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Game 104: Pujols likes hitting in Texas

July 31st, 2012

Albert Pujols has 4 extra base hits in the first two games of the series

Ace Jered Weaver further bolstered his Cy Young resume while Albert Pujols and Mike Trout provided the offense to give the Angels a 6-2 win, improving their 2012 record against Texas to 7-4 and slashing their AL West deficit to 3 games. At the time of writing this, the Angels were tied with the A’s for the wild card lead and 2 games ahead of the next wild card contender, the Baltimore Orioles (The Orioles can’t be for real, can they? Their -51 run differential says they’re pretenders).

Game 103: Angels Bizarro Land: Santana not terrible, Morales hits 2 homers

July 30th, 2012

Kendrys Morales led an Angels home run barrage, giving the Halos a crucial 15-8 victory over the first place Rangers in the first game of their 4-game set in Arlington. The win also improved the Angels record against Texas this year to 6-4, a trend that will have to continue if they want to catch the Rangers.

Ervin Santana went his maximum 5 innings* and pitched decently, I guess. In his 5 innings, Santana allowed 3 runs on 4 hits, striking out 3 and walking 1. For just about every other pitcher in MLB, this would qualify as a poor start. But for 2012 Santana, this is a game when his ERA dropped, which might say more about his struggles than any sort of dissertation I could write (coming into the game his ERA was 6.00; it is now 5.97). Santana’s uninspiring performance wasn’t quite bad enough for Angels management to boot him from the rotation, so we’ll probably see him start a game this weekend.

* Just in case you weren’t up to speed, the Angels decided to limit Santana to 15 outs. Even if Santana got through 5 innings on 25 pitches, the plan was to yank him. The thinking behind this strategy was to get him to be more aggressive, trust his mechanics, and all sorts of baseball clichés that probably aren’t grounded in truth.

Santana handed the ball to Jerome Williams for mop up duty. In 4 innings Williams was worse than Santana, giving up 5 runs on 8 hits. Whoever the Angels choose for the #5 spot in the rotation (be it Santana, Williams, or Garrett Richards), it’s the wrong decision.

So Santana survived against arguably the best offense in baseball. Roy Oswalt, toeing the rubber for the Rangers, did not. Oswalt went 5 1/3, allowing 8 runs on 11 hits and seeing his ERA balloon to 6.49.** Maicer Izturis kicked off the scoring in the 2nd inning with a solo homer, and Mike Trout added a 2-run opposite field bomb in the 3rd to make the score 3-2 Angels. Josh Hamilton homered in the 4th to tie the game at 3; more significant than his home run is that Hamilton had a 3-hit night. Hamilton is hitting a woeful, .141/.229/.282 slash line in July, making April-Pujols proud. Perhaps tonight is a sign of a resurgence.

** He’s been pretty disappointing himself. If the Rangers grab a pitcher at the deadline, Oswalt may be moved to the bullpen. He was seen as a luxury when they signed him, but really he’s just been a liability.

The real Angel carnage took place in the 6th inning, when the Angels scored 9 and brought 12 men to the plate. Albert Pujols, who had a 3-hit game of his own, led off the inning with a double. Morales then gave the Angels the lead for good, whacking a homer to right field.

The Angels didn’t let Oswalt off the hook, though. After a Callaspo fly out, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos, Maicer Izturis, Bobby Wilson, and Trout all singled, making the score 8-3. Texas intentionally walked Pujols following a Torii Hunter strikeout, loading the bases for Morales, who promptly hit a grand slam off lefty reliever Robbie Ross, his second home run of the inning (it should be noted this would have been a routine flyout at most every ballpark). The rare feat of homering twice in one inning will go even deeper into You Can’t Predict Baseball lore as the home runs came from opposite sides of the plate. After the Angels mercifully made their third out, the score was 12-3 and the game was essentially over.

Morales was an unlikely source of Angels power. He himself was in the midst of July struggles, hitting just .233/.282/.315 with a 23.1% K rate entering the game. An able-bodied Morales would be a big boost for an Angels offense that all too often depends on the Trout-Pujols-Trumbo trio for production. If Morales can provide some sort of consistent power in the middle of the lineup and if recently returned Chris Iannetta can continue his walking ways (12.5% BB rate this year, 13.8% career), the Angels offense is all of a sudden very deep. Time will tell if Morales is breaking out of a slump or just benefitting from poor pitching and a hitter friendly ballpark.

The Angels send ace Jered Weaver to the mound against Derek Holland, looking to cut their division deficit to 3 games.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

Week 18: Angels embark on 2012′s toughest road trip, Ervin unfortunately caught the plane

July 30th, 2012

Expect to see this face a lot on Monday

The Angels embark on a ridiculous 10-game road trip, with all 10 games against current playoff teams. As of right now, the Angels are a third place team; this isn’t their fault, per se, as they haven’t been playing poorly* but have seen the A’s play ridiculous, Moneyball-era 18-4 baseball in July. With 60 games left, the Angels are 5 games behind the first place Rangers, ½ game behind Oakland for the wild card lead, and 1 game ahead of Detroit for the second wild card. Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting 2 months. After this week, they should know if they are legitimate AL West contenders or resigned to the randomness of the wild card.

*They haven’t been great either:  5-4 on their home stand and, going back further, 7-9 in their tough post-All Star stretch.

For the Angels to make a serious run at Texas, they really need to win this upcoming 4-game set at Texas – ideally they sweep, but that’s not happening. The Angels only play Texas 10 more times, so maximizing on these matchups is the best and quickest way to gain ground. A series victory in Arlington would mean the Angels trail the Rangers by 3 games with 56 games left; with Zack Greinke and a possibly revitalized Dan Haren now in tow, that sounds pretty manageable. A series split wouldn’t eliminate them from the division, but gaining 5 games on a superior team with only 56 games left sounds like a tall order. A series loss means the Angels division death knell, and a series sweep could seriously jeopardize their wild card hopes.

But apparently Mike Scioscia and Angels management seem content to fall into a 0-1 series hole right off the bat, as Ervin Santana will take the mound in Monday’s series opener. When the Angels acquired Greinke, I think most assumed Santana would be banished to the bullpen, where he can perfect his sunflower spitting technique while pitching a low leverage situation every now and then.

Nope. Instead, Garrett Richards was optioned to Salt Lake and Ervin Santana will pitch 15 outs maximum,** because the Angels have this misguided notion that Santana will pitch better when he can be more aggressive and not worry about pitch counts. Uh, yeah, that’s not going to work. Santana’s 2012 problems are pretty simple: he only has 2 pitches he’s comfortable throwing, and he can’t locate either. The walks and meatballs aren’t going to magically disappear now that he only has to get 15 outs. Frankly, he hasn’t been able to get 15 outs very often of late, lasting less than 2 innings in 2 out of his last 3 starts, one of which was against Texas. And that was in the comfy confines of Anaheim. Texas is a far superior offense at home (.350 wOBA) than on the road (.325).

** He was slated to do this last Friday, but instead was bumped back while Haren and CJ Wilson were moved up in the rotation, leaving Sunday’s rotation spot vacated. Of course, that was Greinke’s scheduled start, so management knew they were getting him.

Stranger things have happened, I guess. Kevin Jepsen is a shutdown reliever now, NBC is tape delaying Olympic events in 2012, someone decided a Total Recall remake was a good idea. But I would be shocked (SHOCKED) if Santana pitched well enough to put the Angels in a position to win tonight.

The Angels close the week with a weekend set on the south side of Chicago against the White Sox. Very few expected the Sox to contend this season, let alone be in first place on July 30. But here we are and the Sox are 1 ½ games ahead of preseason favorite Detroit. The Sox acquired Francisco Liriano in a “sure, why not” move over the weekend to help aid the Chris Sale led starting staff. Paul Konerko is an MVP candidate,*** Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are having amazing bounceback years after both were 2011 disasters, and Kevin Youkilis has given them an offensive jolt since his arrival from Boston a month ago (.393 July wOBA).

*** Konerko is one of those guys that gets killed by WAR and is an example of why it isn’t an end all stat like some people want it to be, as his current fWAR is only 2.3. His WAR is depressed because he’s a poor fielder (he should be a DH) and he’s slower than a Molina brother after a buffet. But you’d be hard pressed to find 5 better hitters in the game. Current slash: .330/.402/.528.

With the fifth best run scoring offense in the AL and a starting rotation led by Cy Young candidate Sale (2.81 FIP) and a resurgent Jake Peavy (3.32 FIP), the White Sox are going to be in the playoff discussion for the remainder of the year. If the Angels aren’t careful, the White Sox might even take one of those precious wild card spots.

Probable Pitchers, according to ESPN

Rangers

Monday: Ervin Santana (6.00 ERA, worse than Jose Cano) vs Roy Oswalt (5.22)

Tuesday: Jered Weaver (2.26) vs Derek Holland (4.74)

Wednesday: Dan Haren (4.59) vs Yu Darvish (4.05)

Thursday: CJ Wilson (2.88) vs Matt Harrison (3.19)

White Sox

Friday: Zack Greinke (3.39) vs Chris Sale (2.61).

Here’s my two cents on the Greinke trade, by the way: if he resigns (and whether it’s just player speak or a genuine opinion, Greinke said he would be open to signing with the Angels), it’s more than worth it. The Angels gave up three good prospects, but no studs, a price worth it for an ace pitcher that had a 9-win season not that long ago. Jean Segura was blocked by Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick anyway, and John Hellweg and Ariel Pena were both good prospects but neither one were projected as top of the rotation guys. It’s more likely they end up in a bullpen somewhere. The bottom line is Jerry Dipoto acquired a front line pitcher and didn’t have to give up Peter Bourjos (a 5-win player with a bright future) or Garrett Richards (the team’s best young pitcher). With this trade, the Frieri trade, and the Trout/Richards graduations, the farm system is laughable now and that will need to be addressed starting with the 2013 draft. But the Angels went all in for the near future when they signed Wilson and Pujols. Why not throw in a couple more chips? Prospects are largely there to improve the big league club via trade, and Greinke certainly does that. And, again, if Greinke resigns (still only 28 with elite peripherals) then the package the Angels sent is a small price.

Saturday: Santana, assuming Texas doesn’t knock him to the bullpen vs Philip Humber (5.90)

Sunday: Weaver vs Gavin Floyd (4.28)

3 Bold Predictions for the week

1) Santana throws 5 perfect innings against the Rangers. Just kidding, he’s knocked out in the third inning.

2) Greinke beats Sale 2-1.

3) Vernon Wells hits a meaningless home run in Texas, prompting Scioscia to start him the next game. In that game, he will go 0-for-4 with 2 Ks, a pop up, and a GIDP.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

Games 100-102: Angels get Greinke, also get Vernon

July 29th, 2012

Greinke dazzled in his Angels debut, but lazy defense and a Vernified offense gave him a loss.

In a weekend where Vernon Wells started his first two games since May, the Angels were promptly shut out twice in a row for the first time since early May – back when Wells played. It’s a complete coincidence, but let’s just say it’s his fault because it’s easier that way.

On Friday, Dan Haren made his second consecutive quality start since coming off the DL to pace the Angels to a 3-1 win. Haren held the Rays to 1 run in 6 innings and struck out 6 batters while only walking 1. Albert Pujols provided the big hit in the game, a 2-out double jussssst out of a diving Super Sam Fuld’s grasp in left field, scoring Mike Trout and Torii Hunter and giving the Angels a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The win came just hours after news broke the Angels had acquired Zack Greinke. If Haren can resemble his 2011 season, as he has he last two starts, the Angels may legitimately have four aces* at their disposal for the stretch run.

*Those being Haren, Greinke, CJ Wilson and Ervi — Jered Weaver.  

The Angels dropped Saturday’s game 3-0, thanks to poor defense and Matt Moore’s dominating performance. Moore, along with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, was a consensus top 3 prospect prior to the season but has struggled at some points this season. But on Saturday he flashed the stuff that showed why he was an elite prospect. Mixing a mid-90s fastball with a huge curveball and a devastating change up, Moore shut out the Angels through 6 1/3, striking out 6 along the way.

With Moore cruising, the Rays didn’t need any help scoring runs but the Angels defense gave them an assist anyway. On CJ Wilson’s first pitch of the night, Desmond Jennings laced a single to left field that Vernon Wells,** making his triumphant return from injury, allowed to roll to the wall by taking a poor angle, because he’s Vernon Wells and he’s not very good. In the 2nd inning, with Sean Rodriguez on third base and nobody out, shortstop Maicer Izturis dropped a routine pop up that every little leaguer would catch, scoring Rodriguez and giving the Rays a 2-0 lead. That was more than plenty for Moore.

** It’s poetic, really, that Wells screwed up on his first play back. It’s like he wanted to remind everyone right away just how bad he is.

In the Sunday rubber match the Angels dropped Greinke’s debut 2-0. Greinke pitched well and didn’t deserve the loss, going 7 innings, striking out 8, walking 1, and more or less scattering 7 hits. The Rays scored their first run due to more terrible defense: in the 6th inning, lead off man Elliot Johnson “doubled” in right center when a routine fly ball fell between Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo. Though Johnson was eventually thrown out on the basepaths, the extra out came back to haunt the Angels as Fuld scored on a Matt Joyce base hit to right field.

That would be enough for a Rays victory. Mike Trout was scratched from the game (knee contusion, i.e., Wells is bad luck) and Mike Scioscia gave Hunter the day off. That meant the Angels 1-2 hitters were Izturis and Howie “I Was Supposed to Compete for Batting Titles in the Majors” Kendrick.

The Angels are about to embark on a murderous 10-game road trip that could very realistically make or break their season. Four in Texas, three in Chicago to face the White Sox, then three at red hot Oakland. The bats need to come alive to have success. With Greinke and a healthy Haren along for the ride, the bats may not have to do much for the Angels to win.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher

“An Ace is Added”

July 29th, 2012
Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke has been acquired by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Just days after the organization claimed to be “looking within” to shore up a sagging starting pitching rotation, MLB Executive of the Year candidate Jerry Dipoto and his staff shocked the baseball world by landing the biggest prize of baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline.
An impending free agent at season’s end, Greinke, who was 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA as a Brewer this year, has made it known he’s open to signing a long term extension with his new club.  Those negotiations will come in due time though, as Dipoto has apparently not yet approached the issue of Greinke being an Angel past 2012 with Greinke’s representation.  One step at a time folks.  Those talks will certainly come at the appropriate time.  Prying Greinke away from the Milwaukee Brewers without a doubt poses a future risk for the Angels if they are unable to sign him long term, as they parted with three of the organization’s top prospects in order to land Greinke.
Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena all appear to be future major leaguers with high upside but each does seem to have a low floor if their full talent can’t be harnessed and achieved.  Middle infielder Segura, seemingly the centerpiece of this deal, was recently called up to the big leagues for the first time by the Angels to provide depth in the infield after Erick Aybar suffered a toe injury by fouling a ball off his foot.  He’s shown plus power for a middle infielder and looks like he could be starting in the big leagues as soon as 2013.  Pena and Hellweg are both power pitchers with impressive numbers in the minor leagues who are refining their command in hopes of climbing the ladder to the show.  Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the late inclusion of Pena in this deal steered momentum away from divisional rival Texas Rangers and delivered Greinke to the Angels.
It’s no secret that you’ve got to give to get when acquiring elite talent like Zack Greinke and only the sands of time will tell the actual price the Angels paid to get their new ace.  But for now, the Angels just stacked their 2012 rotation and are ready to make a major push to overtake the aforementioned Texas Rangers in winning the 2012 AL West.  If you’re asking me, I’ll tell you now that I love the move and feel impact trades like this invigorate a clubhouse. In addition to that, the on-field presence an ace pitcher brings to a team can’t be understated.  Greinke provides a distinct and timely shot in the arm to the Halos’ rotation combining an arsenal of pitches that he’s actually mixed up a bit since his days in the AL with the Kansas City Royals.  His repertoire includes a four-seam power fastball that, according to Torri Hunter, Greinke throws at 93-94 mph regularly and reaches 100 MPH “when he’s pissed off.”  Greinke has also added a two-seam fastball to go along with a hammer curve ball, a deceptive cutter, and a less often used change up.  He has electric stuff and should continue to benefit from the addition of his cutter and two-seamer since AL hitters were not seeing those pitches in his last stint in the American League.
If anyone doubted the Angels being “all-in” for 2012, those doubts are now surely erased.  Jerry Dipoto has run a marathon at a sprinters pace as the Angels’ GM by now adding Greinke to his stockpile of key additions. Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, Ernesto Frieri, Iannetta, and now Greinke–the list seems to go on for pages.  The story being told though that this team wants to win NOW.  Arte Moreno clearly wants to add “World Series Champion Owner” to his far stretching career of achievements.  One would have to believe he now has the on-field and off-field personnel to do it.
This rotation is now a four-headed monster that can attack opposing teams relentlessly.  Day 1 you face Weaver.  Day 2 you face Greinke.  Day 3, a left-handed CJ Wilson takes his turn firing bullets toward homeplate.  Day 4 you get a reinvigorated Danny Haren who seems to have regained the feel for his filthy split finger pitch and wide array of offspeed stuff.  There’s no room to breathe there and if pitching coach Mike Butcher can re-establish Ervin Santana’s confidence and command you’re getting him on Day 5.  I’m not sure there’s a better rotation than that elsewhere in the game.
Pulse thumping, heart pounding jump up and down moments are becoming the signature of Jerry Dipoto’s tenure as GM in Anaheim and Greinke’s addition is certainly another one of those.  All of the key ingredients appear to be mixed in on this roster and it’s championships this team is cooking up.  The first goal of course is winning the division and becoming AL West champs.  Then of course American League champs and if we’re all lucky enough and these stars Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno have acquired all line up perfectly, we could be looking at World Series champions.  There are no guarantees in baseball, but Zack Greinke is now wearing Halo Red and a World Series title in 2012 has never seemed so attainable.
Please follow Drew Mumford Jr on Twitter @jrjantreshunt.

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