With only one day left in 2010, I believe it is customary to make a top 10 or some other sort of retrospective list. I don’t recall any actual written rule to this effect in the Big Book of Blogging Rules, wherever that may be, but it hey, the end of the year just cries out for such things, doesn’t it? So why buck tradition? If finding 10 things in this season of all seasons that make me happy to be an Angels fan makes me the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels baseball, well, I did choose the handle Blithescribe after all *big grin*. In no particular order, here are my personal 10 favorite things about Angels baseball in 2010:
Jered Weaver – Angels fans were all so very worried about who could step up and fill the ace’s shoes with Lackey headed for the Red Sox. That seems so wonderfully silly now! I actually wasn’t that worried. I didn’t know he would step up so fully this season, but I did remember that post season game against the Yankees in 2009 when Weaver became the 8th inning set up man in a moment of need and he came in looking like a steely eyed gunslinger and sat them down one, two, three. I remember standing up and cheering in my living room and thinking future ace. And to be the AL strikeout leader in 2010, icing on the cake! Now let’s get this man some run support in 2011 shall we.
Signing Dan Haren – This was one of those, really, we got him? Way to go Reagins! moments. A second ace to add to the rotation, he was an absolute pleasure to watch in 2010 and finished his partial season here with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. I hope that these stats are indicative of what we can expect to see in 2011. The fact that we happened to be there for his first (Where he took the Youk line drive to the pitching arm, ouch!) and second starts made this extra fun for me.
7/31 and 8/1 against the Rangers – Both were absolute, bare knuckled brawls of a game, the Angels were in top form, and we had tickets to both for our anniversary – this lady demands diamonds on such occasions, natch 😉 The Rangers won the first game, but the second was Weaver vs. Cliff Lee, the Angels pulled it off and it was quite possibly the best game I have seen from a stadium.
Players Doing What’s Best for the Team – Torii moving to right field so the Angels could bring Bourjos into center; Napoli taking over first base and doing a darned good job at it really, after Kendry’s injury when he hadn’t played first base since the minors; both were selfless, team spirited moves and, to my mind, damn clutch.
The Month of June – Instead of crumpling in the aftermath of Kendry’s season ending injury, the team cowboyed up and played like, well, like the Angels for the month of June and it was a beautiful thing to see…and then they crumpled. Would that the June play had lasted the rest of the year.
Peter Bourjos – It was such a breath of fresh air to watch this young bundle of talent and enthusiasm move up to the majors. And you’ve all heard it hundreds of time by now, but oh my God is this kid fast. In the games we attended alone I saw him rob four homeruns and turn two sure thing out bloopers to the short stop into a base hits. And he’s smart on the bases and out in the field too. He’s not perfect. He’s definitely a rookie so there were a few issues, primarily with his offense but he seemed to be improving by small increments with each at bat and I for one really look forward to watching him blossom into a full blown All Star in 2011.
Getting to See the Rookie Call-Ups in Action – While it would have been better if the Angles were in contention for a post season and the rookie call-ups mostly sat on the bench, the way things worked out it was a lot of fun to be there at the Big A for to see so many of their firsts – Conger, Trumbo and Romine’s first at bats, their first turns on defense. As with Bourjos, it was a bright spot to see so much youthful enthusiasm on the field, and I think we’ll be seeing Conger and Romine again, Conger quite soon.
16 Games! – My husband and I managed to go to 16 games this year. We typically watch between 100 and 130 of the games in some fashion, mostly on TV but this is the first time we’ve made it to the Big A, which is oh so much better, for so many. No, this is not earth shattering for Angels baseball as a whole, but it was a big deal in terms of my personal fan experience.
The Growth of the Friday Night Ritual – this is another one that would only matter in my house. A good bottle of wine, a gourmet dinner from our own kitchen and Angels baseball became what we called the Friday Night Ritual. It’s fun, companionable, affordable and this year we grew to love it to the point where we turned down all other invitations…’tis such a fine, fine line between the fanatic and fan!
Personal Firsts – Kendry’s exhibition game grand slam against the Dodgers was the first grand slam my husband had ever seen live at a stadium – he didn’t go to as many Dodger games as I did as a kid ;). This was the first year I timed the tickets such that I got to see Weaver pitch at the stadium and honestly, you can’t really appreciate the sheer amount of ground this 6′ 7″ talented stork of a man covers and the deceptiveness of his delivery until you’ve seen it at the game. The first time either of us was there for an entire series – the last homestand against the A’s, many, many thanks to D for his generosity in just handing my husband the season tickets, this game and so many others. And the list goes on…
Suffice to say, yes it was a dismal season. But there were bright spots and enjoyable times for me at least and I for one am ready to call clean cup move down and see what the 2011 season brings…ideally Adrian Beltre but, if not, I am still eager to see what the Angels can do.
First the Nationals, then the Red Sox and now, apparently, the Phillies have pulled off a completely unexpected out of left field, or in this case the Bullpen, deal. Cliff Lee. Wow. All this time, I thought that the secret unnamed suitor was sort of a joke, part of the general circus atmosphere and most likely the Nationals anyway, but it was serious. I think we now know the reason Cliff Lee has been off hunting deer all this time – he couldn’t trust himself not to break out in a big Fooled You! grin…much like Carl Crawford, apparently. (Tony Reagins, I take back most of my griping about you, on the Crawford issue at least.)
Yeah, so there I was, diligently writing my company’s newsletter (Yes. Still. At just shy of midnight. Why do you ask?), enjoying a lovely glass of port (Mitchella Vineyards Riportella III – tawny, brandied cherries, slightly spicy, absolutely gorgeous – and, yes, de rigueur when one is still writing one’s company newsletter at just shy of midnight), when on a whim I decided to glance at a few of the MLBlogs until the latest fit of I-don’t-really-want-to-be-writing-about-HR-issues-at-this-hour-on-my-own-time-thank-you-very-much spawned stuck-ness passed. And, much like Wednesday evening, I was left briefly wondering if I didn’t somehow check out The Onion by mistake. Nope, no joke. Lee’s a Phillie, again. (So, Yogi, gotta ask. Would that be déjà vu all over again or just plain ordinary déjà vu?)
I’d be lying if I said I was sorry the Angels won’t have to face Lee in 2011 unless all parties involved have an excellent post season run…and, with Tony Reagins’ latest announcement that having a full season with Kendry Morales and Dan Haren in addition to the two pitchers he has acquired is the equivalent of pulling off four free agency signings, the early odds on the Angels achieving this feat aren’t looking as good as I had hoped. Sorry Tony, I still really have to disagree with you on that one. But I digress (Yes, I am on my second glass of port, why do you ask? LOL!)…
I do offer my sincere condolences to my friends on MLBlogs, especially the Yankees and Rangers fans, who were hoping their team would snag Cliff Lee. We all know what it is to root really hard for our guys and what it is to be extremely disappointed when they don’t get what we most want them have. As one sometime, and recently oft, disappointed fan to another, I feel your pain. To borrow loosely the wisdom according to Scarlett O’Hara, that greatest of all pragmatists, Tomorrow is another day. You can stand it then. And later there will be small satisfaction in knowing that you won’t have to face him unless it’s in the post season either.
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.”
The Angels made move number two today and signed another left handed pitcher – respected reliever and successful occasional closer Scott Downs. Downs is lights out and I am very pleased with this unexpected deal. Downs is 35 but doesn’t seem to be slowing down any – with an ERA well under 3 and a lower WHIP than and the same pitcher’s batting average as Felix Hernandez – and even improved over his 2009 season. The Angels could use another lefty and a senior presence in the Bullpen, especially one who could be another viable closer if it turns out that Fernando Rodney’s 2010 season was not an aberration. This second deal was a fantastic precursor to a really big third deal, right? Right?
Ah, but there’s the rub. When he announced this deal, Angles GM Tony Reagins said “I believe we are where we need to be at this point,” and “This is not the precursor to another deal.” In the Bullpen, right? We’re right where we need to be and don’t need another deal in the Bullpen, right? Tony? Mike? Anybody? Because, really, I don’t think we’re right where we need to be as a team. We need another bat…a big one…and a filler or two for some of the defensive holes I’ve been mentioning…
When I initially heard the Scott Downs announcement, before I read the article, I thought that signing Downs and declaring the bullpen complete instead of going after Soriano might actually be genius. It could add another strong reliever and potential closer to the Bullpen with enough of a savings to give the Angels more leeway to make a realistic – read, insane! – bid for Adrian Beltre, who could shore up the more than sketchy third base situation I mentioned in my last post. Oh, and Beltre can hit the ball too, just a little bit. Another strong possibility Tony Reagins should be considering with this signing is trading one of our coveted young relievers for a strong bat not currently on the free agent’s list. But it doesn’t sound like Tony is considering either option.
I realize that the off season is far from over. The Hot Stove is still bubbling away. What GMs say to the press and what they are actually planning to do may bear little if any resemblance to one another. So I am far from panicking at this point, but let’s just say Tony’s quotes aren’t doing a whole lot to make me feel good either.
When the Nationals upset everyone’s plans by landing Jayson Werth, unexpectedly and so very, very early, I was worried this would happen. When the Red Sox signed Adrian Gonzalez I was somewhat relieved but still concerned. And, wouldn’t you know it, golly gosh darn it all to heck in a forking hand basket and other similarly lengthy strings of appropriate-for-the-family-show-that-is-MLBlogs swearing, the goram Red Sox went and signed Carl Crawford. Grrrrrr…er…I mean, well played Mr. Epstein. Well played. The Sox are going to be tough again this year. No, on second thought, grrrrrrrrrrr really covered it better.
Well then, moving right along. Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins met with the press on separate occasions yesterday afternoon and my original plan for the evening was to blog about their – unsurprisingly similar – comments. Gotta love Hot Stove…and, actually I do. I’m just not particularly in love with it tonight. Although typically noncommittal, both Scioscia and Reagins did say that bumping up the Angels offense is the primary goal for the off season. Reagins indicated that this could be accomplished by either trades or free agency acquisitions or a combination of the two. When the subject of the Angels trying to land Crawford came up, he was evasive but didn’t outright say no the way he did with questions about the Angels making an offer to Cliff Lee. He later tantalizing said that signing one great free agent or signing two very good ones could be similarly beneficial.
Scioscia and Reagins said that the Angels would be perfectly comfortable heading into the 2011 season with third base as it stands now – manned by a platoon of primarily Maicer Izturis backed by Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood. I completely disagree with being comfortable with the third base situation, incidentally. Maicer really is the Rally Monkey. When he plays, he makes things happen, at the plate, in the field and on the base paths. It’s just the “when he plays” part that is the difficulty. He is plagued by injuries that leave him on the DL for significant stretches two and three times a season. Callaspo made some great plays for the Angels and had some fantastic plate appearances but his glove and his bat are inconsistent. And Brandon Wood? I am sure you already know all about his well publicized issues. I wish it were different, really I do. If only his major league success matched his heart and his desire, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But that just isn’t the case and he hasn’t worked out in spectacular fashion. But I digress…
Reading between the lines of all of these comments, which is always dangerous, I believe that signing Crawford and keeping the three-way third base platoon was Plan A. With Plan A off the table, I believe that signing Adrian Beltre and possibly one other person and sticking with an Abreu, Bourjos and Hunter outfield is Plan B. Lyle Spencer, MLB.com’s Angels beat reporter, seemed to be leading us toward these conclusions, though I’m hardly certain that’s any less dangerous than just reading between the lines for myself. But it’s fun to speculate and it’s not like they’re going to give us any more information to go on until the deal, whatever it is, is done.
Come on Mr. Reagins. Make a move please, a really good one…a move the player accepts even. Let’s not have all of the off season surprises coming at the Angels expense, shall we. Impatient? Who, me?
The coveting of Cliff Lee has been an understandable thing on many blogs so I just thought I’d put that out there. I’m not saying that he’s not an amazing pitcher. Though I will not praise him to the positively silly degree that the post season announcers did, he is definitely one of the best pitchers currently in baseball. He is one of these pitchers, and seemingly one of those teammates, who would be an asset to any team’s starting rotation.
But asset though he may be, unless we all somehow walk through the backstop into a magical baseball wonderland where players are always treated fairly even without a contract, umpires have the perfect angle to make the call on every play and Cliff Lee is willing to come to the Angels and *poof* just take over Scott Kazmir’s contract while Kaz begins an epic Tolkein-esque quest in search of his lost slider, I don’t want him for the Angels. Our starting rotation was one of our strengths this season – once you ignore the aberration that was April and, unfortunately Kaz’ difficulties. If everyone stays healthy in 2011 -and the Angels don’t make any abysmally stupid decisions regarding Weaver’s arbitration – we will have two aces in Weaver and Haren and two additional excellent starters in Pineiro and Santana (Be the good Santana please! You are not a Star Trek movie. We don’t need even and odd number rules about you.). If Kaz is able to work things out in the offseason – and I really hope he is but I’m not holding my breath – then we’ll have a great 5th starter too. If not we do have a few options that keep this from being a catastrophic need.
What the Angels need is Kendry back healthy and ready to play at the level to which we have all become accustomed – and to all reports so far, he’s looking like his old self, yay! We need another outfielder and a third baseman, and we need them both to have big or, barring that, consistent bats. The minor league call ups in the Angels’ bullpen were really something special this year and helped shore up our reliever woes at lot towards the end of the season, but an additional, reliable reliever with some veteran status wouldn’t hurt and then there is the closing situation. Myself, I like Walden for the position. I think he showed some promise there in September. But if those who know far more than I disagree and Rodney isn’t performing any better, then this will need to be addressed as well.
This is the Angels real needs list and it’s long and expensive, so I am glad Tony Reagins hasn’t been making any trips to Arkansas this fall and doesn’t appear to have any planned for the future. Angels fans often joke that Tony is some sort of trade and player acquisition ninja, that you’ll rarely, if ever, see one of his deals coming until it’s negotiated, signed and everyone involved is ready for the press conference. Torii Hunter. Del Taco. Need I say more? So I suppose anything is possible. But I certainly hope this one is as far off the radar as it appears to be. Lee is wonderful, but leave him to the Yankees and Rangers to duke it out over. They have a lot less holes to shore up in the off season than the Angels do.