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2014 Highlights: The Sweep

October 18th, 2014
The exact moment the Angels stole the A's mojo.

The exact moment the Angels stole the A’s mojo.

 

Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game

Let’s set the stage. The Angels have spent the last 14 days dancing between two games back and two games ahead of the A’s in the AL West. Oakland has faltered some in the month, but still holds a +61 run-differential advantage (!) over the Halos and remains the consensus Best Team in Baseball. On one side, a rotation ace has just been lost for the season; on the other, two new aces are adjusting well to the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum.

It is the final four days of August, and the Angels are hosting their division rivals for four games. Anything other than a sweep for the Halos will preserve the back-and-forth status quo. No one expects a sweep. Against the gauntlet of Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Scott Kazmir, the most anyone is asking for is a split. Anaheim has swept Oakland only once the last three seasons, and not in a four-game set since 1997. The odds, they are long.

And yet…

The opening contest is a battle, with the Halos squeaking out a 4-3 win in 10 innings, but the rest are more or less a cakewalk. The Angels flat out dominate. Oakland scores just one run in the final 31 innings of the series, going 29 frames scoreless at one point, and is shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006. Weaver outduels Lester, a desperation bullpen experiment outduels Samardzija, and Shoemaker outduels Kazmir. The Angels waltz to the sweep, expanding their division lead to a full five games and increasing their odds to win the West by a full 31 percent, from 61% to 92%.

***

I honestly cannot remember another important regular season series ever going so well. I wrote a bit about the catharsis the sweep brought right after it happened, and reminiscing about it nearly two months later still brings with it a wave of endorphins. It was the pivotal point of the season for both teams: the Angels turning upward, into the best team in baseball; the A’s spiraling downward, into a near-full collapse.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Sweep. After it, the Angels needed to simply be mediocre down the stretch to take their first division title in four years. (They weren’t, of course, but that’s a story for another day.) They entered September an MLB-best 86-56, with 12 of their next 13 coming against sub-.500 opponents. With any other result in the series, who knows how the rest of the season plays out. Maybe the A’s aren’t so deflated for the stretch run, and maybe the Halos don’t click until it’s too late.

There were a lot of great individual moments in the series — e.g. the bullpen shutout, Coco Crisp robbing then dropping Chris Iannetta’s home run, Matt Shoemaker extending his scoreless innings streak — but my personal favorite was the obliteration of Scott Kazmir in the series’ final game. I don’t typically take pleasure in the pain of others, but Kazmir falling to pieces anytime he has anything to do with his former club is just too good not to revel in.  The southpaw allowed just 1⅓ innings on the day, and is now the not-so-proud owner of a 22.10 ERA against the Angels over three starts the last two seasons; he has not made it through the fourth inning nor allowed fewer than five runs in any of the three outings. I’m don’t know what kind of psychological hold the Halos have over Kazmir, but it sure makes for some fun baseball.

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Up Next: The Streak

 

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.

rod22

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

Halos Claim Two Outfielders From D’Backs

October 8th, 2014

The Angels officially kicked their offseason into gear Tuesday afternoon. It was only first gear, and the clutch stuck a few times before they could get it going, but it’s still technically forward motion so I’m writing about it. What got the motor running were the waiver claims of D’Backs outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Alfredo Marte, the fourth and fifth players to make the direct trip from Phoenix to Anaheim in the last 11 months.

I fully expected the special relationship between the Angels and D’Backs to end when Kevin Towers got shit-canned last week, and I surmise it still will. We should probably consider these moves as the dead cat bounce of the relationship, especially since they were more of yard sale buys than anything else:

Dipoto: “Hey there, long time. How much for the Kieschnick?”

D’Backs: “Eh, it was our dad’s. Just take it. <pauses> <sees LaRussa in the distance, signaling to an empty bullpen> <sighs> “And you know what? As long as you’re here, you may as well take this Marte, too. We never figured out how to get it to work, but you might have better luck.”

Dipoto: “Uh, alright. Thanks, I guess.”

Angels Send Eight To Arizona Fall League

October 7th, 2014

The Arizona Fall League begins Tuesday, and the roster for Angels’ affiliate, the Mesa Solar Sox, includes eight of the club’s more promising prospects. The dudes:

 

  • Trevor Gott
  • Chris O’Grady
  • Mark Sappington
  • Nate Smith
  • Kaleb Cowart
  • Cal Towey
  • Eric Stamets
  • Chad Hinshaw

The AFL is designed for players who are either near big league ready, or desperately need some playing time after an injury-plagued season. It can also be used for teams to evaluate players for potential 40-man roster spots, or to showcase potential trade chips.

Each of the prospects the Angels have offers some intrigue, with some of them being high-ceiling/low-floor types and others low-ceiling/high-floor types. Today we’re going to break down each prospect.

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.

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Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!