This end of the regular season prep, ball park therapy is great and all, but I have to say that my second session was significantly less satisfying than my first. Eight innings of solid pitching love from Zack Greinke went sadly unrequited by the Angels offense and were outright spurned by the bullpen in the 9th. It was deflating. (No, worries though, subsequent Angels victories have buoyed my spirits, but I’ll get to that. 🙂 )
Now, I didn’t expect the Angels to sweep the Rangers by any means. I was fairly certain they‘d win the first game with Jered Weaver on the mound. But, to be honest, I rather expected the Angels would lose Wednesday night’s game. Of course all of my jokes about CJ Wilson being the Arlinington Candidate are just that, but the facts of the matter are he’s rarely been good for much of the second half and he hasn’t been good against the Rangers this season. I did, however, think the Angels had a real chance to take the series on Thursday and, as it turns out, they did have chance. They just didn’t seize that chance, as attested to even more strongly by the long line of 0’s peppered with a few 1s and one 2 in the hit column than Ernesto Frieri’s errant pitch turned nifty souvenir for some “lucky” fan in fair territory in the 9th. Like I said, deflating…until the White Sox series!!
I know, I know, it’s only two wins and the Angels now have a long, long, looooooooong shot ahead of them to earn a wild card berth. But that would be practicality and rationality speaking. I think all diehard baseball fans are just a little bit crazy to begin with and only become more so when the post season is still a faint hope. To wit, one win against the Rangers and I was hopeful. Two straight losses against the Rangers and I believed that those faint notes I was hearing in the distance were the fabled fat lady going through her warm up scales…
…But one solid Angels victory against the White Sox (with way more than the mere requisite pieces of flair in my estimation!) and I start thinking dreamy eyed Angels happy thoughts again. You know, all the Angels have to do is sweep the White Sox and then it would just like winning both the Sox and Rangers series, right? I mean, the White Sox are only in first place in their division with a few players having career years. Pshaw, how hard could that be? Then Baltimore won today and I started hearing those scales again only to have hope return when the A’s lost. Now with a second Angels victory, I’m back to dreamy thoughts of a sweep…hey it could happen. Jered Weaver is on the mound tomorrow.
And then? Okay, now I will be rational. The Angels really can’t afford to lose more than one or two more games before the end of the season and the A’s have to lose a lot more than that. The Angels have to stop filling the bases up with no outs only to strand every runner at the end of the inning. The starters and bullpen need to need to be spot on. No more base running gaffes. No more fielding gaffes. Practically speaking, the Angels need to play playoff baseball now and for the rest of the season however long that may be. Possible? Oh hell yes. Probable? We shall see. Fun? Absolutely! More ball park therapy, please. Stat!
And, in the meantime, enjoy a few more pics from the ballgame on Thursday:
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.
One of the best things about starting this blog has definitely been my interactions with fellow bloggers. You are all amazing, inspiring writers and a lot of fun to read, the perfect accompaniment to any baseball season good or bad. And, in the last few weeks, two fun opportunities have come my way as a result of these interactions.
Our colleague Matt, who writes the kickass Dodgers MLBlog Dodger Familia Thoughts, hosts a Live Radio/Podcast called Think Blue Weekly on Blog Talk Radio. He has invited me to join him for a special Freeway Series episode this Sunday at 8 pm PT. So, if you would like to hear me embarrass myself in public – I’m very much a blogger not a talker 😉 – or, more importantly, check out Matt’s work, tune in at this webpage http://www.blogtalkradio.com/think-blue-weekly on Sunday.
In other news, in addition to this blog I am now a columnist with L.A. Angels Insider, a much larger, well respected member of the Halosphere. Please check them out!
As for the Angels, ah, Interleague! Interleague play is back in full swing for 2012 which means, of course, that the Angels are on a tear. I’m one of those odd duck baseball fans who actually enjoys Interleague play – teams playing at highly unusual venues, DC/Marvel comic mash up worthy matchups, AL pitchers batting, need I say more? The fact that the Angels happen to kick ass at Interleague play is merely the icing on the cake – rich, delicious, cream cheese butter cream icing thickly slathered over every inch of the cake’s exterior and in between each moist layer, mind you, but the icing never the less.
Just a couple of random thoughts from the weekend:
- So far Colorado has been good for most Angels batting averages but it has truly been the Trouty and Torii Show! Those two need their own theme song to accompany a montage of their hits and feats of daring do from the series so far. Maybe it could be kind of like M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, only punctuated with the sounds of clobbered baseballs flying off of wooden bats instead of machine guns.
- Sometime closer, sometime setup man Ernesto Frieri has proven that he is in fact human, having given up two hits as an Angel now, but continues to blow away the competition. Okay, so two guys reached first. It’s not like it did them any good. Listening to MLBN rehash Brandon McCarthy’s ‘Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ tweet it occured to me that what he should have tweeted was ‘Frieri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?’ because unlike Siri, Ernasty knows how.
- So Albert Pujols can play third and Kendrys Morales looked pretty darned good at first, all things considered. Neither is a great long term option at this time. Besides, I seem to remember hearing something about Pujols’ throwing elbow having issues when he spends too much time at third. Cardinals fans or other longtime Pujols fans, care to confirm, deny, or otherwise elaborate? But it’s nice to know that the Angels do have this option. And, yes I’m a softy, but seeing Kendrys’ huge grin over getting to play in the infield once again, however briefly, was touching and sweet.
- LaTroy Hawkins is back from the DL and he looked pretty darned good! Welcome back good sir. The bullpen has been trying valiantly in your absence with some definite success – and some scarier moments I’d rather not remember sufficiently to write about them – but we need every good arm we can get! And Jered Weaver is expected to throw off the mound on Monday and return from the DL on schedule. Reportedly his back feels fine now. I pretty much want to just type ‘yay’ over and over again with many, many exclamation points, filling this page The Shining-style but, you know, in a psycho happy way instead of just a psycho way over that bit of news, but I’ll spare you…for now. Once he’s officially back with the team, I make no guarantees. 😉
Hey, better late than never, right?
So, when last the Angels played the Rangers I wrote that their one victory answered the question of “Can the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ in the affirmative but that the massive beating the team took for the rest of the series left us with a new question, ‘will the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ Well, I am happy to be able to write that this series left not a doubt in my mind on either count. The Angels can and will compete with the Rangers in 2012!
Okay, so the Angels didn’t look so hot on Sunday. I blame that on some serious celebrating the night before. Oh, I don’t have any factual evidence to support my theory but let’s just say that some of them sure seemed to be reacting to that sun in the time honored fashion of the moderately hung over. As for the Mariners series, well it’s been hit and miss but the Angels are still showing a lot of fight, an essential characteristic for future wins and, indeed, a hallmark of the Texas series. The Angels aren’t letting many opposing runs go unanswered these days and it is fun to watch.
Saturday night was an odd game. Neither starting pitcher was dealing, neither team went wild with the bats and neither team avoided a few serious fielding flubs. In the end, it came down to Angels base running and Angels fielding in the sense of the team being a well oiled turning two machine. Also, the Angels’ errors seemed to come at less crucial times…and no one decided to begin pouting to an umpire with no thought of completing a play, just sayin’. And can I just say that it was downright giddy making to see the first three guys in the lineup – Mike Trout (who is Superman by the way, check it out), Alberto Callaspo and Albert Pujols – hitting the ball, getting on base, causing chaos on the basepaths and generally doing exactly what the first three guys in any lineup are supposed to do. Was it a pretty win? No, not by any means. But it was a win and honestly it was darned fun game to watch.
As for my photos, I’m getting a little tired of the same old, same old guys taking a monster swing, guys diving back to the bag and guys making a catch photos. So to switch it up a bit, for this game I am only using photos that made me smile or even laugh. Enjoy!
Wednesday evening, as Mark Trumbo’s broken bat fly ball arced into the glove of Yankee left fielder Dewayne Wise for the game’s final out, I experienced a brief flush of disappointment. But a rush of pride followed so quickly on disappointment’s heels and so powerfully, that I stood up in my living and gave the Angels a standing ovation of one. No, this is not my usual reaction to an Angels loss, far from it. But after that streak? A thrillingly fun eight game winning streak that was revitalizing to players and fans alike? I could do no less.
When I’ve worried and complained about the Angels this season, it’s primarily been about the team’s lack of fight – their missing swagger and the propensity of all too many players to seem as though they had given up the minute the Angels fell behind. Well, 8 wins and 40 runs on 75 hits with plenty of successful comeback moments later and that sense of defeat is gone. Everyone is fighting hard to win and the team has well deserved swagger to spare. In short, these are the Angels we have been waiting for all season. Judging from the grins and playful, loose expressions on the field, these are the Angels the players have been trying to be all season too. Now if that doesn’t deserve a standing O, then I don’t know what does.
So now the streak has come to end, as all great streaks eventually must, and I am still filled with a sense of possibility for this team. I mean, seriously – from last place to second place while cutting a significant swath through the number of games by which we trail Texas all with one streak? If the Angels keep playing like this, anything is possible, though I would still advocate a play for and enjoy each game as it comes philosophy. Hey, ‘we gotta play it one game at a time’ is cliché for a reason. 😉
After the Angels last series against Texas, I wrote “Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen.” And I still absolutely believe this to be true. But while the conclusion I drew a few weeks ago was one of disappointment and questions, today I can’t help but smile and feel that the Angels are meeting this criteria.
In the month of May we lost Jered Weaver, Chris Iannetta, LaTroy Hawkins, Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans to the DL and Torii Hunter to family issues back home (which is having your priorities straight in my book). Losing your ace, your primary catcher, one of your more reliable bullpen arms and the majority of the outfield would have been enough reason for any team to crumple. Instead, these Angels rose to the occasion, bringing us to our feet like we’ve been dying to do all season. How the team continues to play with these missing teammates is going to be another test. The starting rotation in particular has some big shoes to fill with Weaver on the DL – literally as well as figuratively, he is 6’ 7”. 😉 But unlike I might have felt in early April, I feel strongly that these guys are up to the challenge. And, honestly, the way the team handled the loss on Wednesday spoke volumes more to me even than the way they handled their wins through the streak.
Ervin Santana started out shaky and then went from shaky to downright bad in the 3rd, giving up 5 runs. Again, bad starts happen even to great pitchers. It’s all in how the team responds, and this team responded by fighting their heart out. Some clutch hits here, a Trumbomb there, a couple of heads up defensive plays over there and suddenly the Angels have tied it up, are very much back in the game and Santana has sufficiently remastered his control to give the team 1-2-3 innings in the 4th and the 5th before retiring. Yes, we wound up losing that one, but when a team shows that much fight and spirit to the end in a near win, there are going to be a lot more actual wins in their future.
And now we find ourselves face to face with Texas for another series, this time at the Big A. I don’t know about you, but I am so excited I’m having a hard time working today – but I’m pushing to get stuff done anyway. I have tickets for Saturday’s game and am likely to cave on my self-imposed one game per home stand rule and nab tickets for Sunday’s game as well given even the slightest push. This series is not do or die yet, but the Angels certainly have an opportunity to make a statement here. I have no idea what the outcome will be but, as long as these Angels are the team that takes the field, we are all truly looking forward to three great games!
When the weekend began, I was annoyed. Here were the Angels entering this must-watch first series of the year against the arch-rival Rangers, and I was stuck with the piles and piles of work I brought home in order to meet a tight deadline. Oh, I still had every intention of watching the games, just over the top edge of my laptop while I rewrote course catalogs for new states. Of course, you all saw what happened…the box scores and sports news recaps if nothing else. As it turned out, aside from Saturday, my work was far more entertaining and less frustrating than watching the Angels…and, for the record, anytime anything compares unfavorably to wrestling with Massachusetts state regulations, that’s really saying something. Ugh, indeed!
I think Angels fans were looking to this series for the answer to one of the biggest questions of our season. I know I was. So, can the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? You may be surprised at my answer but, yes they can, and win. Just look at Saturday. The Rangers weren’t asleep at the wheel, the Angels just actually showed up and played and it was a good close game.
However the frustrations and, let’s face it, colossal beat downs of this series replaced that question with a far more relevant one – will the Angels compete with the Texas Rangers? I don’t think we have a definitive answer to that one yet, but Friday and Sunday sure didn’t put a hopeful spin on things.
Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen. And this team? I just don’t know. I see some guys, mostly the younger guys, continuing to fight hard even when the score looks impossible and I see other guys starting to go through the motions when the game gets tough.
I prefer to look at some of the good examples. Take Jered Weaver. He had a terrible outing and his temper flare in the dugout after gaving up the grand slam to Nelson Cruz is now all over MLBN and ESPN. But you know what? I like his fire. No, he wasn’t able to get it back together when he got back to the mound in the next inning, but terrible starts happen. He didn’t give in, he got mad. When he finally left the game, singing along to Hit the Road Jack, the calmly livid look on his face reminded me very much of the his expression right before he threw the infamous pitch during that game against the Tigers last season. No, I don’t think this means opposing batters need to think about hitting the decks the next time Weaver takes the mound, but I do think it means he’s about to take care of business. And I’ll bet that in his next outings and, especially the next time he starts against Texas, things will be very different. We need to see more guys with that passion and resolve.
Mark Trumbo looks frustrated these days. Given a few seconds and even less effort, I think we can all come up with a whole slew of reasons why that might be. But he turns that frustration on the ball and knocks it deep into the stands. There are a lot of guys who are frustrated right now, but I want to see more of them channeling it like that. I also want to see more speed and defense in the outfield. Yes, Vernon Wells got a timely hit on Sunday and we’re grateful. But Peter Bourjos got a timely bunt that also led to runs on Saturday and which outfield had better defense which, let’s face it, we’re going to need against most of our competitors – Wells, Trout and Hunter or Trout, Bourjos and Hunter? (Yeah, I know Trumbo was actually in right on Sunday, but the Wells/Trout/Hunter combo has been more regular.) Which outfield had more fighters? Exactly. Now let’s hope Mike Scioscia comes to the same conclusion.
And there’s one more thing I think the team needs to do, stop worrying about championships, rankings, October, all of it and just play today. And then when tomorrow becomes today, they need to just play today again, and so on. It feels like everyone is pressing so hard for what could be at the end of the season, for what they feel should be that they are no longer able to just be and the end results are anything but pretty. And, from a sanity perspective, I think that goes doubly for us fans.
Money can make people do some pretty strange things and that in turn can lead to awful decision making. And the more money we’re talking about, the more things can get even stranger and the decisions even worse. This proportional relationship explains but in no way excuses baseball GM thinking, which at times provides us with arguably some of the most ridiculous occurrences of this phenomenon. Allow me to explain by putting a, completely random of course, GM big money/bad decision situation into everyday terms. Say I went shoe shopping and on a bizarre whim committed…oh, let’s pull a completely random number out thin air here…let’s say $86 million give or take on some sort of weird four season…er…month…four month payment plan. I mean, personally, I usually spend more like $40 to $60 on a pair of shoes and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than a bill on a pair but I have heard of Manolo Blahniks and the like – hello, I do have two X chromosomes! – so I suppose that $86 million might be reasonable for someone else. 😉
Now let’s say these shoes just plain turn out to be bad shoes. I mean, they’re certainly nice, personable shoes…er, I mean pretty. That’s it, pretty. They look good on my feet. But other than that, they’re bad shoes. They give me blisters, pinch my heels and make my feet ache. Every now and then it finally seems like they’re starting to get comfortable but then they don’t allow me to walk for any length of time before all the blisters and pinching start up again. And, to top it all off, they’re not just affecting my feet. When I wear these shoes, more often than not, they wreak havoc with the whole starting lineup…er…my back. My back and, actually my legs. Now these shoes worked out okay for a friend of mine but, as anyone can tell you, she’s much more hitter friendly…er…I mean she has much, much better arches.
So what should I do about these shoes? I mean, I committed all of that money to them, so I suppose I should just keep wearing them until I’m crippled right? There’s no way I could eBay the silly things. Who else would be crazy enough to commit so much money to them. And, in the mean time, other, better, more reliable shoes are just sitting there riding pine – in my closet that is, it’s one of those new fangled pine closets – and gathering dust. So, just to be fair, I should probably trade those better, more reliable shoes for another aging reliever and a few sticks of used bubble gum right? …er…I mean used gym socks, old flip flops and a couple of packs of mothballs. Suffice to say, this is completely ridiculous and I am thrilled that Major League GMs don’t get to make my sartorial decisions for me.
So, baseball. Because this blog is about baseball after all, not about shoes, crazy monitory decisions or strange, badly used literary devices…okay, maybe it is frequently about strange, badly used literary devices, but I digress. Peter Bourjos. The trade talk has been flying through the rumor mill again like crazy and, coincidentally or not, he’s riding the pine again tonight. I know his bat has been terrible so far this season. I also know that, so far, when Sosh puts him back in for a game, he hits…and then is benched again, which isn’t exactly sensible or positive reinforcement. I also know he started out slow last season and finished out 2011 hitting a respectable .271, a figure we sure wish Vernon Wells had achieved. And his defense? Oh my word, his defense!! So this makes no sense to me.
As far as Bourjos’ latest replacement goes, I love Mike Trout. I want him to stay in the lineup, batting leadoff, and in the outfield every game. But I want to see Peter Bourjos in the outfield with him instead of Vernon Wells. Bourjos is younger. Bourjos is faster. Bourjos catches everything in sight! Bourjos made changes at the plate last season that lead to a respectable batting average and appears to be on the verge of doing the same thing this season while Wells is, at best, one step forward, two steps right back to last season. Keeping and playing Bourjos and Trout together would mean many more seasons of an amazing outfield combination that can’t even see their peak approaching from where they stand, as opposed to aging outfield.
If the team hadn’t committed so much money to Wells, I don’t think we’d even be having this conversation. But they did and we are. However, I don’t think any amount of money justifies the team cost of continually not using the best tool we currently have available…and it certainly doesn’t justify trading that tool for another bullpen arm. Since I first saw Bourjos play in 2010, I have been dying to see a regular outfield with Trout in left, Bourjos in center and Torii in right (for as long as Torii’s an Angel and I do hope that’s longer than this just this season). I just hope Jerry Dipoto wants to see the same thing.
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And now the highly anticipated Angels/Rangers game is about to begin! Go Halos!!! Of course…I’ll be catching it delayed by about an hour and 15. Seth doesn’t get off work until 6 and the Friday Night Ritual just isn’t the same if I start the game without him – besides, he’d wait for me. 🙂 In the mean time, I’ll be preparing the Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels spread – blue cheese bacon burgers with fried leeks and fresh tomatoes. Wine still to be determined, but definitely, definitely red. I’m thinking something in a Syrah.