Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Red Hot Q Ready for Anaheim

Per the LA Times, Robb Quinlan has been tearing-up Triple A pitching, with 11 hits in his last 4 games. And his timing could not be better. With Dallas McPherson's year apparently coming to a close and Steve Finley not showing any signs of becoming a productive hitter again, Quinlan can step into the third base job for the Angels which would then bounce Chone Figgins into center field.

Last season Quinlan hit .344 with 5 HR and 23 RBI over 56 games but was ineffective during his stint with the Angels earlier this season. Injuries may have played a role in that however since Quinlan went on the DL July 1 with neck and shoulder injuries. A healthy Quinlan could be just the boost that the sometimes sluggish Halo offense needs.

Quinlan joined the Angels last night and will be activated today for the Halo's game in Baltimore. The ever-inconsistent Jarrod Washburn faces the O's Eric DuBose who shut-out the A's over six innings in his only start of the season on August 17th.

Put a Fork Him, McPherson is Done

Angel third baseman Dallas McPherson's season is over though an official announcement has not yet been made. The rookie slugger has been hopping doctors faster than Rush Limbaugh in need of a pill fix hoping to procure an opinion from some medical professional that he can indeed continue to play this year and postpone surgery on his bone-spurred and cartilage damaged hip. According to the LA Times, doctors at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colorado suggested McPherson have surgery immediately to shave down the bone spur and repair the damaged cartilage in D-Mac's bum hip. In their opinion, to play further this season is to runt he risk of further damage. Not wanting to believe the good doctors in Colorado McPherson headed to Tennessee where Titans' team doctor Thomas Byrd seconded the Colorado doctors' opinion.

This is an absolute no-brainer. The Angels have far too big an investment in McPherson to risk losing him beyond 2005. Get the surgery done, start rehab and be ready for Spring Training next March. With a recovery time estimated at three months, D-Mac could even play some winter ball to help him get ready for the Angels '06 campaign.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Angels Bullpen Still Struggling

The Angels showed a lot of heart last night, coming back to tie the Red Sox with two runs knocked in on a clutch two-out single from Bengie Molina. But the bullpen provided no relief once again as Scot Shields gave up a run in the 10th that provided Boston with the margin they needed to get the victory. Shields gave up two hits and then walked the bases loaded before a groundout from Manny Ramirez plated the go-ahead run.

An inning earlier Frankie Rodriguez continued to struggle as he pitched the ninth with the score tied at 3. Rodriguez gave up a couple of hits but managed to wriggle out of the jam. The good news is K-Rod's velocity seemed to be back on his fastball which was clocked at 94 mph last night. But his control is still an issue and hitters are able to stroke his once unhittable slider.

Tough loss but teams are going to lose games like this occassionally. It will be a test of charcter today to see how they battle back against a pitcher (Boston's Bronson Arroyo) that they should be able to handle. Game of the week on Fox at 1 pm.

Holyfield Barred From Boxing in NY

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was barred from fighting in New York by the state's athletic commission because of "poor performance and diminished skills" in recent fights.

I wonder if the Angels can get a similar ban for Steve Finley? Finley is one of the 'good guys' but it is just pathetic watching him struggle and get booed each night.

Spiezio Released by M's

Scott Spiezio, forever etched in Angels' history for his clutch game 6 homerun in the 2002 World Series, was released yesterday by the Seattle Mariners. Seattle GM Bill Bavasi made a monumental mistake by confusing Spiezio's role on the Angels as a cornerstone guy rather than a 'Super Sub'. The Angels did make Spiezio their starting first baseman but he was a stop-gap solution as most Halo first basemen are. The Angels seem to just stick whoever is handy out at first. But who can blame them, the Halos have not had a long-term solution at first since Mo Vaughn and we all know how that turned out Though the Angels may have their first base anchor in-house with Casey Kotchman and the rumor mill has been churning furiously with speculation of Darin Erstad being put back in the outfield to make room for the youngster.

Credit Spiezio and his agent with turning one mediocre season and a spectacular postseason into a $9.3 million contract that will keep Sandfrog playing the beach circuit for the next 10 years at least. In fact, the Mariners still owe Spiezio $3.1 million for 2006 plus a $250,000 buyout for 2007 meaning the Spiez will be the highest paid grunge rocker in the OC. Spiezio is a career .253 hitter and prior to signing with Seattle hit .265 for the Angels in 2003, just 12 months after his "career year" in Anaheim (.285 with 12 HR and 82 rbi). But Spiezio's numbers cratered in the Emerald City when he posted a .215 average with 10 HR and 41 rbi. Numbers so garish the Seattle Times noted that the normally frugal Mariners were compelled "to sign Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre fill two spots that Spiezio could not." While the signing was an obvious mistake in the Al Davis "trophy collection" manner of player acquisitions, Spiezio could end up being a pleasant memory compared to the $64 million the Mariners committed to Beltre who has provided little offensive justification for that amount of jack (.262, 17 HR, 72 rbi). The Mariners are like that guy who bought a ton of tech stocks right at their pinnacle and was left holding worthless paper when the market crashed.

Spiezio could still latch on with another club, but after struggling all season as a backup it is unclear who would be desperate enough to give him and his .065 batting average a job. If KC were to unload Sweeney on the Angels or another club they might take a flyer on him given it would only cost them the league minimum salary. According to the Times, the Seattle GM seemed "happy to be rid of a mistake."
"It was entering into the realm of a demoralizing situation and it was best to remove him and let the club move forward," Bavasi said.
My guess is that Bavasi being in Seattle is "entering into the realm of a demoralizing situation." Perhaps he will be the next one sent packing up north.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Weaver Has Strong Outing for Travs

Jared Weaver may have turned a corner in his preperation for the big leagues on Thursday night. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Weaver pitched 6 2/3 strong innings for the Halos Double A affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers. The Travs defeated the Frisco Roughriders (I'm sorry but there is just nothing non-gay about that name) 7-2 as Weaver finished the game with 2 K, 5 H and 4 BB.

Weaver had a tough first inning, surrendering a one-run double and a sac fly but then Weaver "finally found something out in the later innings and everything came together and it worked great". After the first inning the 'Dream' Weaver held the opposition scoreless. So what was this miraculous revelation?
"I think I was trying to be too fine with my pitches, " Weaver said. "today I talked to (Mike Butcher), the pitching rover, and he told me to attack the zone and that's what I did in the second inning and after that everything worked. I was cutting everything off...threw the fastball, threw the slider and everything else."
What? Whatever, so long as it helped him. Weaver had an unforgettable home debut prior to Thursday when Springfield pummelled him 8-4. The Gazette says Weaver then "went on the road where his ERA swelled to 5.68." Also of note, Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales each had 2-run HR's to support Weaver.

I would love to see that team play. I just don't want to have to go to Arkansas.

Great Match-Up Tonight

John Lackey (10-4, 3.63) faces off against the man who would not be an Angel, Matt Clement (11-3, 4.53) in what should be a very entertaining game tonight in Anaheim. Lackey has not lost since July 9th and based on the last month, he should throw a shut-out for at least 7 innings.

On July 17 Lackey throws 7 innings and gives up 0 runs.
On July 22 Lackey throws 5.1 innings and gives up 2 runs.
On July 28 Lackey throws 7 innings and gives up 0 runs.
On August 3 Lackey throws 6.2 innings and gives up 2 runs.
On August 9 Lackey throws 7 innings and gives up 0 runs.
On August 14 Lackey throws 6.1 innings and gives up 5 runs.

So clearly, on August 19 (today) Lackey with throw 7 innings and give up 0 runs.

Go big John.

Psst.....Your Holes Are Showing

The Angels delivered a nice message last night with a 13-4 thumping of Boston. Colon was strong, and newly promoted reliever Greg Jones got some mop-up work in the ninth. Jones gave-up a meaningless solo HR to Bill Mueller but other than that chink-in-the-armor retired the other three batters he faced. A fresh arm in the pen is good news as the big three of Shields, Donnelly & Rodriguez have looked ragged of late. The bullpen 'B' squad of Esteban Yan, Joel Peralta and Kevin Gregg do not appear to have Mike Scioscia's confidence to enter games with less than a four run margin.

With Garrett Anderson out for who-knows-how-long (is it just me or does this mysterious ailment/lack-of-healing feel exactly like the arthritis thing all over again?) and Dallas McPherson possibly done for the year, the Angels have some big holes in their line-up. Teams are pitching around Vladimir Guerrero (Oakland walked him with the bases empty in the 9th inning of a tie game -- it worked, the A's went on to win the game in the bottom of the ninth) and it is being left up to Bengie Molina, Steve Finley, Casey Kotchman and Juan Rivera to produce. They did last night, in spades. Well Molina, Kotchman and Rivera did (10 for 19 with 9 rbi -- Finley was his typical useless self at 0-4). But they did not the previous two nights (both Angel losses).

But there could be help on the way:

Richard points out that Brett Prinz is alive and pitching in the minors. Pitching pretty damn well at that.

Kelvim Escobar is rumored to be headed for the pen. What the hell, if Curt Schilling can be a mediocre one-legged closer than surely Kelvim is up to the task. He has experience as a closer and should be comfortable down there.

Chris Bootcheck and Joe Saunders both looked good in their brief big league stints. Look for them to be back when rosters expand in September.

Peter Gammons hints on his ESPN Insider column that Mike Sweeney could still be a possibility:
"We don't have Angels GM Bill Stoneman's phone records to know how many times he has talked to Royals general manager Allard Baird about acquiring Sweeney"
I know, he isn't saying anything concrete in that cryptic quote but I think that's the point. He is inferring a possible deal give that
Sweeney cleared waivers and the Angels have a big hole where Garrett Anderson use to bat. If Sweeney is added, Erstad moves to center and Finley is shown the door then the Angels would finish the year with a pretty stout line-up of: Figgins, Cabrera, Erstad, Guerrero, Sweeney, Molina, Rivera Kotchman & Kennedy. If Kotchman keeps his HR's coming he could find his way to the 6 hole or higher. Rivera is a hot second-half player so he could get more playing time, particularly if the Royals were being unreasonable in their demands for a player with a big salary.

Joe Morgan had this nugget on Guerrero and the road to another AL West Championship:
"...the outcome of the AL West race will depend on Guerrero. In my preseason forecast, I said the Angels needed another MVP-type season from Vladimir in order to win. Well, he's doing just that."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Angels Have Opportunity to Extend Lead

The O's edged the A's 5-3 today, giving the Angels a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL West. They can up that to a full three games with a victory tonight in the series finale against Toronto.

The game is on ESPN 2 so grab a cold one and go enjoy.

Bullpen Struggling - K-Rod Blows Game for Saunders

Joe Saunders made a great first impression on the Angels and their fans Tuesday night. Unfortunately the suddenly struggling Halo bullpen coughed up a one run lead and the game in the ninth inning to deny Saunders his first big league victory and, more importantly, for the Angels to extend their lead in the AL West to 3 full games over the stumbling A's.

Saunders scattered five hits over 7.1 innings, allowing just two runs to the Blue Jays. Along the way he struck out two and walked a pair in his first start. Saunders left the game with the Angels leading 3-2 in the eighty. Scot Shields finished off the last two batters and then the game was turned over to Francisco Rodriguez. But Rodriguez, who looked ragged the night before when he walked two and gave up a hit before escaping a bases loaded jam in the ninth. On Tuesday control problems plagued the Angel closer again as he walked two and gave up two hits and two runs before being pulled by Mike Scioscia for Kevin Gregg who recorded the final two outs in the ninth with no more damage inflicted. The Angels tried to rally against Jays closer Miguel Batista, starting the bottom of the ninth with a walk to Juan Rivera. But Casey Kotchman hit into a fielder's choice and Steve Finley flied out leaving it up to red-hot Adam Kennedy to try and extend the game. But Kennedy grounded out to the second baseman and the Halos were left frustrated.

The big question is how big a deal is the recent trouble in the pen? A few games are no big deal. But the Angels have blown 8 of their past 16 save chances which is absolutely unacceptable. The Angels thanked Joe Saunders for his fine effort by immediately sending him back to Triple A after the game and recalling reliever Greg Jones. A move meant to fortify a bullpen that has seen the three premier relievers on the team (Rodriguez, Sheilds and Donnelly) all struggle in recent weeks. Of the three it appears that Shields is the most steady right now having given up 4 earned runs on 13 hits over his past 12 innings pitched. But if you take out one appearance against Oakland where he surrendered 3 runs then Shields has only given up one earned run over his past 11 innings pitched. Similarly Donnelly has given-up 7 runs on 11 hits over his past 9.1 innings of work but 4 of those runs came in one inning against Oakland. Donnelly has not given up a run in his last three appearances (two against Seattle and one against Toronto). But most troubling is Frankie Rodriguez with his 7 earned runs allowed on 7 hits over his last 6.2 innings pitched. Equally alarming are the high number of walks BB-Rod is giving-up: 10 over his last 6.2 innings to go with his 11 strikeouts. Compare that to his 2004 numbers where he pitched 84 innings and walked 33 batters while striking out 123. Scioscia's explanation for K-Rod's collapse:

"He's got a complicated delivery with amazing stuff," the Halo manager said, "and when that gets a little out of whack, there's gonna be a price to pay."

Yeah, OK Mike. But maybe he should not be closing one-run games until he works the kinks out, eh? If the Angels are going to open this race up and take advantage of Oakland's struggling then they have to close out teams like Toronto. I can sort of understand Shields and Donnelly pinching against Oakland since they are in the midst of a division race. But the closer has to be unflappable -- particularly against teams from other countries. If Rodriguez is hurt then he needs to let Scioscia know so everyone else can get bumped up in the pecking order with Shields closing. Otherwise Bud Black needs to spend every waking moment trying to figure out where K-Rod's mechanics are off and fix them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Curse of the Benbino

It's hard to feel bad for Red Sox fan. He has movies made about him, a championship (replica) ring from the 2004 season and a pretty damn good team to root for in one of the most fabled ballparks in history. But lets face it, when Boston won the World Series last year they lost their soul. This team was about losing, make no mistake about it. The Red Sox Nation's entire identity was about being losers and scraping themselves up to go at it again next season. Winning is OK up until a point but then they had to unravel. These obnoxious noreasters would wail about what great fans they were and then wrap themselves in their collective Red Sox flag and drown their sorrows in gallons of the nearest pilsner. But now that they have won they are just another bloated and overpaid team from the northeast.

But thankfully for Red Sox fan there is the great Ben Affleck. As most everyone who is plugged into popular culture knows, Affleck is a die-hard Sox fan. Who can ever forget the disgusting image of Affleck and Jennifer Lopez snuggling at Angel Stadium (in damn fine seats behind the Angels dugout) while he smugly wore his Boston cap and she was dressed in some sort of fur-lined skin-tight outfit with a Dr. Zhivago Russian snow hat. Bizarre. Anyway, Affleck's birthday was yesterday, August 15th. In addition to celebrating his 33rd year on Earth, Big Ben is also notching another year in the Red Sox new curse: The Curse of the Benbino TM. TCOTB is simply the fact that the Red Sox have lost on August 15th every year since 1998. The last Sox victory on the 15th day of August came in 1997 when they defeated the Minnesota Twins 5-4 at Fenway Park. coincidentally, the Twins won the World Series exactly ten years earlier so clearly there are dark forces at work here.

But to officially be a 'curse' you need to not only lose but lose in excruciating ways. For Affleck to have his special day affiliated with Red Sox losing may seem excruciating to him but we are looking for a shared experience that will hurt-so-good for all of Red Sox Nation. Enter this year's TCOTB game at Comerica Park where the Sox were looking to finally breakout and end this curse as they led the Tigers 6 - 3 entering the 8th inning. Chad Bradford came into the game and gave up an earned run but the Sox were still leading 6 - 4 with Curt Schilling ready to pitch the 9th and all talk of curses once and for all. Placido Polanco singled off Schilling to start the inning but the veteran rebounded, inducing a popout from Chris Shelton. Schilling looked to be in control until Dmitri Young blasted a shot off the left field fence right where it meets the center field fence. Polanco scored and by the time the Sox had the ball back to the infield Young was belly-flopping into third. Enter pinch-runner Nook Logan who was singled home by Magglio Ordonez and we have a tie game. No doubt visions of Affleck danced in the heads of Red Sox players and fans everywhere. Craig Monroe then walked on four pitches moving Ordonez into scoring position with the winning run. But Schilling struck out Brandon Inge and with two outs John McDonald and his career .238 average was up. Detroit Manager Alan Trammel had Ivan Rodriguez on the bench and available to pinch-hit but he was out of infielders. If Pudge failed to come through then he would not have anyone available to play shortstop in extra innings. So McDonald battled Schilling, falling quickly to an 0-2 count. Schilling tried to finish off McDonald with a split-fingered fast ball but he left it too high and McDonald stroked it down the left field line past Manny Ramirez, scoring Ordonez and preserving The Curse of the Benbino TM.

Feel the burn Red Sox fan, you have at least a portion of your identity returned to you thanks to the Affleck.

Angels Win with 'B' Team

What the hell happened to the Angels roster? Here is the starting line-up from last night's 7-6, 11 inning victory over Toronto:

1. Chone Figgins CF
2. Orlando Cabrera SS
3. Darin Erstad 1B
4. Vlad Guerrero RF
5. Bengie Molina DH
6. Juan Rivera LF
7. Jose Molina C
8. Maicer Izturis 3B
9. Adam Kennedy 2B

Suddenly we are a bunch of slap hitters plus Guerrero. In addition we had Jeff DeVanon, Casey Kotchman and Jeff Mathis all enter the game at some point (going a combined 0 for 3). So out of 12 players involved last night there were five players projected to be full-time starters. Six if you count Figgins, which I don't. While he has been a super bench player I would not start him ahead of any of the regulars except maybe Finley who still can't seem to hit but is much better defensively.

This power-packed roster managed 13 hits, 10 of them singles. The other three were doubles by Guerrero, Rivera and Cabrera.

Scioscia snuck one by the Jays with this line-up and he will try and one-up himself tonight by starting Joe Saunders in his major league debut. The left-hander was 3-3 with a 3.46 ERA at Triple A. Saunders was promoted earlier this season after posting an 8-4 record with a 3.49 ERA at Double A. Scioscia decided to give Paul Byrd a few days of rest after he suffered some stiffness in his back while the team was in Seattle. But Byrd claims to "feel good now". The Angel skipper said "we wanted to give Paul a couple extra days to get rid of some stiffness, if it's September, in the middle of a pennant race, Paul probably makes his start (Tuesday)." Saunders draws a break though as he will be opposing Scott Downs who is 1-2 with a 5.02 ERA. Downs has been in the Jays pen all season but in his first start last week he gave up just 2 hits over 7 innings against Detroit and posted his first win of the season. Should be a different story tonight though as Downs makes his road start debut against a tough hitting Angels team that has won four straight.

Sounds like Scioscia is using Byrd's tight back to get a glimpse of Saunders and perhaps audition him for a post-season roster spot. The way the Angel bullpen has underperformed of late he might just want to have some options on the table come October.

Injury Update

Speaking of options, Kelvim Escobar had a sideline session yesterday and was "effective" throwing all of his pitches. On the Southern California Sports Report Escobar stated last night that he just needed to work on locating his fastball and he would be ready to return. Now Escobar will throw a simulated game on Thursday or Friday and if all goes well will begin a rehab assignment next week.

Escobar is no stranger to working out of a bullpen. He was the closer for awhile in Toronto and spent much of his time north of the border working from the Jays pen. So long as young Ervin Santana is effective it is starting to sound like the Angels would be happy to continue the season with Colon, Lackey, Washburn, Byrd & Santana as the starters. However, having a healthy Kelvim Escobar available in case of injury would be a nice luxury for the Angels. From the pen he could be valuable in long-relief or even in a set-up role should Shields or Donnelly continue to falter. The Angels likely want to treat Escobar gently as he has never been on the DL this long (since June 10th) and no one is quite sure how he will respond.

Dallas McPherson 'tweaked' his back during his rehab assignment with Salt Lake. Per Scioscia they will "shut down" D-Mac for "a little bit" and wait for results from tests done on Monday. So the Izturis/Figgins mini-me third base rotation will continue for the foreseeable future.

The most troubling injury is to Garrett Anderson who has twin ailments: a sore back and patellar tendinitis in his left knee. He was held out Monday and according to Scioscia was "much better" on Monday thought still not good enough to get the nod at DH. He could start tonight at DH for the Angels. The Halos need Anderson in the line-up to protect Guerrero who was pitched around twice and had no rbi's (though he did manage a couple of hits and scored once). Bengie Molina, hitting behind Vlad last night, left four runners on base and finished the night 1-4 with no rbi's. Juan Rivera was in the number 6 hole and left 3 on base though he did manage to hit one runner in. In total the Angels left 18 on the bases last night and will need to improve their batting average with runners in scoring position if they want to pull away from the struggling A's.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Tim Salmon Out for Year

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Tim Salmon will not play in 2005. Recovering from shoulder and knee surgeries, Salmon has not progressed far enough in his recovery to warrant a return to the team this season. According to Manager Mike Scioscia Salmon is "not an option this year."

The bigger question is whether Salmon will EVER play another game for the Angels. One thing is certain, Salmon will not be earning $10 million next season like he has in 2005. Hopefully Salmon will come back at a severely reduced rate and try to end his run with the Angels. Looking ahead to 2006 the Angels may have a tough time finding a spot to play Salmon even if he can and wants to return to Anaheim. With Casey Kotchman getting hot and a healthy Dallas McPherson pushing Chone Figgins off the bag at third someone will have to sit to make room for the Big Fish. Others who may push for a roster spot next season include current bench players Jeff DeVanon and Juan Rivera along with promising minor leaguer Kendry Morales.

I would predict that Salmon, if healthy, may venture to play a season for his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs recently moved right-fielder Shawn Green to center to replace Jose Cruz Jr who was released by Arizona. But Arizona has to juggle players between first base and right field now with Chad Tracy, Tony Clark and super prospect Conor Jackson all sharing the duties. Arizona may have to part with one of those players though to improve their pitching in the offseason.

Guerrero Named 'Player of the Week'

5 HR, 13 RBI, 9 R and a slugging percentage of 1.182. Not a bad week really. Thankfully Guerrero is making up for the worst month of his pro career (.208 average, 5 HR, 21 RBI in July) by having a month's worth of production this past week. Like last season, it appears that Vlad is going to haul the Angels up his back and carry them over the finish line himself.

Darin Erstad said it best: "What can I say about the guy? It is rediculous".
It is the second time Guerrero has been named Player of the Week in the AL. The last time was the week of October 4, 2004.

A's Will Fall Just Like Rangers

Back on June 1st I predicted that the Texas Rangers would fall from contention in the ALWest. I bring this up not to gloat (though the over/under on Buck Showalter's resignation/firing now stands at 34 days) but to predict the impending slide of the Oakland Athletics.

The Rangers fall-from-grace was easy to call because they have no pitching. They had Kenny Rogers but even I did not foresee the mess his season would turn into. The Texas bullpen was woeful and a team of power hitters are going to eventually hit a rough patch. That adds up to an inevitable losing streak and the Rangers have delivered in spades.

The A's on the other hand do have pitching. Both at the front of a game (Harden, Zito, Haren) and now in a revamped bullpen (Witasick, Dushscherer, Street). But what Oakland does not have is a lot of experience in the pen or with their starters. They also have the weakest hitting line-up in the AL West. I mean, c'mon, when your most feared hitter after Eric Chavez is Nick Swisher than you are not exactly making opposing pitchers lose sleep the night before an A's game. But before I explain why the Athletics are destined to fall, I must give Oakland credit. They have done an amazing job with limited talent. Many of their young players have plenty of potential talent, particularly the pitchers. But real bankable talent such as Eric Chavez is extremely limited. So I must advise our adversaries to the north that the end is coming A's fan. Oakland managed to steal a couple games from the Angels thanks to a pair of uncharacteristic late-inning meltdowns in the Halo bullpen, but do not expect that to happen again. There is only seven weeks left in the regular season so the A's will stay reasonably close just playing .500 ball. But as they showed in their last two series, Oakland is in the midst of a severe power outage at the plate. The A's are averaging just 2.8 runs a game over their past six and have gone 3-3 thanks to some great starting pitching. But they very easily could have gone 1-5 had the Angels not handed them two games. When the A's were hot in July they were winning games by large margins. They outscored Texas 26 - 16 in a four game set and won a series from Chicago by outscoring the Sox 23 - 11. That hitting could not and has not continued. While the bats cooled off the pitching has kept Oakland from fading. But as AL hitters get a second and third look at the young hurlers from NoCal, look for them to start to struggle.

When the story of the 2005 season is written, about Oakland it will be said that this was one streaky team. Horrible to start, great in the middle but faded down the stretch. It is in the dog days of August, when arms get heavy, that the tested veterans prove their metal. Pitchers like Bartolo Colon and Paul Byrd will flourish while relative newbies like Danny Haren and Rich Harden will begin to either wilt in the summer heat or simply break down. Likewise, young hitters like Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson, players who have never endured a long major league season, will find the grind taking its toll on their inexperienced bodies. The Angel hitters are veterans. Guerrero, Anderson, Erstad, Kennedy, Figgins and Molina have all been through the war together and know how to close. They will finish the season strong and the young A's will finish 5 games back in second place, gunning for a wild-card spot against the resurgent Yankees.

The Fresh New Face of Satan

Scott Boras has been the designated poster boy for the Prince of Darkness for awhile now. Keeping promising young players from starting their careers because they were not millionaires enough times over (see: Weaver, Jared or Drew, Stephen or countless others....). But super-agent scumbag supreme Drew Rosenhaus has now eclipsed Boras as the new 'Satan' is the sports representation business.

Of course there is nothing 'new' about Rosenhaus who has been representing NFL clients for over a decade. Rosenhaus was the inspiration for the character "Bob Sugar" in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire and his loud, aggressive style has provided him with plenty of detractors over the years. Rosenhaus elevated himself to elite status in 2003 when he boldly predicted that Willis McGahee would be a first-round pick despite the fact that he suffered a severe knee injury that required reconstructive surgery at the end of his final college season. But the Buffalo Bills proved Rosenhaus right by taking McGahee with the 23rd overall pick and a new agent ascended to hell's highest throne. Many will defend Rosenhaus, saying that what he did for McGahee and many others is simply good representation. With McGahee I would say, absolutely. He represented his client very well and definitely earned his 3% commission. But with other players like Green Bay's Javon Walker, he does a disservice by advising them to violate their contracts and hold-out. In football more than any other sport this can be devastating. Players who miss training camps are generally not in football shape and one tackle can end a career. This is not the move of someone who is more concerned with is client's well being than feathering his own nest.

Now comes the sorted tale of Terrell Owens. A fiasco that is, by a very long-shot, the sleaziest contract negotiation in modern history. The up-shot of the story is that Owens signed a contract last season with the Eagles (after first demanding a trade from the 49ers and then refusing a trade to the Ravens before finally agreeing to go to the Eagles) that some people thought might have been on the conservative side. Keep in mind, Owens was not a free-agent and in no position to dictate where he played yet somehow he did. So for that option is appeared to those of us watching from the outside that he simply decided to take a bit less and play where he would be happy. All seemed well as the Eagles went to the Super Bowl but Owens was anything but happy. He stewed over being paid less than guys like Randy Moss (another problem child player). In steps Rosehaus who guarantees TO a better contract if he signs with him. TO agrees that he is worth more and signs with Team Rosenhaus to get a new deal done. Rosenhaus advises TO to sit out off-season workouts but does allow him to show-up to training camp. Big mistake. TO is such a mouthpiece that the first thing he does is talk smack about the team's most popular player and their equally popular coach. Who is advising this guy, Rush Limbaugh? Or as Chris Sprow put it in the Chicago Sports Review "From what I can tell, Owens has hired John Rocker LLC for his public relations work." Sprow's best line:
"Owens is like a child trying to get a better allowance who skips the whole cleaning your room routine and decides to show up at his mom's PTA meeting to call her a whore who routinely burns books."

This is just a case of gasoline meeting fire. Inflammatory agent meets ignitable superstar equals scorched Earth campaign. But what is really interesting about this to everyone except Eagles fans is that there does not appear to be a solution anywhere in sight. Last week Philly coach Andy Reid sent Owens home for a week for telling him to "shut up" and telling the team's offensive coordinator that "you do not talk to me unless I talk to you first". I'm guessing that TO is not a student of Dale Carnegie.

Rest easy Angel fans, Rosenhaus does not dabble in baseball yet. Though the Eagles may have learned something from Arte Moreno's dealings with Scott Boras last season. They do not appear to have any intention of giving in and will force Owens to either play for them under the terms of his old contract or not play for anyone this season.

Angels Back in First......for now

The Angels completed a sweep of the lowly Mariners, repaying the northerners for the four-game sweep they laid on the Halos just before the All-Star Break that went a long-way to helping the A's catch, and briefly pass, the Angels in the standings.

Most notable was Vladimir Guerrero's twin upper-deck shots in game 1. The Ruthian blasts traveled a combined 865 feet though Manager Mike Scioscia quipped "I wish we could break that up into about 40 singles". Uh, no thanks Mike. Much more entertaining for us at home to watch the stunned faces of Mariner fans who have to be wondering what in the hell happened to this once viable franchise.

The Angels pounded Seattle pitching for 25 runs on 42 hits in the three-game set. Guerrero was a one-man demolition crew, going 8 for 14 (.571) with 3 HR's and 5 rbi's. One reason Guerrero has been able to find pitches to hit is that the Angels are offering plenty of protection behind him. Even with a gimpy Garret Anderson the Angels Guerrero-Support-Group are getting the job done. On Friday it was Bengie Molina going 3-5 and further down the line-up Adam Kennedy's 2-2 performance. On Saturday Anderson and Steve Finley combined to go for 2 for 5 at DH while Juan Rivera collected 3 hits in 5 AB's in the #6 hole. On Sunday the trifecta of Casey Kotchman, Juan Rivera and Adam Kennedy went 6 for 11. So giving Guerrero a free-pass is not as easy an option for AL managers as walking Barry Bonds has been for NL skippers. But I for one was watching Sunday and told my wife that it was a big mistake to pitch to Guerrero with runners at first and third. Walk the bases loaded and take your chances with Molina. Since I was watching on DirecTV in Arizona I had the Mariner's telecast and they were soothing Seattle fans with news that Guerrero was 0-5 with a K against incoming reliever Julio Mateo. I responded to my TV "which means that Guerrero is due." Naturally, Guerrero went yard but then, surprisingly, Molina did too! So perhaps the M's were doomed no matter what they did. In any case, it is much more fun being on this end of Guerrero's majestic blasts and watching opposing teams scramble to find a way to pitch to him.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Kotchman: Roid Rage?

Forget any comparisons to Wally Joyner, the power-challenged former Halo first baseman. Angel first-baseman-of-the-future Casey Kotchman has, in three games, shattered those old perceptions and suddenly looks more like a juiced Jason Giambi than the slick-fielding singles hitter he had been heretofore described as. Of course, even Joyner had a brief flirtation with power that spawned "Wally World" during his rookie season as did Erstad. So we should probably hold off on annoiting the kid as anything more than 'promising' at this point.

But still, the question of what exactly Casey Kotchman will become is fast becoming an Angel fan favorite. Flash-in-the-pan or Superstar? The next 'Donny Baseball' or a 2010 'Whatever-Happened-To' segment on Angels in the Infield? It is universally accepted that Kotchman is one of the most prized blue chippers that the Angels posses. The only real question is if he can continue to develop as a ballplayer and fulfill his promise. Clearly the next logical progression for Kotchman was to find his power. To develop his plate-discipline beyond being a tough strikeout to being able to recognize and hit 'his' pitches. The ones that find the alleys and the ones that leave the park. In hitting his first, second and third career homers in his first three games this season, it would seem Kotchman has indeed found his power-game. If he can continue to hit the ball off the rocks at Angel Stadium then Darin Erstad could find himself in Troy Glaus limbo as the Angels start envisioning their infield anchored by a couple of players hitting 40 HR's a year for under a million bucks in salary....for both. But with Dallas McPherson battling injuries and Kotchman still unproven, that remains a beautiful but elusive dream for Arte Moreno & Company.

From the outside looking in it would appear that Kotchman would have been an ideal candidate for the BALCO player enhancement program. A great fielder with an undeniable mastery of the strike zone but who had 'warning-track' power. But Kotch also has a father who is a scout for the Angels and with his pedigree, it is not likely he would be foolish enough to experiment with steroids now. Even with limited power numbers Kotchman's ascent to the majors was all but assured. Even if not with the Halos, Kotchman was the subject of rampant trade rumors these season (most sending him to KC for Mike Sweeney). That in and of itself should have told all Angel fans that he was about to breakout. But things are different nowadays in the OC since the GM in Anaheim does not, like his predecessors, trade away prospects for aged power hitters looking for a nice climate to retire in. No, the Angels, undoubtedly tempted to add a bat to a slumping line-up, instead opted for patience. And a reshuffled line-up and a timely call-up. So far it is working (albeit against the D-Rays) but the real test comes in the next three days when the Angels square off with the A's in Oakland. An important series though not do-or-die. But it is an opportunity for the Angels to shove the A-Train off the tracks and try to regain momentum in a division that has been drifting away from them for the past month.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Matinee Today

The Angels have a 1 pm day game as they attempt to close-out the Orioles with their first series sweep since taking three from the Royals July 1 - 3.

Interesting start for what the Mariners hope will be their rookie phenom, Felix Hernandez. He is only 19 years old and has rocketed through the M's farm club. With Seattle going nowhere they decided he might as well see some big league hitters. Hernandez got into huge trouble in the first by giving up a two singles, and two walks that plated a run for Detroit. But with the bases loaded the kid got Dimitri Young to hit into a double play (first to home to first) and then struck out Pudge Rodriguez to get out of the jam. Later in the third he hit Polanco who stole second and made it to third on a groundout. With two outs catcher Wiki Gonzalez gives up a passed ball to allow Polanco to score. So the Tigers lead 2-0 in the top of the fourth. Get use to no run support and mediocre defense Felix.

Nice to see Matt Clement getting rocked by the Royals (4-0 in the third). Serves you right for not signing with the Angels you skinny prick.

In the 5th inning in Minnesota the A's & Twins are locked-up 1-1. The pitchers today are Zito & Lohse. In the bottom of the 5th the Twins have runners at first & second with nobody out...

Back for More

Since my self-imposed hiatus from Angels blogging on July 12:

* The Halos went 8-9 the rest of July and shrank a comfortable 8 game lead over Texas to a 1 game (as of yesterday) lead over Oakland.
* Vlad Guerrero had the lowest monthly batting average of his career (.208) but in his first two games of August he seems to have turned things around, hitting .714 with 2 HR and 7 RBI while walking twice and striking out zero times.
* I saw the funniest movie in a long time in The Wedding Crashers. I have not seen a movie with that many quotable lines since Napoleon Dynamite.
* Two Major League Players have been hit with suspensions for steroid use: Raphael Palmeiro and Ryan Franklin. Why one can understand why Franklin could use a boost, why would a sure-fire hall-of-famer like Palmeiro besmirch his reputation by validating Jose Canseco? Could he just not get that 3,000 his without being on the juice? Of course, like Barry Bonds, Palmeiro now finds himself in much hotter water as the United States Congress will investigate him for perjury after his denial before that body of "ever" using steroids. Maybe old Raffy just decided now would be a good time to give 'roids a try, who knows. One thing is certain, he will deny "knowingly" taking any performance enhancing drugs. Most people who know anything about steroids put zero credence into this argument but perhaps the general public will cut him a break if he says "I thought I was taking Altoids -- you know, for minty fresh breath." Then again, maybe his lady thought his Viagra needed some extra punch.
*Speaking of steroids, my last post on 7/12 was regarding Brett Boone being signed by the Twins. Yeah, well they released his now-steroid-free ass and BB had better hand them up or get back on the juice because he is stinking. His brother meanwhile just signed to play for the Indians again in '06.
* Dallas McPherson and Jarrod Washburn both went to the DL. McPherson is making some rehab starts in the minors while Wash will be shutdown for at least a week (he is eligible to come off on August 12th). That means another start is likely for rookie Chris Bootcheck which will give the Angels two rooks in the rotation.
* John Lackey has just been nails over his last four starts. The big righty has had two shut-out performances (7 innings in Minnesota and 8 in Toronto) while allowing two runs in each of his outings against the Yankees (5.1 innings) and last night against the O's (6.2 innings). Nice to see the good 'ole boy stepping up with his team needs him the most.

Overall it has been a pretty sucky month for Angel fans but I dare say the worst is likely over. Despite having to start two rookies in the rotation the bats are coming around (32 runs in their last four games) and their recent losses were due to tragic performances from the bullpen. If there is one area where the Angels do not need to worry it is the pen and they apparently have straightened themselves out. We will have to wait until the Angels get in a jam again to see how they perform under pressure but so long as the hitters keep giving the starters huge margins to work with then the bullpen is taken out of the equation anyway.

Oakland will not continue to play .800 ball. They always fall back to Earth and so long as the Angels can stay with them (and they look to have done that) then they will be fine. Huge series next week in Oakland for the Halos that could go a long way to setting a tone for the stretch run.

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