Tag Archives: Los Angeles Angels

The A’s Contend for a World Series Title Without Breaking the Bank

If money could buy everything, then the Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox would be popping champagne in preparation for postseason play.

As this wild 2012 Major League Baseball season has shown, however, general managers around the league should be tossing out their checkbooks and looking for young talent capable of carrying a team through the dog days of August into the pennant races of September.

Unfortunately for MLB scouts, heart doesn’t appear in box scores.  Instead it is usually read in the eyes of a few newbies who had been told by baseball pundits that they didn’t have a chance of making the playoffs with intra-division superpowers Texas and Los Angeles to contend with.

The Phillies, Angels, Red Sox, Marlins and Brewers all rank in the top ten for total payroll for the 2012 season.  None of these teams clinched a playoff berth and only the Angels and Brewers came remotely close down the stretch.

The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, defied all odds, clinching a playoff berth despite doling out the least money of any team in the big leagues in 2012 at $49,137,500.  The New York Yankees also will be seeing postseason action, but have a payroll nearly four times that of Oakland’s at $195,998,004.

After a slow start to the season, the A’s were the MLB’s hottest second half team, earning a huge role in the playoff discussion as the result of posting a 19-5 record in July.

Headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006 in which they lost to the Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS, Oakland now finds itself tied with the Texas Rangers atop the AL West standings.  A win by rookie phenom A.J. Griffin on Wednesday means the A’s will forgo having to play in the one-game Wild Card round, which will be against the second-place finisher in the dangerous AL East.

Many wonder why Oakland, a team that sticks to a strict system of sabermetrics, an intricate series of statistical algorithms used to evaluate on-field performance and player values, to dictate personnel decisions and keep costs down, is even close to playoff caliber.

What has benefited Oakland so much this season has been a lack of funds to overpay free agents; in other words, the A’s have been blessed to be without a prima donna for the 2012 season.

Hitting .289 with 23 homers, Cespedes has proved to be one of the best free-agent pickups of the year.

No player on the team currently makes more than $8 million and the biggest “splurge” of theirs this past offseason was a contract for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who has been well worth the $6,500,000 paycheck he has earned this season, garnering a decent amount the AL Rookie of the Year talk behind Mike Trout’s lion’s share.

There are even 11 players on the 25-man roster who make under a million dollars.  Would these players like to play for more money?  Certainly–they are human after all.  But the lack of big names and big bucks to assemble the 2012 squad left the A’s with a very important advantage: the ability to have a talented team that can win games in the shadow of big-spending teams that take a great deal of criticism for underperforming.

Even watching a ballgame in Oakland makes it perfectly clear that the A’s have never been about playing big-money baseball.  The O.co Coliseum is arguably the least flashy stadium in the MLB, consisting mostly of concrete and chalk lines for Raiders games.  Despite increases in attendance during their impressive year, much of the upper-deck has remained covered in tarps.

Humble abodes aside, the A’s showed the rest of the majors this season that the phrase “on paper” means relatively little compared to things like a strong farm system and player compatibility.

As the Athletics now look to compete for their first World Series title since the McGwire era, Brad Pitt will still be asking Jonah Hill, “Can these guys get on base?”

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Miguel Cabrera Sets His Sights on the Triple Crown

1967 was an interesting time for America—the Rolling Stones made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? was the talk of cinema fans everywhere and Super Bowl I ended with a 35-10 victory for the Green Bay Packers over the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was also the last MLB season in which all three categories of the American League batting Triple Crown (batting average, home runs and runs batted in) were won by the same individual.

45 years ago, Hall of Fame inductee Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox dominated his American League competition, finishing with a .326 batting average, 44 homers and 121 runs batted in.

The Tigers slugger is closing in on a feat that has not been accomplished since 1967.

2012 provides baseball fans everywhere with yet another opportunity to witness a feat more rare than a perfect game.

With yet another home run in the fourth inning of the Detroit Tigers’ Saturday afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins, Miguel Cabrera moved into a tie for a league-leading 42 four-baggers, giving him at least a share of the AL lead in batting average (.332), homers (42) and RBI (131).

Since 1878, there have been 23 perfect games but only 15 Triple Crowns (to only 13 different players) won in Major League Baseball.

The Triple Crown was won twice by both Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams, but both thrived in eras (1920’s for Hornsby, 1950’s for Williams) in which opposing pitchers and potential competition for batting titles were not as muscular, physically fit or well-versed in film study.

The Detroit Tigers third baseman has quietly found himself knocking on the door of history, however.  Rookie phenom Mike Trout of the Angels received a great deal of attention when he had an AL-leading .350-plus batting average in late July and Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was setting an unprecedented home run pace during the first two months of the season with 21 homers as of May 29.

Hamilton put up Home Run Derby-like totals for the first two months of the 2012 season.

Though Hamilton currently sits at an impressive 42 home runs and Trout should be a unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove choice, the two have cooled in later months, Trout due to the fact that he is a rookie who is not used to a 162-game schedule and Hamilton because he’s, well…human.

After a somewhat slow start, Cabrera has been wielding a hot bat of late, hitting .357 over the last two months.

Detroit has 12 games remaining on its schedule, and it’s certain that Cabrera won’t be spending those final matchups thinking about the Triple Crown but instead about the heated division race his team now finds itself in.

As of Saturday night, the Tigers (80-70) trailed the Chicago White Sox by .5 games in the AL Central.  The two teams will not play head-to-head in the season’s final two weeks, but intra-division matchups with the Royals and Twins will make for an interesting sprint to the finish.

For these last 12 games, much of the Tigers’ success will depend directly on the personal offensive success of Cabrera.

Though it won’t be his primary focus, contending for a Triple Crown is nothing to be taken lightly.

Considering the company Cabrera would join and the length of time the Crown has been without a home (nearly half a century), Tigers box scores will certainly be worth peeking at in the coming days.

 

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AL MVP: Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera

The AL MVP race is suiting up to be sports’ tightest MVP race this year. It is a two-man race between the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.

Mike Trout, the 21-year-old rookie phenom, has been a key figure in the Angels’ turnaround. Before calling up Trout, the Angels were a disappointing 6-14. Since Trout’s arrival, the team is 75-54, a winning percentage good enough for the first wild card in the AL.

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Only two rookies have won the MVP award: Ichiro (2001), and Fred Lynn (1975). Will Trout join this elite class?

Trout is batting .327, second in the American league, with 27 HR and 77 RBI. Aside from being one of the game’s best hitters, he has game-changing speed and gold-glove defense in Center Field.

Trout has an AL-leading 46 steals, while only having been caught four times. Also, 63% of the time, he has taken the extra base on a hit. (advancing two bases on a hit, three bases on a double) That track-like speed has propelled Trout to the top of the runs scored category in the AL with 118, 18 ahead of the next closest player even though he missed the first 20 games of the season.

Defensively, Trout has been no stranger to Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems or SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He has taken away a league-leading four home runs this year.

Perhaps the most telling statistic of Trout’s case is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which calculates the total number of wins that any player adds to his team over the course of a season. Trout is the AL-leader in WAR with 10.3, while the next-closest player only has 6.6.

On the other side of the AL MVP argument is baseball’s best hitter this season, Miguel Cabrera.

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Hard to believe the Marlins traded Cabrera to the Tigers in 2007 because they didn’t want to pay him. Dear Miami: He’s worth it.

Cabrera is making a strong push for baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967. He leads the AL in hitting (.333), RBIs (130) and is second in HR with 41, one behind league-leader Josh Hamiliton.

The Triple Crown is leading the league in batting average, HR, and RBIs in the same season and is one of baseball’s great statistical achievements. Because of more teams, more players and a higher development of those players, a Triple Crown in this age could be baseball’s greatest statistical achievement in one season ever.

If Cabrera does accomplish the rare feat, it will hard to deny him the hardware in a sport where statistics have the final say.

His other statistics are also MVP-worthy: first in slugging (.612), second in hits (189) and runs scored (100) and third in WAR (6.3).

While both candidates’ teams are in the playoff hunt, neither team would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today. The Angels are 3.5 games back of the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Tigers are 2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

Whosever team makes the playoffs will probably win the MVP award. If neither the Angels nor the Tigers make the playoffs, this could be an MVP race that comes down to a handful of votes.

Regardless, either candidate is fully deserving of the award.

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Wild Card Within Reach for the Angels

In 2002, no one expected the Angels to come back.

It was the seventh inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series and the San Francisco Giants had champagne on ice, leading 5-0 and 3-2 in the series.

Up to the plate stepped Scott Spiezio, a lifetime .255 hitter.  Sporting his trademark soul patch and the same can’t-lose attitude that has made him a postseason legend, Spiezio locked in and knocked a Felix Rodriguez pitch into the right field stands to narrow the margin to 5-3.

The now-retired Spiezio has had heroic efforts in his only two World Series, one with the Angels and the other in 2006 with the Cardinals.

The Angels would go on to win Game Six and then the World Series in Game Seven, their first and only title in franchise history.  And it all came down to that one moment.

Though the remainder of the 2012 regular season provides the Angels with a bit more time for heroics, gutsiness a la Speizio may be needed to vault them past either the Yankees, Orioles or Athletics for one of two Wild Card spots.

7.5 games back of the Rangers with 15 games to play, winning the AL West is all but impossible.  The Tigers recent woes have taken them out of the Wild Card race and into a dogfight with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central title and the Tampa Bay Rays are now gasping for air after losing five of six against the Yankees and Orioles last week.

Now the AL Wild Card picture figures to be an odd-man-out three-team battle between the A’s, who are comfortably into the first Wild Card slot, the second-place finisher in the AL East and the Angels.

In Anaheim, the last mile of the season-long marathon will prove to be difficult.  9 of their remaining 15 games will be against division leaders (White Sox and Rangers) and the remaining six are face-offs with the Seattle Mariners, a team that is far better than many expected at 70-77.

The M’s have relied on solid pitching to compensate for an offense that fares no better than 29th in the MLB in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and now look forward to an opportunity to spoil any postseason plans the Angels may have.

In order to avoid a possible media circus this offseason, heart is a must down the stretch for the MLB’s third most highly-paid team at $154,940,524.

A 7-year, $126 million contract owed to Vernon Wells has many Angels fans shaking their heads.

With the second-best batting average in the MLB, one would think the playoffs would be a foregone conclusion, but for the latter part of the second half hitting hasn’t been an issue.

Instead, bullpen pitching has acted as their Achilles heel.  In a ten game road-trip in early August that made a tremendous comeback even necessary for the Angels, the team’s bullpen ERA was an atrocious 10.54.

Numbers aside, the “clutch” factor has at times been absent.  Last Sunday, the Angels had an opportunity to at least draw a tie with the A’s in a crucial four game set, trailing 6-5 with runners on first and third with no one out in the ninth.

Needing a mere sac fly to tie the game, the Angels buckled.  Kendrys Morales struck out and Howie Kendrick grounded into a game-ending double play.

While that is probably the most dramatic example of failing to deliver the Angels have had all season, it should serve as a reminder of what not to do in the coming two weeks.

They have the offense, they have the pitching, now it’s just a matter of clutching up as the season draws to a close.

Besides, growing a soul patch never hurt anyone, did it?

 

 

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Forget A Witty Title – The Angels Just Stink

I did a little digging and I found the Los Angeles Angels secret recipe. Here’s what you will need:

  • a $300+ million offseason spending spree
  • a midseason acquisition of a former Cy Young winner
  • the longest tenured manager in the majors
  • a rookie in the midst of the MVP race
  • and the 3rd highest payroll in baseball

And what do you get when you mix it all up? The most disappointing team in baseball. (Yea don’t make this at home…)

The Angels’ season began with championship hopes, mostly due to one of the league’s best starting rotations and the addition of baseball’s best hitter.

Too bad for the Angels, games aren’t played on paper.

April came and the team fell flat out of the gate. Then the midseason resurgence came…and left. Now the Angels are quickly fading into mediocrity with a 62-60 record.

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Don’t worry Mike, it’s not your fault.

On Saturday, they officially hit rock bottom. After celebrating the 2002 championship team before the game, the team jumped out to an 8-0 lead on the Rays. But $100 million dollar man C.J. Wilson allowed seven runs in one inning en route to a 10-8 loss.

With another loss today, the Angels are 9 games back in the AL West, and 4 ½ games out of the Wild Card.

So who’s going to take the blame for this mess? This is sports and somebody has to be the fall guy the team’s failures.

How about the Angels starting rotation? In August, the Angels starting rotation is 3-7 with a 6.53 earned run-average.

Remember C.J. Wilson? Well he hasn’t won in his last ten starts.

How about three-time All Star Dan Haren? He’s 8-10 with a 4.90 ERA for the season.

And the ever-so-inconsistent Ervin Santana? A 5.59 ERA says it all.

Let’s not even get started on Zack Greinke, who’s been nothing short of a bust so far.

The only man unworthy of criticism is Jered Weaver who has had another All-Star year.

Look at those five names though. Four of those guys are No. 1-caliber pitchers. That’s unheard of, and should be nearly unbeatable.

Instead what does it leave them with? A 5-13 record in their last 18 games, and a season being crushed under free-falling expectations.

With one of baseball’s best managers, Mike Scioscia, at the helm, the Angels can’t go this quietly. A team this talented has to be able to right the ship.

There’s 40 games left for the Angels. 40 games left for this team to make the critics eat their words. And 40 games left for the rally monkey to make one last rally.

If not, there will probably be changes in the offseason. But what changes can you make to a team that seemingly has it all?

Heart.

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Say It Ain’t So, Ichiro!

Monday evening was much of the same for Ichiro Suzuki.

He went through his day just like any other and when it was time to go to work, he left for Safeco Field in his car, waved at the same parking attendant on the way in and headed into to the clubhouse.

Except this time it was the visitors clubhouse.  Sure, Ichiro’s first at-bat brought hearty cheers from the loyal Mariners fans as usual, but they had a much different tone.

Rather than saying, “Let’s go Ichiro!” to one of their few prized possessions of the last decade, they were saying, “Thanks for the memories!” to the newest member of the Yankees.

Every year a similar scene takes place, even if it’s not quite as instantaneous.  No matter how safe we sometimes think our aged hometown heroes are from the sadness of a cross-country trade, the MLB trade deadline always seems to surprise us.

Based on Ichiro’s eleven-and-a-half year tenure with the Mariners alone, Monday’s news came unexpectedly.  The move out of Seattle was one that tugged on the heartstring but made sense from an objective standpoint, considering the Yankees’ need for a reliable left fielder with speedster Brett Gardner out for the season with an elbow injury (shouldn’t have been so quick to dump Melky, no?).

It was almost surreal seeing the future Hall of Famer in pinstripes on Monday, buy hey, it’s a business!

A couple pitching prospects for a Mariners squad desperately in need of rebuilding can’t hurt either.

With the MLB trade deadline less than a week away, we might have already seen the biggest surprise, but a few other big names could likely be on the move.

Here are some of my predictions for what has the makings to be a wild week in baseball:

RHP Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers:

A few GM’s around the league are skeptical to trade for Hamels and it has nothing to do with his performance.  11-4 with a 3.23 ERA to date, the only drawback of pursuing the All-Star is the fact that he’s a rental in the last year of his contract.  Still, the Rangers are no average team.  With yet another AL West title in sights, they are more focused on getting the guy that can finally get them the last out of the World Series than having to negotiate a long-term contract in the off-season.

RHP Ryan Dempster to the Atlanta Braves:

At 5-4 with a league-best 2.11 ERA among starting pitchers, Dempster’s case is similar in that he’s a rental who could also be headed to a playoff contender.  As of this afternoon, the Braves trailed the 2012 fair-weather fan favorite Washington Nationals by 4.5 games in the NL East and were a mere half game out of the National League’s second Wild Card spot.  The only deterrent to this potential deal?  Dempster, a more than ten-year vet who has been with the Cubs for over five years, can by rule veto any trade his team proposes.  If it falls through, here’s to another year for Dumpster in the world’s longest-cursed sports franchise!

3B (Begrudgingly) Hanley Ramirez to the OAKLAND ATHLETICS?!?!?!

The surprise factor with this potential trade could even trump Ichiro’s.  For the past decade, the A’s have been cheaper than Phil Knight at an Adidas outlet.  This year, something’s different.  Not only did GM Billy Beane spring for power-hitting Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes with a 4-year, $36 million deal, they find themselves in contention for a Wild Card spot (15-2 in their last 17) for the first time since 2006.  Despite his unpredictable attitude and grumblings about having to play third base for the Marlins, Ramirez could be the consistent bat on the left side of the infield that closes the deal for the A’s down the stretch.  He will be seen as a welcome replacement for Brandon Inge, who has been hitting below the Mendoza Line since his arrival in Oakland earlier this season.

So much for the Hanley and Jose Show in South Beach…

OF Peter Bourjos and RHP Ervin Santana to the Tampa Bay Rays:

At 4-10 with a 6.00 ERA, starting pitcher Ervin Santana isn’t exactly having the long-term contract season the Los Angeles Angels had hoped for.  Bourjos isn’t doing much better, with a .223 batting average on the season.  Still, Santana has thrown well enough in recent years and Bourjos is just young and fast enough (25 years old with the nickname “Speedy Petey”) that this deal might be worth taking a chance on (with maybe a prospect thrown in here or there) for the Rays.  With a solid 8-6 record and a 4.39 ERA, Shields is the ideal back-end starting pitcher that could help Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Dan Haren and the Angels reach one of the two AL Wild Card spots up for grabs.  It would almost be easier to ask at this point, “Who isn’t in the AL Wild Card race?”

 

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Why Albert Pujols Isn’t Worth Losing Sleep Over

This past offseason, first baseman Albert Pujols signed a 10-year deal with the Angels worth $240 million dollars.

In the early goings of his adjustment to a new city, a new media market and a new league, his production fell off and he is currently batting an anemic .234.

“The Machine” failed to hit a home run in April for the first time in his 12-year career and is not feared nearly as much by opposing pitchers, only earning three intentional walks through 48 games.  In his 2009 MVP campaign, Pujols received 44 intentional free passes.

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Coined in a “This is SportsCenter” commercial, “The Machine” is fitting for a man who has left the yard 452 times in only 12 years.

Many experts now fear that the nine-time All-Star is on the decline after the 2011 season marked the first time he failed to hit .300 and obtain 100 RBI’s in his MLB career.

Here’s what the sensationalists fail to recognize: Pujols hit .299, knocked in 99 runs, led the Cardinals to their second World Series title in seven years and was fifth in the National League MVP voting.

Sure, he’s off to the slowest start in his career.  Even Pujols would agree that a .190 batting average on May 8th is not deserving of $24 million dollars a year—few statistics are.

After all the criticisms of his sudden lack of power numbers, Pujols has seven home runs in the month of May.  Extrapolating that total over the remaining four months of the season puts him at 35 on the year, well over his career minimum of 32 from 2007.

Making the adjustment to a new team is difficult for any player.  Instead of being followed in the lineup by a force like Matt Holliday, Pujols has now been thrust in between Maicer Izturis, a player whose batting average is only slightly better than Pujols’ and Kendrys Morales, who is slowly returning to form after missing nearly two seasons due to a broken leg.

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Morales missed most of 2010 and all of 2011 following a walk-off celebration that left him with a broken leg.

Even something as simple as location can make a difference.  Beyond the centerfield wall of St. Louis’ Busch Field is a pasture of green grass and a dark green wall 100 feet further back.  In contrast, Angels Stadium flaunts a light brown rock structure in left-center that can act as a distraction for new and visiting hitters.

It is small changes like these, in addition to the constant media pressure of Los Angeles, that often prevent aspiring West coast superstars from reaching their same level of production.

Pujols, however, is already a superstar and does not need a major media market to make himself known to the rest of the league.  And he certainly doesn’t feel the need to use the excuses associated with big city slumps.

“El Hombre” is a solid June away from having jokes of his needing an AARP membership completely disappearing.  Reading the box scores every day should let the rest of the league know Pujols’ confidence is slowly building—a nightmare for American League pitching.

If the Angels want to chase down the Texas Rangers and make the postseason, they are going to need to rely on Pujols’ bat and experience.  Judging from their recent six-game win streak, it is clear that a change is already brewing.

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