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2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game

October 17th, 2014

Mike Trout scores the game-tying run . Fernando Rodney is sad.

Ed. note — Now that everyone’s had ample time to wallow in despair about the quick end to the season, we thought it behooved us to turn the focus back to positive things. More specifically, to the year’s best moments, which we’ll tackle a day at a time. Andrew Karcher gets things started with a former Angel getting some ol’ fashioned comeuppance.

 

My favorite moment of the 2014 season is a demonstration of my pettiness. I’m going with the “Arrow Game,” a game that gave the Angels a series win over the Seattle Mariners but mostly just served as Fernando Rodney humiliation.

The win was important for the Angels, taking the series from a division rival in the first series following the All-Star break. But what sets this game apart is that it played like a brilliant two-act revenge fantasy given that it came against Fernando Rodney, one of the more hated Angels of the last decade. He wasn’t good when he was here, and he was a bit of a cock about it while he was here and since he left. It hasn’t helped that after Rodney left the Angels, he turned into one of the better relievers in baseball, most notably in 2012 when he posted a 0.60 ERA in 74-2/3 innings for the Rays. That’s the lowest ERA of ALL TIME for a pitcher with at least 50 innings. He also developed an arrow-shooting post-save celebration, as if he’s the Robin Hood of Douchewood Forest. I’ll give Rodney bonus points for creativity, but I admit the arrow-shooting rankles me for some reason.

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The tl;dr version of that paragraph: Rodney was a bad Angel and holds a grudge against the franchise for demoting him from closer even though he sucked, he’s now good and has a pretty obnoxious celebration. Also, the hat. The crooked hat irritates some people. Now, let’s set the stage for the July 20 game.

Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Efren Navarro led off with a single against Joe Beimel. After Beimel retired Grant Green, Lloyd McClendon brought in closer Fernando Rodney to try to lock down a five-out save. Rodney successfully extinguished the Angel rally and prematurely grabbed his air bow-and-arrow and, um, fired (?) into the Angels dugout before the game was over.

Then, the gif to end all gifs. Mike Trout drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Rodney. Next up, Albert Pujols doubled in Trout to tie the game. UNLEASH THE ARROWS:

pujols_trout_arrows_tumblr_c956b2ll

There’s a lot going on in that gif. For one, Pujols and Trout are firing arrows at each other, so maybe they don’t really know how arrows work. Pujols goes above and beyond, even grabbing his shirt to take the place of an arrow. His motion is calm and deliberate — he is a very rich man, so it’s not unreasonable to expect that he could have an archery field (lane? lawn?) on his estate. Pujols is not above flipping bats or admiring home runs, so this bit of gamesmanship isn’t necessarily out of character for him.

But look at Trout! His mechanics are a mess. It looks like he’s pulling an arrow out of his neck. His shot is very rushed, but he gets bonus points for making the same sort of “pew” noise that kids do when they’re shooting each other with imaginary lasers. Trout shows emotion on the field, but never this extreme. Rodney can do that to a man.

The Angels ended up winning the game later in the inning, but that was gravy. Seeing Fernando “Katniss Everdeen” Rodney trolled by the Angels’ best hitters was victory enough. The best part: no benches cleared, no bean ball war incited, no talking heads bemoaning the thuggery of today’s players. (Imagine if Yasiel Puig did this! We’d still be getting fresh hot takes.) Just a pure, unfiltered visualization of trash talk.

Up Next: The Sweep

Royals Sweep Angels Out of Playoffs

October 6th, 2014

Were any of us really expecting any differently? After letting Games 1 and 2 slip away at home, the Angels handed the ball to C.J. Wilson to save their season, a proposition Angels faithful have dreaded for months. The proceedings went according to plan: Wilson allowed three runs and didn’t survive the first inning, putting lesser relievers in position to hold the Royals at bay. That didn’t happen, as Kansas City scored eight runs on their coronation night, two more runs than the Angels scored in the series.

I think we all knew in August the Angels playoff chances were doomed with the season-ending injuries to Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Had those guys been healthy, Wilson doesn’t start a game this series. But really, I don’t think having those guys in tow would have mattered. The Angel offense was dreadful all series. They finally showed signs of life on Sunday against Royals ace James Shields, collecting eight hits in the game. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols homered, but like Chris Iannetta and David Freese in Game 1, there were no baserunners to celebrate with them at home plate. That was the crux of the problem for the Angels in the series: if runners were on base, the batter became helpless. In the three games, the Angels were 2-for-25 with runners in scoring position, a figure that will doom any club in the postseason.

Before the playoffs, I wrote that I preferred the Angels play the Royals in the ALDS and I still feel that was the correct call. The Royals are a good team capable of beating anyone but I’m not sure they played above their skill level. They played Royals Baseball, struggling to hit in the first two games but taking advantage of defensive miscues and playing their own sparkling defense. The vaunted 2011 farm system, once known as the Best Farm System Ever but now only referred to that in the ironic sense, delivered on the biggest stage — Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both hit a game-winning homer, and both added an insurance home run in Game 3. But other than four home runs from the two players on the club that can actually hit home runs, the Royals more or less played to type. The Angels did not. The Angels played sloppy defense and didn’t score runs. The starting rotation, the glaring weakness on the club, was only a problem when Wilson took the ball. Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker were great in their starts, and if I knew before the series that Weaver and Shoemaker would combine to allow three runs in 13 innings, I would have assumed the Angels were up 2-0.

In the last seven seasons the Angels have now entered the playoffs with the best record in baseball twice and have a 1-6 postseason record to show for it. The Red Sox were probably the superior team in 2008, that Angels club buoyed by close wins and Francisco Rodriguez’s single-season saves record. The 2014 Royals are not a better team than the 2014 Angels, but that hardly matters now. Kansas City was better over a three-game stretch, and the Angels are again the victims of randomness in the playoffs, just as they were beneficiaries in 2002. Since 2004, the Angels have now been swept out of the playoffs three times, four if you want to count the gentleman’s sweep in the 2005 ALCS. Is that randomness? Poor managing? Poor playoff roster construction? All?

With an old roster that wasn’t really an improvement on the 2013 team, I figured the Angels didn’t have a prayer to win the AL West. My hope was they’d somehow sneak into the wild card and then some magic would happen. Winning 98 games and a division crown is still a great achievement. The best we can hope for is the Angels get another crack in October 2015 and that the dice roll their way.

Here’s some other random thoughts on Game 3.

Angels Take Season Series From A’s

September 25th, 2014
Great derp face, not-so great catch from Mike Trout on Wednesday.

Great derp face, not-so great catch from Mike Trout on Wednesday.

Game 1: A’s 8, Angels 4 | Game 2: Angels 2, A’s 0 | Game 3: Angels 5, A’s 4

Runs Scored = 11
Runs Allowed = 12

YTD Record: 98-61 | 1st in AL West

Up Next: Friday-Sunday @ Seattle Mariners

AthleticsSeries2

The Angels inched closer to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a series win in Oakland, winning the season series over the A’s, 10-9. With three games remaining before playoff baseball, the Angels’ magic number to clinch the top seed is two. To set the franchise record with 101 wins the Angels need to sweep Seattle this weekend, an unlikely proposition given the pitchers Seattle will trot out and the fact Mike Scioscia will elect to give many players some rest. We saw some of that in this Oakland series — Howie Kendrick sat out Monday, David Freese sat out Tuesday and Wednesday, Erick Aybar sat out Wednesday, Joe Smith didn’t pitch in his normal eighth inning role on Wednesday, etc. It’s the luxury of clinching early and it will hopefully serve the Angels well in the coming weeks.

As for Oakland, they’re still comfortably in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth. With four games remaining, they are tied with Kansas City for the wild card lead, three games ahead of the Mariners. It’s possible, if not likely, the Angels and A’s square off again a week from today. If the last two games of this series are any indication, it’s going to be a “hold on to your butts” series.

Fear Thy ALDS Opponent: Detroit

September 23rd, 2014
Mike Trout will finally defeat Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race, but defeating the Tigers in a playoff series will be a tougher proposition.

Mike Trout will finally defeat Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race, but defeating the Tigers in a playoff series will be a tougher proposition.

 

Last week, I wrote about the two clubs I most want the Angels to play in the ALDS: the Royals here and the Mariners here. Today we move on to the Detroit Tigers.

 

Team: Detroit Tigers

Record: 86-70 | Pythagorean Record: 84-72

ALDS Probability (per BP): 90.4%

AL Ranks: Runs Scored – 2nd | Runs Allowed – 10th

 

The Royals and Mariners are kindred baseball spirits, weak offensive teams whose success is buoyed by elite run prevention. The Tigers are the yang to that yin, bashing their way to victory. Detroit’s 111 wRC+ ranks second in the AL behind the Angels, but their OBP and slugging are tops despite ranking tenth in walk rate and fifth in homers. The .320 BABIP may suggest some luck — the MLB average is .299 — but the Tigers lead the league with a 22.2% line drive rate and hit the second fewest ground balls in the AL.

This is what happens when you feature Mike Trout’s foil, Miguel Cabrera. In a down year by Miggy’s standards he’s still slashing .311/.374/.520 — in the last month, he’s slugged .606. Cabrera is supported by The Brothers Martinez, Victor and J.D. (they’re not actually brothers), both of whom have been substantially better than Cabrera this season according to wRC+. For players with at least 450 plate appearances, Victor and J.D. have both posted top-seven wRC+ in MLB.

Fear Thy ALDS Opponent: Seattle

September 18th, 2014
Facing this guy: not fun.

Facing this guy: not fun.

 

Previously, I broke down why I most want the Angels to play the Royals in the ALDS. Today, the Mariners.

 

Team: Seattle Mariners

Record: 81-70 | Pythagorean Record: 88-63

ALDS Probability (per BP): 11.2%

AL Ranks: Runs Scored – 10th | Runs Allowed – 1st

 

It’s easy to figure why I want the Angels to play the Royals more than the Mariners: both are poor offensive clubs but the Mariners are the stingiest run prevention team in the American League. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton form a formidable top three and the bullpen owns a microscopic 2.41 ERA, half a run better than second place Oakland. Preventing runs is nothing new for the M’s, but it was often attributed to Safeco Field’s pitcher-friendly confines. That’s not really a viable excuse this year, as the pitching staff owns a park-adjusted 81 ERA-; the bullpen is even stingier at 64. That latter figure is the fifth-best mark in the Wild Card era, so if a club falls behind early it’s usually death. Seattle also ranks among the top four in the AL in park-adjusted FIP and xFIP — Safeco is still a desirable place to pitch, but the Mariners also employ a bunch of damn good pitchers.

On offense, Seattle isn’t much different from Kansas City, as Seattle’s 92 wRC+ is nearly identical to KC’s 93. The Mariners at least feel like a more threatening offensive club than the Royals, mostly because the Royals don’t have anyone as good as Robinson Cano.

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