Halos Daily

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Game 51: Angels win 8th straight, are good at baseball again

May 30th, 2012

Dan Haren threw a much needed terrific start and Albert Pujols continued his hot streak to give the Angels a 5-1 win, their eighth consecutive victory. Haren scattered 7 hits in 7 innings, surrendering only 1 run while striking out 7 Yankees against no walks. In his last two starts (totaling 16 innings), Haren has struck out 21 batters and walked none.

Haren worked out of a jam in the 3rd inning, New York’s best chance to mount a substantial rally against him. With runners on 1st and 2nd and 1 out, Haren struck out Yankees home run leader Curtis Granderson. After an Alex Rodriguez infield single to load the bases, Haren painted the outside corner against Robinson Cano on a 1-2 count to earn the backwards K.

In the home half of the 3rd, Peter Bourjos led off with a single, taking advantage of scant playing time. After Bobby Wilson successfully sacrificed Bourjos to second base, Mike Trout saw a low-and-in pitch from Andy Pettitte and hooked it down the left field line and raced to third for a triple.* Trout was thrown out at home on a Maicer Izturis grounder to third, but it didn’t matter, as Albert Pujols blasted a two-run shot into the visitor’s bullpen to make the score 3-0 Angels. Pujols continues to rake, as it was his fifth homer since last Tuesday.

* I’m failing to convey how truly awesome this play was; in a sense, the hit combined with the speed necessary to turn that hit into a triple is, in a vacuum, why scouts have drooled over Trout the last two years. Trout also made a great catch at the wall off a Nick Swisher fly ball to the left-center gap. He does everything well and I don’t think it’s crazy to already consider him a top 25 player in the game. 

The Yankees scratched a run in the 4th inning on a Nick Swisher RBI single that knocked in Raul Ibanez after a 1-out double. But that’s all the damage Haren would allow. It can’t be understated how important it was for Haren to go deep into this game. With Jered Weaver’s early injury removal in the series opener, the bullpen was forced to throw all 9 innings; Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri were the only bullpen members that weren’t inserted into the game. Haren’s start allowed the bullpen a day to recover. One would think they will be needed this weekend against the Texas Rangers, especially since prospect Garrett Richards is starting in Weaver’s place and he’ll, frankly, probably get knocked around.

Not that it was needed, but the Angels tacked on a couple insurance runs later in the game. Mark Trumbo homered for the third straight game, a shot off the centerfield rock pile in the 6th inning to make it 4-1. Howie Kendrick collected an RBI single in the 8th to finalize the scoring for the night.

Ernesto Frieri had his roughest outing as an Angel in the 9th inning. In a non-save situation, Frieri walked two batters** and hit Alex Rodriguez to load the bases with two outs. But then, as Frieri has done so well all May, he blew Cano away with a fastball to collect his second strikeout of the game and preserve the victory. In 12 innings with the Angels, Frieri has 25 strikeouts, 10 walks, and still hasn’t allowed a hit.

** Although Derek Jeter benefited from a generous strike zone because even umpires aren’t immune to his charms. Whatever. 

The Angels moved to 26-25, the first time they’ve been above .500 since Opening Day. It’s been a long journey back to a winning record, and they’re no longer the laughingstock of baseball. The Halos send Ervin Santana to the hill tonight, looking for the sweep against run support beneficiary Ivan Nova.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

Game 50: Angels Bats Comes Alive When Weaver Goes Down

May 29th, 2012

The Angels won the opening game of their series against the Yankees on a walkoff trumbomb, and it was one of the most exciting games of the season.

In the top of the 1st inning, Jered Weaver left the game with an apparent injury. Today, we learned that Weaver suffered a lower back injury and is headed to the DL. Bobby Cassevah replaced Weaver and, after allowing his three inherited runners to score, pitched into the 4th inning.

The bottom half of the 1st saw a hungry Angels lineup bounce back with four runs of their own. Mike Trout did his best Willie Keeler impression with a chop infield single to start the rally.

It was 6-4 in favor of the Halos after Trout crushed his fifth schwinger of the season to left center with one out in the bottom of the 4th. One-time Angel Mark Teixeira responded with a solo blast in the top of the 5th to make it 6-5.

In the bottom of the 6th Kendrys Morales smacked a double to the gap in left center to drive in a pair of Angels and make the score 8-5.

Rookie David Carpenter came out for the 7th inning, which would have been his second inning of work, but exited after allowing the first two batters on base. Jason Isringhausen replaced Carpenter and allowed the Yankees to knot the game at 8-8.

After the Angels failed to score in the bottom of the 7th, Jordan Walden came in to pitch the 8th. The young flamethrower struck out two of the three batters he faced in his first inning, then came back out for the top of the 9th and pitched another scoreless frame.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mark Trumbo entered the batter’s box against Cory Wade. After a swing-and-a-miss and a ball, Trumbo drove a 1-1 pitch out to give the Halos their seventh consecutive victory and bring the team’s record to 25-25.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

Week 9: The most important week of the season. Until the next most important week.

May 28th, 2012

Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, for my money the best middle infield in baseball

After going 6-1 last week to elevate themselves to second place in the AL West, this is perhaps the most important week of the early season for the Angels, as they host AL powers New York and Texas for six games. It’s safe to say last week was the Angels’ best week thus far. The starters dominated a few games and the offense picked the pitching up in games when the starting pitcher struggled. Through it all the bullpen continued to excel; in May the Angels’ bullpen has a 2.41 ERA, 5th best in the AL. It’s likely not chance that this coincides with the Ernesto Frieri acquisition on May 3, who in his 11 innings with the Angels hasn’t allowed a run and has struck out 23 batters. As I’ve annoyingly mentioned multiple times to anyone that is willing to listen, the Angels’ pen doesn’t need to be great. The Angels have the best starter ERA in the American League as well as the most innings pitched, so the bullpen merely needs to be passable. Since Frieri was acquired the bullpen has been good and, at times, great.

The Angels open the week with three road games at home versus the Yankees. Technically the games are at the Angels’ home ballpark, but if you’ve ever been to an Angels-Yankees contest at Angel Stadium you know the crowd is pretty even and quite often the Yankee bandwagon transplant fans drown out the mild-tempered Angels supporters. Derek Jeter traditionally gets the loudest reaction: in addition to the brave Angels fans that boo, there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of women cheering hoping the renowned Yankee bachelor will, indeed, forgo Minka Kelly in favor of them, the one eating supreme nachos wearing a stained Got Rings? T-shirt. You have to admire their want.*

* Credit to Jason Parks (@professorparks).

Like the Angels, the Yankees started slowly before taking advantage of some weak competition last week, as they enter the 3-game set with the Angels on a 5-game winning streak. In addition to some tough pitching injuries (Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda are done for the year), the Yankees have unexpectedly struggled to score runs, at least by their standards; they currently sit 6th in the AL in runs scored. Robinson Cano has continued to be one of the game’s elite players (.368 wOBA), Jeter is hitting a BABIP-aided .338 when he isn’t fleeing armies of lady fans, and Curtis Granderson has resumed his torrid 2011 home run pace (14 so far).
So who’s the problem? Two candidates for the early season offensive slumber** are Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher. Teixeira, the former Angels rental, has struggled to hit for average for the third season in a row. Much of his production comes from home runs and walks, but as he ages it’s going to be difficult for him to hit with the kind of power we expect from him. And this year, he’s not walking as much as he used to (only a 7.5% rate compared to 11.4% on his career). So while his average this year (.254) almost mirrors his 2011 .248 average, his overall value is significantly worse than prior seasons due to the decreased walk rate. His .334 wOBA simply doesn’t cut it for a first basemen making as much money as he does.***

** Again, this is relative to what we expect from a Yankees lineup of the past decade. Obviously, the Angels would kill for Yankee offensive production.

*** Yes I know Albert Pujols’ wOBA is worse while making more money. His numbers don’t cut it either. 

Similarly, Nick Swisher has just stopped walking. Once the apple of Billy Beane’s OBP-seeking eyes in Moneyball (the book), Swisher found his niche as an irritant to pitchers, a guy that will hit for power but is just as happy taking a free pass to first base (13.3% walk rate and 15% last season). But this season, Swisher’s walk rate has tumbled down to 7.5%. Since Swisher has never been a high batting average player (.253 career), if he isn’t walking his value is severely limited. While he is usually about a 3-4 WAR player, through nearly two months Swisher’s fWAR is only 0.4.

After the Yankees leave town, the Angels welcome division foe Texas to Anaheim, a team that scores runs in their sleep. Entering this week the Angels trail Texas by 6.5 games. Needless to say, a series victory may be essential to catching the mighty Rangers. The Rangers remain, in my opinion, the class of MLB. I’ve thought this since their hot start and haven’t seen a reason to change my opinion since. They’ve scored the most runs in baseball (21 more than any other team) and own the best overall ERA in the American League. Not surprisingly, they own MLB’s best run differential at +97, 34 runs better than second place St. Louis.

It’s hard to pick a couple guys to focus on because the whole team is so ridiculous, but let me give Elvis Andrus a shout out. Andrus will never kill you via home run as he has only 12 in his career, which is a mediocre Josh Hamilton week. But what he lacks in power he makes up for in virtually every other facet of the game. He’s stolen 8 bases so far this season and saved 4 runs on defense. He’s batting .305, and while his .348 BABIP will likely regress, his speed might prevent it from regressing as much as you’d think. He’s improved his walk rate this season to 10.9% against his 8.8% career rate. Even though I don’t really believe in runs as a viable stat, Andrus already has 32, fifth best in the AL. And remember, he rarely drives himself in. Andrus’ .385 OBP is a huge reason the Rangers offense is a machine. Josh Hamilton is having a potentially historic season, so Andrus’ ability to get on base this season via improved hitting and plate discipline allows Hamilton to drive in more runs every time he clears the fences. And let’s remember, Andrus doesn’t turn 24 until August. In the non-Tulowitzki division, you’d be hard pressed to find a better shortstop to build your team around than Andrus. He’s everything Angels fans want Erick Aybar to be.

A 6.5-game deficit with 3/4 of the season remaining and 16 games left against the team you’re chasing isn’t impossible by any stretch, but it means the Angels have to play damn good baseball from here on out. If the Angels want to be considered one of the best teams in baseball and not just a pretender that took advantage of a soft schedule last week, they need to take care of business at home against two teams that have October plans.

Pitching Probables, according to ESPN

Yankees

Monday: Jered Weaver (2.61 ERA) vs Phil Hughes (4.94). Few things are better than a holiday weekend with baseball.

Tuesday: Dan Haren (3.76) vs Andy Pettitte (2.53). No seriously, Pettitte is pitching. Embrace the power of the cleft chin.

Wednesday: Ervin Santana (4.45) vs Ivan “Exhibit ‘A’ Why Wins are a Pointless Stat” Nova (5.46)

Rangers

Friday: Jerome Williams (3.81) vs Colby Lewis (3.58)

Saturday: CJ Wilson (2.77) vs Yu Darvish (3.25). The baseball gods are going to demand this matchup occur until the end of time. Also, Angel Stadium is passing out cowboy hats with the idea being they’re going to set a Guinness World Record for largest group of people wearing cowboy hats. See, it’s tradition like this you wouldn’t get at Fenway Park.

Sunday: Weaver vs Matt Harrison (4.72)

3 Theme-less Bold Predictions for the Week

1) CJ Wilson struts out to the mound wearing a cowboy hat, tells Ian Kinsler he’s his huckleberry. He proceeds to strike out 20, all while wearing the cowboy hat.

2) A drunk fan taunts Alex Rodriguez by using the clever and never-used-before moniker “A-Roid.” It’s all very hilarious and everyone laughs because it’s never been used before.

3) The Angels score double-digit runs on Monday.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

Games 48 & 49: Angels Not Sweepless in Seattle

May 28th, 2012

Yes, that’s probably my worst headline of the season, but you get the point. The Angels completed the sweep of the Mariners with wins on Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday the Halos won by a score of 5-3, seeing a solid day from Jerome Williams (6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 5 SO, 2 BB, 1 HR) and a pair of blasts from the offense. After failing to get to Blake Beavan on Friday, the Angels smacked two schwingers off of King Felix Hernandez, one of the best starters in the game.

The first blast came from Albert Pujols, who’s starting to come back to life, despite his terrible BABIP. The second home run was a grand slam, launched over the wall in right field by Alberto Callaspo in the 6th inning.

Sunday saw one of CJ Wilson’s best outings of the season. The lefty went six two-hit innings, while striking out five and allowing just one run. The bullpen trio of Walden, Frieri, and Downs finished the game with three solid innings. Walden technically allowed one run to score, as the official scorer called a wild pitch what I believed to be a passed ball on Bobby Wilson.

The Halos scored four runs in the game, with the star of the game being Kendrys Morales. Morales went 3-for-4 with a double, a home run, and face covered in shaving cream.

The Halos take on the Yankees tonight, with Jered Weaver on the bump against Phil Hughes. Weaver will try to put the Angels in a position to win their seventh straight game.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

Game 47: Angels Come From Behind, Beat Mariners

May 26th, 2012

The Angels entered Friday night’s game against the Mariners with an 0-19 record in games where their opponents scored four or more runs. That changed when the Halos came from behind to win the game by a score of 6-4.

Ervin Santana’s recent run of success came to an end last night. He struggled right out of the gate. In the bottom of the 1st, Santana walked three Mariners and allowed a hit. An awful call at second base helped Santana get through the inning with only one run on the board.

In the 3rd, Ichiro Suzuki smacked a double over the head of Mike Trout in center field. Two batters later, Justin Smoak singled Ichiro in to bring the score to 2-0.

Smoak wasn’t done there; in the 5th inning he smashed a home run into the seats in right field. It was 4-0, and things were not looking good for the Angels. Santana was done after five innings. His final line (5 IP, 4 ER, 7 BB, 3 SO, 1 HR)  wasn’t good, but could have been significantly worse.

Things turned around in the 6th, when Albert Pujols slugged a three-run home run off Blake Beavan. Beavan, who’s struggled recently, was solid, going seven innings and allowing just three runs on five hits.

The Angels failed to score in the 7th and 8th innings and had one last chance to  win in the 9th against Mariners’ closer Brandon League. Mark Trumbo lead off with a base hit before he was replaced on the basepaths by Peter Bourjos. The next batter, Alberto Callaspo worked an eight-pitch walk.

Erick Aybar grounded into a fielder’s choice, but an errant throw from Brandon League allowed not only for every one to be safe, but for Bourjos to score and the runners to go to second and third. The game was tied, 4-4.

The Mariners intentionally walked Kole Calhoun to load the bases. Howie Kendrick then came in to pinch hit for John Hester. Kendrick hit a single up the middle to score Callaspo and Aybar. The Angels took a 6-4 lead to the bottom of the 9th.

It took Scott Downs just seven pitches to record his fourth save of the season, boosting the Angels’ record to 22-25 and giving them their fourth consecutive victory.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

 

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top-notch Angels analysis!