The Angels’ impressive four-game sweep of the A’s put them 30 games above .500, five games up in the American League West and 3 1/2 up (on the Orioles) for the best record in baseball. They’ll start September with five more wins than they had all of last year and a realistic chance of capturing the franchise record in wins. They’d have to play .692 ball over the season’s final month; they’ve played .610 ball through the season’s first five months.
Here’s a look at how the Angels have to fare in September for certain milestones.
90 wins: 7-19
95 wins: 12-14
100 wins: 17-9
101 wins (club record): 18-8
This is the ninth time the Angels have held sole possession of first place in the AL West to start September. On five of the previous eight occasions, they went on to win the division. They blew 2 1/2-game leads in 1985 and ’98, and epically blew a 7 1/2-game lead with one month left in ’95.
So Angels manager Mike Scioscia has good reason to not look ahead.
“I know a lot of people are counting down, under 30 games — not us,” he said. “We know we have a long way to go. You want to ask me [about the standings] in about three weeks, we’ll sit down and talk. Right now, we are still in the heart of the pennant race. We need to chew this off one inning, one pitch, one game at a time.”
The Angels are off on Monday, then start a bizarre 10-game, four-city road trip through Houston (two games), Minnesota (four games), Cleveland (one game) and Arlington (three games). The Angels’ bullpen will continue to do some heavy lifting in September.
Some additional tidbits from Sunday …
- Angels pitchers had a streak of 29 consecutive scoreless innings snapped in the eighth inning. It was tied for the longest in team history. … Sunday marked the fourth four-game sweep by the Angels this season, the most in their history. … Nineteen wins in August matched a franchise best (also done in 1986 and 2004). … This is the Angels’ largest division lead and their most games above .500 since the end of the 2009 season (10 games up, 32 games over). … At 83-53, the Angels have matched the best pace in club history after 136 games.
- Mike Trout hit his 31st homer on Sunday and drove in three runs, giving him 97 on the year. All of those home runs and all but two of those RBIs have come from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Among No. 2 hitters throughout history, the 23-year-old center fielder heads into September tied for ninth in homers (Eddie Mathews leads with 46 in 1959) and 10th in RBIs (Mathews and Alex Rodriguez in 1998 each had 114).
- Matt Shoemaker is the first rookie with 14-plus wins and 115-plus strikeouts before September since CC Sabathia in 2001. He’s been a great story.
- Chris Iannetta now leads the Angels in on-base percentage at .380 — six points higher than Trout.
- Erick Aybar‘s hitting streak is now at a career-high 16 games. The veteran shortstop is batting .458 (27-for-59) during that span.
That’s the bullpen’s catch phrase these days. It’s what Jason Grilli said this morning, in the wake of the 2-0 victory that was made possible by eight Angels pitchers taking the mound in nine innings: “All hands on deck.”
Prior to the game, the Angels surprisingly called up a position player (Grant Green) and sent down a pitcher (Cory Rasmus). Angels manager Mike Scioscia said they’re fine on the pitching side for Sunday’s series finale, given the fact that there’s an off day on Monday. Rasmus was sent down only as a formality, since he can be called up when rosters expand by Tuesday (they expand Monday, but the Angels’ next game is Tuesday).
Sunday is the last day to acquire players from outside the organization that would be eligible for the playoffs, and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto isn’t planning on acquiring a starter. They’ll try to “cobble” it together, Dipoto said. And they’ll sort of do that on Sunday. Closer Huston Street (coming off appearing in four straight days) and setup man Joe Smith (three straight) are likely not available.
Here’s a look at who is …
LH Hector Santiago: Santiago said he put his spikes on last night, but never walked out to the bullpen. He will on Sunday. Santiago last started on Wednesday, and he’ll be backed up to start on Thursday, so he can give Scioscia an inning or two out of the bullpen if needed.
LH Michael Roth: Roth’s turn to start in Double-A was Saturday, and he only faced four batters (one an intentional walk) that day in the Majors. He can give Scisocia lots of length if the game gets out of hand or goes extras.
RH Yoslan Herrera: Herrera faced only one batter, and got two crucial outs, on Saturday. And he took the mound on three days’ rest. He can give Scioscia multiple innings, as well.
RH Jason Grilli: Grilli has only pitched twice in the last six days, including Saturday. He could be a candidate to close, unless it’s …
RH Kevin Jepsen: Jepsen would be appearing in his fourth game in five days if he pitches on Sunday, but I bet Scioscia doesn’t hesitate to go to him if he needs him.
RH Mike Morin: The 23-year-old right-hander is actually pretty fresh. He’s had two days off, which is an eternity in this bullpen. He’s someone who can give Scioscia two innings if needed.
RH Fernando Salas: Salas is basically on the same schedule as Jepsen, having appeared in two of his last three games. The fact he only threw one 11-pitch inning on Saturday, when he could’ve easily come out for a second, makes him available for the series finale.
If the Angels have a lead after six, and Scioscia goes to the bullpen to relieve Matt Shoemaker, my guess is Morin, Grilli, Jepsen get the last three innings, respectively.
Nobody really knows when it started, or why it even became a thing. But some time around late May — or maybe it was early June — a group of Angels fans thought it’d be a good idea to start shining the LED lights of their smartphones in the late stages of night games at Angel Stadium. It started with a small segment of the crowd, then grew more and more prominent until it spread throughout the ballpark on almost a regular basis.
On Thursday night, in a packed house for a tight division race and in front of the national-TV cameras of MLB Network, the phase became a talking point like never before, with A’s fans and even several media members chalking it up as a strategic, somewhat-disrespectful ploy to distract the Oakland hitters.
So, I thought it’d be a good idea to clear a couple of things up: The craze is nothing new, and it’s actually something Angels fans often do when their own hitters are up in the box.
You can argue that it’s silly, and you’d probably be right. But it doesn’t seem to be strategic, and the hitters actually don’t seem to have a problem with it. I asked Albert Pujols about it earlier in the year, because it seemed the light wave grew really intense during one of his seventh-inning at-bats, and he said he didn’t even notice it. Howie Kendrick said the same thing a few nights later, when it was his turn to bat while lights blinked throughout the ballpark.
“You don’t really notice it, because the batter’s eye is so big here,” Kendrick said, referring to the large patch of grass that sits beyond the center-field fence.
The Angels’ official Twitter account has a hashtag for it, as you probably noticed last night, which reads #LightWave. But they said they’ve never promoted the event and that they tweet it out only as a reaction to it happening — not as a signal for fans to do it.
“It’s something that has been at our ballpark for a few months now,” said Tim Mead, Angels vice president of communications. “Last night was not unique. And quite honestly, when it first started, it was unique to us regarding its origin, as it is each and every time it happens. … There’s no rhyme or reason to when it happens.”
The problem, as some have pointed out, would come if fans start bringing laser pointers and point them in the direction of the players. That would cross the line.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said he’s “open” to adding a starting pitcher this month, basically in the same way that I’m “open” to buying a timeshare at Turks and Caicos. I’d love to, but it’s hard; almost impossible (in my case, truly impossible). For as bad as the Angels need starting pitching in the wake of Garrett Richards‘ debilitating knee injury, the time of year makes it really difficult.
A refresher: The only way a player can be traded in August is if (A) the trading team works out a deal with the team that claimed him off waivers; (B) he clears waivers entirely, and is then able to be dealt anywhere. Waivers go in reverse order of the standings, per league. So, if an American League player is placed on waivers, he’ll have to slip through 13 other teams before the Angels have a chance. If it’s a National League player, 28 teams will have a crack at him before the Angels, who have a two-game cushion on the best record in the Majors heading into this weekend series at O.co Coliseum.
As a general rule, only players who either aren’t very good or have really bad contracts slip all the way through. And then there’s the fact that an AL team could very well claim a player to simply block the Angels from getting him.
“For all intents and purposes, picking up household names, top-of-the-rotation type guys, that’s not going to happen in August,” Dipoto said. “It probably won’t happen in August most years. We’re realistic about what may be out there.”
Take that into account as you peruse this list of guys who could be moved this month …
- A.J. Burnett (PHI): Back in the offseason heading into 2012, the Angels and Yankees had a trade worked out that would send Bobby Abreu to the Yankees in exchange for Burnett. But Burnett invoked his no-trade clause and rejected the deal, because he didn’t want to pitch in the West coast. Will that change now? Well, it could, when you consider that he recently said he probably isn’t going to pitch next season (Burnett has a player option for 2015). The 37-year-old right-hander has struggled this year, with 14 losses, a 4.42 ERA and a 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio that’s his lowest since a miserable 2010 season in New York. But he has good stuff, and it’s tough to see him clearing waivers.
- Bartolo Colon (NYM): The Angels stayed away from Colon over the offseason, in part due to his history with performance-enhancing drugs. But desperate times, right? Colon has a 3.85 ERA and an NL-best walk rate of 1.2, while racking up 161 1/3 innings. He’s set to make $11 million next year, his age-42 season. That isn’t necessarily a good thing — unless you consider the fact that it makes him more likely to slip all the way through waivers.
- Colby Lewis (TEX): The 35-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., product has had a tough 2014 season (understandably) after missing nearly two full years recovering from elbow and hip surgeries, with a 5.52 ERA in 122 1/3 innings. He does have a chance of clearing waivers, though, and is a free agent at season’s end. He’d give the Angels depth.
- Brad Peacock (HOU): The 26-year-old right-hander has struggled this season, with a 5.47 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP in 102 innings. He’s controllable for five additional years, though, and Houston might be willing to part ways.
- Reds arms: Mat Latos (free agent at season’s end; 3.10 ERA in 12 starts), Alfredo Simon (controllable thru 2015; 12-8, 3.35 ERA) and Mike Leake (controllable thru 2015; 9-11, 3.65 ERA) could all be dealt as the Reds continue to fall off the race.
- Yankees arms: The further the Bronx Bombers fall in the standings, the more likely they’ll be to part ways with impending free agents like lefty Chris Capuano and righty Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy has been lights out since going from Arizona to the Bronx, posting a 1.90 ERA and a 7.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight starts. Capuano has a 4.15 ERA in five starts. Translation: Capuano is a more likely addition than McCarthy.
Garrett Richards’ left knee buckled while sprinting to cover first base in Wednesday’s second inning at Fenway Park and had to be carted off the field in a stretcher. The Angels initially called it a left patellar injury, awaiting further evaluations before announcing anything more definitive.
Nonetheless, the ailment looks serious.
And now the first-place Angels — sporting a one-game lead on the A’s for the best record in the Majors when play began — are facing the scenario of potentially being without their best starting pitcher for the rest of the season, with little help available in their Minor League system.
With one out, runners on first and second and the Red Sox leading, 2-0, in the bottom of the second, Brock Holt hit a grounder to the right side that Albert Pujols fielded and fired to shortstop Erick Aybar at second. Richards came over for the potential inning-ending double play, but collapsed just before reaching the bag and was on the ground for about eight minutes.
All of the Angels starters surrounded Richards, with Pujols momentarily holding Richards’ hand and Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz came out to show his support as they lifted the 26-year-old right-hander onto the stretcher, a moment that drew a standing ovation from Red Sox fans in attendance.
Richards entered Wednesday’s start 13-4 with a 2.53 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 167 innings, numbers that made him a candidate for the AL’s Cy Young Award. The Angels have already lost 23-year-old starter Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John surgery, and are thin on starting pitching in their farm system. Potential call-ups from Triple-A include lefty Wade LeBlanc (4.00 ERA in 21 starts), lefty Randy Wolf (5.26 ERA in 25 2/3 innings) and righty Chris Volstad (5.45 ERA in six starts). Another option could be lefty Michael Roth, who is 10-6 with a 2.82 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Arkansas.
Below are some of the tweets that have been sent out in support of Richards …
Prayers out to @GRICHARDS26 stay strong bro! Man this crushes me to see this
— Tyler Skaggs (@TylerSkaggs37) August 20, 2014
Tough to watch a friend go down, please pray for a speedy recovery for @GRICHARDS26
— David Carpenter (@DCarp_52) August 21, 2014
Sending prayers out for @GRICHARDS26 🙏🙏
— Michael Kohn (@MichaelKohn58) August 21, 2014
Horrible to see.. Hang in there brother @GRICHARDS26
— C.J. Cron (@CCron24) August 21, 2014
All prayers out to @GRICHARDS26 stay strong Bruddah. This is tough to watch.
— Grant Green (@GreenieLocks8) August 21, 2014
No no no!!! Get up Grich!
— Mark Sappington (@sappDIESEL) August 20, 2014
Angels cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton was out of the starting lineup for a second straight day on Monday, with manager Mike Scioscia wanting to give him some extra time to recover from his ongoing slump.
Hamilton has five hits and 18 strikeouts in his last 38 at-bats, dropping his batting average to .266 while keeping him stuck on eight home runs in 72 games. He’s scheduled to come to Fenway Park early on Tuesday to have a one-on-one session with hitting coaches Don Baylor and Dave Hansen “to try to find a comfortable concept in the batter’s box that he can take to the game,” Scioscia said.
“I’m all right,” Hamilton said, “but I don’t make the lineup. … I’m gonna do some early work tomorrow, see how it goes. If I hit enough out, I’ll play.”
With Hamilton out, Howie Kendrick – with 10 hits in his last 30 at-bats – batted in the No. 4 spot for the second straight day and Brennan Boesch started in left field, with Albert Pujols at designated hitter and Efren Navarro at first base. Scioscia will try to stay away from Hamilton in the series opener against the Red Sox.
The 33-year-old slugger has missed five games in the last nine days, if you count two Angels off days on Tuesday and Thursday. Hamilton got mental breaks Monday and each of the last two Sundays.
“It brings a lot of attention to what you’re trying to do when a guy you count on to hit in the middle of your lineup is struggling for a long period of time. We have every confidence, and I know Josh does, that he’s going to find it and he’s going to contribute. Any concern would just be short term trying to find a path that’s going to get him where he needs to be. This guy’s going to hit.”
After a three-strikeout performance during Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Rangers, which followed a four-strikeout performance during Friday’s 5-4 win over the Rangers, Angels manager Mike Scioscia gave the slumping Josh Hamilton a day off for Sunday’s series finale from Globe Life Park. It’s his second day off in a week, after also sitting last Sunday against the Red Sox, and the fourth time in seven days that Hamilton hasn’t played in a game if you count the two off days.
“Just give him a little refresher; give him just a mental break, let him exhale a little bit,” Scioscia said. “This guy’s working really hard trying to find it. We have to get him back to where we need him. Sometimes just exhaling is something that can help him. We’ve seen the struggles recently, and today is just a good day.”
Hamilton has just five hits, and 18 strikeouts, in his last 38 at-bats. His batting average is down to .266, and he’s stuck on eight home runs in 72 games.
Asked if Hamilton will return to the cleanup spot when he returns to the lineup Monday, Scioscia was somewhat non-committal.
“We’re going to let him exhale a day and see where we are,” Scioscia said, “but our lineup long range has him in the middle of it.”
Hamilton, in the second of a five-year, $125 million contract, has displayed flashes of the player he was in Texas. He batted .444/.545/.741 in his first eight games, showing signs of bouncing back from a down 2013 season in which he batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs. But then he broke his left thumb, missed nearly two months and went on a 23-game homerless drought shortly after returning. He maintained a .288 batting average by Aug. 3, then re-introduced the toe-tap in his load and started displaying some of his trademark power, hitting a ball out of Dodger Stadium on Aug. 4 and then homering in the game later that afternoon.
Ever since then, things have gone south.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” Scioscia said. “… There have been some periods here, particularly in the second half, where it looks like he’s putting it together. But this last week has been tough for him, and I think it’s just time to let him exhale a little bit. Hopefully it’s something that can be a quick fix. He’s just not playing with the same confidence that he’s had. I don’t know if he’s as confident in the box as he needs to be, and that’s where we need him to get.”
Josh Hamilton struck out four times in Friday’s 5-4 win. The Golden Sombrero, all on fastballs for a guy who has struggled through an American League-leading amount of breaking balls this season. He watched a 1-2, 91-mph fastball at his chest go by in the first. He swung through a 2-2, 92-mph fastball down the middle in the third. He swung through a chest-high, 90-mph fastball in the fifth, going down on three straight pitches. And he swung through a 2-2, up-and-away, 94-mph fastball in the ninth, stranding the bases loaded.
Hamilton went 1-for-5, adding an opposite-field single in the eighth, and now has five hits and 16 strikeouts in his last 38 at-bats.
His slash line is down to .266/.340/.412.
“We’re not seeing the aggressive Josh Hamilton we saw when he played for Texas,” Mike Scioscia said. “We’re not seeing it. There are lot of things he’s trying. He’s working hard, and nobody feels this worse than Josh. We need him in the middle of the lineup doing what he can do. He’s the type of player who can take the pressure off of guys when he’s driving the ball like he can. Right now, we’re not seeing it.”
“Aggressive” is a tricky word for a guy who’s been criticized in the past for chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone. But Scioscia means “aggressive swings, attacking the ball.”
“We started to see some glimpes of it [a couple weeks ago], trying to get more rhythm with the toe-tap, getting a better load,” Scioscia said. “But it just doesn’t seem like he’s exploding on pitches the way we know he can, and that’s something that would give us a big lift.”
Hamilton has hit cleanup pretty consistently all year, except those first couple of weeks when David Freese would bat fourth against lefties. Scioscia moved Hamilton all over the place last year — second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, even seventh for a couple of games — but has been reluctant to do so this year. Part of the reason is because he doesn’t really have anybody else to bat in that spot, and because he doesn’t want to mess up the flow of Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the top three spots.
Does he have to now?
“You look at a whole lineup, see what’s best for team,” Scioscia said. “If it comes to that, it does. But right now, we want to play it out. With Josh there, we know Albert will get some pitches.”
Garrett Richards starts the series opener against the Rangers on Friday, which means his next turn will be Wednesday in Boston, which means his next turn after that will be Monday, at home against the Marlins.
And that means the Angels’ best starting pitcher of 2014 won’t be starting against the team they’re chasing.
The Angels are in Oakland next weekend, and it’ll be Hector Santiago, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver starting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The only way Richards – 12-4 with a 2.54 ERA – could start against the first-place A’s would be to either skip his next turn or go on short rest.
It’s too early for that, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, and that’s too dangerous for someone who’s in his first full year in a Major League rotation.
“We have a lot of baseball left,” Scioscia added, “and I think you want to make sure guys are rested and they come back. Most of those guys are going to be going on five days’ rest now – we don’t have many breaks – and if we have to reserve the right to bring them back on three days at the very end, if it’s meaningful, that’s something for the last week to 10 days of the season.”
If Richards pitches every five games the rest of the season, he’d start against the A’s at home on Aug. 30, then miss them in Oakland during the second-to-last series of the regular season. But the Angels have an off day on Sept. 1, their last one until Sept. 25, which Scioscia could use to line up his rotation for the final month.
But it isn’t time for that yet.
“I think it’s too early,” Scioscia said, “and where our guys are, we still need five guys going out there and throwing the ball to their capabilities.”
Here’s the Angels lineup …
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Brennan Boesch, DH
David Freese, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
SP: RH Richards
Jered Weaver was with his wife, Kristin Travis, as she delivered the couple’s second child and first daughter on Monday, then pitched six innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies on Wednesday.
The stress of a new baby had no ill effects.
“It was all good,” Weaver said, smiling. “A great day on Monday. To have a daughter come into the world was pretty special. My wife let me get my rest after that. She’s still in the hospital, and we get to bring her home on Thursday. So I’ll fly in on Friday to meet the guys in Texas, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow and bringing her home.”
Josie was born weighing seven pounds and 14 ounces, and measuring 19 1/2 inches, roughly 13 months after Weaver’s first child, Aden, came into the world. The couple induced labor so that Weaver wouldn’t miss a start. Told it’s a good thing his wife wasn’t the one who had to pitch after giving birth, Weaver deadpanned.
“I feel like she could’ve done just as good.”
- David Freese was told of his 10-game hitting streak, and asked if it was a sign that he was about to get hot, so he smiled and said: “I think I’ve been doing pretty good these last few months.” He has. Freese is quietly batting .291 since the start of June, lifting his batting average from .203 to .257.
- Mike Trout went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a ground-ball double play on Wednesday and has just four hits in his last 29 at-bats, putting his batting average at .294.
- Joe Smith gave up a run in back-to-back appearances for the first time since July 19-26, 2013. He still has a 2.21 ERA.