Tagged: Starting Rotation

I-5 Bias: The Opening Day Edition

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!

I-5 Bias - Blog Medium

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!

I-5 Bias: the Hot Stove Edition

Welcome to I-5 Bias: the Hot Stove Edition! This is the first 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 recent Hot Stove 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!

I-5 photo - blog

For this edition, we have posed six questions prompted our teams’ offseason activities and the ensuing fan and media commentary, to be answered on both of our blogs. We hope you enjoy this freeway collaboration and, hey, if anyone has any burning questions for future editions (yes, even snarky ones), please ask away:

Which of your team’s offseason moves do you think was the strongest?

Kristen says: I imagine everyone is expecting me to say Josh Hamilton here. Hamilton was a huge signing and should be a boon to the team, combining with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo to make the Angels offense a formidable one indeed (at least on paper — I am very careful about how excited I allow myself to get before the teams actually take the field when, as any longtime baseball fan can tell you, anything can happen). However, I actually think the Angels strongest move was the most recent — the trade for Jason Vargas. As a player, Hamilton is definitely on another level than Vargas and will probably contribute more to the team directly. But trading for Vargas set the rest of the Angels roster in ways that will benefit the entire team and make Hamilton’s talents that much more effective. In addition to providing another reliable, workhorse arm to a starting rotation that needed exactly that, the Kendrys Morales for Vargas trade ensured that the Angels do not have to make less advantageous trades to get said arm. They no longer have to worry about trading the more versatile slugger Mark Trumbo, whose bat has the potential to be more explosive in the lineup with Hamilton. They no longer have to worry about trading Peter Bourjos, who can instead be the gold glove caliber centerfield anchor between Hamilton and Trout in what should be a truly scary Angels outfield — oh, and having Bourjos and Trout tear up the base paths together won’t hurt either.

Matt says: As important Pitching was this off-season I’m not going to say it was Zach Greinke or Ryu. I think the strongest was Mark McGwire as the Dodgers hitting coach. The Dodgers had issues with getting hits and runs in games and that hurt the Dodgers playoff chances. Look at what Mark did as hitting coach with the Cardinals. They were pretty much in the top ten in Runs, Batting Avg, and OPB. For a Dodger Team with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford that’s going to be huge help for them.

What, if anything, do you think your team still needs to do?

Matt says: I still think the Dodgers need to address the Bullpen and bench. Dodgers lack a LHP out the pen. Scott Elbert is still out, Paco Rodriguez isn’t really ready for a full stent like that, and missed the chance at resigning Randy Choate. The only thing the Dodgers did for the bullpen was resign Brandon League. They have Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang out there on the trade block so maybe they trade them for Bullpen help. Bench wise I believe the Dodgers have to address getting a 4th Outfielder because lets be honest Yasnel Puig isn’t really ready quite yet. They traded for Skip Shoemaker which help but a 1st/3rd Baseman off the bench along with a 4th Outfield will really help.

Kristen says: Well, if we were asking these questions earlier in the week, I would have said that the Angels need another starting pitcher in bold, italicized, all caps, 24 point font. But, thank you Santas Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno, that seems to be taken care of – see previous response. Instead I’m going to enter complete fairy tale land here (Well, it is Christmas after all — might as well wish big!) and say that I think the Angels need to move Vernon Wells, even if it means eating almost all of that huge contract. Nothing against Wells himself — he has been a smiling example of good attitude, trying hard to improve at the plate and gracefully moving wherever the team asked him to, including the bench. But this acquisition just hasn’t work out, and that’s putting it mildly. I would love it if any of the, quite frankly, trade porn rumors surrounding one team or another showing interest in Wells worked out…even if the deal is for practically nothing! The Angels would seriously benefit from having the room on the 25-man roster and I think Wells himself would benefit from the chances offered by that supposed panacea, the change of scenery.

Mike Trout takes a swing while A.J. Ellis readies for the catch. Angels vs. Dodgers, June 23, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mike Trout takes a swing while A.J. Ellis readies for the catch. Angels vs. Dodgers, June 23, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Now that we know what you want your team to do, what do you think they will do? Any trade/move/signing predictions?

Kristen says: I think that, with the Vargas trade, the Angels are pretty much done. I suppose that you might hear about a smaller move here or there — one lesser known bullpen pitcher or non-top minor league prospect for another, but other than that they’re done making deals for the offseason. Although, if Jerry Dipoto chooses to see this as a challenge — because of course the Angels read my blog 😉 — and moves Vernon Wells just to spite my prediction, I certainly wouldn’t mind being wrong.

Matt says: I think the Dodgers will end up Trading Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano along with Dee Gordon for a Left Hand Arm out the bullpen. Theres been rumors about Andre Ethier being traded but I don’t see that happening at all. As far as signings go I believe the Dodgers will look into the Market for a Outfielder or Corner position player off the bench but at the same time I think they’re done.

There is A LOT of money being spent in LA/OC these days. A LOT OF IT! Does your team’s payroll size or amount being spent worry you at all?

Matt says: To be honest yes it does. With the amount of money being put into the Dodgers I would hope winning comes with it. You can’t buy wins or world series and playing Yankee ball can only work when done right. I fear of the Dodgers being like the Red Soxs. All the money being spent and no playoff apperance or anything. Not only that but the fear of Contracts back loading up to where the Dodgers can’t do anything in the future but the Dodgers said they have deep pockets and a new 2 Billion dollar TV deal is coming in soon so we shall see what happens but I can’t say it doesn’t worry me or isn’t in the back of my mind. Everyone tries to play Yankee Ball but the only way that works is if you get the players that fit and generate wins.

Kristen says: Absolutely. Spending this much money should scare anyone. Every player, no matter how talented, is a risk. No one wants to see it happen but any player has the potential to age, slump, lose their swing/pitching location/etc., fail to mesh with a given team and (God forbid) get injured. And when you’ve spent outrageous sums of money acquiring that player, the end result of any such occurrence is devastating because suddenly you’re priced out of just eating that paycheck one way or another to move the player off your roster. And if this happens on several such deals? Yeah, say hello to a nice block of ever-so-much-fun-for-the-whole-team-family “rebuilding” seasons. No. Thank. You!

Here’s the thing though – I think that more and more teams are going to need to come to terms with this level of spending as we go on. Teams are wisely locking up their talent before they hit free agency with greater frequency, leaving smaller free agency pools for teams in a buying mode to fight over. Nothing against Zack Greinke — he’s one hell of a pitcher and I wish the Angels had been able to keep him — but do you really think he would have garnered this impressive a contact if the Giants, Phillies and Angels had allowed Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver to hit the free agency market in 2013 as scheduled? And Greinke is just the latest example of this phenomenon. And, of course, when quality players are making those kinds of dollars you know that marquee players will command even more from their current team or on the FA market (Holy Staggering Albert Pujols Contract, Batman!!). The end result is that, while the Dodgers and Angels may seem to be leading the charge at the moment, more and more teams will be joining in that charge out of necessity over the next several seasons — as a trend this is both kind of exciting and very scary.

Elian Herrera leads off first while Albert Pujols prepares for a thrown down. Angels at Dodgers, June 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Elian Herrera leads off first while Albert Pujols prepares for a thrown down. Angels at Dodgers, June 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

The MLBN analysts seem to think that the Dodgers and Angels offseason moves are all about one upping each other. Do you think there is any truth to this? How do you feel about that?

Kristen says: To quote Annie Savoy, “Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” Or, from the owners’ perspectives it’s also a business. I’m sure Arte Moreno and Magic Johnson and partners do consider things like Los Angeles/Orange County market share when they’re making decisions about advertising, overall ballpark experience and the price of parking, beer, etc. But I highly doubt that this thinking extends to personnel decisions. Competitive teams that win games and reach the Postseason make fans happy and draw them to the ballpark. In order to do that, it’s far more important to be competitive within one’s own division than with an interleague rival as I’m sure all owners and GMs involved are well aware. I can see why the timing of some of the Angels and Dodgers free agency signings lead to the comments in question on MLBN, but I think that both the signings and their timing had little to do with Freeway Series rivalry. Yes, the Angels wanted Zack Greinke and so did the Dodgers. But at least half a dozen other teams also seriously wanted Greinke. He was the best free agent starting pitcher on the market this season. Once the Dodgers signed Greinke, I’m not surprised that the Hamilton signing followed so quickly on its heels. Suddenly the Angels had a lot less pokers in the big money free agents fire and could just concentrate their efforts on Hamilton.

Matt says: You know that’s an interesting question. I honestly don’t think it’s one upping at all and theres two reasons for that. 1- The Dodgers and Angels are filling needs that prevented them from making the playoffs. Thing was it just so happen the Angels signed Hamilton in the heat of the Dodgers making serious moves. 2- The Angels turned out to be the mystery team that was after Hamilton and got him just like last year with Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson So they’ve done this before. People predicted the Dodgers having money to throw at Free Agents before Off-Season. I don’t believe it’s one upping at all but It has caught the attention of the National Media so I like the westcoast attention the Baseball Media is giving.

Now on to something really important – the annual LA/OC billboard war. Which team do you think will have the most/best billboards plastered all over town?

Matt says: Hahaha It was a year ago when the Angels had billboards all over LA/OC until the Dodgers got new owners. I believe it’ll be fairly even. In the OC you have Albert Pujols, Jarred Weaver, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout where in LA you have Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Adrian Gonzalez. I believe the Dodgers will have them posted all over L.A. knowing Magic and his promoting of the Dodger brand and the Angels will do a lot of marking themselves as well. It’ll be interesting to see.

Kristen says: *snerk* The “billboard wars” always make me smile and laugh. I take the 605 freeway to work. Most seasons that freeway is littered with Dodgers billboards heading south and Angels billboards heading north as if both teams were making a concerted effort to convert their rival fan base. Honestly, the arrival of the billboards is one of my favorite So Cal signs of spring. Last season at the height of all of the Frank McCourt ick in L.A., the Angels rather dominated the local billboard space and, as much as I like seeing red everywhere I look, it just wasn’t nearly as much fun as when it’s a “battle.” (Yes, mine is a long and boring commute and I take my simple pleasures where I can. Why do you ask?) However, between Arte Moreno (who made his fortune in advertising and billboards, don’cha know) and Magic Johnson (who also seems to have an admirable grasp of the importance of good marketing) I am sure both that teams will being trying to convert us all once again this season — looking forward to it, in fact!

Acquiring Jason Vargas, Keeping (and Playing?!) Peter Bourjos and Other Things that Make this Blogger Giddy Happy

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. So, these two Dirt Bags walk out to the mound and…and…well, suddenly I’m a much happier Angels fan, that’s what. No, no punch line. Just that. See, early yesterday I started writing a post that was quite ranty (about the need for another starting pitcher, a good one this time) and involved a great deal of begging and pleading (please, please don’t trade either Mark Trumbo or Peter Bourjos to accomplish this). I don’t like writing begging, pleading rants at all and I liked both the state of the starting rotation and the, seemingly likely, prospect of trading Bourjos and/or Trumbo with or without additional prospects in order to correct the situation even less.

But instead, thanks to Santas Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno, I get to write about the Angels trading Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for Jason Vargas instead (another Long Beach State baseball team alum, joining fellow Dirt Bag Jered Weaver in the rotation). What’s not to like about that? Yes, the Angels and, indeed, this Angels fan will absolutely miss Kendrys in the lineup and I even think that he will improve a bit more this season as he moves further and further away from his last surgery. However, I think that with the addition of Josh Hamilton, we will miss Kendrys a lot less than we would miss the more versatile Trumbo. In addition to slugging, Trumbo can cover both corner outfield positions, first base and – yes I’m going to say it, quiet you – if he actually gets practice time during Spring Training this season there is even the possibility of him covering third. Hey, it could happen.

And — and this is a huge and in my book, more of an AND, really – Trumbo can now spend most of his time in the now vacated designated hitter’s position allowing for a regular outfield featuring Mike Trout and Hamilton in the corners and Bourjos playing an even better centerfield than Trout. Yes, you read that correctly, an even better centerfield than Trout – Bourjos is alternately just as fast and faster depending on the task in question, tends to run better routes and has a stronger arm. And watching Trout and Bourjos dominate the outfield together on the rare occasions I’ve gotten to see it is one of my current favorite delights in baseball…adding Hamilton to that mix? Every day or very nearly so? Um, yeah, I’ll be in my bunk.

But Bourjos can’t hit, whine the naysayers. Correct, he can’t hit…when he’s only getting one or two innings of playing time a week as he was in 2012 or during his first half season in the majors. When Bourjos has a full season of regular playing time however, well we only have a one season sample size for this but, while he started out slow to be sure in 2011, Bourjos hit .271 with a .765 OPS (a decidedly speed enhanced figure, and yay for that) and 12 homeruns for the season. I for one would really like to see what the kid can do with another full season of regular playing time and it sure sounds like Dipoto and Mike Scioscia would like to see that as well. Yo ho, yo ho, it’s a lightning fast Angels lineup for me!

Um, hey, blogger lady? Sorry to interrupt and all but so far you’ve talked about every single aspect of this Vargas trade except Vargas himself. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Patience. There was a reason for that. In my opinion this deal is every bit as important to the Angels for it allowed the team to do in terms of bolstering defense while maintaining offense as for what it did for the starting rotation. However, when it comes to the starting rotation, the Angels just moved from having an Ace, a positive and three question marks to having an Ace, two positives and Scioscia’s choice of the two most promising question marks out of the three. Is it perfect? No. But it is a lot better. And, with this outfield and this offense, on paper at least it all looks pretty darned good. The same can also be said of Vargas himself. Yes, that 4.35 career ERA looks a little scary. But I think this is a case where the numbers don’t really reflect the reality of Vargas’s pitching. Vargas has pitched better than that 4.35 ERA for three of his four seasons – the most recent three – with Seattle. And last season he was good for 14 wins…with Seattle’s outfield and Seattle’s offense. Wait’ll he gets a load of ours!

 

Josh Hamilton, eh? Merry Christmas Angels Fans, Indeed!

Hello all. Rumors of my blogging demise have been greatly exaggerated! …Well, just exaggerated at any rate. But it was seriously touch and go there for a while. We’re talking nearly Brazil, Tuttle eaten by great cascades of paperwork, here. And I’m the one that created all of the paperwork! But I digress…

Yes, I couldn't make it to the presser so I took a photo of it on my TV. No, it's not a full face shot. But I just loved Josh Hamilton's big happy smile as he put on that gorgeous Angels ballcap. Welcome to the team, Josh! Photo by This is a very simple game...

Yes, I couldn’t make it to the presser so I took a photo of it on my TV. No, it’s not a full face shot. But I just loved Josh Hamilton’s big happy smile as he put on that gorgeous Angels ballcap. Welcome to the team, Josh! Photo by This is a very simple game…

So the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton! And just how busy was I with my months’ long hell project for work in the middle of all of this delicious Hot Stove madness? Busy enough that I didn’t find out until Seth called me that morning on a break — Seth does not generally have to break Angels news to me. Busy enough that the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Seth: So did you hear the news about Josh Hamilton?
Me: *typing* No. Did he sign today or something? That’s early.
Seth: Yeah, he’ll be wearing red in 2013.
Me: *still typing* Red? *pause in thought while still typing* So is he staying with the Rangers after all, then? Or did the Red Sox nab him?
Seth: *laughing* Noooo. He’ll be wearing our red. The Angels signed him.
Me: *abruptly stops typing* *begins making largely unintelligible noises that it’s safe to assume denote shock and excitement*
Seth: *affectionately laughs at me*

So, the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton!!! *happy dance*

…and I had no clue until about an hour after it happened. Yeah, so what does that make me? Exactly. A big damn dork, sir. Well, since Thursday I have completed my hell project, caught back up on holiday obligations and vacillated emotions on the Hamilton signing between variations on elated, excited and giddy, and cautious, concerned and nervous. But you know what, I’ve settled on giddy. I think excitement is the way to go. So, why the conundrum in the first place? After all, he is a five-five time All Star, former MVP, regular play of the week making, routine topper of one or more AL batting stat charts.

*pauses happy dance for discussion and logic* Well, I’m not particularly bothered by the contract. It’s less than the ridiculous from any team’s perspective 7 to 10 years he was supposedly originally seeking and the Angels were planning on spending serious money one way (Zack Greinke) or another (any of the other high priced names bandied about in Halos news circles) this offseason. Spending it on a 31-year-old whose name is regularly listed among the best players in the game and who hits .285 with 43 homers in a year where his team is mad at him for sloughing it? Well, let’s just say that if colossal sums of money are going to be spent anyway, I think there are far worse ways they can be spent.

And, no, I’m not concerned about the “obvious” thing. Yes, Hamilton’s past issues with drugs and alcohol are well documented along with his two public relapses as a Texas Ranger. To my eye, Hamilton has his life well under control in this area. Look, there’s a reason the proper term for people who deal with addiction issues is recovering not recovered. There is always the potential for relapse, even for those who are far further removed from their addictive behaviors than Hamilton and have attained decades of sobriety. But the fact that Hamilton has kept his relapses to one evening in each instance of behavior that would only qualify as a kind-of-wild Saturday night for a lot of single baseball players who don’t have issues with addiction, before climbing right back up on the wagon with renewed dedication to his sobriety tells me that no team should worry about ramifications from drug or alcohol use. Yes, there are temptations aplenty in Los Angeles but those temptations are present in every city fielding a Major League Baseball team, including Arlington, along with most towns that do not. I don’t think this is a legitimate concern.

I do, however, have a small concern about Hamilton’s playing time, namely that he has only played in more than 133 games two seasons in his Major League career. Now the fact that the primary reason for Hamilton’s numerous DL stints is because he plays hard does balance this drawback heavily in my opinion, but it’s still there. I also have concerns about Hamilton’s attitude, but only on occasion. Look, by all accounts, Hamilton is a great clubhouse guy. In interviews he comes across as affable, warmly chatty, humorous and caring. He’s an unselfish fielder, no matter where he’s moved in the outfield during a game. And his charitable activities are impressive. I believe him to be a genuinely nice guy. But there are times…strange Monster induced eye ailments keeping him out of games…throwing a coach under the bus after breaking an arm attempting to slide home…seeming to give up those last few weeks in Texas…when this big, talented, joyful kid of a baseball player seems more like a pouty brat. This isn’t a deal breaking concern from my perspective. I don’t expect it to come up very often in Hamilton’s relationship with the Angels as it didn’t in his relationship with the Rangers and, as mentioned before, his overall stats are still a plus during such times. However, it is clear to me that when Hamilton is unhappy there are repercussions on the job. Just something for Angels fans to keep in mind, along with the whiffing slumps that can and do come with such a free swinging style, while we’re doing our happy dances.

I may have a quibble here and there to be discussed lated, but is the lineup not still giddy making?! Another photo of the presser on my TV -- Photo by This is a very simple game...

I may have a quibble here and there to be discussed later, but is the lineup not still giddy making?! Another photo of the presser on my TV — Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, there you have it. There are a few drawbacks to this deal to keep in mind and the Angels still need to do something more with the starting rotation – Please Santa Jerry, please!! But the prospect of Hamilton’s bat in the lineup protecting Albert Pujols, or protected by Pujols (and, all things being Scioscia, probably both before season’s end) coming soon on the heels of Mike Trout turning a hard hit single into a triple, a bunt into a double or some other feat of amazement, makes me positively gleeful. Unexpectedly having too many outfielders is a potentially useful problem for the Angels to have depending on how it’s handled. And this was the first weekend in forever that I didn’t bring any work home with me. On the whole, I’d say it’s all rather giddy making. *resumes happy dance with exuberance*

Positively Gushing about the Angels Awesomeness and September Baseball Fun in General

Eleven wins in the last twelve games. Three sweeps and a series win. Moving ahead in the AL Wild Card race game by game by game. Back. To. Back. Sweeps!! The season’s end results may still officially be one great big question mark but, oh my lord, is it ever fun to be an Angels fan right now!! The guys are just on fire. The games are exciting and hard fought on both sides…and they actually mean something. I mean, Friday’s game against the Tigers alone was everything I think September baseball should be.

The best part of the whole thing is…well, let’s be honest here. The best part from my perspective is the Angels. But almost as wonderful as that best part is the fact that, with both leagues’ Wild Card races running hot and heavy, there are a lot of fan bases enjoying their September every bit as much as I am and there is a lot of great baseball out there for the enjoyment of all. I have to say, if this is what September’s going to look like from here on out, my journey towards acceptance of the new playoffs format isn’t going to be a very long one at all.

Soooooooo, long time no blog. And, thus, we have much to discuss…

Jered Weaver’s Tendonitis

On the one hand, it’s hard to lose Jered Weaver in the rotation at this point in the season and no injury news is ever welcome…except…well, I have to admit that I was actually quite relieved to hear about the tendonitis. It means that the trainers have identified a clear and fixable reason why Weaver’s been having so many troubles in his last few starts. Because, seriously, I was starting to worry that somehow…you know what? Let’s just not even go there, actually. Suffice to say, while I wasn’t panicking or anything yet, I was starting to get a little worried. Now, I’m just hoping Weaver and the staff balance the team’s needs appropriately with his body’s needs so that, when he does return, he is as fit and well as any pitcher ever can be come September…and October because it’s going to happen this year. I can feel it!

And, in the meantime, kudos to the rest of the rotation and to the bullpen for kicking ass and taking names! …even if it has involved occasional indulgences in fan torture. Hey, we’re supposed to elevate our heart rates for at least a half hour a day, right? 😉

Albert Pujols and Kendrys Morales

I swear, as each season rolls to the end, the race to secure a playoff berth becomes as much a game of chicken with the lurking specter of player injuries as it is a competition with the other teams. Sadly, the Angels have flinched a few times already and a couple of players are fighting injuries. Albert Pujols’ strained calf had as much potential for disaster as Weaver tendonitis but, thanks to all parties involved, the team is rolling with this punch as well. Even if running the bases looks painful, Pujols has gamely taken over the primary DH role for the time being and is just raking at the plate, and all with a huge smile on his face and plenty of encouragement for the whole team on his lips. I was always a fan, but now it’s safe to say I’m a huge fan!

And as for the other half of this equation, Kendrys Morales temporarily resumed his old role at first base so Pujols could rehab the calf. At first I wondered how this was going to work. Kendrys has played first here and there throughout the season and it is clear that he can still move and make some pretty tricky plays. But day in and day out? On that ankle? Nearly two weeks later, Kendrys is still working out just fine at first and he also continues to absolutely pound the ball. Seriously, this weekend was as much the Kendrys show as it was the Trout show. Among his many contributions, on Friday the man hit a legit triple. Yes, on that ankle. ‘Nuff said.

Except…if you want to read a little bit more about Kendrys, my latest LA Angels Insider piece is about the accident and his recovery season. Check it out if you get the chance. 🙂

Oh yeah, and Then There’s that Trout Kid…

Mike Trout. Can anyone ever praise this young man enough? I know I can’t, but that won’t stop me from trying. He’s actually going through a bit of a rough patch right now but that still means crucial hits, scoring important runs, back to back leadoff homeruns, leaping and diving plays in center, oh, and a walk off robbed homerun. Yeah, you read that right, a walk off robbed homerun. He began Saturday night’s game by putting the Angels on the board with a leadoff homerun and finished it by robbing Prince Fielder of a home run for the final out, thus earning the Captain Morgan pose salute from Torii Hunter — I don’t know when exactly the guys started this bit of fantastic silliness, but I sure hope it continues.

Watching Trout play baseball is like watching all of the stories I have heard about the Golden Age of baseball come alive before my eyes. And to think, he’s still maturing as a player. I don’t think I can fully wrap my brain around what that might mean for future seasons, but I am thrilled at thought of spending them in a more or less perpetual state of dropped jaw. (Some mother, somewhere: If you don’t close your mouth and stop making that face, your face is going to freeze in that silly shocked expression forever! Angels Fan: As long as I get to keep watching Trouty play, Mom, I don’t care!)

Suffice to say that right now the Angels destiny is firmly in their own hands and those hands – along with their bats, gloves, arms and legs — are looking strong, steady and capable of great things.

What a Difference a Win Makes! …Especially After the Angels’ Terrible Week.

“I love winning, man. I fucking love winning. You know what I’m sayin’? It’s like, better than losing!”

…because truly there is an appropriate Bull Durham quote for just about every situation in baseball and in life and that little gem is my quote for today for obvious reasons. Coming off of an awful weekend at the end of a terrible week, Angels players and fans alike badly needed last night’s victory over the Indians and, if my sigh of relief was any indication, the whole of the Angels family slept a lot more relaxed last night than they have in days. Why was this win so cathartic? Well, let us review.

It was the week so bad even Jered Weaver couldn’t salvage a win!!!

Jered Weaver was not at his best, but not at his best is still a quality start. The team needed to pick him up and didn’t. Let’s hope games like that are all behind us now. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Doesn’t that sound like it should be the tag line from an episode of the Twilight Zone? Trust me, I was at Sunday’s game and that description is apt. It wasn’t horror movie scary – my understanding is that that would better describe Saturday’s game during which, in hind sight, I am glad I was busy – but it was disturbing and surreal down to the umpires’ calls.

Mark Trumbo began finding his swing again on Sunday a most welcome sight for fans even if it didn’t lead to any runs. Quiet Angels bats were a huge part of the problem Sunday and have done as much damage this season than starting pitching or the bullpen. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mariners ourfielders Trayvon Robinson, Michael Saunders and Eric Thames wait out a pitching change. You wanna talk surreal? Isn’t it beyond weird not seeing Ichiro out there? Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

In a nutshell, Jered Weaver had a bad day. Big deal. It’s bound to happen a handful of times in any given season. And it wasn’t even that bad of a day, if you think about it. He gave up three runs. Okay, for Weaver, that’s a pretty bad day because usually any team getting more than one off him should consider it their lucky day. But, still. Three runs. This was a quality start, a winnable game…unless, of course, your team had to beg, borrow and steal just to get one run. Can’t win if you don’t score. And then the Bullpen, who had performed admirably in a string of games leading up to this point, gave up another run just to add insult to injury.

Mark Trumbo fields the pickoff attempt as John Jaso dives back to first. This would have been a much better photo if I could say we got him out or the Mariners stranded him but, no, he went on to score another run, his second that day. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Bobby Wilson takes a swing – included because Bobby Wilson got a hit which always makes me happy (I tend to root extra hard for guys who bust their ass trying to be an everyday player), I was there and, just take a look, his swings that at bat were gorgeous. …Sadly he was out moments later on a fielder’s choice. Story of the game. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, Weaver suffered only his second loss of the season. The loss would not even be worth noting beyond that fact if it wasn’t a mid August game in the middle of an Angels slump fit to give any fan pause…if it wasn’t for the fact that poor Angels pitching had been contributing to team losses at an alarming rate including throughout the week leading up to this game and then the team turned around and squandered a quality start…if not for the fact that fans could watch the division and wild card race distances growing with each game. But it was all of those things, oh and then the Angels turned around and did pretty much the same thing on Monday with C.J. Wilson on the mound. Ugh!

Ernesto Frieri fires one towards the plate. Ernasty was a little less than truly nasty Sunday, giving up a run. This is a problem that has plagued every member of the bullpen on an off all season. Fortunately, by Tuesday’s game he looked just like his usual nasty, bat missing self. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Howie Kendrick leads off third after hitting a triple. With a hit and a walk that eventually scored the Angels’ lone run for the day, Kedrick had a pretty good game. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

So, it was a week and a weekend so bad that many Angels fans declared the season over in frustration. I left the game Sunday tweeting something to the effect of ‘I have never declared a season over until making the post season becomes a mathematical impossibility and I’m not about to start now’, and I stand by that. However improbable it may seem, I have hope unless it becomes literally mathematically impossible. So with that context, imagine my joy at seeing everything working right for the Angels last night, even with a few bobbles. Zack Greinke looked great. And if he gave up one too many runs for a quality start, no matter, the offense and some great fielding picked him up and even offset a scary bullpen moment from the usually reliable LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, it was probably more cathartic for fans to see a win that happened with a few mishaps because it was starting to feel like the Angels couldn’t win unless they had near perfection on their side. True, it’s only one win. However, the way the team looked making it happen I see much more of that in the Angels future. Which brings us back to my post’s opening quote…because…well…seriously, could anyone capture the feeling better than Nuke LaLoosh did? I think not!

So, on that note, let me leave you with a few photos that will make you smile…well, they make me smile 🙂 :

Totally inspiring: the Angels division and World Series champion flags fly proudly in centerfield. I think the team needs a few more of these, how about you? Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mike Trout takes off for second base as Mike Carp lookes on…ultimately it was a foul ball, but Trout still leads the league in stolen bases and entertaining facial expressions. Trout was in a mini slump at this point. Even his swing looked wrong but, if Tuesday night was any indication, even Trout’s slumps are crazy fast. He seems to have regained his swing and overcome his difficulties. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Mark Trumbo mostly kept a straight face but he had John Jaso cracking up on first base. Given the amount of laughter they could only have been talking about Plate Umpire Mike Eastabrook’s strike zone. Seriously? He tossed Mike Butcher? In the 1st inning? Butch never gets tossed. Angels vs. Mariners, August 12, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Angels Aces: Both Smokin’ and Not So Much So Lately

Ace (ās) noun

1) A playing card, die, or domino having one spot or pip.

2) A military aircraft pilot who has destroyed five or more enemy aircraft.

3) An expert in a given field.

4) A starting pitcher who confounds opposing batters deep, deep into the game, giving his/her team everything they need to win.

5) A starting pitcher with the power to bring his/her team’s losing streak to a crashing halt with the power of one start.

6)

Jered Weaver, Angels vs. Rangers, July 20, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

Yeah, that last one’s my favorite definition too!!

Jered Weaver is having a Cy Young worthy season so far and currently leads the league in wins, E.R.A. and WHIP – though he is uncharacteristically lagging in strike outs – and if it weren’t for that one awful start in Texas his lead in each of those categories would be sizable indeed. Oh yeah, and then there is the little matter of that No Hitter. Jered Weaver is an Angels Ace and then some!

So what’s the problem? Well, as any Angels fan can tell you, going into the season we all thought our team had Weaver plus another 2.5 starting pitchers who could fit the definition of Ace – the 1/2 ace being Ervin Santana because, well, some years he’s ace-like, other years he’s really not. And the season sure started out that way. No, really. It absolutely did! Remember? C.J. Wilson had as many or slightly more wins than Weaver throughout April and May, and poor Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were pitching their hearts out but seemingly couldn’t buy runs from our offense to save their lives? The Angels scored three runs for Santana in his first start and not a single run after that for his next five starts? Okay, good. I see this is starting to ring a bell.

Then Mike Trout came up from AAA, Albert Pujols became comfortable at the plate and how, and the offense got hot. So naturally the Angels’ stellar starting pitching began to…suffer just about every Murphy’s Law calamity in the book. Hence the problem: what started out looking like four Aces and a more than decent number five starter became one Ace and four clubs…as in balls clubbed over the fence both at a fair clip and in startling quantities. Queue the little girl from Strictly Ballroom: My, that was unexpected!

So what do you do with a situation like that? Well, lately the answer is ‘not win a whole heck of a lot.’ Granted, the starting pitching situation is far from being the Angels only problem at present but it is a pretty big one. Fortunately, it’s one I think could right itself in the next few starts. Not definitely will, but could – and I’m 75% certain that ain’t just my inner Pollyana talkin’. Check my logic. Clearly there are no problems with Weaver. And as for newly acquired and thus far winless Angels starter Zack Greinke? Well, the winless part isn’t entirely his fault and, more importantly, he’s Zack Greinke. He should settle down eventually and be just fine…though also scoring runs for him when he pitches well would still be a nice gesture on the part of the offense. Haren looks much healthier and is pitching much better since his DL stint and seems more willing to listen to his body, witness his delaying his 2nd start back. To my eye, he’s still not getting the full back extension at the point of release that he used to. (And there are probably other changes I don’t see. I am sooooo not a pitching coach.) I suspect this is a question of unlearning the newer mechanics his back troubles dictated he adopt for the first half of the season. I have hope that this can happen quickly provided he doesn’t reinjure himself.

Now Santana and Wilson are the big questions marks for me. Santana actually did look a lot better in his last start which was intentionally limited to 15 outs. This thrilled me to no end, but I’m aware it’s a small sample size. Tonight’s game will be very telling. As for Wilson, he’s had problems with fading in the second half for as long as he’s been a starter – ask any Rangers fan. If I were C.J. Wilson, knowing this, I would curtail my non baseball hobbies starting after the All Star Break through Halloween. It couldn’t hurt and very likely might help. We know the closed door meeting he just had with the managers was supposedly about finding the strike zone rather than nibbling, but I wonder if it didn’t touch on this subject as well? If it didn’t, they really should be discussing this and soon. This also seems like a fixable problem if everyone, including C.J., has the right attitude about it.

Anyway, the Angels are just plain frustrating right now – a subject I touched on with a bit of whimsy at L.A. Angels Insider, if you’re interested. But they are far from being hopeless and if the starting pitching can get back to realizing its potential soon, suddenly the Angels become post season hopefuls all over again.

 

Editor’s Note: It is still a small sample size but Ervin Santana looked pretty good to me last night. Oh, he did have one very bad inning to be sure, but he started out with a 1-2-3- inning and then recovered from the bad one to not allow another run for the next 4 and change. Oh, and the Bullpen also had a great night. So. We’ve got that going for us… 😉