Just as Hector Santiago was lacing up his spikes to take the mound for his Dodger Stadium start on Tuesday night, one of the Dodgers’ clubhouse attendants came over with a jersey, signed by his ensuing opponent, Clayton Kershaw, just as the Angels’ left-hander had requested.
“Yeah,” Santiago said, smiling. “No doubt.”
But Santiago can’t help himself. He’s an avid collector of signed baseball jerseys, with a multitude of opportunities as a Major League player. In his new Arizona home is a two-car garage he turned into his own, personal man cave, with the entire wall space taken up by about 30 signed jerseys. Fifteen more are framed in his personal gymnasium, and several others are scattered in his closet.
How many does he have?
“Whew,” Santiago said. “I’m gonna go with … 150? Right around there.”
The Kershaw-signed jersey was sent along with ones from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Mark McGwire, joining several recent ones that will be framed soon (Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Billy Williams, Rollie Fingers and Hank Aaron, which Santiago was already offered $4,500 for but will not sell).
“I’m doing pretty good,” Santiago said.
The 26-year-old thought of sending Kershaw his own autographed jersey, even though the Dodgers’ ace didn’t really ask for it, in the hopes that Kershaw would “give me a meatball” when he came to bat.
“But no, he wants to paint fastballs on the black to me,” Santiago said after going 0-for-1 with a sac bunt at the plate, and giving up four runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings of the Angels’ 5-4 walk-off loss.
Santiago never got the chance to thank Kershaw, but he’ll try to on Wednesday.
“Maybe I’ll send him my signed broken bat.”
“It’s how baseball should be, you know?” Trout said after the Angels’ 5-0 win at Dodger Stadium. “Little rivalries, cross-town. It’s fun for me.”
Asked how he takes it when fans — in this case, 53,166 — boo him in an opposing ballpark, Trout said: “Oh, it pumps me up. Definitely. When you hear them, that means they’re paying attention to the game and they’re in the game. It’s pretty cool.”
Trout had some fun with it, too. Particularly in the sixth, when he made a couple of running catches, noticed that his face was on the Jumbotron and playfully grinned at Dodgers fans, igniting more boos for a player who’s revered throughout baseball.
“I’m just having fun out there,” Trout said. “That’s why we play the game; have fun. Fans out there bring excitement to you. A lot more boos, but I expect that at Dodger Stadium. It’s going to be a fun next couple of days, for sure.”
Mike Morin was walking on the beach in St. Petersburg, Fla., with a couple of friends Saturday night and cut the bottom of his foot on an unknown object, prompting four stitches and a trip to the disabled list for the Angels’ rookie reliever.
The 23-year-old right-hander – with a 2.36 ERA in 41 appearances – doesn’t require a walking boot and expects to return by the time his disabled-list stint is up in a couple weeks.
But the nature of the ailment made it a difficult one to come to grips with.
“This is pretty tough, especially because this is such an important time for us right now,” Morin said. “It’s something that I need to move forward from, and just try to help this team in other ways. I’m staying positive.”
Some other notes for the Freeway Series opener …
- Tyler Skaggs got another MRI, this one with a contrasting agent, that confirmed he has a strain in his flexor tendon. “Very happy,” Skaggs said. The 23-year-old isn’t sure when he’ll be back, but he’s confident it’ll happen before the end of the regular season.
- Collin Cowgill was activated off the disabled list, as the corresponding move for Morin landing on the DL, and feels no restrictions with his right thumb.
- Joe Thatcher got an MRI on Monday that confirmed a ligament sprain in his left ankle. He’s in a walking boot now, but expects to be back in three to four weeks.
- The Angels have not lost a season series to the Dodgers since 2006. They’re 15-7 in their last 22 games against the Dodgers.
- Tommy Lasorda made sure he got a picture with Mike Trout pregame. The Hall of Fame manager previously took a pic with the 22-year-old phenom at a basketball game, but never got it, so he made sure to pose with him Monday. “Keep playing how you’re playing; keep talking how you’re talking,” Lasorda told Trout.
I asked Jerry Dipoto recently about watching the A’s, not just where they’re at in the standings but what moves they make, and how that affects whether the Angels win the division or have to play for one of those do-or-die Wild Card spots. He said they have to focus on what’s best for them, and that if you try to react to other teams and get wrapped up in a game of scenarios, “you’ll talk yourself into bad decisions.”
But the A’s just got Jon Lester. It was the ultimate “win-now” move, sending fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox in exchange and bringing former fan favorite Jonny Gomes back. Now Lester — three-time All-Star, big-time postseason performer — joins a rotation that includes recent addition Jeff Samardzija along with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez.
The A’s have better starting pitching than the Angels (that almost goes without saying). They also have a better record (leading by 2 1/2 games when play began on Thursday). On top of that, they have a far more favorable schedule (I went into that here). And the last thing the Angels want is for their season — a great season, with the second-best record in baseball, amid an ever-shrinking championship window — to come down to one elimination game because they had to settle for the Wild Card.
But here’s the problem: It would be really hard for the Angels to “react” to the aggressive A’s, even if they wanted to.
Lester going to Oakland won’t magically inject the Angels’ farm system with a bevy of prospects necessary to get a top-of-the-rotation starter. They just don’t have it. What little they had was sent to San Diego in exchange for closer Huston Street. Prior to getting Street, the Angels checked in on David Price (again), and they tried to acquire teammate Ian Kennedy. And the message they received was clear: Their farm system isn’t getting them a major rotation upgrade. So, they went the bullpen route, and created one of the best relief corps in baseball.
It seems there are only two ways for the Angels to truly beef up their rotation …
1. If they want to do it before 4 p.m. ET, they’d have to part ways with Major League players. Asked about that late last week, Dipoto said, “I don’t want to break up this group.” That, of course, was before the A’s traded for Lester. Maybe he changes his mind on this; but that remains doubtful.
2. Wait until August. And this is a legitimate possibility, because the Angels have money left over (they’re somewhere between $10 and $15 million under the luxury-tax threshold, if my math is correct) but don’t want to give up more prospects from a thin farm system they’re trying to cultivate. The former plays in August, when teams can put in claims on anybody who goes through waivers and players can’t be traded unless they clear; the ladder, not so much.
So this is where the Angels stand moving forward. Tonight, they’ll play another game against another contender, and they’ll try to avoid a sweep from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. They can look forward to the possibility of C.J. Wilson likely rejoining the rotation by Saturday, and hope that he’s fixed whatever it was that caused him to give up 19 runs in 16 2/3 innings from June 24 to July 9.
And that, still, may be the best acquisition they make.
The Angels have a deep offense; one of the deepest in the game. They have Albert Pujols, a Hall of Famer if he retired today. They have Josh Hamilton, one of the most dynamic players in the game (at least that’s what he was in Texas). They have Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun, David Freese, etc. — all solid hitters in their own right. They’re more than just Mike Trout.
But even they struggle to produce when the game’s best all-around player isn’t right.
The Angels — losers of back-to-back games after a 4-3 defeat on Wednesday — have averaged 3.25 runs per game since the start of the second half, all while Trout has found himself in the midst of a rare (and perhaps short) slump.
“We have to be more than Mike,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “and we know we are.”
But here’s a breakdown of how the team has fared along with Trout so far this season (Trout’s slash line is in parenthesis, followed by the Angels’ runs per game and their record during that stretch) …
March 31 to April 28 (.327/.391/.606): 5.44 RPG; 12-13
April 29 to May 19 (.164/.314/.358): 4.21 RPG; 12-7
May 20 to July 13 (.356/.440/.701): 5.24 RPG; 33-17
July 18 to July 30 (.220/.304/.420): 3.25 RPG; 6-6
The league average for runs per game this season is 4.11, so the Angels still manage to do pretty well when Trout struggles from the No. 2 spot. Clearly, though, they’re at a completely different level when he’s on point. And luckily for them, his hot streaks tend to last a lot longer than his cold ones.
Asked how he feels at the plate these days, Trout said: “Timing’s a little late right now. Just picking the ball up late. Ones that I should be hitting I’m seeing late and I’m rushing my swing. That’s a little fix; nothing to worry about.”
The Angels lost in walk-off fashion, and dropped a game in the standings, but Josh Hamilton‘s power re-emerged at Oriole Park, and that’s always a good sign.
“That was great to see, and we need him,” Mike Scioscia said. “That was very encouraging, to see him square the ball up like he did.”
Hamilton homered in the fifth, for the first time since July 2 and just the fourth time since recovering from a surgically repaired left thumb on June 3. He also laced a double into the right-center field gap in the 12th, and lined out hard to left in the third. Entering the game, Hamilton’s isolated power score was .134, which would’ve been tied for 91st in the Majors (with Gordon Beckham, Matt Dominguez and Billy Hamilton) if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
“I’ve always felt really good at this stadium,” Hamilton said of the place that once saw him hit four home runs in one game.
“I talked with ‘Groove’ [hitting coach Don Baylor] before the game today and just talked about hitting strikes, and waiting until you get a strike, and when you do, just swing. Don’t try to do anymore with it than you need to, and try not to do too much with it. I’ve been fighting that a little bit, because obviously the power hadn’t been there. Since the All-Star break, I’ve felt like I’ve been trying to do a little bit too much.”
Hit strikes — seems simple enough.
Sometimes you just need a reminder.
“We fight that our whole career, as far as trying to do a little extra, a little much,” said Hamilton, who moved from left field to designated hitter a few hours before the game. “You try to muscle up or getting a little big. We’re always fighting against that. We need a reminder sometimes.”
A lot of season remains and a lot can still happen, but if the schedule ended today, the Angels would easily have the second-best record in the Majors – they were five games better than the third-place Tigers when play began Tuesday – and still their season would come down to one game.
It’s the misfortune that comes with playing in the same division as baseball’s best team – the A’s, who the Angels trail by 1 1/2 games – and it’s the bad timing of playing in an era with two Wild Card teams in each league.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has long been a proponent of divisional play, believing teams that win their division should have clear advantages over those that make the playoffs as a Wild Card. And the fact that his club is on the other side of that isn’t making him change his stance.
“I think the weight that is on winning a division is warranted,” Scioscia said prior to the series opener from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “I think that if you’re going to have divisional baseball, you have to really make winning a division the first objective of any team that’s contending. And if you don’t quite reach that goal, and you play well enough, then you have the opportunity to work your way into the playoffs.”
One alternative to a team running into the scenario the Angels are currently in is to extend the Wild Card into a three-game series, but Scioscia said that would penalize the division winners because “you will lose your edge, no doubt about it, with that much time off.”
Another would be to eliminate divisional play, which the Angels’ long-time skipper doesn’t like. And a more unconventional one would be to have four divisions, something Scioscia floated out as a possibility if more expansion takes place.
The ladder isn’t necessarily feasible right now, which makes the current goal pretty simple.
“Win your division,” Scioscia said. “Let’s just put it that way.”
Some notes from today …
- C.J. Wilson gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings in a rehab start for Double-A Arkansas on Monday, scattering four hits, waling two and striking out seven. His ankle feels good, and he should be lined up to start this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., but Scioscia wants to wait until Wilson gets through his bullpen to make any determinations. Wilson also discovered some tightness in his left hip that was limiting a flexibility, a problem he fixed and an issue he believes will get him back on track.
- Josh Hamilton moved from left field to designated hitter, but it wasn’t injury related. Hamilton didn’t get much sleep while flying to North Carolina to deal with a family emergency in his native North Carolina.
- Grant Green (lower back) and Collin Cowgill (thumb, nose) stayed in Arizona rehabbing.
- Mike Trout is currently in Baltimore, which is about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Millville, N.J., but he doesn’t expect a huge crowd. Trout said he left like 15 tickets.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Efren Navarro, DH
David Freese, 3B
Hank Conger, C
SP: RH Jered Weaver (11-6, 3.36 ERA)
The only pitchers who have struck out Trout more often are Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and Rangers ace Yu Darvish. Both have fanned him 11 times. But both are division rivals who face him a lot more frequently (Trout has 40 career plate appearances against Darvish and 52 against Hernandez), and Trout has actually hit them well (1.063 OPS against Hernandez, 1.076 OPS against Darvish).
After Thursday’s 4-2 loss against the Tigers, Trout is now 3-for-16 in his career against Scherzer (albeit with a home run). Among the 16 other pitchers who have faced him more than 15 times, only six (Joe Saunders, A.J. Griffin, Matt Harrison, Dallas Keuchel, Tommy Milone and Hisashi Iwakuma) have held the Angels’ phenom to a batting average below .290. And none have come anywhere close to striking him out as frequently as the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
The biggest reason, perhaps: Scherzer is as good as anyone at changing the eye level of hitters, and is particularly dominant in the upper half of the strike zone. Trout’s weakness comes in the upper half of the zone. And though Scherzer hasn’t necessarily attached Trout chest-high, the threat is always there, and it’s hard to hit his fastball-changeup combination when you can’t sit on a particular zone.
Scherzer’s response, when asked about his approach against Trout …
“Attack him. You have to go after him. I absolutely respect everything he does on a baseball field and what he does at the plate. But when you face really good hitters, the elite hitters, like that, you have to be even more aggressive with them. You have to go right after them and make your pitches. He’s hit a home run, he’s had success off me, but when I have success against him is when I take the aggressive approach with him.”
The Angels and A’s are each playing their 100th game tonight, and when the day began, Oakland’s lead in the American League West remained at two. The Angels have been one of baseball’s best teams for most of the season, currently sporting the second-best record in the Majors, but they have the misfortune of playing in a division with the best team. And of playing in an era when winning your division is crucial (nobody wants their season to be decided by a singular Wild Card game, especially if that game comes against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez).
So it goes without saying that the Angels’ goal is to catch the A’s, who only got stronger by adding Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to their rotation. To do that, they’ll have to continue to make up ground.
And they’ll have to overcome a far less favorable schedule.
Below is a categorical look at the remaining games for each team, starting Thursday. The first line is the amount of games each has against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, the second is the amount of games against teams with records above .500, the third is the amount of home games left, and the fourth is the combined number of games above/below .500 from each of their remaining 62 opponents.*
The Angels and A’s play each other 10 more times — Aug. 22-24 in Oakland, Aug. 28-31 in Anaheim and Sept. 22-24 in Oakland, making up the second-to-last series of the regular season. The A’s lead the season series, 6-3.
Combined: 246 games below .500
Combined: 2 games below .500
* a few teams hadn’t finished their Wednesday games by the time I tallied this
Angels utility man Grant Green was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday because of what was initially diagnosed as a strain in his lumbar, a region that makes up his lower back.
First baseman C.J. Cron – basically the everyday designated hitter until he was sent down on Saturday – was called back up from Triple-A as the corresponding move, and Green spent the afternoon visiting team doctors to get a sense for how long he’ll be out.
Green hit the game-winning single on Sunday, then was unavailable the last couple of games. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Green tweaked his back while working out in the weight room; not amid the walk-off celebration.
“It seemed like today it was going in the wrong direction,” Scioscia said, “so we’re going to shut him down for a little bit.”
The Angels will continue to rotate at left field, first base and DH, with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols getting starts at DH as needed, and the left-handed-hitting Efren Navarro and the right-handed-hitting Cron filling in. The Angels currently have a short bench due to an eight-man bullpen, which is expected to continue until Monday’s off day.
Cron, a 24-year-old rookie, batted .295 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in his first 47 games, a big reason why the 42-year-old Raul Ibanez was released. But he went 3-for-26 with seven strikeouts and no walks in his next six contests before getting optioned back to the Minors. Scioscia called it “the cyclical nature of hitting.”
“C.J. can hit,” Scioscia said. “He’s always hit. It’s just that there’s going to be some periods when you don’t get those balls to fall in, and I think more than anything that’s what you were seeing with C.J.
“The original plan with C.J. was really just to let him exhale. He was really pressing up here a little bit before he got sent down, and hopefully he’s been able to exhale a little bit and be ready to contribute.”
Cron was expected to land about 90 minutes prior to game time, so he’ll be available off the bench.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, DH
Josh Hamilton, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
SP: RH Jered Weaver (10-6, 3.43 ERA)