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Halos Swept in Seattle; Add Odd Bookend to Fantastic Season

September 29th, 2014

Game 1: Mariners 4, Angels 3 | Game 2: Mariners 2, Angels 1 (F/11) | Game 3: Mariners 4, Angels 0

Runs Scored: 4
Runs Allowed: 10

Final Record: 98-64 | AL West Champs!

Up Next: Thursday vs KC/OAK

MarinersSeries3

I suppose it would have been nice to end the regular season on a high note for a change — the Halos have been swept in their final series three out of the last four years, and haven’t won one since 2009 — but I guess we’ll just have to make do with the Angels having the best record in baseball, nearly trolling the A’s out of the postseason altogether, and avoiding the abject horror that is a coin-flip game. I think I’m cool with that.

Given how well the other 156 games went, bookending the season with series sweeps at the hands of the Mariners is undeniably a bit weird – if all you knew about the Halos’ 2014 season was that they were undone by Seattle to start and end it, you wouldn’t be thought crazy if you surmised that the rest of the season didn’t go so well. (You’d be wrong, of course, but not crazy.) All teams have unexpected weak spots, though, even the great ones. And for whatever reason, this year the Angels’ kryptonite was a Northwest shade of green. The M’s were the only opponent to outscore the Halos by more than four runs this year — they finished at +26 (!) — and were one of just four teams to have any sort of positive run differential at all against the club. As much as many fans wanted Oakland to fall into a tie with Seattle and lose a play-in game, perhaps it’s for the best that the Mariners are not a potential playoff opponent.

What’s most remarkable to me about the bookend sweeps is not that they happened — baseball will forever be weird — but that these more-or-less identical events were accompanied by such disparate reactions from fans. The season-opening sweep was met with an overwhelming sense of impending doom wrought by four seasons of unfulfilled promise – allowing 26 runs in three days to a team that bats Justin Smoak in the clean-up spot will do that to you – while this latest one was met with a sort of ambivalence; a strangely confident collective indifference. In six months, the atmosphere around the franchise went from “Oh my god, fire everyone immediately” to some variation of “This is so much fun! Let’s tank so the A’s have to sweat it out!” That fortunes can change so dramatically so quickly is one of the very best aspects of sports, and is why I’ll be right back here next year, win or lose.

The 2014 Season’s Unsung Heroes

September 21st, 2014
It's not just on offense that Iannetta has helped the Halos.

It’s not just on offense that Iannetta has helped the Halos.

There are always certain on-field narratives that dominate a season, earning a majority of the air time, page space, and/or bandwidth from a team or league’s media. Most of these emerge early in the year and usually serve as framing devices for the rest of the season. When things are going well, the stories are predominantly positive; when not, they’re negative. (You know this already.) For the Angels this year, it’s been mostly been the former: Garrett Richards emerging as an ace; Matt Shoemaker coming out of nowhere; the re-vamped bullpen; Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things; Kole Calhoun excelling in the leadoff spot, etc.

The downside of covering the few big storylines over and over is that other, less obvious stories often fall through the cracks. With that in mind, we thought it’d be good to write about the a few things that have had a positive impact in Anaheim this year, but have yet to get the big headlines.

Here are five unsung heroes of the 2014 season:

Halos Clinch AL West Crown in Split With M’s

September 19th, 2014

Game 1: Angels 8, Mariners 1 | Game 2: Mariners 13, Angels 2
Game 3: Angels 5, Mariners 0 | Game 4: Mariners 3, Angels 1

Runs Scored: 16
Runs Allowed: 17

YTD Record: 95-58 | 1st in AL West | Magic Number: 0!

Up Next: Friday vs. TEX

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The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the American League West Division Champions! In 2014! That’s, like, right now! How cool is that?

I’ll be the first to admit I did not expect the Angels to come away with a division title this year. From Spring Training well into August, the common refrain is our series recaps was something to the effect of: “The A’s are out of reach, so let’s temper expectations and focus on maintaining Wild Card position.” Even as September approached and the gap between Anaheim and Oakland closed I had a hard time believing the Halos could keep the good times rolling. But then the Angels and Athletics did the whole ships-passing-in-the-night routine and now I look back and wonder how I ever doubted that the team couldn’t hang with Billy Beane’s band of brigands. Not so much because the Athletics seem to have fallen into the Springfield Mystery Spot — though, holy hell what is happening up there?! — but because the Halos have been otherworldly for three-plus months now. They are 64-30 since June 6, which is good for a .680 winning percentage. Over the course of an entire season, that’d put them on pace for 110 wins — only six teams in MLB history have ever won that many. We can’t just ignore the first two months of this season, of course, but it’s plainly evident they are a very different team now than they were in May, in both persona and personnel.

Considering that the Halos get to coast for the next two weeks while their four potential ALDS opponents duke it out to determine three playoff spots, it’s natural to worry that the Angels might lose their “edge” by the time October arrives, or that one of the Royals/Tigers/A’s/Mariners quartet will have momentum on their side. Of the myriad clichés about the playoffs — i.e. players with prior postseason experience are more likely to succeed; home-field advantage is huge; teams who can’t play “small ball” don’t to well in the postseason; etc. — the only one that has actually stood up to any sort of scientific scrutiny is, unfortunately, the maxim I’ve already primed you for: that teams perform better in October if they have to fight for a playoff spot down to wire.

As you’d expect, it’s not so simple as “teams in tight races are better playoff teams,” it’s a more nuanced “teams whose playoff hopes come down to the final days of the season tend to get a slightly better performance from their pitching staffs in the postseason than would normally be expected.” (Hitters aren’t afforded that same advantage, for whatever reason.) This little statistical quirk could potentially spell bad news for the Angels, as all four of their potential opponents already boast some of the strongest rotations in the American League, but having the best offense in baseball should help mitigate the effect some.

Santiago’s Short Leash Makes Sense

September 10th, 2014
Less of this has been good.

Less of this has been good.

Hector Santiago has been surprisingly great for the Angels over the past few months. He owns a 2.71 ERA in 79⅔ innings since returning to Anaheim on June 10, with all but five of those innings coming as a starting pitcher.

As Alden Gonzalez points out over at MLB dot com this morning, Santiago has come to much of this success on a rather short leash. The right-hander has exceeded 100 pitches in only one of his 14 starts since returning from Triple-A Salt Lake, and has gotten the hook at 90 pitches or fewer in five of them. As you’d expect from any human, Santiago has expressed some frustration at not having the opportunity to go deeper into games, but seems to ultimately understand his role. Per Gonzalez:

“I feel like I can go more, but hey, who am I?” Santiago said. “I’m just out here to give us a chance to win; that’s what I’m doing right now…

“It’s frustrating … I want to go six or seven innings, and it hasn’t been seven all year. You just go inside and get your work done, and get ready for the next one.”

All that is well and good, and exactly the kind of quote you’d expect and hope for from a player. Where the hubris starts to creep in, and the whole reason for this post, is in what he says next:

“The longer I go, the stronger I get.”

Oh boy.

Pitchers, as a whole, do not get better the longer they go. On the contrary, they fall victim to something called the Times Through the Order Penalty (TTOP), which shows pitchers are slightly less effective each time they cycle through a lineup due to some combination of fatigue and familiarity. Santiago is no exception to this rule, and is even a bit of an extreme case.

Gonzalez points to hitters having just a .190/.306/.357 slash line against Santiago at 101 pitches or more as evidence that he does improve as the game goes on, but overlooks that those numbers are the result of only 49 plate appearances. If we look instead at Santiago’s effectiveness in his third turn through a lineup, which has a much bigger sample of 253 plate appearances, a very different story is borne out. Hitters hold a .290/.368/.522 career slash line against Santiago when facing him for a third time. That not only represents a more than 200-point jump in OPS from his first two times through an order, it’d also probably earn someone MVP runner-up honors in the AL this year.

Those alarming numbers in mind, the reasons for his short leash seem to get a bit clearer. Pitch count and fatigue have probably played some factor in Santiago not reaching the seventh inning in several months, but I’d be surprised to find they were the deciding ones. It seems more likely, to me at least, that Mike Scioscia (or some higher-up) is paying more attention to the number of batters Santiago has faced, which probably has as least some correlation with his recent success on the mound. Santiago has faced 23 batters or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts since returning to the team, allowing just nine earned runs in 53⅓ innings (1.52 ERA) in those outings. In the four other starts, the 24+ group, he’s allowed 15 ER in 21⅓ IP (6.23 ERA). Now, obviously some of those runs came early in games and had nothing to do with the TTOP, but a good portion do, including last week’s three-run home run to Eduardo freaking Nunez, of all people.

Santiago might not be a fan of the short leash, but he probably should be–it’s giving him the best chance to succeed.

Angels Rock Cleveland in Make-Up Game

September 8th, 2014
TroutDestroysCleveland

Boom Goes the Dynamite

The Angels traveled back in time Monday morning to finish up a four-game series in Cleveland they started back in June. If given the opportunity to travel in time, I’m not sure Ohio would be my first (or last) stop, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do, I guess. When this series was first played out in C-Town, things did not end well, resulting in an 8 on the Pain Scale. You may remember it as “the time Nick Swisher hit a walk-off grand slam,” or what years from now baseball historians will fondly refer to as Frieri’s Final Fiasco.

Luckily for the Halos, this time they were allowed to bring their blazing hot offense with them in the DeLorean. The club followed a 14-run, 19-hit shellacking in the rubber game of the Twins series on Sunday morning with a 12-run, 16-hit effort on Monday, giving them 26 runs and 35 hits across two Midwest states in a little under 24 hours. That’s probably a first.

Kole Calhoun, Howie Kendrick, and Albert Pujols again led the offensive attack, each tallying three hits (including a homer) in the game. The trio is now a combined 18-for-40 with five home runs over the last three games, driving in 18 of the club’s 34 runs. Josh who?

Mike Trout also had himself a multi-hit game Monday, churning out two hits (for the third time in the last four days) and scoring twice. Trout now has six runs in his past three games, pushing him up to 99 on the year and into a tie for the AL lead with Brian Dozier. With one more run, Trout will become just the sixth player ever to tally 100+ runs thrice before his age-23 season. The other five? Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Vada Pinson (?), and Buddy Lewis (??).

Jered Weaver pitched well even to earn his 16th win, but that doesn’t really say much when the team’s put a 12-spot on board. The Weavemeister got himself a quality start by going six frames and allowing “only” three runs, but he again struggled with his control as the game went on. He used just 49 pitches to get through the first four innings but needed 47 for the fifth and sixth, forcing Mike Scioscia to go to the bullpen for the final three frames.

The somewhat early call to the ‘pen combined with the rout did reap a reward, however, as big right-hander Jairo Diaz got the opportunity to make his MLB debut in the ninth. The 23-year-old was understandably nervous on the hill, resulting to several erratic pitches, but the stuff was still electric. His radar gun readings:

Two two breaking pitches thrown in the inning — 89 and 88(K), above — were beautiful to watch. Indistinguishable from his fastball until about 10 feet in front of the plate, gravity finally kicked in and dropped them into the dirt. Both resulted in a flailing swing-and-miss, earning Diaz one of his two Ks in the inning. The dramatic lean to the glove side he employs during his motion is sure to give him continued control issues to some degree, but if he can put up at least a league-average walk rate, his killer two-pitch combo could make him a huge asset for years to come.

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Final Score: Angels 12, Cleveland 3

Adjusted Pain Scale: 5

Up Next: Tuesday @ TEX

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Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!