Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Will Ferrell Enters 'Land of the Lost'

Now this was just the ticket to improve my mood after A-Rod beat us senseless in New York. Comedic genius Will Ferrell will star in a movie "reimagining" of the kitchy 70's Saturday morning TV show 'Land of the Lost'. The original series ran from 1974 - 1976 and followed the exploits of Ranger Rick Marshall and his two children Will and Holly. As explained in one of the best theme songs ever written: Marshall, Will, and Holly -- while on a routine rafting expedition, were caught in an earthquake that opened some sort of time portal right in the middle of a waterfall they were careening to their deaths over. But instead of ending-up broken to pieces on jagged rocks they found themselves transported all the way from the 1970's to a prehistoric world (really not that far in hindsight) inhabited by claymation dinosaurs, green shiny-eyed lizard/alien people called sleestaks (who for the record, had the heavy breathing thing down waaaayyy before Darth Vader) and some hairy cave people, most notably Cha-Ka.

It is not immediately clear how Ferrell's version will work with some sources claiming it will follow the Marshall clan and other's noting that Ferrell's version will have nothing to do with the TV show or it's original characters.

This is not the first time Ferrell has brushed with the Land of the Lost mythology. In Kevin Smith's very funny Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Ferrell plays a Federal Wildlife Marshall tracking the title characters and an ape they have stolen from an animal testing lab. The name of this friend of animal-kind: Marshall Willenholly. Just like the theme song! Marshall, Will and Holly. Then the ape shoots Willenholly in the ass with a tranquilizer gun. Not unlike when Will Ferrell's 'Frank the Tank' character from Old School shoots himself in the neck with a tranquilizer gun. Wow, there is some strange force at work in guiding Will Ferrell's career. That or he has a serious addiction to animal tranquilizer -- but lets not start that rumor here.

I will look forward to this movie with great anticipation. Next up though will be Kicking and Screaming (opens May 13) with Ferrell playing a mild-mannered Dad turned crazed soccer coach. Hopefully this will be the first of some really great sports-themed comedies this year as a remake of The Bad News Bears (opens July 22) with Billy Bob Thornton perfectly cast as Buttermaker has my hopes very high. Obviously you can tell two things from my film choices thus far: (1) I have the sensibilities of an 8 year-old; (2) I like Will Ferrell movies....a lot.

A-Rod: Angel Killer

April 26, 2004: NY Yankees 12 LA Angels 4

If Alex Rodriguez hit like this every night no one would say 'boo' about his mammoth paycheck. Of course, if he hit like this he would shatter the record for walks in a season. The Yankee third baseman went 4-5 on Tuesday, crushing three home runs and driving in 10 runs. Amazingly it was Rodriguez's third 3-home run game of his illustrious career and his ten RBI were only good enough to tie for second in the storied Yankee record book (Tony Lazzeri had 11 for the Bronx Bombers in 1936 that is a Yankee and AL record).

Quote of the night from Jason Giambi:
"You can do that in Nintendo, stuff like that, it was pretty incredible to watch. That was a lot of fun."
Not much fun for Angel fans though. Colon was tagged by A-Rod for a 3-run shot in the first, a 2-run long fly in the second and the cout-de-gras, a Grand Slam in the third. Interestingly though, if Rodriguez gets out then strike 9 runs from the board and you end up with a 3-4 game theoretically.

The only Angel pitcher to retire Alex Rodriguez on this night was the rookie, Jake Woods. But not easily. Rodriguez lined out hard to center to end his evening.

After a game like this you can only tip your halo to one of, if not the, best hitter of our time and try to stick it to him tomorrow. Had I been Mike Scioscia I think after the second HR I would have strongly considered pulling Colon. Had a base been open he could have given him the intentional pass but when a guy crushes your pitcher twice in two at-bats you have to wonder about the wisdom of giving him a third. With the bases loaded.

Friday, April 22, 2005

K-Rod Blows Save & Gets Loss

John Lackey threw five innings tonight, giving up 2 runs and lowering his bloated ERA slightly to 6.64. Kevin Gregg and Scot Shields combined for two scoreless innings (though Shields did walk three in his 1 inning). But Frankie Rodriguez could not hold a one-run lead in the 9th inning, giving up three singles and two runs. A's closer Octavio Dotel made it stand up by sitting the Angels in order in the bottom of the inning.


Is it just me or did Garrett Anderson look like a slacker tonight? He grounded out 3-1 and should have made the play close. I kept waiting for GA to break into the screen but all I saw was the first baseman carefully underhand tossing the ball to the pitcher. I thought it had to be Bengie Molina scampering down the line but no, it was Anderson 'lollygaggling' it. Then in the 9th a flare to left off of K-Rod fell about two feet in front of a charging Anderson. This is at least the second such single that has fallen in front of a suspiciously non-diving Garrett. The first time I let it go but this time that would have been a huge out. Yes he could have missed it and it might have rolled to the fence but let's live dangerously. C'mon Garrett, it was a flare, not a sharp liner. You could have smothered the thing but with a slight leap you likely could have caught it.

Scott Hatteberg is officially an Angel-killer. Everytime that guy faces the Halos he inflicts damage. With a runner at third, two outs and a one-run lead Frankie was either afraid to throw or prohibited from throwing his best pitch (the slider) for fear of it breaking in the dirt. So after getting two strikes with fastballs K-Rod went to the well once too often as Hatteberg lined the third fastball to left and Anderson's throw home was off-line.

Once again the Angels fail to gain any traction and their modest two-game win streak is snapped. But the good news is they will do it again tomorrow in Anaheim. Oakland sends the odd looking
Danny Haren (1-1, 2.37 ERA) against Paul Byrd (1-2, 4.71 ERA). Who, come to think of it is no Brad Pitt. Despite the inflated ERA Byrd did hold Seattle scoreless for 8 innings in his last start on April 18th but, hey, it was the Mariners.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Timing is Everything

So just hours after I write how Bartolo Colon and Chone Figgins were on the proverbial (or at least my proverbial) bubble in terms of effectiveness, lo and behold they prove me to be impatient and wrong. Colon was already showing signs of settling in (I hedged myself by noting that he was doing well as a standard pitcher but not as a true 'ace') but last night with 8 shutout innings of 4-hit ball Colon is now firmly ensconced as the Angels' stopper. How long Big Bart stays there is yet to be seen but based on his strong second half last season the pieces seem to be in place for at least as long a reign as Pope Benedict XVI (is it just me or does that sort of sound like a new eastern European car?).

Then as a topper, in a pitchers duel game it was the diminutive Chone Figgins who delivered the biggest blow. A majestic home run that rainbowed lazily over the left field wall. In replays Figgins' huge body-twisting swing was reminiscent of David Eckstein throwing himself out of his shoes on a routine 6-3 put-out. But I digress, a post on ex-Angels is forthcoming but not now. Figgins was hitting in the 8th inning as the Angels clung to a tenuous 1-0 lead when he parked his second homerun of the season to give closer Frankie Rodriguez an insurance run. Not that he would need it as K-Rod put the finishing touch on the shut-out with a perfect ninth. Figgins now has an eight-game hitting streak that includes two HR's, 5 RBI and 2 2B. Over the streak Figgins has raised his batting average from .172 to .295. Likely Figgins will remain near the bottom of the Halo batting order however due to his poor walk to strike out ratio (3 BB vs. 13 K).

I will now officially update my "What's Working" & "What's Wrong" lists:

What's Wrong: Add Washburn who is down 0-5 in the 2nd inning. This guy is worthless. The more I think about it why don't we designate this guy for assignment and take what's left of his $6.5 million salary and give it to Jared Weaver. Meantime we can let Jake Woods and Chris Bootcheck combine as the #5 starter. Also might as well put McPherson down because it looks like it will take some time for him to get comfortable. He just struck out on three pitches with runners at second & third. C'mon rook, at least give me a sac fly.

What's Working: Add Colon & Figgins

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Tim Mead Responds

Last week I wrote a retort to what I felt was a fairly obvious hatchet job by Murray Chase of the New York Times. I decided to copy my response to some Angel executives more as a show of support than anything else. When people start piling-0n it can seem endless and while there are not a ton of us out there supporting the name change as a means-to-an-end, we are here. That's what I hoped to get across. Anyway, Tim Mead the Angels' Vice-President of Communications, kindly wrote back the following:
Thank you, thank you and thank you. Arte and Bill did in fact see this piece and I know you were able to forward to Bill. I thoroughly enjoyed your efforts. Calling yourself a big supporter might truly be an understatement. I think when one sits back and evaluates the situation with a bit of logic and perhaps common sense, it's not quite so outlandish. You obviously took that time.
Please stay in touch and let me know how things are going from time to time. More importantly, thank you for being such a great fan of both the Angels and baseball.


While I was Away...

Not much changed in the AL West. The four teams continue to beat-up on one another, trading victories to the point where LA, Seattle & Oakland are all 7-7 while slacker Texas is a 1/2 game back at 7-8.

While Steve Finley's offensive struggles have stood out like a sore thumb, there are actually several factors that have kept the Angels from taking an early lead in the division. But likewise, there are some very good things happening as well.

What's Wrong

1. Finley - A .167 average and .333 slugging percentage were not what the Angels counted on when signing Fin to a big off-season deal to become their starting center fielder for the next two seasons. But no one should be surprised by this as historically April is always Finley's worst month. For his career Finley has hit .239 in April with a .407 slugging percentage. Finley's career numbers in May are much better with a .286 average and a .467 slugging pct. Finley is starting to see the ball better and I suspect as he gets more AB’s under his belt and gets a second look at some of these AL pitchers, Finley will do a lot better.

2. John Lackey - It has been a nightmare start for John Lackey in 2005, but what else is new? Lackey's career ERA in April is 3-5 with a 7.45 ERA which begs the question; why not stash Lackey & Finley in Salt Lake for April? His ERA improves to 5.08 in May and then finally steadies at 3.55 for June and 3.56 for July. Then for some inexplicable reason it jumps to 5.16 in August before settling back down to 3.33 in September. But this April has been especially brutal with a 1-1 record (by all rights he should be 0-3) that features a grotesque 8.22 ERA that grows with every outing. Big John has been battered by opposing hitters who have 18 hits in 15.1 innings of work. While Lackey does have 12 strikeouts (4 in each game) he also has 8 walks. Strangely his walks and K's mirrored one another with four of each in the first two games but then he did not walk anyone in his last game on April 17th while still notching his customary 4 strikeouts. Despite that brief shimmering flicker of hope, Oakland did tag Lackey for 10 hits and 7 runs in just 5.2 innings. But no walks! All we can do is buckle in and hope our hitters out-slug theirs when Lackey takes the mound early in the season. Maybe they should send him to the islands to play some winter ball prior to the start of the regular season.

3. Brendan Donnelly - the middle relief specialist has been flat-out awful in his early appearances of 2005 which includes a blown save back on April 6th when Donnelly gave up two runs on three hits in one inning of work. Donnelly has had control, yielding just one walk in 7.2 innings of work, but his strikes have been very hittable as opposing batters have pummeled the right-hander for 11 hits and 5 runs so far this season giving BD a lofty 5.87 ERA. There is a silver lining: Donnelly has now pitched in consecutive games (1 inning 4/16 vs. Oakland & 1 inning 4/18 vs. Seattle) in which he has been perfect. Six consecutive outs should do a lot for Donnelly's confidence not to mention Mike Scioscia's. Donnelly's ERA has gone down in each appearance, testament to both his overall improvement and the heinous 18.00 earned-run-average he was tagged with in that first forgettable game on 4/6. Like Finley, Donnelly will work out the kinks and be fine.

4. Kevin Gregg/Kelvim Escobar - With Escobar starting the season on the DL manager Mike Scioscia used Kevin Gregg as a spot-starter in two games with poor results. In the first game Gregg went five innings against a fairly weak Kansas City lineup giving up 3 runs on 3 hits with 4 walks and 4 K's. Despite the shaky outing the offense posted 8 runs and the bullpen shut down the Royals the rest of the way to preserve the win for Gregg. His second outing was yesterday when Gregg walked the first two batters and gave up a warning-track shot to Adrian Beltre and a no-doubt home run to Richie Sexson. Another solo shot in the first by Raul Ibanez was all Seattle would need for a 5-3 victory. Gregg lasted 2.1 innings giving up 4 runs on 5 hits and 5 walks. The walks are what really killed Gregg and his lack of control is disastrous. This should be the last start Gregg makes this year as either Chris Bootcheck or Jake Woods would be at least as good as Gregg as a spot-starter and both have the potential to develop into legitimate major league starters (Gregg, in my opinion, does not). Gregg's poor performance makes him a question mark for the bullpen as well where so far this year he has appeared in one game going 1.2 innings and giving up a run on 3 hits (but surprisingly no walks or K's). Escobar had a rehab start last night for Triple-A Salt Lake where he went 4 innings, allowing two runs on five hits. In addition Kelvim fanned six batters and walked just one. He should be good to go against the A’s next Sunday.

5. The Catcher Spot - Bengie is hurt. Again. While Halo management had high hopes that a new 'Bengie-Lite' might be able to avoid the injuries that have plagued him the last few years, here we go again as Molina is sent to the 15 day DL with a strained quadriceps. Molina was having a fantastic start to the year hitting .323 with 2 HR's and 8 RBI. Molina is this close to jumping into the elite level of catcher but he has to avoid the injuries that are limiting his playing time. Josh Paul has been awful and again begs the question, why is he here? Paul is hitting .125 after hitting just .243 last season in 46 games. But the issue with JP is that he is a strikeout machine. Last season Paul whiffed 17 times in 46 at-bats compared with just 7 walks. So far this year Paul has 3 k's, 0 walks in just 8 AB's. I know the Angels want to give Jeff Mathis a lot of at-bats in the minors but why not bring him up for a couple of weeks to get a taste? Mathis is clearly the catcher-of-the-future and he can strikeout just as well as Paul can. The Angels have veteran pitchers who do not need a lot of coddling behind the plate so give the kid a chance.

6. The Third Base Spot - With McPherson opening the year on the DL Robb Quinlan was given a golden opportunity to earn a bench spot with the Angels. To put it bluntly, he blew it. The not-so-mighty Q has hit .154 in 26 at-bats with no home runs. But it was not just Quinlan. The third-base trifecta of Q, Maicer Izturis and Lew Merloni combined to hit just .163 with 2 RBI and a pathetic .213 on-base percentage. Meanshile McPherson was starting to heat-up in Salt Lake, hitting .308 with 3 HR's and 14 RBI's in 10 games. That prompted a somewhat earlier than planned recall for D-Mac who made his Angel debut on Monday going 0 for 4 with a strikeout. Against the soft-tossing Jaime Moyer McPherson was given a day off but he should be back in action tonight against Cleveland's Jake Westbrook. Time for McPherson to pick up the slack and offer some much needed punch in the #7 or 8 slot for the Angels.

7. Paul Byrd - The new #5 starter had not rounded into form prior to the Angels 6-1 victory on Monday and I for one was surprised. I expected that Byrd would come in with added velocity thanks to being fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. But Byrd was lit-up for 17 hits and 12 runs in his first two starts, both losses. Byrd also gave up 3 walks in his second start, very uncharacteristic for the 35 year-old right-hander who relies on pinpoint control and deception to get hitters out. Even with his first victory Byrd gave up 11 hits but scattered them and pitched out of trouble. This is what Paul Byrd is all about and so long as he gets offensive support he should be able to easily post 15 wins this season. Also key for Byrd will be a reliable bullpen as he can not be expected to go 8 innings too often. Like Finley and Donnelly though, his numbers are improving and he is moving towards mid-season form.

8. The Bench Players - Going into 2005 most everyone agreed that this Angels team was deep. Especially so in hitting where Juan Rivera, Jeff DeVanon, Lew Merloni, Maicer Izturis and Robb Quinlan were going to provide insurance at each position. But so far none of the bench players has stood out. DeVanon has the most AB's of any bench player, acting as the primary DH as well, with 35 plate appearances. But DeVo has managed just a .200 average and only one extra base hit (a double). Izturis has three hits in 18 AB's but two of those were for triples. Still, with his speed Izturis needs an OBP north of .350 so he can apply pressure on the base paths and set the table for the Angels' big guns. Rivera has probably been the best of the bunch, hitting .259 but with a slugging percentage of .296 his hits have not had a lot of punch. He also has just 2 RBI and 3 runs scored so Rivera needs to be a little more timely with his hitting.

What's Working

1. Vladimir Guerrero - While many have complained about the big money being paid Bartolo Colon as well as the money paid to uber-bust Mo Vaughn, the Angels finally have a big-money player who is earning every penny. The reigning AL MVP is hitting .351 with a titanic .667 slugging percentage thanks to 5 home runs and 3 doubles to open the season.

2. Garrett Anderson - As I have said before, the most important acquisition the Angels could have made in the off-season was a healthy Garrett Anderson. As the Angels clean-up hitter Anderson does not deliver as much punch as Vlad but he does deliver RBI's. He is currently tied with Guerrero for the team lead with 12 and has stroked 4 doubles and 1 HR so far this season.

3. Bengie Molina
- Despite the 15-day trip to the DL we can not ignore Bengie's gaudy numbers during the first few weeks of the season. Hitting .323 with a .581 slugging percentage, Molina's offensive numbers are finally starting to match his defensive prowness. But if his name is going to be mentioned with Pudge Rodriguez, Jason Varitek and Jose Posada then Molina needs to stay healthy for the bulk of the season. Part of that will be Mike Scoscia recognizing how much Bengie's legs can take and allowing him to DH a couple of days per week.

4. Frankie Rodriguez - As advertised, K-Rod has been lights-out as the Angels new closer. 5 IP 7 K 0 BB 0.00 ERA. Can't argue with that line. Two for two in save opportunities as well. If Frankie pitches this well all season he will be richly rewarded with a fat new contract to be the Halo closer for a long, long time.

5. Darin Erstad - Yes, I was one of the disgruntled masses calling for Erstad to be replaced by Casey Kotchman at first -- mainly because he is grossly overpaid at $8 million per year. But Erstad looks to be trying to earn that cake with a .270 average and an inflated .476 slugging percentage. Erstad still does not walk enough and strikes out too much (5 BB compared to 13 K's), especially for a leadoff hitter. But Erstad's 10 runs scored is second on the team to Guerrero (12) and more impressive are his 9 RBI from the top spot of the lineup. Erstad would probably be better served as a #2 hitter but until a better option appears we will gladly take this level of production from Ersty.

6. Esteban Yan - Yan was hammered in spring training and he was shaping up to be the disaster of the year when the Angels broke camp earlier this month. But in 9.1 innings so far this season the veteran reliever has a 2.89 ERA with 5 K's. However Yan's 6 walks are disturbing and he could still blow-up at any moment -- it's really just a matter of time. But for now the Angels can count their blessings with Yan and enjoy his success while it lasts.

7. Scot Shields - Another guy who was poised for disaster. Shields was diagnosed with some sort of shin splints that could lead to a stress fracture of his shin. Shields came out of camp shaky, blowing a save on April 7th but emerging as the eventual winner in that contest. Shields has worked his ERA down from 5.40 on 4/7 to 2.08 with two wins and a hard-luck loss to Oakland on 4/16. His leg still makes me nervous but there are not too many other guys I want to get the ball late in a ball game with a tie score.

The Jury is Still Out...

There are several players who have not decided if they are going to be successful or tank this year. Among them:

Orlando Cabrera - Scioscia moved Cabrera up to the #2 spot in the line-up on Tuesday thanks mainly to a 3 hit game on Monday. Cabrera responded by going 0 for 5, dragging his batting average down to .250. So far this year Cabrera has 1 HR, 1 triple and 3 doubles. But Cabrera has worked six walks as well which has given him a .328 OBP. He won't make anyone forget Ichiro but compared to the rest of the lineup it provides at least a modicum of table-setting for Guerrero & Anderson.

Jarrod Washburn
- The ultimate 'feast or famine' pitcher. Washburn has pitched in three games so far this season. In two he has thrown 14 innings total with 11 hits and 0 earned runs. In the third one (actually sandwich between the other two starts) Burnsie went 5.1 innings giving up 12 hits and 6 earned runs. Ironically, the two games he pitched well in the Angels eventually lost while the Halos came back to edge the Rangers 7-6 in the one-game Washburn stinkfest. This guy remains the biggest enigma on the team. Personally I don't like his attitude and have hoped for awhile the Angels would ship him off but until they get a reliable fifth arm that is not likely. Though Bootcheck and Woods remain interesting they are not ready to be every-fifth-day starters in the bigs. Still, the Angels could make a move to trade for pitching if they can find a taker for Washburn.

Bootcheck, Woods & Prinz -
Bootcheck has been unbelievable in two appearances so far, pitching 5 innings and giving up just 2 hits and no earned runs. He also has a pair of walks and a pair of strikeouts. Like Bootcheck, Woods is 0-0 but he has an ERA of 3.60 after appearing in 4 games and pitching 4 innings. Woods has 4 K's and 2 BB's so far in 2005. Both are very young and raw but initially they are showing promise. Prinz came over in a late spring trade with the Yankees and in his very first appearance gave up a 12th inning home run to Alfonso Soriano that lost the game. After giving up that first run though Prinz has made two more appearances, both against the Royals, and did not give up a run but was placed on the 15-day DL with a sprained shoulder. That injury is what opened the door for Bootcheck who so far is making the most of his opportunity. It is unclear who will get demoted when Prinz returns from the DL on April 26th. All three are interesting players but just what lays in store is anyone's guess.

Bartolo Colon - A 2-1 record with an ERA of 3.66 is not bad by any stretch but as the Angels "Ace" we have to expect more from Bart. He is giving up too many hits (19 in 19.1 IP) but he does lead the team in strikeouts with 14. Certainly this is a better start than last season but Colon needs to pick his game up a notch to lead this pitching staff and go deep into games to rest the bullpen.

Chone Figgins – After starting the season 0 for freaking 15 Figgins is finally starting to put some good wood on the ball. After a three hit performance on Monday Figgins had a double yesterday to raise his average to .245. With Adam Kennedy rehabbing his rebuilt knee in extended spring training it could be weeks or days before he reclaims his second-base job. Figgins will then be spelling infield starters and battling Jeff DeVanon for DH time as he clamors to get at-bats. A week ago I would have said Figgins was in danger of losing his bench spot to Izturis but with 10 hits in his last 7 games (including a rare HR) Figgins should be secure to stay in the bigs. The question is, will he raise his game to become more of a factor later in the season?

At 7-7 and tied for first (and second and third place) the season so far is basically a "do over". The Angels start another of those weird two-game series tonight against a young and aggressive Indians ball club. Colon is matched against Jake Westbrook who threw a 3 hitter (over 8 innings) at the Twins in his last start after a miserable 2 inning, 7 run game against the Tigers in his previous start. The Angels need to beat teams like the Indians in every aspect of the game. While Cleveland has a lot of talent they are nowhere near as loaded as the Angels. While the entire division is scuttling, the Angels need to put together a winning streak that stakes them to a lead in the division. The key will be beating teams they should beat like Cleveland. The Angels have missed a golden opportunity to jump out to a three or four game lead early because they have not beaten teams in their division and they have not consistently beaten the teams they should (ie the Royals). After the pair with the Tribe and three games up in Oakland the fun really starts with roadies in the Bronx following by a trip to the Homerdome.

Recovered from Tax Day

I'm woozy but I have emerged from my 'tax week' hibernation. Finished calculating my share of the country's annual shake-down and needed a few days to recover.

I remember reading a Bloom County cartoon strip years ago that perfectly encapsulated the feeling of paying taxes in America. Berkeley Breathed, the masterful cartoonist who created Opus, Bill the Cat and all the other characters from BC, had a strip where one of the characters described the harvest of stone crabs (one of the best foods in the world I might add -- particularly from Joe's). Each season the crabs are caught in traps and the larger of their two claws is ripped off and the crabs then returned to the sea. The crab is left with his one small claw to try and find food and defend himself but over the course of the next year his missing claw grows back, often time larger than the year before. Then the stone crab is caught again and his new claw is ripped off and he is tossed back into the sea. The noble stone crab is therefore the perfect metaphor for the American taxpayer.

If anyone happens to have access to that particular strip I would love to get a copy to keep with my tax documents. At least I can smile before starting the 2005 ripping-off of my claw.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Now Back to the Real New York Times

Since I did compliment the NY Times in my previous post let me slam them here. Some yahoo named Murray Chass wrote what was, essentially, a hatchet job on Angel owner Arte Moreno. The incredibly uninsightful Op-Ed/Sports piece cast the poor city of Anaheim as victims to ruthless Moreno, referenced within as "the outdoor advertising king" (a label dripping with just slightly less contempt than "junk-bond king"), and his personal stooge Bud Selig. While Chass is correct in stating that Moreno is making the name change in an effort to generate more advertising revenue, he wrongly thinks the Angels will have to "fool" advertisers and sponsors "into thinking the Angels actually have some link to Los Angeles." You know, like playing in the Los Angeles media market or being on a Los Angeles radio station virtually every day or having their games carried by TWO Los Angeles television stations (KCAL 9 & Fox West). Oh Chass does allow that the Halos did play "in their infancy as the Los Angeles Angels" and then cleverly adds "(of Los Angeles?). Was that an original thought Murray or did you happen to catch one of the five-thousand or so late night talk show hosts, comics, sports-writers, bloggers or Dodger fans who said, wrote or printed that on T-Shirts before you?

To give you some insight on Murray's "hipness quotient" note two things: (1) He is named Murray. The only other Murray's I know were the late great Jim Murray and Murray Slaughter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show; and (2) He managed to slip-in a Jack Benny reference. How many baseball fans under the age of 35 even have a clue who Jack Benny was? If he only could have worked "penny whistles or buggy-whips" into the equation he would have had the trifecta.

So Mr. Chass goes on to note that the Angels played as the Los Angeles Angels "for only five seasons." He then notes that the team was called the California Angels "but they became the Anaheim Angels in 1997." Well check my math Murray but seven years as the "Anaheim Angels" versus five as the Los Angeles Angels (six if you count 2005) is hardly a stunning mandate to keep the "Anaheim" moniker. In fact, a reader of this very blog who goes by the pseudonym of Uncle Al correctly pointed out that the Los Angeles Angels have actually been around a lot longer than the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the old Pacific Coast League (PCL) the Los Angeles Angels played 55 years (1903 - 1957) and then five more when they joined the American League (1961 - 1966) and finally an additional year in 2005. That makes 61 years of LOS ANGELES Angels baseball as compared to 47 for the Dodgers. Now Murray I know what your thinking, PCL? "Phlllt". Well if you remember back to (or do a Google search on) the pre-1950's America, the only professional baseball on the west coast was the PCL which was considered a third major league. Those were big games back then and the Angels were called "Yankees-West" (that should stick in the craw of a few east-coast baseball snobs) as they racked-up seven pennants from 1903 - 1921 and finished with a total of 15 pennants in 53 years. According to Wikipedia the Angels team of 1934 is regarded as the "greatest team in the history of the minors" going 137-50 and finishing 35 1/2 games ahead of the Mission Reds. That team was so good in fact that their opponent in the post-season was a team comprised of All-Stars from the other seven PCL teams. The Angels beat the All-Stars. The Angels were so popular that their payroll often exceeded many Major League teams and legendary player Steve Bilko actually had to take a pay-cut when "called up" to play for the Cincinnati Reds in 1958.

So Chass rails against the Angels and Moreno, accusing them of committing "fraud" by changing (actually, changing back) their name. If so Mr. Chass, how about your home-town NFL teams? Are they not committing "fraud" by playing their games in New Jersey yet still calling themselves the New York Jets and Giants? At least the Angels play in the same state. There are many sports towns that host a team's stadium yet do not get specifically mentioned. The Dallas Cowboys play in Irving (but will be moving to Arlington), the Phoenix Coyotes play in Glendale, and innumerable teams use their respective state's name instead of the city where their stadium is located. Does Minneapolis get miffed that the Vikings and Twins don't use their name? No, and the reason is that they understand that those teams draw fans from the entire state and therefore the entire state is referenced in the name. Similarly, the Angels draw most of their fans from outside of Anaheim but within the Los Angeles television market (an area that encompasses Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties). The politically correct name-change would have been to revert to the name the Angels used from 1966 - 1997: California Angels. But with five MLB teams in the state it is more than a little presumptuous for the Angels to lay claim to the entire state. Southern Californians have more in common with Arizonans than Northern Californians so why would anyone presume to think they would have similar taste in baseball teams?

Murray Chass has completely missed the point. The Angels are not "stealing" the name Los Angeles from the Dodgers and they are not trying to defraud the public into thinking they actually play in LA. No, the Angels changed their name because despite drawing as many fans and generating the same television ratings, the Angels were offered roughly half what the Dodgers were. There is no logic to it, no defining metric to explain why the Dodgers are worth twice as much as the Angels. There is simply a perception of the Angels as "small market" despite the fact that they had the third highest payroll last season. It is that perception that Arte Moreno is seeking to change. Chass argues that Moreno is simply greedy, stating

"It is not enough to win division championships and draw 3.37 million fans to his team's games. Moreno wants more, and Selig is letting him have it."

If only Arte would take the scraps falling from the table of the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers and be happy. Why must he try for more? Why should he try to build the Angels into a brand-name? Can't he just let the poster-boy for baseball-excess, George Steinbrenner, have it all? No, actually, he can't. According to ESPN the Yankees and Red Sox make-up 53% of licensed merchandise sales. That's a monopoly within a monopoly. Officially the Yankees and Red Sox lost money last year (a combined $48 million and if you believe that Murray's got a bridge to sell you) but according to Forbes this is simply a "loss leader for their sports channels. Arte Moreno is a businessman and his objectives equate to those of all Angel fans: build a consistent contending team with enough revenue streams to insure payroll flexibility. But beyond that Moreno will try to build the Angels value as an organization. That is the true key to winning financially in baseball. George Steinbrenner led a buy-out of the Yankees in 1973 for $10 million. Forbes valued the 2004 Yankees first among major US sports teams at $950 million. Not a bad little investment for a humble yacht maker. The Angels are valued at $294 million ($206 million less the stadium which is owned by the city - already a tidy $22 million profit for Mr. M over his '03 purChass price of $184 million) but are appreciating faster (22% value increase '04 vs. '03) than either the Yankees (14%) , the Red Sox (6%) or the Dodgers (14%). Granted, they have a lot more room to grow but then, that's the point Murray.

The Angels have a rich tradition in Los Angeles, in fact they were so popular in 1957 (the year before the Dodgers moved to LA) that Dodger owner Walter O'Malley bought the team from chewing gum magnate Phil Wrigley for the unheard of sum of $3,000,000 and the rights to the Dodgers' Texas League franchise in Fort Worth. O'Malley cooly reassured PCL directors that the Angels would continue as part of the Coast League. But once O'Malley owned the Angels he owned the stadium they played in (Wrigley Field) as well as the territorial rights to the area. O'Malley then shipped the Halos north to Spokane, Washington and technically kept his word that the team would continue to operate as part of the PCL. In fact what he did was bulldoze an LA institution in favor of importing a New York team. After crushing Angel fans' hearts he then did the same to those of the Brooklyn Dodgers, bringing them in to fill the void he created. So for someone, particularly a New Yorker, to try and make a case that the Angels are "frauds" because they play 30 miles from a geographical marker signifying the Los Angeles city line it incredulous. Anaheim is no major metropolis, it isn't even the financial or population hub of Orange County. Coincidentally, the Angels were originally intended to move to Long Beach (within LA County) but decided on Anaheim because Long Beach insisted the team be called the "Long Beach Angels". So the city of Anaheim is now trying to do to the Angels what Long Beach tried to do in the sixties and long-term, it could have the same net-effect. The Angels have an out in their stadium lease in 2016 and Arte Moreno strikes me as the kind of guy who might have an eleven-year memory. The Angels were the original LA team and they have a history which they can be very proud of. "Angels" is simple the English translation for Los Angeles. What could have more to do with the city of LA than that? When was the last time someone used the term "Dodger" outside of Chavez Ravine? Possibly at tax time but certainly not in the context the team was named for, namely the dodging of trolley cars in Brooklyn. When the Angels reappeared in Los Angeles in 1961, now as a Major League team, it must have been like resurrecting a ghost to O'Malley. The frustrated Dodger owner must have thought 'Didn't we get rid of these guys already?'. What is unfortunate is that Gene Autry, who was driven out of LA by the O'Malleys, did just what they wanted and abandoned the LA market, leaving it for the Dodgers. Now that the saga has picked-up again, with Moreno laying claim to what rightfully belongs to the Angels: a large slice of the southern California baseball market.

Smile, You Could Be This Guy

A great article in the New York Times today that every young baseball player and every parent of a talented player should read. It is the story of Steve Butler, a guy who was the top player on a high school team that also featured Alex Rodriguez and Doug Mienkeiwicz. As a Little League pitcher Butler once struck out an entire team, 27 outs in a row all K'd. In another game he threw a no-hitter and hit three home runs.
Butler was Westminster Christian's best player that year. A left-handed pitcher and first baseman, he went 13-0 in 1992, his junior year. He was named the Dade County player of the year, edging Mientkiewicz and easily beating Rodriguez. He was also named an all-American.
Butler's life began unraveling due to what he calls some "mistakes" that were really just a kid being a kid. Like wanting to play basketball but twisting his ankle so badly he had to pitch with an air-brace the next season. Or goofing off and jumping into a canal and cutting his foot on a piece of glass the day before tryouts for the United States junior national team.

But the kicker in this story is Butler's self-deluding father who blames Steve and Alex Rodriguez for his son's failure but not himself.
"I think what happened with Steve, he was too successful," said his father, Al. "I've heard some things Chipper Jones did in his high school career. Steve did those same type of things."
Uh huh. Yes, I see....too successful you say. Hmmm.
"I don't know if anybody could have handled it," Al Butler said. "So many scouts were there, it was like a circus. It was always Alex, Alex, Alex, Alex. Everything Alex."
But Alex wasn't 'too successful' was he? Or maybe he still is. Whatever. Let's cut to the chase Al. The problem is you. Allow me to read between the lines a bit: you were so awed by your son's baseball ability at 17 that you let him do whatever he wanted. You likely feared he would not take care of you in your old age. While this kid was being treated like a god at school you should have been acting like a parent and giving him the guidance, discipline and perspective a 17-year-old usually does not posses. What were Rodriguez & Mientkiewicz's parents doing differently? Maybe helping keep their sons focused on an activity that at the very least would pay for their college degrees and at most lead them to the most lucrative contract in professional sports history. You dropped the ball Al but at least your son got to live like a king (albeit a middle-class one) for a year. I don't normally endorse parents prepping their kids for the big leagues since the odds are so small of making it. But in this case, where your son is one of the top prep players in the country you can go ahead and start protecting him. Now Butler gets to continually answer questions from kids in his youth baseball camp like "did you really play with Alex Rodriguez?" Then there was the nice touch when Dad sent him a copy of "The Rookie" because, dammit, dad's retiring and if you could just get a couple major league years under your belt (which is now apparently bloated and his face 'fleshy' according to the NY Times) maybe I could get a nice villa in Boca.
"I hope it doesn't sound like sour grapes, but it really hurts," Al Butler said. "It hurts. I'm getting ready to retire. It would have been nice to watch him play in the major leagues. He just kind of took the wrong turn somewhere and didn't get back on track."
Nah, not sour grapes but, I don't know, a shot of parental denial perhaps?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Guerrero Injured as Halo Offense Explodes

Eight games into the new season the Angels vaunted offense finally showed-up Tuesday night to pound Texas Ranger pitching for 14 hits and 13 runs. The 13-8 drubbing showed signs of potentially getting away as the LA bullpen coughed-up five runs before Scot Shields came in to slam the door, throwing one hit ball over the last 1.1 innings, getting all four outs via the strikeout.

Vladimir Guerrero was injured during a steal attempt in the third inning. Guerrero was hit on the knee as he slid into third base by a throw from Ranger catcher Rod Barajas. The ball got away from Texas third baseman Hank Blalock and Guerrero scored on the play. Guerrero stayed in the game and scored his thid run of the game in the top of the fourth but was replaced defensively by Juan Rivera. Guerrero is listed as day-to-day.

Pitcher John Lackey was his mediocre self, barely making it five innings, thanks in large part to a big 8 run cushion the Halos' offense provided. More disconcerting than Lackey's typical April outing was Brendan Donnelly's third poor performance in four games, giving up two runs and three hits in just two innings of work. Donnelly, in his fourth year with the Angels, has a career 2.23 ERA but so far this season is sporting one at nearly 8. The rigt-handed hurler has just one walk in 5.2 innings so far in 2005 which suggests his problem is not control. Donnelly is just throwing too many hittable pitches, surrendering 9 hits and five runs in less than six innings pitched. While a 7.94 ERA is usually nothing to worry about this early in the season, it is unusual for Donnelly to have so many bad outings rather than just the odd nightmare inning that ravages early-season statistics. Those of you who had "4" in the "how many outings until Esteban Yan blows-up" can take your tickets to the cashier. He done blown-up reeeeal good. Yan, who had given up just one hit in 5.1 innings going into his fourth game of the season, was tagged for 4 hits and 3 earned runs in the eighth inning. The late rally from Texas cut the Angels lead to 8 runs to 5 so Mike Scioscia called on Scot Shields to get the final out in the eighth and close out the ninth to earn his first save of the season.

On the positive side, the Angels offense hit on on cylinders Wednesday. Despite the 13 point outburst, the Angels did not have a single homerun in the game. Darin Erstad had two hits including a triple while Anderson, Quinlan, Figgins and Rivera all doubled.

The bealeaguered Angels starting staff suffered their second rough game in a row as John Lackey joined Jarrod Washburn as Ranger whipping boys. But help could be on the way as Kelvim Escobar is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment against A's affiliate Modesto on Thursday. Barring any setbacks Escobar will make his Angel debut on April 19th in Anaheim against the Mariners.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Washburn Takes Beating -- Angels Win Anyway

UPDATE: A nice come-from-behind extra-inning win for the Halos despite Washburn digging a six-run hole for them to climb out of.

Heros: Many. (1) Bullpen contingent of Chris Bootcheck, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez hold the Rangers scoreless from the fifth inning on. (2) Steve Finley's clutch 2-out double to plate two runs in the eighth. (3) Darin Erstad's clutch lead-off homerun in the ninth off Texas' closer Francisco Cordero to tie the game; or (4) Orlando Cabrera's dinger off of Texas reliever (and Angel savior) R.A. Dickey whose initials must stand for 'Runs Allowed'.

Goats: Washburn, who at this point could be replaced by Bootcheck, Woods or any of the Angel ball-boys with little difference in results. Washburn's line: 5.1 IP 12 H 6 R 3 BB 1 K. The rest of the pitcher's line: 4.2 IP 2 H 0 R 1 BB 5 K. Same hitters in the same ballpark on the same day. Washburn IS the problem. Now the same could be said for the Rangers bullpen who saw Kenny Rogers throw six innings and give up just 2 runs. The Texas relievers then gave up runs in four consecutive innings to not only bring the Angels back from a 6-2 deficit but give them the win in 10 innings. But that's their problem, Washburn is ours.

Here is my running commentary from during the game...

Angels 'pitcher' Jarrod Washburn is in mid-season form, giving up homeruns to Alfonso Soriano, Rod Barajas, and Hank Blalock as the Rangers have opened things up in the fifth inning, 6-2. In addition to the dingers Washrag-arm has given up a triple to Michael Young, a double to Richard Hidalgo and three walks. Good for Scioscia running his raggedy arse back out there for the sixth inning. The least JW can do is give us six runs over six innings but with a walk to lead-off the sixth he may not make it that long.

Kelvim Escobar can not get healthy fast enough and dspite the victory yesterday, Kevin Gregg is not a long-term solution as a starter. Hell, he is not a long-term solution in the bullpen. Either the top farm system in baseball needs to.....Hold the phone...

Scioscia just went to the bullpen to give young Chris Bootcheck an opportunity after Hank Blalock singled off Washburn....

Anyway, Stoneman needs to find himself a starter in the minors or part with some of his beloved prospects to get another starter in Anaheim. This rotation is looking weaker by the day. Yes its only April and Lackey will likely improve but wouldn't it be nice to have at least one pitcher in the rotation who is relatively solid April - September? I am willing to give these guys a couple more starts but Bud Black's job should be on the line for not getting more out of these guys.

Bootcheck had a nice battle going with Michael Young before inducing the third to first groundout. Scoscia had the kid intentionally walk Teixeira with first open and Hidalgo flies out to Guererro. I already like Bootcheck better than Washburn.

Steve Finley has finally done somthing, leading off the seventh with a double. He scores on a Merloni sac fly but that is all the Halos get. 6-3 going to the bottom of the seventh. Kenny Rogers is scrappy. He has given up 8 hits and three runs, avoiding the big inning so far. Next inning should be the key one for the Angels. A tiring Rogers is susceptible but look for Showalter to have the quick hook but then again, the Rangers bullpen does not exactly strike fear into the hearts of men.

As if this game were not irritating enough, the feed coming through on my laptop via mlb.com is choppy and annoying. Dammit, can't someone perfect this technology already.

Bootcheck has just retired the Rangers in order in the bottom of the seventh. Ok, it was Chad Allen, Kevin Mench & Gary Mathews (not exactly Soriano, Blalock & Young) but it was more than Washed-Up could do.

Steve Finley might be finally heating-up. With two-out and two on in the eighth the center fielder doubles to deep center bringing in Anderson & Cabrera to score. The Texas lead is cut to 6-5. As soon as the Rangers go to their bullpen the Angel hitters pounce. An Anderson single, a Cabrera walk and a Finley double. So the Rangers go to their third pitcher of the inning to face Bengie Molina with the tying run 90 feet away in the form of Steve Finley. Molina engages Doug Brocail (who might have the bushiest goatee in the big leagues) in a 9 pitch at-bat before finally drawing a walk. So it will be up to Lou Merloni here. Scratch that, Scioscia goes to the bench and pinch-hits Jeff DeVanon.

Whoa, Brocail covered first on a grounder to Soriano and DeVanon (locks flowing behind him) just steam-rolled the big pitcher. Somehow Brocail hangs on and the inning is over though. Dammit. Gotta love DeVanon there though, sacraficing his body for the good of the team. So if the Angels are going to spoil Texas' home opener they will have to do it against Francisco Cordero in the 9th. Though the way closers are giving it up so far this season that seems highly possible. The Angels will give the ball to Shields to finish-up the eighth.

On a replay of the DeVanon out it looks like Brocail missed the bag. That sucks.

Figgins boots a ball at second but Barajas gets a home-town hit. Shields blows through the eighth.

Top of the 9th and UNBELIEVABLY Darin Erstad comes through huge with a homerun to deep center off of Coco the Closer. Well, not such a closer today. Figgins promptly strikes out to restore Coco's confidence but that brings up the big man...But Vlad flies out with a sky-high pop-up to shallow left-center that is handled by shortstop Michael Young. So with two-out it is up to Garrett Anderson to get the Angels a lead for K-Rod to protect. Anderson pops up in identical fashion to second but Soriano drops it! Juan Rivera steps up and strikes out on three pitches.

So does Scioscia elect to bring-in a well-rested K-Rod in a tie-game? Likely not. Shields was very effective and can likely go one more (and he does come out for the ninth). Hopefully this one is headed for extras. See the game summary at the top for how this one ended.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

ESPN: Angels Top Baseball Organization

According to ESPN's Ultimate Standings, the Angels were ranked as the top organization in baseball and fifth best sports organization overall. The standings are based on eight categories including fan relations, game experience and "bang for your buck". The baseball team top ten were:

1. Angels
2. Cardinals
3. Braves
4. Yankees
5. Marlins
6. Astros
7. Twins
8. Rangers
9. Diamondbacks
10. Giants

That 'other' LA team ranked 17th.

The overall sports top ten were ranked thusly:

1. Detroit Pistons - A free brawl with every ticket!
2. San Antonio Spurs - What else is there in San Antone?
3. Indianapolis Colts - Ditto the Colts when high school basketball season ends.
4. New England Patriots - Just win baby.
5. LA Angels - Strongest category - (tie) Affordability & Championships (won or expected soon) -- Weakest Category - Ownership (honesty & loyalty to fans/players).
6. Philadelphia Eagles - Scored high in the 'Cheesestake Accesibility' category.
7. Atlanta Falcons - Really? The Falcons?
8. Green Bay Packers - top category - Stadium Experience. Big difference in experiencing metal benches in January or October.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers - Strongest in ownership & coaching
10. Indiana Pacers - Maybe there is something besides the Colts & high school basketball...

Angels TV Schedule

158 of the Angels 162 games will be shown on television, the most games televised in club history. For non-locals like me it is especially good news that Fox Sports West will televise 102 games, the most they have ever shown in their 13-year partnership with the team. Channel 9 will broadcast 50 games (out-of-towners note: you can watch these with a subscription to MLB.com's online MLB.TV broadcast package) while seven Halo games are slated to be part of 'Fox Saturday Baseball Game of the Week' and ESPN's 'Sunday Night Baseball'. Additional games could also be selected by MLB's national rights holders as the season progresses.

Injury Updates

Starting pitcher Kelvim Escobar, recovering from a sprained right elbow, threw a 10-minute bullpen session Friday and is scheduled to throw another on Monday (which is also Escobar's 29th birthday). If Escobar reports no problems look for him to make a rehab start next week and resume his place in the Angels' rotation five days later.

Second baseman Adam Kennedy recovering from reconstructive knee surgery will begin a rehab assignment at the Angels extended spring training in Mesa, AZ today. If Kennedy does not suffer any setbacks he could be back with the Halos sooner than the originally projected "early May" time frame. If all goes well AK could be back when the Angels return home April 18th. A more realistic time-frame would be towards the end of that home-stand when the Angels host the A's April 22-24.

Vlad vs. Bonds

A comparison of Vladimir Guerrero and Barry Bonds through their first 1163 games of their respective careers:



I would have to guess these were all "Pre-BALCO" numbers for Barry and "all natural" for Vlad but that of course can not be known for certain. It is interesting how once baseball came down harder on 'roids it has become difficult for Bonds to heal from his injuries (a noted benefit of steroid use is fast recovery from injury).

The Difference a Day Makes

In the immortal words of The Eagles, last night's game gave me a "peaceful easy feeling". Quite the opposite from Friday evening's gut-wrenching horror show of a game where Paul Byrd looked like a nervous rookie with a triple A farm team playing behind him. Kevin Gregg got a rare start on Saturday thanks to Kelvim Escobar's strained bicep and while he was not over-powering by any stretch, he was effective. Gregg through 92 pitches in five innings, 54 for strikes. But what he lacked in efficiency Gregg and his teammates made up for in grit. The Royals managed just three hits against the reliever-turned-spot-starter, but combined with four Gregg walks and a costly wild-pitch, KC was able to manufacture three runs. But that's all they would get thanks to some clutch pitching from Gregg who struck-out Mike Sweeney in the second with the bases loaded. That ended the threat and had Sweeney come through then Gregg likely does not stay in the game very long and an already over-taxed bullpen would have had to carry the burden further.

Other key points from Saturday night:

*Will the real Esteban Yan please stand-up? Yan pitched three scoreless innings with the only blemish being a couple of walks that never made it to second base. Yan was hammered throughout the spring but so far in the regular season Yan has pitched 5.1 innings and given up just one hit, maintaining a perfect 0.00 ERA.

*Bengie Molina clubbed his second homer of the year, a three-run job that put the game on ice for the Halos. Molina is hitting .353 with a .706 slugging percentage in the young season. If Molina can stay healthy he may finally be able to enter the ranks of the AL elite catchers by providing offense, particularly power, to compliment his top-notch defense.

*Maicer Izturis got his first start of the year in place of the struggling Robb Quinlan. Izturis made the most of his chance by hitting a triple and scoring twice. The speed component to the Angels game is key. In the fourth inning Izturis blazed down the first base line forcing Royals second baseman Ruben Gotay to miss the bag as he attempted to force a sliding Bengie Molina at second. With both runners safe Chone Figgins and Darin Erstad each had RBI base hits and both would later score on an RBI double from Vladimir Guerrero. The speedy Izturis looked a lot like Chone Figgins in 2002 and will likely be competing with Figgins for playing time when Adam Kennedy and Dallas McPherson return either later this month or in early May.

*Manager Mike Scioscia executed a hit-and-run with Vlad Guerrero on second and Garrett Anderson at the plate. Guerrero scored easily when Anderson was able to drive the ball into the right-center field gap. The big bats are great, but the ability to generate runs with speed and timely hitting will serve the Angels well this season.

*The Angels started the game on Saturday last in the AL in offense and runs scored. Look for that stat to turn around quickly.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Angels Look Putrid Against Royals

In a game pitting the low payroll Royals and their team of Triple A farm-hands and odd-lot veterans against the polished and superstar-laden Angels, it was the Royals who came away looking like champions. Yes, it was only one game, but it showed that this Angels team has not yet jelled and that good starting pitching can take a team a long way.

Young Denny Bautista put on a pitching exhibition that left the Halos frustated in the batters box. Paul Byrd made some costly mistakes in his debut, and had some shoddy defense behind him. Most notable was a costly error by Chone Figgins in the second inning that brought back memories of his error-filled days at third base last season filling in for the injured Troy Glaus. That error led to two runs and set a tempo for the Angels for the rest of the evening.

The crushing blow against Byrd was in the fifth when David Dejesus tripled and then scored on a suicide squeeze bunt that fell to the ground about one inch from Byrd's diving glove. If Byrd makes the catch it is an easy double play, instead it makes the game 4-0. It was interesting to see a perfectly executed squeeze play just a night after the Angels, and their expensive new centerfielder Steve Finley, failed to execute a squeeze. In Finley's defense he did single home the run but it did illustrate an early bad sign for the Angels, an inability to get the little things done to manufacture runs.

The reality of this game is that the Angels were just owned by Bautista. Byrd was not awful but he was not real good either. Had the Angels offense scored seven or eight runs most people would have overlooked Byrd's performance. But when Byrd's effort is compared to Bautista, it looked pretty bad. Bautista was acquired last June in a trade with Baltimore for reliever Jason Grimsley. If Bautista is able to continue pitching at that level, he will be this year's Johann Santana and the Royals will have made one of the best trades in their history.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Angels Edge Rangers in Game, Series

In a spectacularly close series to open the 2005 season, the Angels win two of three games from Texas by taking the Thursday night affair 7-6 on a walk-off single from Steve Finley. The Rangers had tied the game in the top of the ninth by manufacturing a run against Scot Shields, in to close the game with Frankie Rodriguez designated "unavailable" by Manager Mike Scioscia due to his heavy workload in the past two games. Shields was wild, walking two and throwing to wild pitches to give the Rangers runners at the corners with one out while down by a run. Michael Young came through with a clutch two-out single to plate the tying run but Shields induced an inning ending groundout to Darin Erstad that erased the threat.

Just how close was this series, well the Angels edged Texas in combined score 12-11. Game two on Wednesday took twelve innings to decide as both teams burned through their respective bullpens enroute to Texas' eventual 3-2 victory. The Angels won by the same score the night before but Thursday was setting up to be a much higher scoring affair for several reasons. The starting pitchers featured a notorious slow starter in John Lackey and a fairly unproven rookie in Chris Young. Both bullpens had been exhausted by the extra-inning game on Wednesday and both of these teams feature explosive offenses. The Angels were able to get to Young early, posting two runs in the first and adding a third the next inning. But what was surprising was the effectiveness of John Lackey. The big Texan held the Rangers hitless through four innings but the feeling of inevitable doom was palpable. The first hit came in the fifth as Richard Hidalgo's grouder skirted past a diving Orlando Cabrera into centerfield. You could almost feel Lackey's composure melt like Tammy Faye's makeup on pledge-drive night. Lackey then engaged rookie Adrian Gonzalez in a 13-pitch marathon at bat, eventually walking him. That set the stage for David Delucci's one-out double to score both runners and trim the Halo lead to 3-2. One bright spot in the ugly 5th: Robb Quinlan make a nice play on a ball hit down the line and then made an excellent spot-on through to Erstad for the first out. That would have been a perfect spot for a boot that likely would have led to Lackey's complete demise, instead it just prolonged it. Lackey then walked Soriano which was followed by a Blalock double, scoring Delucci and giving the Rangers runners at the corners. Lackey, sweat dripping like a politician in church, coughs up a wild pitch that scores Soriano and Scioscia, like the rest of Angel fans everywhere, finally had enough. In comes Esteban Yan who gets Teixeira to ground out to first to end the inning.

The Angels and Ranger bullpens both were questionable in this series which is a bit surprising since both were considered strengths for their respective ball clubs. Most disturbing for the Angels was the ineffectiveness of Shields and Donnelly, both of which have given up runs on consecutive nights. Even more shocking: the effectiveness of the much-maligned Esteban Yan. A guy who was torched in the spring and likely was a contributing factor in the Angels acquisition of another questionable arm: Bret Prinz. But for the second night in a row Yan looked like a man among boys in the Angels bullpen as he shutdown the Rangers and provided a stop when they needed it most.

But it is early and the bullpen will likely work themselves into form. The Rangers are a pesky team that gave the Angels fits last year, including a four-game sweep in Texas early. The Angels have to feel good about themselves to start the year 2-1 against a tough slapped them around pretty good last season. We knew the Rangers could hit but the good pitching from Drese, Rogers and Young was not expected. What will really be telling will be the bottom of the rotation for both teams. The Angels send new starter Paul Byrd to the hill tomorrow against the Royals while the Rangers turn to veteran reclamation project Chan Ho Park against former Angel, Ranger and Mariner and new Seattle veteran reclamation project, Aaron Sele.

Game Gripe: Fox named Steve Finley their "Player of the Game" for blowing a squeeze bunt but then getting the walk-off ground ball single that won the game. How about Bengie Molina's three-run bomb that brought LA back from a 4-3 deficit to a 6-4 lead? Not to mention some pretty solid defense on a night where Lackey and Shields were wilder than Charlie Sheen at the MTV Beach House.

Angels on Fire: The aforementioned Molina now hitting .400 with a .455 OBP and .700 SLG! If only that could extend out for a season (hell, I'd take a month), Garrett Anderson .357 with 2 doubles (that would be a double-double. I smell In-N-Out promo, Vlad Guerrero .308 with a big HR on opening night.

Ice Ice Angels: Chone Figgins .000 - tough to steal bases from the bench, Robb Quinlan .111 - anyone heard how McPherson is doing? Anyone? Bueller? Steve Finley .222 - another notorious late starter but c'mon Stevie, lay down the bunt when the game is on the line.

Impressions after the inaugural series: These were two pretty evenly matched teams. The Angels you expect to come through in the clutch did (Vlad, Bengie, Garrett). Starting pitching was good, not great and the bullpen underperformed. Saying all that and you still take 2 of 3 from a tough divisional rival...life is good. Bring on the Royals and hopefully some rest for the bullpen and some easy hits for Finley, Figgins and Quinlan. Maybe even a start for Maicer Izturis at third.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Angels Look to Take First Series of Season

So as I prepare to write a piece on how lousy John Lackey was this spring and what a notorious slow starter he is, he ups and strikes out the side in the first inning. Soriano, Hank Blalock and Michael Young - whiff, whiff, whiff. Of course the Angels take that good karma and give it right back with Erstad grounding out, Devanon strking out and Vlad, well he just walked. This is shaping up to be a very interesting game so do what I'm gonna do, go grab a beer and enjoy it.

I'll report back post-game.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Light Up the Halo -- Angels Win!

The Angels started the defense of their AL Western Division crown by knocking off the Texas Rangers Tuesday night 3-2. The Halos were led by reigning American league MVP Vladimir Guerrero who belted a solo homerun and had an rbi double off the centerfield wall late in the game to give the Angels the lead.

Bartolo Colon pitched a strong 6.2 innings and had the type of debut Angel fans had hoped to see last season. But the big right-hander was hampered early in 2004 with an ankle injury that caused him to give up gopher balls like a Dominican Pez dispenser. Colon righted the ship late in the season but many had questioned the big dollar signing of a perennially overweight power pitcher. The question now is can Colon put together the type of season the Angels need from their number one starter? Clearly the Angels are hoping for an 18 - 20 win campaign for Colon with 5 or 6 complete games and an ERA in the 3.00 to 3.50 range. Last season Colon did manage 18 wins but had no complete games and just 208.1 innings after compiling 242 innings and 9 complete games the season before for the White Sox.

Other observations from game one:

*Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler made the obvious (and now hackneyed) observation that the Angels 'may have the best outfield in all of baseball'. But then they did actually have one astute comment in that the Halo outfield is probably the deepest in the majors with backups Juan Rivera and Jeff Devanon. Both of whom could start in a number of other major league outfields (the Rangers being one that comes to mind). Devanon made their point with a clutch 2-out single in the sixth and then scored on a Guerrero double deep to center (making up for hitting into a first-inning double-play right before Guerrero's solo HR).

*Darin Erstad returned to the Latvia hitter spot and promptly walked. A very good sign. Followed by an 0-3 night at the plate.

*All three of the Angels runs came with 2-outs.

*The Rangers stranded 9 runners on-base, the Angels just 3. Texas out-hit the Halos 7 to 6.

*macro historic made his Angels debut in the seventh inning, pinch-running for Robb Quinlan and scoring on a beings Moline single which proved to be the difference-maker in this game.

*Most worrisome development: Scot Shields was all over the place, giving up a towering homerun to Mark teaser along with two walks and two strictures in 1.1 innings of work. Being as it is only the first game of the year I would normally not be worried but with Shields developing an injury to his shin in Spring Training it could affect be playing into his mind and mechanics. Nothing to worry too much about but stay tuned.

*Tomorrow's game features jarred Washburn vs. Kenny Rogers. Look for a more "American leagues" score, say 9-6 or so.

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