October 4th, 2014
There is no joy in Millville — mighty Casey has struck out.
Just before this series started, the Angels and Royals must have had a meeting where they secretly agreed to go all Parent Trap on us because for the second straight night, it was the Angels who looked like an inexperienced wild card team that just squeaked into the playoffs and the Royals who looked like they were the owners of the best record in baseball.
This game was a carbon copy of Friday night’s — the Angels had a great performance from their starting pitcher, an outfield blunder led to a precious Kansas City run, the Angels hitters were stymied by Royals pitching, the Royals put on a succession of fantastic defensive plays, and KC finished the game off with a home run in extra innings.
The media tried to get us to worry about him and his oblique muscle, but no need — Matt Shoemaker was awesome. He hadn’t pitched in a game in 18 days since he felt that pull in his side, and he did have some control problems in the first inning when he had trouble getting his high fastballs down into the strike zone, but he worked it out and went six strong innings with six strikeouts and no earned runs.
October 3rd, 2014
Oh, right. THAT’S what a postseason game feels like.
After four years on the October sidelines, I’d almost forgotten the agony and exhilaration that hang on every pitch for both players and fans. I know I let the moment get the best of me a number of times Thursday night — sorry, dog, for startling you with all the yelling and the kvetching and the gesticulating — so it makes sense that it might affect the decision-making of a manager as well, even a seasoned one.
That’s the best explanation I have for the baffling offensive strategy employed by Mike Scioscia for Game 1, in which the Angels fell to the Royals 3-2 in 11 innings. After laying down just 26 sacrifice bunts all year — nine of which were put in play by either John McDonald, Luis Jimenez, or a pitcher – Scioscia decided that his offense needed to put down *three* on Thursday, or more than 10 percent of their season total. You may have noticed that neither McDonald, Jimenez, nor a pitcher were in the lineup. No, instead those three attempts came courtesy of Erick Aybar, who inexplicably laid down two with Josh Hamilton on deck and a lefty on the mound, and leadoff man Kole Calhoun, who’s not only the third-best hitter in a stacked lineup but who also looked about as comfortable squaring around to bunt as I do juggling chainsaws on one leg over a shark tank. (NB: I’m a terrible juggler.)
October 2nd, 2014
Official keys of the ALDS
Abloy keys are notorious for opening impossible-to-pick locks — challenge accepted — and are reportedly the house key of choice in Finland, where they were invented. Employing a disc-detainer system similar to those found on combination locks, the specially designed keys play the part of the dial by rotating the numerous discs in the tumbler lock with a variety of unorthodox cuts in the keys.
What does this have to do with the Angels and the ALDS? Not a damn thing. But in the interest of stupid analogies everywhere, and in honor of Mark Gubizca’s seemingly boundless knowledge of popular ’70s and ’80s music, let’s see if I can contrive something before moving on to more salient, substantive points:
1) The impossible-to-pick-ness of the locks is obviously an allusion to the Royals’ elite speed and skill on the basepaths, as they not only led the majors in stolen bases (153), but also stolen-base percentage (81%). Kansas City has such confidence in its non-pickibility this season that it successfully stole third nearly as many times as the Orioles swiped second — 29 to 37. KC has no steals of home this season, but the widespread use of Abloy keys in houses would seem to indicate that’s not out of the question.
2) Next, the prevalence of the keys in Finland is a wry nod to Royals manager Ned Yost. While the rest of Scandinavia shares a common lingual ancestry — Germanic, like us — and can mostly understand each other, the fine folks in Finland have a native tongue — Finnish, naturally – that can give fits to even the most cunning linguists. Similarly, while most MLB managers have come to speak the common tongue of trite clichés and attaboys, Yost has adopted a patois that is as captivating as it is confounding, like a train wreck in outer space. He says what he means and he means what he says, but no one can say if that means anything.
September 30th, 2014
Is this the year Trout gets his due?
For the third time in his three full MLB seasons, Mike Trout is a prime candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player. For the first time in those three seasons, though, he is actually the odds-on favorite to win the award. Trout again will be in competition against a veteran Tigers slugger, but Victor Martinez doesn’t carry quite the clout of Miguel Cabrera, and has the big disadvantage of not playing for the best team in baseball.
If/when Trout comes away with the trophy this year, he’ll be the fifth-youngest MVP ever – joining Cal Ripken Jr., Stan Musial, Johnny Bench, and Vida Blue as the only players to win the award before their age-23 season. A win for Trout will also free him from his odd-man-out status in the eclectic group of all-time MVP snubs, and set right what many felt were injustices in 2012 and 2013.
Per Zachary Levine of Baseball Prospectus, only five position players between 1950-2012 had on multiple occasions won the WAR(P) crown in their respective league by at least 1.0 win above replacement and gone on to lose the Most Valuable Player award. It happened to Jackie Robinson and Alex Rodriguez twice (’51 & ’52; ’00 & ’02), Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds thrice (’55, ’58, ’61; ’91, ’95, ’98;), and Willie Mays four times (’55, ’60, ’62, ’64). Mike Trout became the sixth member of that ignominious group last season, finishing runner-up to Cabrera for the second consecutive year.
Trout has the unfortunate honor of being the only one in that group (so far) to not have an MVP on his mantle from another season. What’s more, of the 16 guys total who were snubbed at least once, Trout is one of just four to not win the award outside the snub season(s). As solid as Wade Boggs, Duke Snider, and Bob Allison (?) were in their careers, I’m sure Trout would much rather not be in their company in this particular instance.
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
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.