Results tagged ‘ Athletics ’
The American League West was tough last year — by a very reliable measure, it was the toughest by a wide margin — and it should be even more difficult for the Angels to capture a division title in 2015.
In a nutshell, three of their competitors should be better and one of them could be just as good.
The Mariners added Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith to a club with an outstanding rotation and a bullpen that had the fourth-lowest WHIP in baseball last year. The Astros have added Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, Hank Conger, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to an emerging young core. The Rangers added Carlos Corporan and Yovani Gallardo to a star-studded roster that will be healthier. (I mean, they can’t get any more injured, right?) The A’s have shuffled the deck, and while they parted ways with Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris in prospect-laden deals, they also added Billy Butler, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard, and now — amazingly — figure to be just as much of a threat in 2015.
The Angels’ offseason could best be described by some imagery general manager Jerry Dipoto recently used, while talking about the industry in general: “The beautiful thing about baseball is that it’s kind of like the ocean. It looks the same, but it changes every millisecond.”
On the outside, the Angels’ Major League roster essentially looks the same, minus Howie Kendrick and Kevin Jepsen but with Matt Joyce and Cesar Ramos. Their biggest change came in their farm system, as Dipoto continued to build layers of depth to make the Angels more sustainable moving forward. In other words, they’re definitely better for the future, but they may not be better — and may even be worse — for 2015.
The AL West ranked second in combined win-loss records last year …
AL East: +12
AL West: +10
NL Central: +8
AL Central: +4
NL East: -2
NL West: -32
But was easily No. 1 in run-differential …
AL West: +140
AL East: +29
NL East: +21
AL Central: -62
NL Central: -63
NL West: -65
That was with the Rangers ranking dead last at minus-136 and the Astros 27th at minus-94. It’s a pretty safe bet that both Texas teams will be better than that; probably way better than that.
It’s impossible to predict what will happen in 2015, of course, but we can sure try. I used Steamer’s Wins Above Replacement projections for each AL West team’s starting lineup, top four starters and best three relievers. Below is the projected fWAR for each team’s 16 most important players (for the Angels I included Garrett Richards; for the Rangers I included Jurickson Profar; for the A’s I included A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker) …
Steamer can’t account for any freak injuries that may occur, or in-season additions that can be made, or all sorts of other randomness that occurs throughout every baseball season. But I think it’s a pretty good general overview of where teams stand.
It’ll be interesting.
If you’re curious, here’s what Steamer projected for each Angels player, ordered by highest fWAR: Trout (8.7), Aybar (3.1), Calhoun (3.1), Pujols (3), Iannetta (2.7), Richards (2.3), Freese (1.8), Hamilton (1.7), Wilson (1.4), Shoemaker (1.3), Joyce (1.2), Rutledge (1.1), Weaver (0.8), Smith (0.3), Morin (0.1), Street (0).
Mike Trout won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award on Thursday, collecting all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association to become the youngest unanimous MVP in Major League history. In tune with that, I’ve compiled all the cool stuff Trout did this season in video form below. Enjoy.
March 31: Trout’s first at-bat of the season, after securing a six-year, $144.5 million extension, is a home run against King Felix …
April 4: Solo homer at Minute-Maid Park gets out in a mesmerizing 111.6 mph …
… Two innings later, he throws out a runner at home for his first outfield assist since September 2012 …
April 15: Trout does everything possible to win, hitting a ninth-inning, game-tying homer (shown here), then reaching on an infield single and stealing second in extra innings in an eventual loss to the division-rival A’s …
April 29: (Sort of?) robs a home run …
May 15: Diving catch in the first …
… first career walk-off in the ninth …
June 7: Game-tying grand slam off a dejected Chris Sale …
June 11: Robs Yoenis Cespedes of a home run (maybe) …
June 17: Trout hits two home runs in Cleveland, the last of which came on a low and inside pitch that shocked Hank Conger, who concluded Trout has “the fastest hands west of the Mississippi” …
June 27: Hits one 489 feet to dead center into the fountain at Kauffman Stadium, good for the longest home run in the Majors since 2012 …
July 3: Stumbling, shoestring catch, then finishes on his feet …
July 4: Another walk-off homer, this one on a Tony Sipp slider that almost hit the dirt (note: don’t pitch him low) …
Sept. 12: A triple on a standard liner in the gap …
Sept. 13: Another two-homer game …
Sept. 21: “I got hops,” Trout said, channeling the playground scene from “He Got Game” …
Oct. 5: Solo shot off James Shields, the lone highlight of a short-lived postseason debut …
The American League Division Series kicks off from Angel Stadium next Thursday, Oct. 2. Between now and then are eight days, three regular-season games and a couple of workouts in Anaheim, at which point Josh Hamilton (right ribcage) will hope to see some live pitching and Matt Shoemaker (left oblique) will hope to get off the mound. Who knows; maybe they’ll even face each other!
At any rate, games aren’t necessarily about wins and losses anymore — they’re about looking ahead to October.
With that in mind, here are some takeaways from Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the A’s …
Hector Santiago: Mike Scioscia wouldn’t commit to Santiago getting a start in the ALDS postgame, but he provided some encouraging signs while throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings after recording a combined nine outs in his previous two starts. The problem with Santiago — and C.J. Wilson, for that matter — is that you’re still not quite sure what you’ll get from start to start. But he did finish the year with a 3.81 ERA, and he did post a 2.71 ERA from June 10 to Sept. 9. That’s a very solid three-month stretch.
Howie Kendrick: Scioscia is committed to Kendrick batting cleanup, at least to start the ALDS. Part of it has to do with Hamilton not seeing much live pitching, and part of it has to do with how well Kendrick has hit there while Hamilton has been out. The veteran second baseman had a couple of key two-out hits on Wednesday and is now batting .403 (27-for-67) with 18 RBIs in 18 games behind Albert Pujols.
Joe Thatcher: It remains to be seen whether the Angels will carry their veteran lefty specialist on the postseason roster. Thatcher has a 3.41 ERA on the year, but lefties are batting .300 against him this year and the 32-year-old is still affected by the left ankle sprain that forced him to miss more than seven weeks. Said Scioscia: “I don’t think we’re seeing him at his best yet, but he’s going to get the ball, and hopefully he’ll make some pitches. He looked a little more crisp today.”
Vinnie Pestano: I didn’t list him as a candidate, but perhaps there’s a spot for the 29-year-old sidearmer, who recorded the last two outs of the sixth inning and has allowed just one run while striking out 13 batters in 9 1/3 innings with the Angels.
Gordon Beckham: He started at shortstop, ahead of the birthday boy, and has now made five appearances there this month. Beckham came in as a solid defensive second baseman and has played well at third base, and Scioscia clearly wants to give him some reps at shortstop for his forthcoming role as the Angels’ utility player in the ALDS.
Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton “feels pretty good today,” manager Mike Scioscia said prior to Monday’s series opener in Oakland. The 33-year-old hasn’t started doing baseball activities, but he did hit off a tee. Hamilton previously said he hopes to play on Wednesday, but Scioscia said that’s “a little aggressive.” Friday looks like his earliest return date.
Matt Shoemaker, out since last Monday with a strained oblique, said he’s “very optimistic about getting on a mound again.” The 27-year-old rookie continues to make steady progress and played light catch prior to Monday’s game, Scioscia said.
“Last two days,” Shoemaker said, “I’ve noticed the best progress, getting into a lot of physical activity, moving around, getting ready to go.”
Still, Scioscia said it’s “very remote” that Shoemaker appears in a game before the end of the regular season. So he’d probably have to throw in some sort of simulated game to get ready for the postseason, if healthy.
Howie Kendrick was held out of the lineup as a precautionary measure for the left hamstring injury that forced him out of Sunday’s game. Kendrick said he felt good enough to play, and went through all the pregame activities.
“I don’t think it’s anything major,” Kendrick said. “I’m going to go out and do what I would normally do. He just told me I wasn’t going to play today. There was no need to really push it.”
Here’s what several members of the Angels had to say after clinching the American League West on Wednesday night …
Leadoff man Kole Calhoun, on popping the first bottle of champagne after the A’s lost: “I was more nervous to pop that first bottle of champagne than I was to play baseball.”
Catcher Hank Conger, on watching the game from the clubhouse: “They came back that ninth inning, and everybody was like, ‘Don’t jinx anything, don’t pop anything yet.’ As soon as they made that last out, that groundball, everyone erupted, man. Everybody was hugging each other, champagne was flowing everywhere, man, it was unbelievable.”
President John Carpino, on the fans sticking around to watch: “It’s so special. It’s so special. Look at these people. It’s 11:15 and the game has been over for an hour and a half. Angels fans have a lot of passion.”
Third baseman David Freese, on battling adversity: “You look at every team, up and down the league, and every team goes through adversity, things like that. This group just keeps plugging away. It shows. To win a division like this, it’s unbelievable. What a great group.”
Ace Jered Weaver, on coming out and seeing the fans: “Indescribable, really. This is the only reason why they’re here; they want to see us win. It’s been long overdue. Hopefully we can make a good push here in the postseason.”
Owner Arte Moreno, on his favorite part about the team: “There’s probably not one sentence you can say. They all love each other, they all like each other, they have fun together, and we have a really great mix of veterans, and we have a lot of young people. People were questioning how many young people we have in the organization, but just a lot of young guys stepped up this year.”
Manager Mike Scioscia, on returning to the playoffs after a four-year absence: “It feels great. We had gotten close, but we won our division, and we couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
Center fielder Mike Trout, on playing in the postseason: “I’m just going to go out there, play my game and help my team win. I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself. I know the atmosphere is going to be awesome, and it’s going to be fun for sure.”
First baseman Albert Pujols, on the group: “Great chemistry. Like I’ve said before, you don’t just win with one or two guys. It takes 25 guys for us to accomplish our goals. We have a great group of guys, starting in Spring Training. I’ve been saying it all year long. And we believe in each other. We’re picking each other up.”
Starter C.J. Wilson, on his start: “It’s good. It’s what I need to do. If we’re going to win, I need to pitch like that.”
General manager Jerry Dipoto, on what it took to turn it all around: “It’s just a thrill. Mike and the staff had a great year. They did an unbelievable job, kept everybody together and cohesive. Obviously we made some changes along the way, but most importantly it was the character and the makeup of the guys. When the boat left the dock this spring, that’s what we talked so much about, and that’s what these guys did. They really did. They bound together. Very proud of them.”
For further proof on the sheer unpredictability of baseball, look no further than what has transpired between the A’s and Angels since the end of July.
The A’s had already beefed up their rotation by acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then took a step further by adding Jon Lester on July 31 — at a time when they held a two-game cushion in the division — because they wanted to make sure their season didn’t come down to a one-game playoff. The Angels added no such starting pitcher to a staff that was already at a disadvantage, then suffered a couple of crippling injuries to said rotation, with Tyler Skaggs succumbing to Tommy John surgery on Aug. 10 (an injury that predated to July 31) and Garrett Richards suffering a season-ending torn patellar tendon on Aug. 20.
On Aug. 10, the Angels trailed the A’s by four games.
Since then, they’ve picked up 12 games in the AL West standings, and now they have a firm grip on the division, leading the A’s by a whopping eight games with only 19 left to play.
With a deep bullpen, an offense that seems to be coming on strong once again and a rotation that uses a concoction of relievers in Richards’ spot every five days, the Angels have reeled off five straight victories and won 11 of their last 13 games. The A’s, struggling mightily offensively since trading their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to acquire Lester, have dropped nine of their last 11, including four in a row at Angel Stadium.
Here’s a look at how both teams have fared in a few categories over that 30-day stretch, with their Major League rankings in parenthesis …
Angels: 20-7 (1st)
A’s: 8-19 (T-29th)
Angels: 4.8 (7th)
A’s: 1.6 (22nd)
Angels: 3.19 (7th)
A’s: 4.24 (23rd)
Angels: 1.10 (5th)
A’s: 1.09 (3rd)
Angels: 5.11 (4th)
A’s: 3.41 (24th)
Angels: .735 (9th)
A’s: .633 (25th)
The A’s conclude their seven-game road trip this week, with three in Chicago followed by three in Seattle over the weekend. They then have a nine-game homestand against the Rangers, Phillies and Angels, then finish on the road with four in Arlington, a prime opportunity to pick up some games at the end.
The Angels are finishing their 10-game road trip this week, with three in Arlington, then have a 10-game homestand against the Astros, Mariners (four games) and Rangers. Their season ends with a six-game road trip through Oakland and Seattle, with an off day sandwiched between the two series.
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.
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