the opening day starters…because waiting for Wednesday evening would have been too last minute, she says with extreme affection.
In other news, preparing to buy tickets for a few games in Northern California has given me a renewed appreciation for buying Angels tickets down here in Southern California. On Stubhub you pay more than full price for even generic Giants and A’s tickets. Even now before the season has started. It is actually better to go through Ticketmaster for Giants and A’s tickets. The horror!! The Big A is so large and enough of our season ticket holders so unable to attend every game, that I can usually grab tickets at season ticket prices or even cheaper now or the week of the game off Stubhub or Craig’s list. Games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are notable exceptions to this rule. But even so, wow. I had no idea I was so spoiled, but I’ll take it!
My latest big project at work is updating and rewriting our entire course catalog and student handbook…in a little over a week. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams, I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by! Seriously though, I am a professional. I have everything planned and moving along on schedule, from the legal requirements review, to all of the rewriting, to the occasional panic attack over the deadline. And they said all of that late night paper writing in college wouldn’t be useful in the real world. Ha! (All joking aside though, I love my job and this is a pretty cool assignment, if a little intense.)
Needless to say, I am just a wee bit catalog and course description focused at the moment and Spring Training is all about learning and practicing, so you can see how they might start to jumble together a little in my brain. Watching the games and reading the articles coming out of Arizona, I think I can make a pretty good guess about a few of the spring session catalog’s course offerings at Mike Scioscia’s LAAU:
365. Advanced Astronomy: Okay, so only Mark Trumbo is actually putting the ball into orbit this spring (and Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood once each) which is a little worrying but many key players are getting high marks with Trumbo, Bobby Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo and Jeff Mathis (Really? Cool!) are all hitting over .300…still, after last season, I won’t consider this course successful until more of the starting lineup names are on this list.
342. Physics of Linear and Non Linear Trajectories: The starting rotation is…coming along. They started slow. They’re easing into it. I’ve seen great stuff and silly mistakes. The last appearances were better than the first. For the most part, their 2011 ST stats are comparable to or better than their ST stats in ’10 and ’09. Eh, it’s not great, but I’m just not worried here (except about the 5 spot). To my eye it looks like the rust is coming off on schedule.
450. Fahrenheit 451 and the Art of Closing the Game: Bullpen pitchers are often referred to as firemen. But what happens when your firemen occasionally accelerate or actually start the fires themselves? A lot of offseason dollars were spent wrestling with this “philosophical” delimma and at ST midterms the grades are all over the place. Many of the pitchers the Angels will look toward for relief are making good grades, including Scott Downs, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Hisanori Takashi and Michael Kohn. As for the actual closer? Love Ray Bradbury though I do, Fernando Rodney needs to find some different reading material, stat…as does everyone who has been playing in the 8th and 9th innings for the last few games, ouch.
405. Field Biology: Quite the bell curve going on here. The starting outfield is A’s across the board. Howie and Erick Aybar are looking good at 2nd and short. A nice fight to set the curve at catcher looks promising. The corner infield positions, however, are cause for concern. Trumbo is working admirably hard to overcome a needs improvement at first, which is good because we may need him in April. But third? We’ll see how the final exams play out. As to the kids? The 8th and 9th innings lately are making me think the kids are not alright…at least, not yet.
201. Basic Anatomy (prerequisite for all students intending to declare pre-med): It is often said that the true indicator of a successful spring training is having all of your players make it to the regular season in good condition. So far, the Angels are passing with a B+, which we will elevate to an A as soon as Kendry Morales makes up last semister’s incomplete.
And what of Mike Scioscia’s special core seminars and colloquia, the ice-breaking, team-building and often hilarious “research assignments” he doles out to rookies and veterans alike for morning meeting presentation? Well, sadly Ostrich Wrangling 101 does not appear to be among the course offerings for 2011. However, the following classes are moving right along towards ST midterms:
204. Social Networking: When young Mike Trout ostensibly broke the rookies should not speak until spoken to rule, Jared Weaver took it upon himself to encourage the lad to share his gift for socializing with the fans instead…by posting his phone number on the scoreboard during a spring training game with an invitation to fans to “call Mike Trout with all of your baseball questions.”
305. Trickle Down Economic Theory: So, apparently, Vernon Wells has a rather large contract. Were any of you aware of this? I’m not sure the news has covered this particular detail. At any rate, Wells has been nominated to take the rookies out to dinner and Scioscia has stuck him with the tab after several team meals. Clearly this is a popular course. Sign up early.
515. Artisan Leather Craftsmanship: (this is my favorite by the way) minor league pitchers Matt Meyer and Ryan Chaffee have been assigned a special project, designing a catcher’s glove and fielder’s mitt from scratch and then using them during batting practice. Reporters and players tell us the gloves are still in the prototype stage.
The Angels appear to be excelling at some of these classes and in need of a few visits to the campus learning center for others. As we all know, the specific marks you get in school don’t have much of an impact on your overall performance once you enter the “real world” so we’ll have to wait until May or so before we really know the results of all of that schooling. It will be interesting to see who has learned their lessons…and how jealously Mike Trout guards his new cell phone number.
Watching Angels spring training games, it would be extremely difficult not to notice the promotions schedule planned for the regular season. There is a large billboard just to the visitor’s side of home plate with a rolling display that prominently advertises the April and May promotions and the broadcast team is doing a great job of hyping all of the others. As with most baseball teams, the Angels promotions are a mixed bag. Some of them are exciting indeed. Others make you wonder what the marketing department was thinking. But some of the bad ones actually fall into a third, so bad they’re actually awesome category – the name-your-favorite-Kurt-Russell-bad-***-B-movie-here or They Live of stadium giveaways, if you will. Allow me to present a few examples:
- We get an Angels post game concert series this season! So far no bands have been named, but there will be four concerts, one each month in June through September. Is this copying the Rays? Yes. Will it be amazing fun anyway? Yes, oh yes.
- Hat nights: the Angels marketing department usually offers a series of great ball caps throughout the season. For the anniversary, a lot of the caps are retro or outright replicas of players’ uniform caps through the years. As long as none of them are the cap from the Disney years, we’re good.
- The Rally Monkey Sock Monkey in July: I like the Rally Monkey concept – a random, spur of the moment whim of the video board operators takes on a life of its own – but I have never felt the need to own one. A Rally Monkey Sock Monkey, however, sounds awfully cute. He could sit on the book shelves in my living room and taunt visiting Dodgers and Red Sox fans. Too bad this one’s just for the kids and I have no prop children to take with me so I can snag one.
So Bad They’re Actually Kind of Awesome Promotions
- The Angels Luchador Mask in May: one the one hand, it’s kind of a WTF idea. On the other hand, it’s an Angels luchador mask. I think this is the giveaway my husband is most excited about. Why do I see his entire sales team sporting these things when the Rangers fan head of Marketing comes for a visit?
- The Angels Ski Beanie in April: okay, so it’s a really silly looking brightly colored knit hat with ear flaps and a pom pom on top. But I think that the marketing department has failed to capitalize on the obvious Firefly tie-in potential with this one. The Outfielder of Canton, anyone? Hey, the Dodgers get their Star Wars night. Fair’s fair.
- The Angels Gnome Bobblehead in August: usually all of the bobbleheads are in the great promotions category (I just didn’t mention them because every team does this now) but this bobblehead is not a player bobblehead, it’s literally a bobblehead of the Angels gnome statue giveaway last season. This would just be bad, but Angels fans turned out in droves to collect those darned gnomes last season and the broadcast team caught gnome fever, keeping one in the booth that would “show up” in odd places throughout the game so the gnome bobblehead gets style points for the humor factor.
What Were They Thinking Promotions
- The Rally Monkey Chia Pet in August: sadly, I may wind up with one of these. This is one of the games we were thinking of attending.
- The Angels Troll Doll in May: fortunately just for children!
- Angels Newsboy Hat: this is the one exception to the Angels hat nights are great rule. Do hipsters even go to baseball games? I know. I know. If they do, it would be in Anaheim or Los Angeles.
It’s baseball. It’s wonderful. I love my Angels. And I would quite happily still go to as many games as possible even if there were no promotions at all. But I think it’s fun to take a look at the promotions and oh and ah or mock where appropriate.
A few notes after the Angels most recent spring training games: This is the first time I’ve seen Scott Downs pitch in Angels red and so far I really like what I see. Eight pitches, three outs. Whooo. Hooo. Mark Trumbo keeps right on hitting and it looks like he’s starting to place himself better for each play at first. Howie Kendrick makes me happy, specifically his increasingly reliable bat! Peter Bourjos makes me happy too, specifically his speed, range and glove in center! And hell-o Tyson Auer. Wow, that kid is fast! It looks like the Angels will not lack for speedy outfield prospects in the years to come.
I’m still on the fence about Scott Kazmir. In his second outing, it took him about three or four batters to warm up, which is customary even when he’s having a good season, but he threw more balls in proportion to the strikes. However, he didn’t get hit nearly as much as he did in his first outing and he settled down such that the last 15 or so of his 35 pitches were fantastic. The Angels lost to the Brewers but Joel Pinero’s three innings were scoreless, continuing his streak. Pinero has not lost a spring training decision in the last 25 appearances.
We beat the White Sox this time out, but it wasn’t easy and it isn’t going to be easy in the regular season. I’m glad to see Jake Peavy seems fully recovered from last season’s injury. I watched the game he was injured during, and it didn’t look like he would be able to make it back this quickly. Former Angels Bench Coach Ron Roenicke looked comfortable as the Brewers Manager. I’m sure he’ll do well and wish him all the best!
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!
Two more days until Spring Training games begin and I can’t wait. I am loving the news coming out of Tempe so far, especially about the starting rotation. Jered Weaver, getting down to business, ready to pick up where he left off and joking around with the new and younger guys before throwing batting practice. Dan Haren, excited to begin his first full season as an Angel and confident we can contend. Ervin Santana, scoffing at the idea that he always follows up a good year with a bad year. Okay Ervin, I like the sound of that, so make this year a good year too! Joel Pinero, fully recovered from his injury and ready to prove himself again this season. And not a whole lot of news about Scott Kazmir. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that. I am anxious to see him pitch during the Spring Training games just to get a clue where things stand.
Kazmir question aside, no this isn’t the Phillies four aces (and Blanton) but it is a very strong starting rotation, potentially one of the strongest of the coming season. Remembering the number of games the Angels lost last season by just one or two runs, I think that if these guys can just get some run support this season, the Angels are back in business. Oh, and everyone has to stay healthy. No more random injuries, please. I think we over filled our random injury and unexpected calamity quotas so thoroughly last season that we’ve already met them for several seasons to come.
As to which pitcher is going to start on Opening Day (Jered Weaver)? Of course, Mike Scioscia has not announced it yet (Jered Weaver). Notorious for waiting until the last possible minute to announce each season’s starter (Jered Weaver), I doubt we’ll hear anything official from Scioscia until the last week before the season starts (Jered Weaver). I laugh but only because I find this quirky Scioscia trait oddly endearing. So, do we at least know who the starting pitcher will be in this weekend’s Spring Training opener against the Dodgers? Apparently Scioscia wants to look at one more workout and gauge everyone’s recovery before he makes that decision. Ladies and gentlemen, and I say this with complete affection, we are all shocked. 😉
Note to self: Car dancing with no music looks very undignified and is apt to make one’s husband look at her funny…that is until I explained that I was car dancing because a couple of nice bloggers commented to tell me this blog (and four other great Angels blogs!) is a featured blog on MLBlogs this week. Seriously, thank you Mark and MLBlogs! This is a fantastic blogging community and you do so much to support and draw attention to all of us that it’s easy to feel at home right away. There are a lot of great blogs and nice people here and I just can’t tell you how much fun it is to be a small part of it all.
But, even more giddy making than this news? The Angels Press Release arrived listing the Spring Training games Fox Sports West will televise in February and March – the perfect reminder that starting this Saturday weekend there will be live baseball on television once again! That’s only four more days without. Short of the official season Play Balls we’ll start hearing on March 31st, it doesn’t get much better than that. Almost all of the games are day games, of course, so I know what I will be doing with my lunch break for the next couple of weeks.
It has been wonderful reading all of the articles from Spring Training but it will be even better to see some of the action and judge it for myself. First glimpses of the Angels new bullpen. Jeff Mathis, Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson competing for starting catcher. Kendry hitting bombs and maybe working back into first base when he’s ready. A sneak preview of our new Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter outfield as well as all of the guys waiting in the wings to spell the main three or come up through the ranks in the next few years. Top prospect Mike Trout playing with the big leaguers, say no more. Watching to see how Andrew Romine, Mark Trumbo and the rest of the minor leaguers have improved over the winter. Watching to see if Kaz and Brandon Wood have improved over the winter. And this is just what I hope to see watching my team!
This schedule arrived at the perfect time. My husband and I had just officially decided that we are not going to Spring Training this year. I’m disappointed, of course, but the television schedule helps ease the blow and, anyway, who can argue with the law:
Law of Conservation of Vices: Vices cannot be created or destroyed, they merely change forms. However, judicious budget and vacation day management are required to ensure continual shifting of vices from their potential form (ie: that enjoyed by everyone but you) to their kinetic form (ie: that enjoyed by you).
We really only have two vices to which this law applies – baseball and wine. This year, a trip to the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival will allow for greater enjoyment of wine and more baseball games attended during the season than a Spring Training trip. So, as much as I really want to go to spend a long March weekend in Arizona, oh well, next season. At least Paso Robles has a great sense of humor and embraces the coming baseball season. This year’s ad cracked me up:
As I mentioned before, my original plan on Wednesday was to discuss some of the topics covered in Tuesday’s Winter Meeting interviews with Angels’ GM Tony Reagins and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. That was before the Crawford deal, before the Angels signed Scott Downs, before…well, suffice to say a lot has happened in the four and a half days since those interviews, rendering much of what was said irrelevant at this point. However, a few pieces of news remain pertinent and interesting:
Since about late August or so, all reports have indicated that Kendry is making great progress at or slightly ahead of schedule and that he should be able to return for the 2011 season as good as new. On the one hand, this is what you would expect the front office to say but, on the other hand, if his progress was cause for concern I tend to think the easier route would just be to avoid giving frequent updates all together. During the Tuesday interviews, Scioscia and Reagins both reiterated that Kendry is making excellent progress and let us know he has been able to resume light baseball activities in addition to the regular rehab and workouts. Scioscia also said that while they will watch Kendry cautiously in the beginning, of course, based on his current progress he should be “full-go for all drills”* by the beginning of Spring Training.
Kendry Morales is one of my favorite players – a guy who can motivate the whole team with a swing of his mighty bat or a great play at first. Honestly, this news makes me happier than a big trade or signing announcement would make me…not that I didn’t want that big announcement too. I’m greedy like that. Having Kendry back in and of itself will be a huge improvement in the Angels offense, but all of the major players involved have promised us repeatedly that they would not be content with just having Kendry back in the line-up and would make one or two additional improvements for 2011. This promise has noticeably not been repeated since Crawford signed with the Red Sox and, while I sincerely hope this is not the case, I am left with one of Ash’s great lines from Army of Darkness stuck in my head. Oh that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all.
Catchers’ Tango Turned Broadway Ensemble Dance Routine
Mike Scioscia said that with Kendry on the mend, Mike Napoli would be returning to his role as catcher in 2011 in the typically glowing way we have all come to expect when Scioscia talks about Napoli behind the plate. “I think he’s a catcher, and he thinks he’s a catcher. Now he needs to go out a catch like he’s a catcher.” Clearly by returning to his role a catcher, Scioscia meant returning to the two and occasionally three and even four way bare knuckled, albeit good naturedly so, brawl for a permanent position behind the plate. Of the catching position, Scioscia said, “It’s obviously an important position for us. Jeff is more skilled defensively. Bobby is a combination. Hank Conger is coming. We have some depth there.” Mike Scioscia, King of Understatement. Of course, this could also be so much pillow talk and Napoli could very well be trade bait for the bat we so desperately need. Given the fact that the Angels’ 2010 homerun leader is often, himself, the bat we so desperately need, albeit a very streaky one, unless such a trade brings additional sizable tangible benefits, this doesn’t make nearly as much sense to me as other deals might.
According to Scioscia, Kaz’ new offseason conditioning program seems to be working. He is showing marked improvements in stamina and control and is still expected to be the 5th starter in 2011. This is the kind of news I really hope is true and not just the thing the team is expected to say. It’s hard not to respect and root for a player who is possibly more upset by his poor performance than even the fans and who busts his butt in the offseason to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If Kaz could be as good as he was for the Rays, as good as he started out for us in 2009…Wow! The Angels starting rotation would truly be a thing of beauty, wouldn’t it?
* All of the interview quotations were taken from Lyle Spencer’s articles “Scioscia Sees a Bright Future for Trout” and “Lee Joins High-Profile List Linked to Angels.”