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:
So, don’t look now but after a home stand that can best be described with adjectives such as embarrassing, depressing and maddening (and that’s only if one has accepted the challenge of trying to describe it without resorting to profanity) the Angels are looking pretty good again, sweeping the Red Sox at Fenway and starting their battle with Detroit on the right foot. Did they need to get out of town? Did someone finally say just the right thing in a closed door meeting? Are there life sized cut outs of the MLBN analysts who’ve written the Angels off lurking somewhere in the clubhouse with “You Guys Stink!!” voice bubbles and sectioned, peel away suits and ties? Whatever it is (and if it’s that last item, pray that no one decides to tweet photos. *shudders*) I don’t care just so long as they keep playing to win, and hopefully continuing to smooth over a few still rough edges as they go.
Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and Zack Greinke all looked like more like themselves again (in Santana’s case, it was his Dr. Ervin self, thankfully 😉 ). Sadly, so did C.J. Wilson – his post All Star Game Break self that is. He’s got to find a way to deal with that and he’s a smart guy so I still have hope, if not for this season than for next. But the offense picked Wilson up like a good offense should and, in truth, has looked great this whole road trip so far. As for the Bullpen…well…they’re trying. Yes, I know, sometimes very. But other times they’ve been stellar. I still feel like we’re in a “roll a pair of D-10s to see if the bullpen self destructs” kind of situation each time a new reliever comes out, but as more of the rolls, so to speak, come up positive so, more and more frequently, does my attitude each time they take the mound. Keep it up guys, it’s certainly no longer “a long season” be there’s still just enough season left to make a real go of it!
And now for something completely different, we pause for a brief steroid rant…
So, let me get this straight Bartolo Colon. You decide to get stem cell therapy to rejuvenate your arm, a therapy so new and unorthodox that MLB officials are all over it, studying the procedure and checking out the doctors, to make sure it doesn’t involve anything that is against the rules. And you have to know that between the new therapy itself, your amazing displays of youthful prowess on the mound and the fact that you keep touting the therapy, MLB will be watching you like a hawk. I would assume there were even extra mandatory drug tests involved but even if they were just the usual number of drug tests, in the middle of all of this you decide that taking outlawed Performance Enhancing Drugs is a smart thing to do?? *facepalm*
Is it just me or does anyone else feel like at this point in our story Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should be piping up with confused, questioning looks and a hearty “it slipped in”? Nah. That would make the “logic” Bartolo applied in arriving at this bonehead decision sound too intelligent. So I’m just going to go back to my original pronouncement over Twitter: Dumbass! And don’t even get me started on Melky Cabrera and his “associate”. A fake website to prove that the PEDs you took could have been taken accidentally? Only if former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, he of the imfamous series of tubes, was in charge of the investigation would this have stood a chance in hell of working. But even then an intern or, you know, a child with a few minutes of time on their hands, probably would have figured it out. So, I say thee Dumbass again.
Gentlemen, an old friend has a saying that I particularly like. “If you can’t be good, be good at it.” Now, when it comes to steroid use, I strongly believe that you should be good and just not take the junk in the first place. However, once you’ve made the, at least in this case misguided, decision not to be good, could you at least try to be smarter about how you go about doing it?! Because this level of dumb crime would have been rejected by the Scooby Doo staff writers as too unbelievably stupid for the kiddies to buy.
“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!!!
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.
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.
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!
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 🙂 :
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.
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… 😉
In their last 5 games, the Angels have:
- Scored 46 runs!
- Allowed the opposing team to score 44 runs.
- Hit 15 home runs!
- Allowed the opposing team to hit 10 home runs.
- Struck out 30 batters!
- Were struck out 48 times.
- Came from behind to tie or pull into the lead so many times, they reminded me of the 2009 Angels who were among the league leaders in that regard.
- Blew the lead so frequently that none of those comebacks amounted to anything.
- Beat the division leading Rangers 2 times, one of which was more of a good old-fashioned shellacking.
- Lost to the division leading Rangers 2 times and the White Sox once, just for good measure.
- Left 40 guys on base.
- Went to the bullpen 16 times – 4 times apiece in the last three games.
- Moved out of 3rd place (yay!) to tie the A’s for 2nd.
- Shot past the A’s to a 2nd place that was just 3 games out of 1st place.
- Sank right back into 3rd place one game further out of 1st than they started.
- Brought me to my feet cheering repeatedly.
- Sat me right back down again in exasperation complete with loud expletives and an annoyed fist bump on the table for good measure repeatedly.
Wow! There is an inordinate amount of both !!! and #$@! in that list. Come to think of it, I suppose this is true in different ways both for Angels fans and for fans of the opposition. So what on Earth are we supposed to make of a crazy, simultaneously hot and cold, brilliant upside, scary downside team like this? I would say that the Angels really need to get key players back off the DL in top form, or top August form at any rate, and figure out what’s broken with the starting rotation and fix it. This list just illustrates what those who have been watching the games already know – so many important pieces, essential to having a shot at the post season are already present, accounted for and how in the way the Angels are playing right now.
However, the sick and amazing bullpen of a few weeks ago has become a sick and ailing bullpen in the absence of Scott Downs. As much as Andrew Romine looks like he can fill a big league short stop’s shoes in a few seasons, the defense and the base paths are both missing Erick Aybar. Recent, blessedly brief, stints with various strains for Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo did the lineup no favors. And the starting rotation is kind of, sort of, maybe just starting to come together…maybe. But Dan Haren did push back another start due to back issues. (On the one hand, way to go Danny for admitting you’re hurting and taking the steps you need to fix it. On the other hand, ouch. We need him back strong and we need him back now.) Ervin Santana is restricted to three innings until he can get his head straight. And Zack Greinke, if the small sample size of the last two starts are any indication, is still working through his home vs. road issues, though I do admire a pitcher who toughs out a bad few innings and finishes strong.
The other thing I would take from this Jekyll and Hyde list is that the Angels season future is unclear. I know that a lot of folks saying it’s over now, that this Rangers series was the “the moment” and the Angels blew it. But I don’t buy that. Oh, I believe in momentum, but I also think that trying to pick out what “the moment” is in any season as it’s happening is impossible. It’s a little too much like writing history as it happens. Oh, plenty of people do write history as it happens and I can tell you as a history major that historians do value such analysis…but as primary source documents not as their intended purpose. The 2012 season is moving quickly. But we do have two solid months of baseball left and, for the Angels, much of that baseball will be played in the AL West. If they can get some guys back or start playing around their absence with more grace, well, anything is still possible.
I’ve never really cared for the last few days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline. Oh I know they’re supposed to be exciting, filled with stimulating fan trade speculation, debates and the thrilling sense of possibility for teams in the post season running or close to it. But while I enjoy the discussion and debates, and I’m not immune to the sense of possibility, for me it’s always tainted with faint traces of an impending sense of doom. Perhaps it’s a lingering hangover from some of the crazier – because they weren’t all crazy – deals Tony Reagins used to pull this time of year. Perhaps it’s just the intense degree to which I hate parting with favorite players I’ve grown attached to, and I know that if you’re going to get someone good, well then, you’d better give up someone good.
Either way, it seems to me that buying and selling teams alike are just as likely, and perhaps more so, to do themselves harm as good this time of year. Think about it. What kind of decisions do we make when our need is great, the options are far from plentiful and the asking price is predictably obscene? Sometimes desperation and opportunity lead to brilliance but more often…uh huh. Exactly. Yes, GMs typically do a better job than you or I in such situations, but the comparison still has merit. For every Rangers scoring Cliff Lee tale there is an Angels “scoring” Scott Kazmir story, or much, much worse.
No this doesn’t mean that I’m arguing against all trade deadline wheeling and dealing or even that I wish the Angels would abstain from it. It just means that when it comes to thoughts of trade discussions surrounding my team, I spend most of the last few days of July in a state of hmmmm…how shall we say? Cautiously optimistic worry? Hopeful panic? Serene terror? Yeah, any those will do. Flip a coin. And this season in particular I don’t want to give up the most obvious trading chips – Peter Bourjos, Hank Conger, etc. – and I don’t like a lot of the options being discussed, especially when those options are discussed in terms of some or *gasp!* all of the Angels most obvious trading chips.
So, imagine how wonderful it felt to finally exhale and feel my heart rate return to normal ranges when it was announced this afternoon that the Angels landed Zack Greinke. And that the price for these coveted riches was infield prospect Jean Segura (who is excellent but blocked by Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, much like Alexi Amarista before him) and two AA pitching prospects, instead of the frequently discussed Bourjos, Conger, Santana and half the farm. Oh yeah, it felt that good.
Am I completely thrilled with the deal? No. I worry about Greinke. While I think that, in many ways, the Angels will be a good match for working with his anxiety issues and he’s certainly a great pitcher, I lost a lot of respect for Greinke when he gave up in Kansas City because he didn’t like the way the season was going, admitted it and couldn’t seem to understand why folks got so mad about it. And then there’s his little pitching in away games issue. Also, I think that unless Greinke signs a lengthier contact preventing him from going free agent at the end of this season, this was a more expensive deal than I would have liked, even without giving up Bourjos, et al. However, in the larger context of trade deadline deals, notoriously desperate and expensive as they are, this deal really is pretty good. Ever since our magical December 2011, we Angels fans have referred to GM Jerry Dipoto as the JeDi Master and, if Greinke performs to his capabilities as an Angel and especially if we keep him, Dipoto has proven once again that he is just that.
As much as I am happy with this deal – with the caveats and concerns mentioned above – I am even happier that it means a lot of this Angels crazy talk can die down now, because I was getting seriously twitchy for awhile there. I did not want James Shields, another pitcher out of Tampa Bay going through a rough patch. Yes, Shields is way more talented than Kazmir but still, I worry. And I did not and do not like Francisco Liriano for the Angels. I can’t see how he would be much of an upgrade from Ervin Santana. He’s plenty wild and crazy himself. Yeah, I know. After a while I was starting to sounding downright Suessical with my “do not likes” and “do not wants,” even to my own ears. Hmmm…I do not care if he hits a ton I do not care if his contract’s far from done. While I actually like green eggs and ham, I did not want that lazy, pouting HanRam. (So, thank you Dodgers for taking him right off the table early. Best of luck to you!)
You laugh, but just try having all of this goofiness in your head. Oh well, I will be better now that deal is done and as close to sane as I ever get about Angels baseball come August 1st. Welcome to the Angels Zack Greinke. Hopefully this is the beginning of a beautifully mutually beneficial partnership.