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Best Sweep Ever? Best Sweep Ever.

August 31st, 2014

Game 1: Angels 4, A’s 3 (F/10) | Game 2: Angels 2, A’s 0
Game 3: Angels 4, A’s 0 | Game 4: Angels 8, A’s 1

Runs Scored: 18
Runs Allowed: 4

YTD Record: 83-53 | 1st in AL West (+5)

Up Next: Tues @ HOU

AthleticsSeries4

So this is what total catharsis feels like…

Everyone, soak in all the endorphins you can. So far as regular season match-ups go, it’s not gonna get much better. This series had it all: fantastic pitching, clutch hitting, strange plays, near-misses, majestic home runs, base-running blunders, a walk-off, an #umpshow. Everything. And it wasn’t just a battle for first in the AL West, it was a late-season battle for first in the AL West among bitter rivals with a recent history of close contests vying for the best record in baseball. And the Angels freakin’ dominated.

The A’s offense was held off the scoreboard for 34 of the 37 innings in the series, including an incredible 29 frames straight between Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. This about this for a moment: Oakland hadn’t been shutout two nights in a row since 2006. The Angels just held them off the board for three games and change without the benefit of their best pitcher, and the only reason the streak didn’t extend to 31 innings was because of defensive indifference late Sunday. That’s bonkers.

My initial thought process upon feeling the post-sweep euphoria:

1) “Hell yes! Five games up, one month to go!”
2) “Why can’t this happen more often?”
3) “If this happened more often, would we still appreciate it?”
4) “Dang it, Nathan. Stop over-thinking this. Enjoy the awesome.”
5) “Hell yes! Five games up, one month to go!”

The Halos now sit at 83-53 on the year, a lovely 30 games above .500. If the team can simply break even over their final 26 contests, they’ll finish the season with 96 wins, which would be the third-best record in franchise history. If they continue to play .600 baseball on the other hand, they’ll have a very good chance of entering October with 100+ wins to their name. I really don’t want to count chickens here—I see you, 1995—but it’s extremely difficult at this point not to be irrationally excited about the next two months.

Bittersweet Sweep in Beantown

August 22nd, 2014

Game 1: Angels 4, Red Sox 2 | Game 2: Angels 4, Red Sox 3
Game 3: Angels 8, Red Sox 3 | Game 4: Angels 2, Red Sox 0

Runs Scored: 18
Runs Allowed: 8

YTD Record: 76-50 | 1st in AL West

Up Next: Friday @ OAK

RedSoxSeries2

At just about any other point in the last 53 years, a four-game sweep of the Red Sox in Boston would have been an unequivocally positive, season-defining moment. But not this time. Accomplishing the feat for just the second time in franchise history is still pretty dang cool — the other time was in May 1962 –  but this series will never be remembered for that. No matter how the season goes from here on out, this series will forever be remembered as the One Where Garrett Richards Mangled His Knee.

The impact of Richards’ loss on the Halos has been covered ad nauseam on the radio and the Internet over the last 48 hours, so I won’t rehash it in full, here. What I do want to make a point of, though, is that the true weight of his absence probably won’t be felt until the regular season ends. Any team can survive a seven-start stint from Wade LeBlanc (and friends) over the course of 162 games. Where things are going to get dicey is when the postseason arrives and every contest becomes do or die. If Weaver, Wilson, and Shoemaker can continue pitching as well as they have in the last week or so, the Halos will have a fighting chance against whomever they meet in October. I am cautiously optimistic they can keep the good times rolling, but I certainly wouldn’t bet my house on it.

Weaver and Wilson’s first chance to step up comes this weekend in Oakland. If the Halos can win even three of the seven match-ups they have against the A’s over the next 10 days, they’ll be in enviable position heading into the final month of the season. Any more wins than that, and they’ll be tough to catch.

Surveying the Post-Richards Pitching Situation

August 21st, 2014
1st

It strikes again.

You know that nightmare scenario we all dreaded where the Angels’ rail-thin rotation fell to pieces right before they made the final push for the playoffs? Well, it’s here. First, it was Tyler Skaggs and an ominous appointment with Dr. James Andrews; now it’s Garrett Richards and a gruesome knee injury at the hands of the club’s arch-nemesis this year, first base. (You may remember it from such episodes as “Calhoun Twists an Ankle” and “Hamilton Stubs his Thumb.”) An MRI revealed that Richards tore the patellar tendon of his left knee in Boston on Wednesday, meaning that he’ll be sidelined until at least Spring Training next February.

I suppose it could have been worse — i.e. at least it’s not his ACL, throwing arm, etc. — but there’s no dancing around the fact that the injury is a crushing blow to the team’s title hopes this season. Richards was the glue that held the rotation together and was easily the club’s best shot at surviving a one-off Wild Card game, should it come to that. What’s more, a playoff rotation of Jered Weaver/C.J. Wilson/??? is a far more frightening proposition for the Angels than anyone they might face in a best-of-[number] series.

So, yeah, the Angels are in a pretty rough spot, even as the team currently with the best record in baseball. Rather than pull a Jeremiah and lament for thousands of words, though, let’s take a (slightly) more productive approach and survey the club’s best options for replacing down the stretch and into October.

Halos Paying Tribute to Jim Fregosi (Finally)

August 12th, 2014
Better late than never, I suppose.

Better late than never?

The Angels will finally honor one of their all-time greats on Tuesday, nearly six full months after his passing. Jim Fregosi, 71, died on Valentine’s Day of this year from complications following a stroke, bringing his 50+ years in Major League Baseball to a sudden and tragic end.

A member of the inaugural 1961 Angels, Fregosi is one of just three former Halos players to have his number (#11) retired by the team, and was the first manager to lead the club into the postseason, in 1979. Despite spending only 10 seasons in an Angels uniform, he remains the franchise WAR leader (45.9) among position players, more than five wins ahead of the next guy — Tim Salmon, at 40.5 WAR. He was elected into the team Hall of Fame in 1989, and had his number retired in 1998.

While the Phillies and Braves, for whom Fregosi worked after his playing and managing tenures with the Halos came to a close, honored the six-time All-Star at a Spring Training game in Florida three weeks after his death, the Angels were oddly silent on the matter. Other than this single paragraph written within hours of Fregosi’s death, the organization made no official moves toward paying tribute to its first real star. Until now.

A pre-game ceremony to honor Fregosi on Tuesday will include a video tribute, an on-field presentation to members of his family, and a first pitch thrown by his oldest son, Jim Jr. Additionally, both the Angels and Phillies will wear a Fregosi patch on their uniform sleeves, and the #11 will be stenciled into the outfield grass.

Many fans have widely expressed their disdain for how the front office has more or less ignored Fregosi this season, so while Tuesday’s tribute will likely be very nice, the ceremony is unlikely to bring an end to those feelings of contempt. Scheduling a tribute to someone half a year after they’ve gone seriously smacks of damage control, especially when said ceremony isn’t announced until the week before. There is absolutely no reason the team couldn’t have worn a memorial patch the entire season, or, at the very least, made an announcement regarding his tribute at the start of the year.

There is no word on whether the Halos plan to wear the memorial patch for the remainder of the season, but I sincerely hope they do. Fregosi meant a hell of a lot to the organization for more than a decade, so making an effort to commemorate that, even if only for a month and a half, is pretty much the least the club can do.

Let’s Get to Know Vinnie Pestano

August 8th, 2014

The Angels bullpen has been pretty much stuffed to the brim with quality arms for a few weeks now, but don’t tell that to Jerry Dipoto. When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll, ya know? Dipoto continued his recent spate of reliever stockpiling on Thursday with his first-ever August waiver trade as GM, acquiring sidearm righty Vinnie Pestano from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league right-hander Michael Clevinger.

Pestano, 29, was one of the Tribe’s most reliable relievers from 2010-2012, but hit a rough patch last season and never really got an opportunity to right the ship in Cleveland this year. The Anaheim native has spent most of 2014 with the club’s Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, where he’s posted a stellar 1.78 ERA and 11.0 K/9 in 30⅓ innings. With numbers like that–not to mention his track record of success–it’s worth investigating what it was that might have kept the Indians from giving him more than nine innings in the Show this year.

The first thing to note is that Pestano has experienced a not insignificant drop in his velocity between 2011 and the present that seems to correspond nicely with his diminishing returns. Correlation is not always causation, of course, but the loss of nearly 3 MPH off his average fastball (from 93.5 to 90.8) can’t just be ignored either. When his four-seamer averaged more than 92 MPH (’10-’12), batters hit .182 and slugged .281 against the pitch, essentially turning them all into John McDonald. At < 92 MPH (’13-’14), though, which is admittedly a smaller sample, big-league batters have hit .276 and slugged .505 against the pitch. That’s not so good.

It would be easy to lay all the blame on the velocity and just move on, but I believe there’s more to the story than that.

Like every other sidearm pitcher ever, Pestano is tougher on same-side hitters (RHBs) than guys who have the platoon advantage (LHBs). Pestano, for instance, has a rather extreme split of 528 OPS-against vs RHBs and an 829 OPS-against LHBs in his career. With most right-handed slingers (see: Darren O’Day, Brad Ziegler), this known deficiency against lefties isn’t too big of a deal because their teams utilize them primarily with a string of right-handed batters coming up. For whatever reason, though, this has not been the case with the Indians and Pestano. He has faced a total of 485 MLB batters over the last three seasons, and roughly 52% of them have been left-handed. As you might imagine, this has had some serious adverse effects on his results.

It’s not just the drop in velocity that has hurt Pestano of late, then, it’s also his team’s strange proclivity toward using him in situations where he’s set up to fail. While guys like O’Day and Ziegler have thrived by facing upwards of 60% RHBs, Pestano has been left to toil against a majority who have a natural advantage over him. This is a mind-boggling approach for any team, but especially so for the Indians when you consider how important platoons have been to the team’s success on the offensive side of things.

When you add together Pestano’s velocity issues, his ROOGY-ness, and Cleveland’s already-solid bullpen, it becomes easier to understand why the Tribe stowed Pestano at Triple-A for much of the year, and why they were willing to give him up for a low-ceiling pitching prospect like Clevinger. Pestano might have been the organization’s “closer of the future” at one point in time, but it is pretty evident he was no longer part of their long-term plans.

None of this means he can’t help the Halos down the stretch, of course. With Mike Morin and Joe Thatcher on the shelf indefinitely, the club could use another reliable mid-innings guy who doesn’t come with training wheels attached (i.e. Cam Bedrosian). So long as Mike Scioscia is sure to use him predominantly against RHBs, Pestano should be a good addition to the ‘pen, if he’s called upon. For now, he’s been assigned to Triple-A Salt Lake.

Oh yeah… to make room on the 40-man for Pestano, the Angels DFA-ed Tommy Field, who I honestly had no idea was still around.

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!