No, I’m not going to give my Angels a merciless tongue lashing. I’m not going to dissect their lackluster performances in both of their losses to the Yankees either. I will, instead, point out the single bright-shining event of the last few days. The Angels gained a half game on the Rangers and their magic number is now 4.
And how did this happen? My Angels had a day off. Oh, and Oakland beat the pants off the Rangers, 12-3. How else could it have happened? My Angels have lost some steam and frankly, I’m baffled by it.
The addition of Scott Kazmir to the starting rotation has done much to reinforce a slightly shaky starting rotation. We’ve seen the bullpen find their groove with Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen, Darren Oliver and Matt Palmer providing solid relief. They’ve continued to hit, though perhaps not on the grand scale we saw last month. But most of the starting line-up continues to maintain batting averages hovering around the .300 mark. They did out-hit the Yankees in the last two games but they’ve not been hitting in the clutch. On Wednesday, the Angels went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position! It’s as if all of the “post-season preview” talk that surrounded their games with both the Yankees and the Red Sox, had a terrible effect on my Angels. I certainly don’t have any medical experience (I do have a nifty box of Sponge Bob band-aids) but I’ve made my own diagnosis.
My Angels are suffering from a case of “post-season jitters” also known as the “championship chokes”. We’ve seen the symptoms before: sudden lack of confidence, uncharacteristic sloppy base running, sudden onset of unexplained errors. We know this is not typical of our usually sharp and on-the-ball (literally) Angels but it is an ailment we’ve seen in post-seasons past. Maybe this bug has struck early this season? And maybe, just maybe, it will run its course over the next week and be out of their system by the time the real play-offs start. Wouldn’t that be perfect?
I want my Angels to show up in October brimming with confidence, bringing their A game and being the superstars I know they are. I want bats blazing, lightning fast speed on the base pads and defensive plays being executed with the surgical precision that takes our breath away a second time when the re-play rolls.
Let’s face it. 2002 was magical…from start to miraculous finish. It cannot and will not ever be duplicated. But I don’t know a single Angels fan who hasn’t had a “feeling” about this season. There’s no denying it would be an amazing story of tragedy to triumph. I’m not saying the Angels should win the World Series because Nick Adenhart died. But I sure would love to see them win it for Nick. That would be a story. And my favorite stories all have happy endings.
Baseball…make someone happy.
It was definitely a team effort Tuesday night when the Angels beat the Rays. Jered Weaver was his usual reliable self and gave up 2 runs on 5 hits in 6 innings. He admitted the Florida humidity got to him and sapped his strength. He said had to change his jersey between innings because he was sweating so much. Not the “dry heat” we’re used to here in So Cal. Maybe the humidity moistened the rusty joints of the Angels hitters because they were able to combine for 12. They scored 2 runs in the 1st, helped along by 2 boo boos committed by the Rays.
Let’s face it. With the AL’s worst bullpen, the Angels need to catch their breaks wherever they can get them. In what ultimately was a one run game, watching Darren Oliver load the bases in the 7th and Jason Bulger give up a first pitch homerun to Ben Zobrist in the 8th, gave me my usual gameday anxiety. The difference was, things actually went the Angels’ way. When Carlos Pena hit a bullet down the right field line with the bases loaded, he should’ve had 3 RBIs. Instead, Kendry Morales stuck his glove out and stopped that ball dead in its track. He even looked a little surprised that the ball was in his glove as he stepped on first to double off Evan Longoria. I had to replay it 3 times to believe it myself.
And Brian “The Closer Poser” Fuentes had to be grateful for that game-ending double-play because it’s not like he’s coming in throwing strikes. Ironically, Jose Arredondo, who had my vote at the end of last season to take over when Frankie Rodriguez left, was sent back down to Salt Lake today, more depressing evidence of continuing bullpen woes.
My feel-good guy of the season, Matt Palmer, has lost his spot in the starting rotation with Lackey, Santana and now Escobar all returning from the DL. I’d like to see him get some innings of relief work. He’s definitely proven himself and we’ve seen his ability to pitch his way out of real trouble, a skill that current relievers haven’t seemed to master. Bottom line, he’s got the stuff so let him bring it!
Today was draft day. Call me old-fashioned but I’m a huge fan of the draft. I’m not talking sports. I mean this draft:
In my line of work, I encounter hundreds of young men seeking employment. On one end of the spectrum, I have to note gang affiliations based on neck tattoos and question gaps in previous employment due to time in the state pen. On the other end, I have to get used to being called, “Ma’am” and hear about extensive and valuable training received while in the military. Barring a Chinese invasion, I don’t see a mandatory draft being reinstated. Too bad. I’ve seen firsthand what a couple years of military service does for a young person. I’ve seen the discipline, the self-esteem, the pride. Before I’m labeled a war-mongering, right-winger (I’m not), let me ask you this: If you were a prospective employer, who would you rather I send you?
Back to baseball…okay, as I said, the Angels must capitalize on any break that comes their way to compensate for their inconsistent bullpen. They did tonight, turning Rays’ errors into runs. With Texas taking a beating from Toronto (0-9), the gap is once again closing. But this is far from a 2 team race as Oakland has steadily gained ground, winning 8 of their last 10, including a 7 game win streak. In the east, the Red Sox and Yankees are battling head-to-head for the top spot and no one’s running away with it in the central. It’s June and it’s still anyone’s game.
Baseball…never let them see you sweat.
Yep, that’s right. The Angels’ record is finally back at the .500 mark. How’d they do it? They sent Matt Palmer to the mound to face the Kansas City Royals. The Royals cruised into the Big A on a six game winning streak that the Angels happily snapped for them. Of course, tonight’s win was a bit ironic. Usually when we face the Royals they’re dead last in their division and we struggle to put a run together. At least that wasn’t the case tonight. Not only was it a great game with Palmer giving up just 2 hits while going 5 & 1/3, there were a few other noteworthy things that happened.
Howie Kendrick hit an inside-the-park homerun! This was the first in Howie’s career and happened when Royals right-fielder, Jose Guillen, couldn’t make the catch at the right-field line. Little League Lesson #1 – when you hit the ball, never assume it’s going to be caught. Howie was taking a leisurely stroll to first base, thinking that he’d hit a routine fly to right. Not the case. Luckily, he glanced over and saw third base coach, Dino Ebel doing his best impression of one of these:
So he kicked it into high gear. “It was mentioned to him,” Scioscia said after the game. That’s funny. There will be some debate over whether it was an in-the-park homer or an error and word is the official scoring could be changed. I suppose it doesn’t help the argument that Bobby Abreu made a nearly identical catch just a few innings later. Oh well. Whatever it was, it scored 2 runs.
Reliever Darren Oliver reached a milestone tonight when he made his 1000th career strike-out to end the 7th. He was in fine form after spending 2 weeks on the DL, as were Jose Arredondo and Brian Fuentes. I’m sure they all appreciated the rest they had the day before, courtesy of Jered Weaver and his complete game.
And speaking of naps…(clever segue, huh?)…how fantastic has Mike Napoli been as the DH? He is on fire, hitting .710+ just in the last week. I know the team needs Big Daddy Vlady back, and it looks like he could be back in less than two weeks, but Napoli has certainly been proving himself to be a worthy replacement in the DH spot. I’m just saying, if Vlady’s return means Napoli won’t be in the line-up every game and when he is in the line-up, he’s behind the plate, again risking season side-lining injuries, well…let’s just be sure Vlady’s recovery isn’t being rushed at all. Right now Mike’s my Napolian Dynamite! Duh.
That’s what’s so great about the Angels. They almost seem like a team of utility players who can change positions at a moment’s notice. That would make Chone Figgins their captain, who I swear has done everything at the Big A except sell Dippin’ Dots. And I must give big kudos to the AAA pitchers who have stepped up to help fill the shoes of John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar. Granted, it hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops, but in the last week or so has we’ve seen these young men conquer nerves (and Yankees) to get the job done. It’s hard to fill someone else’s shoes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Only time will tell.
Baseball…accept no substitute.
Last week was tough. On Tuesday I had a root canal and on Wednesday my boyfriend broke up with me. Things turned around a little and on Thursday, I found a $20 bill in the laundry. But by Friday it was back to bad news and I got demoted at work. Saturday, my car was towed and on Sunday, my dog ran away. Okay, I’m lying. About all of it…the whole week. My husband can tell you I don’t have a dog (or do laundry). I just felt like all those things happened as I rode the the emotional rollercoaster I call Angels Baseball. It made me think this:
There were a few highlights. Ichiro Suzuki came off the DL and tied a record for most hits by a Japanese player with a grand slam. Jason Kubel hit for the cycle with his HR being a grand slam. Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 613th HR, which was also number 400 as a Mariner. Oh wait…did you want Angels highlights? Hmmmm. Well, I can think of one. Neither the Mariners nor the Twins scored 14 runs in one inning. (Yikes!) Honestly, we had some solid starting pitching including Darren Oliver’s start, his first since 2004. But how much does that really matter when our relievers completely fall apart? Yes, I know they’re young.
But they’ve got the right stuff or they wouldn’t be getting their shot at the big league. If it’s a matter of nerves, then they have to work it out and perform, or head back to Salt Lake City and wait for another perfect storm of injuries compounded by tragedy to bring them back to the majors. I doubt they wish for those circumstances to reoccur so they’ve got to take this opportunity to shine. Can’t someone slip a little Valium into the Gatorade? Of course, it’s not all about the pitching. It’s our hitting too, especially with runners in scoring position.
Tonight we’ll start our home series with the Tigers. If the Angels are going to get anywhere, their bats need to heat up and their relievers need to calm down. As a loyal fan, I’ll do my best to cheer them on as I head out to the Big A to watch the game close up. If you see me, be sure to say “hi”. I’ll be the one clutching a rally monkey…and a rosary! Just kidding. It’s early, right? No worries.
Baseball…the quicker picker-upper.