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Category:MLB
Posted on: October 8, 2008 2:58 pm
 

This story's getting old

Manny is in Dodger blue, Papi looked like he aged five years since last season's ALDS, Beckett was not his dominating self and Schilling is not in uniform, off blabbing somewhere to anyone that will listen. And the Boston Red Sox still beat the Angels in the postseason. No, it wasn't Manny or Papi, heck, it wasn't even Youkilis or Pedroia that did the Halos in this time. It was Jason Bay in his first taste of playoff baseball, JD Drew with a bad back and some dude named Jed. Speaking of Jed Lowrie's game winner in Game 4, is it me or did it seem like that grounder took like 10 years to reach the outfield grass?

Nope, no Josh Beckett either. I mean, he was there and he pitched OK in Game 3, but it was not the Josh Beckett whose appearance on a mound in October generally means the opposing team has no chance. Instead, a young pitcher named Jon Lester became Beckett, allowing zero earned runs in 14 innings against the Angels.

The point to all this? Boston had players step up and rise to the occasion. It seems since 2004, they always do. For the Angels, Mike Napoli played the role of hero one night, hitting two home runs off Beckett to key a win in Game 3, and while John Lackey pitched great, he was still outdueled twice by Lester who was just that much better.

The Angels had plenty of baserunners in this series, and the team's heart-of-the-order guys got their share of hits, but in Games 1 and 2, there was no one on base when those hits came and when there were guys in scoring position, the big hit was nowhere to be found. Torii Hunter came up big in a few spots and Vlad and Teixeira got some hits, but none left the yard and none came when we really needed them. In the playoffs, clutch is everything, and the Angels have been anything but clutch in the postseason since that magical run in 2002. The team really needed a guy like Juan Rivera or Howie Kendrick or Erick Aybar (even with that bloop in Game 3, he was 2-for-the-series) to come through. They didn't. Instead, a guy named Jed is a hero and we're thinking about how the team will look next season.

I'm not quite ready to resign myself to the thought that 2002 will be it. Our only taste of magic. But come playoff time, if we're matched up with a certain team from the New England area again, I may be tempted to pop in my 2002 World Series DVD and relive some happier times. If we do win another title, and I think we will, I guarantee we will not go through Boston to win it. This was our year to erase 22 years of heartache against them, and we couldn't do it. Like the title says, this story's getting old.

Posted on: September 22, 2008 4:21 pm
 

A Beautiful Dump

When I booked my trip to visit Yankee Stadium for the first (and last) time, I didn't realize at the time that I would be attending the third to last game EVER at the House that Ruth Built. As a baseball fan, it was a place I had to see before the wrecking balls came calling. I had to see the mecca of Major League Baseball before it was nothing more than a parking lot, or whatever they're going to use the hallowed land for.

And I'm glad I did. There was nothing special about the game that night, a meaningless contest against the Baltimore Orioles that the Yankees pulled out 3-2. But being there, in that stadium, that night, was special. I just tried to take it all in, but really, it's impossible to take in 85 years of history in three hours. So I just watched the game, enjoyed my $9.50 beer and listened to the season ticket holders behind me commiserate with one another about how difficult Sunday's final game would be.

If you've been there, you know. If you haven't, let me tell you. The place is a dump. The aisles and walkways are so narrow that two waifish models would have a hard time passing each other, it smells, it's dirty, there's not enough concession stands for 35,000 people, let alone the 57,000 that pack the stadium on a nightly basis, and it's not exactly in the best of neighborhoods. And while the place oozes sights and smells that are surely EPA hazards, it also oozes something else. Yankee Stadium oozes with tradition and reeks of baseball's glorious past, not just the Yankees' glorious, storied past. The legends that played on that field - Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle are household names, not just in New York or with Yankee fans, but all across America. In much the same way Xerox is synonymous with copies and Coke is synonymous with soft drinks in general, the Yankees stand for baseball.

I look forward to visiting the new and improved Yankee Stadium and having a $10.50 beer, and hopefully watching my Angels send the Yankee faithful home disappointed. I also hope that one day, the stadium I call home, the Big A, will have a tenth as much history of that beautiful dump that will soon be demolished.

 

Posted on: September 11, 2008 4:31 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2008 4:37 pm
 

How the West was won

While it's been a foregone conclusion for a few months now, the Angels repeating as AL West champions was not exactly a "gimme" when the team broke Spring Training. Injuries to the team's two best starters from 2007, trading away a Gold Glove shortstop, and an overcrowded outfield were just some of the reasons many were picking Seattle to dethrone the Halos.

Fast forward to September 11. The two young starters who were supposed to battle it out for the 5th spot in the rotation, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, were both All-Stars and absolutely carried the team in the early going with John Lackey missing about 5-6 starts and Kelvim Escobar missing the entire season. The trade that had many Angels fans scratching their heads turned out to be perhaps the most important thing the team did in the off season. While O.C. was fantastic at shortstop and the ideal #2 hitter, the stability Jon Garland provided at the back end of the rotation, especially with the loss of Escobar, was invaluable, and Scioscia and Reagins both knew Aybar and Izturis could hold down the fort at short, both defensively and with the bat. And they did. Another head-scratcher was the signing of Torii Hunter. Although we just gave a big contract to Matthews to seemingly be the team's CF for next few seasons, Hunter was signed to a big free agent deal himself, moving Matthews into a corner outfield/DH rotation with Garret and Vlad. While Torii was not exactly the "big bat" Halos fans have been waiting for, he was another bat and has played the best center field this long-time Angels fan has ever seen at the Big A (no disrespect to Devo, Pettis and Edmonds). Besides his glove and above-average bat, Torii also brought leadership and a winning attitude to a clubhouse that was maybe in need of a veteran vocal leader.

The MLB trade deadline is an exciting time for a fan of a team in the heat of a pennant race. Heck, it's even at least mildly interesting to the fan's whose teams are already looking forward to next season, with the chance getting some young prospects for aging veterans. For Angels fans, it has recently been a time to watch other contenders grab a bat or an arm for the stretch run while we "stand pat" and "go with the players who got us here," wherever "here" is. As a result, our offensively-challenged teams have been bounced out of the postseason rather abruptly, especially last season, when the Red Sox whipped us in three straight en route to their second World Series title in four seasons.

Not this year. The normally gun-shy Angels finally pulled the trigger on a deadline deal, landing slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Braves. While it was tough seeing home-grown youngster Casey Kotchman go, it was clearly the right move and a move the team had to make if they wanted to avoid another early exit from the playoffs. And when Tex started hitting, I'm sure many a Casey-who? was heard around the Big A. Kotch was a nice young talent. Tex is a big-time, switch hitting masher and an ideal guy to hit in front of Vlad in the Angels lineup. Even if the free-agent-to-be walks after this season, I applaud the team for making the right deal in order to win now.

In my view, the hallmark of this Angels team has been balance. As of right now, the team is 45-29 at home, 43-28 on the road (by far, the best in the bigs), 30-16 vs. the East, 24-17 vs. the Central and 24-16 vs. West. They haven't had many prolonged winning streaks or losing streaks. They just went about winning series after series. Two of three here, three of four there, and before you knew it, they had one of the best records in baseball and had opened up a chasm of Grand Canyon-like proportions in the AL West over the disappointing Mariners and the young A's, who had since traded away many talented vets for prospects. Starting pitching has once again been the team's biggest strength, with all five starters reaching double-digit win totals. Francisco Rodriguez has been the anchor to a solid bullpen, and is closing in on the single-season saves record of 57. He has both done a great job and has been the beneficiary of many close Angels wins, but the results are hard to argue with.

I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, but the Angels will have a few weeks to rest up and prepare for the playoffs while many teams continue to duke it out, night-in and night-out for a spot in the postseason. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are both battling hamstring issues, and while youngsters Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez have filled in admirably, it is important the two starters get back in time to get a week or so worth of at-bats leading into the playoffs. The Angels don't have the most explosive offense, but with everyone healthy, do have balance and guys that can contribute up and down the lineup.

On paper, this is the best-equipped Angels squad we've seen in a while. Perhaps even better than the team that won it all in 2002. But the games are not played on paper and if the Halos are to win it all this year, they'll need some of the magic that '02 team had. Maybe not a three-homer game from a light-hitting second baseman or a three-run homer in Game 6 of the World Series to cut into a huge deficit, but a 2-out RBI hit here and sac-fly there could be the difference between celebrating another championship and thinking, "wait till next year."

Posted on: August 7, 2008 1:03 pm
 

Angels getting production from behind the plate

Even though their batting averages are flirting dangerously with the Mendoza Line, the Angels catching duo of Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli have given the team outstanding production from behind the plate. In fact, it's tough to find another Major League club that can match the pair's combined 21 HR and 67 RBI.

Napoli, who's currently on his way back from a shoulder injury, has belted 12 HR and knocked in 29 RBI in just 142 at-bats. His homerun rate of a dinger every 11.8 AB's is among the best in the bigs.

Mathis has caught nearly every game since his buddy (the two are good friends off the field) landed on the DL, and though streaky, has contributed 9 HR and 38 RBI to an Angels offense that needs every position player to pull his weight with the bat. If Mathis can find some more consistency at the plate, he looks like manager Mike Scioscia's choice to play the bulk of the innings down the stretch.

Posted on: July 16, 2008 5:08 pm
 

Adios, Franky?

 I posted this on the main baseball board in response to a thread about Francisco Rodriguez filing for free agency after the season. Here are my thoughts on the matter...

 

This is something that most Angels fans knew was coming since last season, maybe even the season before. The Angels have made fair, market value offers for Franky the past few seasons, but obviously, nothing that bowled him over. He's a very good and still very young closer who I'm guessing will become the ML's top paid reliever after this season. I don't think the Angels will be the team to give him the dough, however.

You can't predict these things, but he looks like a candidate for arm troubles, and may already be experiencing some, as his velocity has dipped 2-4 mph this season. His violent delivery and the amount of sliders he throws has and will take their toll. The pitch that has sort of re-invented him is his changeup, that he only throws to lefties. I think it's his best pitch, as his slider has become predictable and inconsistent.

If he leaves, the Angels have a couple candidates in Scot Shields and youngster Jose Arredondo, who, if you haven't seen him, is pretty nasty. They may also try to find a cheaper option through free agency or a trade. We'll have to wait and see.

It's not so much the dollars per season I have a problem with, it's the length of the contract (probably 6 or 7-plus seasons) he's looking for that makes me say: adios Franky, thanks for the memories.

Posted on: May 28, 2008 3:14 pm
 

Angels Checklist

Starting pitching: Check.  What was supposed to be a weakness in the early part of the season with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar missing time has been anything but. Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana have been two of the better pitchers in the AL, and now that Lackey's back and Jered Weaver is pitching better of late, the Halos have one of the top rotations in all of baseball.

Bullpen: Check.  One of the Angels biggest strengths over the last several seasons was a major liability in the opening weeks of the season. Scot Shields opened the year on the DL and Justin Speier, Darren Oliver and company were just plain horrendous in the early going. Speier is still a bit of a mess, but D.O., Darren O'Day and the return of Shields got the pen going again and Franky has been getting the job done, albeit in shaky fashion.

Defense: Check.  Trading a Gold Glove shortstop and having a young, unproven kid try to fill his shoes, you'd expect some growing pains. I did. But Erick Aybar has been very good defensively and, to this point in the season, better than O.C. with the bat. Uh, that Torii Hunter guy IS pretty good, isn't he? Having another plus defender in Gary Matthews roaming left or right field has been a luxury. Casey Kotchman is one of the best in the league, and the kids (Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez) haven't hit a lick but have been solid with the leather.

Offense: What's the opposite of a check? After getting off to a blazing start, to say the offense has fizzled out would be a massive understatement. There really hasn't been any offense to speak of. To be fair, one-third of our lineup should be playing in Salt Lake and missing our lead-off guy and catalyst Chone Figgins has really hurt. All that said, we should still be better than this. Vlad - Hunter - GA is a decent middle of the order but it seems like we can't get two or more of those guys going at once. Kotchman has been the team's most consistent offensive player, but after an early HR tear, hasn't hit one in a while. Mike Napoli's early power stroke has been fun to watch, hopefully it continues. I'm honestly not worried about the offense, or lack thereof. When we get healthy and have Figgy, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar back, we'll have a much more balanced attack and we all know Vlad won't stay down for long.

The good news has been that the team is winning even through this drought. We went through a similar stretch last season, but we dropped a bunch of games then. The pitching has been so good, it's like they won't let us lose right now.

 

Posted on: May 23, 2008 3:40 pm
 

White Sox are White Hot

The Halos exorcised some demons in Toronto, taking 2 of 3 from the Blue Jays, and now head to the South side of Chicago for a three-game set with a scorching hot White Sox club. The Sox have won eight games in a row, mostly with good starting pitching, but their offense is starting to come around a bit. Should be a tough series as the team's just split four games in Anaheim last week.

The key will be for the pitchers to keep the ball in the yard. The Sox have some bombers in Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome, but not much else offensively. If we limit the long ball, I think we win the series.

On the offensive side, the bats really sputtered in Toronto, and had it not been for a 2HR, 4RBI night from Vlad, the Angels would have dropped 2 of 3 instead of the reverse. Guys are just not getting on base and when we do get guys on, we're not doing the job of making productive outs and getting guys over and in. That needs to change. Hopefully Figgy missing yesterday's game was just a blip, because we need him at the top of the order.

The White Sox pitching has been good, but I look for the Halos to make more contact than they have lately and to get back into their style of ball. Those guys in the Blue Jays rotation are NASTY...thank God we got out of there with a series win.

Time to cool off the Sox and take another series on the road.

p.s. I'm digging Jose Arredondo...he's got good stuff.

Posted on: May 21, 2008 1:48 am
 

A Little Separation

With the Angels 3-1 win over the Blue Jays (in Toronto, no less) and the A's 3-2 loss to the Rays, the Halos have opened up a nice little three game lead in the division. It looks right now like the A's will be the only threat to the Angels taking their second straight AL West title and fourth in five seasons.

The Angels had a nice series against the Dodgers, taking two of three this past weekend, and after a real rough stretch, have won three of their last four games. The offense is still sputtering a bit, but the starting pitching has been great, and has been responsible for much of the team's recent success.

A win in Toronto is always nice, as the Jays have owned us in their park for what seems like forever. Let's just see if we can't win a series North of the border for once and put some more distance between us and Oakland.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com