Results tagged ‘ Cubs ’
Albert Pujols has never really had a bad Spring Training. He’s hit at least .286 and as high as .407 over the last 10 years, because he always shows up in shape and it never takes him long to find his timing.
He just seems, well, different this spring.
More specifically, his legs look healthier than they have in the last three years.
Pujols entered Spring Training 2013 recovering from offseason surgery to his right knee, then suffered plantar fasciitis around the middle of camp, a condition that didn’t allow him to play past July of that season. That was followed by a prolonged offseason that allowed Pujols to get healthy, but the Angels’ first baseman wasn’t able to strengthen his right knee like he wanted to until this past winter.
Now, it seems, he has a strong foundation at the plate again.
“You could tell the difference when you’re in good health, and he is right now,” Angels shortstop Erick Aybar said.
“He looks strong right now,” third baseman David Freese added. “His lower half looks strong; as strong as I’ve seen it over the last few years, watching him and obviously seeing it in person. I think he’s taking care of himself.”
Pujols entered Friday’s game batting .326 (14-for-43) with four home runs in Cactus League play. All of those homers have come over his last six games, with the latest coming Thursday, a towering shot to left-center-field on a high-and-inside fastball from Cubs reliever Jason Motte.
But the 35-year-old has been driving the ball to the opposite field all spring, an indication that his right leg is feeling better and a positive sign considering he was shifted on more than any right-handed hitter in baseball last year.
“I think he’s found ways to manage what’s been bothering him with the experience of going through it,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly in great shape and he’s moving well.”
Some additional notes from Friday …
- Freese, who suffered a hyperextended left elbow on Tuesday, took batting practice and did some defensive work in the morning. He’s expected to return to the lineup on Saturday.
- Marc Krauss, out since Sunday with back spasms, was expected to play later in Friday’s game.
- Kole Calhoun, who exited Thursday’s game after taking a fastball to his right triceps muscle, played catch but stayed away from hitting. The Angels’ right fielder is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
- Drew Rucinski was slated to pitch in a Minor League game on Friday, throwing five innings and 75 pitches.
- Mark Trumbo is in the lineup for the D-backs, marking the first time ever that he’ll face the Angels.
- The Angels are still stretching Jose Alvarez out as a starter, but not to the point where he’ll be throwing 100-plus pitches. They want to give him enough length to potentially serve as starting-pitching depth, but Alvarez is also in the running for a bullpen spot. “With he, with Rucinski, with some of the swing guys, you have to find a balance,” Scioscia said. “… You want them to get enough length to be depth in your rotation but still maintain their stuff to where you can have them in your bullpen. He’s on the depth chart in two spots.”
Will Ferrell took Mike Trout‘s glove and position, held up giant signs while coaching third base and struck out against a former Major League pitcher. It was an eventful day at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where professional baseball was also played.
Most important thing: Trout was on point, before and after being subbed out by Will Ferrell in center field. He went 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored, also drawing a walk and picking up a stolen base. His Cactus League batting average is now at .500.
Second-most important thing: Sean Newcomb couldn’t finish his inning, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk and recording only two outs in the first. He topped out at 95 and broke a few bats; he just didn’t have much luck.
Third-most important thing: Bullpen candidates Matt Lindstrom and Frank Herrmann combined to give up six runs on seven hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings. “Matt just missed with a couple pitches; his stuff is good and he’s having a good spring” Mike Scioscia said. “Herrmann was just missing with some pitches; got into bad counts. But both their arms are good.”
Fourth-most important thing: Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron, Collin Cowgill and Drew Butera each had two-hit games. Cron and Butera (!) homered.
Best defensive play (that I actually saw): Erick Aybar dove full extension to his right to snag a Mike Olt liner in the first.
Quotable: Zach Stewart, on coming in to face Ferrell: “He’s a menacing figure at the plate, so I knew I had to bring my best stuff to get him out.”
Taco Power Rankings: 1. Los Taquitos, 2. The Mission, 3. El Hefe, 4. Tortas El Rey, 5. Sombrero’s Mexican Grill, 6. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, 7. Comedor Guadelajara, 8. Senor Taco, 9. Carolina’s Mexican Food, 10. Poliberto’s Taco Shop, 11. Salty Senorita
C.J. Wilson was supposed to start today, but he tweaked his left knee during a PFP drill and decided to take some time off. The Angels’ left-hander got a precautionary MRI that checked out fine. He’s slated to throw a bullpen session on Saturday and then take his next turn on Tuesday.
The lineups for Will Ferrell Day …
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Matt Joyce, LF
David Freese, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
C.J. Cron, DH
Drew Butera, C
Josh Rutledge, 2B
SP: LH Sean Newcomb
- Newcomb won’t pitch that much. He’ll throw the first inning, then perhaps face a batter or two in the second. The 21-year-old left-hander, drafted 15th overall last June, will get stretched out in Minor League camp later in spring.
- Matt Lindstrom, Cesar Ramos, Ryan Mattheus and Frank Herrmann are among those also slated to pitch.
- Garrett Richards is tentatively slated to pitch in another two-inning simulated game over the weekend, this time with pitchers’ fielding practice mixed in, and then he’ll be ready to pitch in his first Cactus League game perhaps middle or late next week. Mike Scioscia said he’ll probably only just throw one inning in his first game. “Some parts of it he’s moving into more of a Spring Training environment, but that part of it is definitely something you want to watch closely,” Scioscia said.
- Huston Street is back with the team after getting sick right before game time Tuesday and staying in his room on Wednesday. He’ll throw a bullpen session on Saturday and expects to pitch in a game on Sunday.
- Joe Smith has yet to appear in his first Spring Training game because of lower leg stiffness. He said if it were the regular season, he would’ve only missed a couple days. “It’s just one of those things early in spring, they just wanted me out there with nothing,” Smith said. He should pitch in the next couple days. He’s got plenty of time to be ready for the season. “I think I’m still loose from last year.”
- The overwhelming favorite Will Ferrell movie in the Angels clubhouse is “Step Brothers.” Calhoun said he watched it three times in theaters, twice on DVD. “It’s one of those movies that get funnier every time you watch it.” Most of the guys were bummed that they may not get much time with him, since he’s hitting up five different games.
- The Angels completed their annual, Spring Training toy drive, raising $5,000 to purchase toys that will be donated to Children’s First Academy. Sherman Johnson was in charge of collecting money and purchasing the toys this year.
- Cubs lineup is here.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept his focus on the bullpen. He wants to acquire a situational lefty, and he wants to get another potential closer to solidify a game’s last nine outs. But the Angels haven’t seemed willing to part ways with a package of prospects — what little they have in a farm system they’re still trying to cultivate — and they haven’t sounded like an organization that wants to take on a high-salaried pitcher, a la Cliff Lee and David Price, because it would kill their payroll flexibility and leave them little or no room to address the ‘pen the way they want.
Did that thinking change on Independence Day?
As the Angels were wrapping up the second of a four-game series against the Astros at home on Friday night, the division-rival A’s set off fireworks, acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for pitcher Dan Straily, a couple of nice prospects (shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney) and a player to be named later. A team that leads the Majors in winning percentage and run-differential just got a whole lot better. A pitching staff that’s second in the American League in ERA and WHIP got a whole lot stronger.
The Angels are playing very solid baseball lately, winning 11 of 14 after Mike Trout‘s walk-off homer and trailing the A’s by 3 1/2 games for the best record in the AL. But the A’s seemingly took a few more steps forward on Friday, and winning your division is crucial with the expanded playoffs that now include a Wild Card game; the last thing you want is for a 162-game season to ultimately come down to one elimination game.
So do the Angels need to scrap their initial Trade Deadline plans and go after an elite starting pitcher? Do they need to fortify their rotation — one with a solid 3.70 ERA, but also some uncertainties — to keep up with the A’s?
Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia and Dipoto have some thinking to do.
I’ll be taking some vacation time these next couple of weeks. Matthew DeFranks will cover for me at home July 5-9 and 18-20, Lyle Spencer will cover for me in Texas July 10-13, and I’ll be back at it July 21, for the series opener against the Orioles. Be well.
Most important thing: It actually took place in the backfields of the Angels’ Tempe Diablo Stadium complex, where Jered Weaver made his last start of the spring and was lights out against the Brewers’ Triple-A team, pitching seven shutout innings, giving up four hits, walking one and striking out eight in a 102-pitch outing. He’ll start Opening Day on five days’ rest.
Second-most important thing: Three outs away from snapping a six-game winning streak, the Angels plated six runs in the ninth inning, getting a leadoff homer from Ian Stewart, an RBI double by Collin Cowgill, an RBI single from Shawn O’Malley, a two-run single by Abel Baker and an RBI single from Stewart when he came up again.
Third-most important thing: Weaver’s start in a controlled environment made Tuesday a bullpen game. Brandon Lyon gave up a couple of runs while recording only one run in his second inning of work; Ernesto Frieri pitched his eighth straight scoreless inning of the spring; Fernando Salas had a clean inning to put his spring ERA at 3.00; and Michael Kohn gave up a run on two hits and a walk to put his spring ERA at 7.00.
Fourth-most important thing: All the everyday players except Howie Kendrick (stomach virus) and David Freese (tight quad) got a couple of plate appearances. Albert Pujols had a sac fly, Josh Hamilton walked and hit a double that almost left the ballpark, Raul Ibanez hit a solo homer and Mike Trout went 1-for-2 to finish Cactus League play with a .412 batting average.
Fifth-most important thing: Grant Green went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple to put his batting average at .362. John McDonald is officially the Angels’ utility infielder now, and it’s unlikely that Green makes the team. But he’s had a very nice spring at the plate and is getting better at shortstop.
Best defensive play (that I actually saw): Speaking of Green, he made a nice diving stop in the first inning while playing second base.
Best quote: Mike Scioscia on Freese being a late scratch: “He was ready to play. It was not even anything that would hamper him from taking ground balls. But the medical staff thought it would be prudent to have him take today off and tomorrow so he’ll be ready to play. It’s not even a concern.”
Angels’ record: 16-10-2
Most important thing: Hector Santiago was crazy efficient, throwing four one-hit innings and then having to go to the bullpen for 15 extra pitches just so he can get all his work in. He didn’t walk any batters and struck out five. Yes, most of the guys he was facing were Minor Leaguers, but it was a good sign nonetheless. He says he’s 10-for-10 throwing his screwball for strikes, and I’ll have to take his word for it.
Second-most important thing: Joe Blanton struggled mightily at the other game against the Rockies in Salt River Fields, giving up seven runs on eight hits (four of them homers) in 3 1/3 innings.
Third-most important thing: Hitters are normally behind the pitchers this time of year, so perhaps it should be no surprise that the Angels starters have been shutout in the first five innings of five of their previous six games heading into today. Against the Cubs, they managed one run (a Raul Ibanez fielder’s choice) in those first five innings.
Fourth-most important thing: C.J. Cron came up with a clutch hit once again. One day after hitting a three-run, game-tying homer in the ninth inning, the power-hitting prospect hit a two-out single in the eighth inning to give the Angels the lead (albeit briefly).
Fifth-most important thing: Josh Wall gave up two ninth-inning runs to lose the game and has now given up four in three innings.
Best defensive play (that I actually saw): Cubs center fielder Junior Lake laid down a perfect bunt in the fourth, but third baseman David Freese charged hard and made a nice barehand play for the out.
Best quote: Mike Scioscia, on Cron’s clutch hitting: “C.J.’s looking very comfortable. The growth he’s had in the last year and a half of playing baseball has been very noticeable.”
Angels’ record: 3-5-1
Taco power rankings (updated every Friday): 1. Los Taquitos, 2. El Hefe, 3. Sombrero’s Mexican Grill, 4. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, 5. Carolina’s Mexican Food, 6. Poliberto’s Taco Shop, 7. Salty Senorita
Most important thing: The Angels were dialed in. Yes, it’s only Spring Training, and it came against a bad Cubs team that was basically only playing with three regulars, but it’s important for the Angels to assert themselves early in hopes of avoiding another season-crippling start. And their offensive showing, after doing live batting practice for about a week week, was uplifting. Mike Trout hit a grand slam, Chris Iannetta fell three feet shy of a two-homer day, J.B. Shuck had a three-run triple and the Angels had two crooked-number innings, scoring four in the second and nine — nine! — in the fourth.
Second-most important thing: Jered Weaver looked good. He went three full innings in a Cactus League opener for the first time in his career and gave up only one hard-hit ball. Weaver threw 41 pitches and sat around 87 mph. That’s basically where he was last year, and he should build up from that as he continues to throw. His changeup looked great, and he felt like he could’ve kept pitching after three one-hit innings.
Third-most important thing: Maybe not important, but fun — Trout’s grand slam was a laser beam. He got a 2-0 fastball low and inside, kept his hands in beautifully and drove it over the picnic area in left field. In case you hadn’t noticed, he good.
Fourth-most important thing: All the everyday position players (except Josh Hamilton, who’s nursing a strained left calf) played five innings on defense. That included Albert Pujols (0-for-2 with a strikeout and a walk), who didn’t have any balls hit to him but was moving around well in pre-game infield.
Fifth-most important thing: Howie Kendrick singled in his first at-bat and has now hit safely in 27 of his last 29 Spring Training games. His Cactus League batting averages from 2007-13, respectively: .348, .382, .339, .313, .364, .383, .435.
Best defensive play (that I actually saw): A tie between Andrew Romine and John McDonald, the two guys fighting to secure the utility infield spot. In the eighth, McDonald — playing second base — slid to his right to backhand a sharp Dan Vogelbach grounder and then made a nifty glove-flip to Romine in one motion, starting a 4-6-3 double play. In the ninth, Romine — playing shortstop — ranged deep in the hole to backhand an Albert Almora grounder and made a long, loopy throw to first to record the out just in time.
Best quote: Mike Scioscia, when sheepishly asked if he felt Trout’s ball had a chance to go out: “I think it was out before he got out of the batter’s box.”
Taco power rankings (updated every Friday): 1. Los Taquitos, 2. Sombrero’s Mexican Grill, 3. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, 4. Carolina’s Mexican Food, 5. Poliberto’s Taco Shop
Last year’s record: 74-88, 4th place
Key additions: SP Matt Garza, 1B/3B Mark Reynolds, RP Will Smith, 1B Lyle Overbay
Key subtractions: 1B/RF Corey Hart, OF Norichika Aoki, INF Yuniesky Betancourt, RP Mike Gonzalez, 1B/3B Mat Gamel
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, though it’s all relative. The Brewers came out of nowhere to sign Garza to a four-year, $50 million contract, adding him to what looks like a stable rotation with Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta. Without Garza, that foursome helped the Brewers rank fourth in the Majors in starting-pitcher ERA in the second half.
Biggest question: First base. Overbay and Reynolds have been added on Minor League deals to compete with the free-swinging Juan Francisco, so as of right now, the Brewers have a lot of uncertainty at a position that requires steady production.
Most important player: Ryan Braun. Duh. He’s signed through 2020, is entering his age-30 season, is coming off his first non-great year (.298/.372/.498 line in 61 games) and, most importantly, just finished serving a 65-game suspension for violating MLB’s anti-drug agreement. Braun needs to repair his image on the field, and the Brewers need a big year from him in order to move this franchise forward.
In 25 words or less: The farm system is weak, the Major League club is full of holes and the star player is tainted. Tough time for Brewers fans.
Last year’s record: 97-65, 1st place (lost to Red Sox in World Series)
Key additions: CF Peter Bourjos, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Mark Ellis, RP Angel Castro
Key subtractions: OF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese, INF Rafael Furcal, SP Chris Carpenter, SP Jake Westbrook, RP Edward Mujica
Biggest strength: Young pitching. Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, etc., should make the Cardinals title contenders for years to come.
Biggest question: The middle of the lineup. Beltran has departed to the Yankees, and so it’ll be mainly up to Allen Craig and Matt Adams to protect Matt Holliday.
Most important player: Craig. Many forget just how good a hitter he is when healthy, with a .312/.364/.500 slash line the last three years. If he can fully recover from the right foot injury that prompted him to miss 23 regular-season games and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Cardinals may not miss Beltran all that much.
In 25 words or less: John Mozeliak made a lot of savvy moves this offseason, and may have made the defending NL champs even better.
Last year’s record: 66-96, 5th place
Key additions: MGR Rick Renteria, CL Jose Veras, RP Wesley Wright, INF Ryan Roberts, OF Justin Ruggiano, C Eli Whiteside, C John Baker, OF Chris Coghlan, SP Jonathan Sanchez
Key subtractions: MGR Dale Sveum, SP Scott Baker, C Dioner Navarro, RP Kevin Gregg, RP Matt Guerrier, SP Liam Hendricks, OF Brian Bogusevic
Biggest strength: Hitting prospects. Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara should be up and contributing soon.
Biggest question: Money. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been handcuffed on what they can spend to make this Cubs roster better. Their Opening Day payroll projects to be lower than $80 million for the first time since 2003.
Most important player: Starlin Castro. The 23-year-old shortstop went from .283/.323/.430 in 2012 to .245/.284/.347 in 2013. He needs to cut down his strikeouts, eliminate his occasional mental lapse on defense and get back to being the potential face of the franchise.
In 25 words or less: They have some nice prospects on the way, but the Cubs won’t get over the hump until they’re allowed to spend like a big-market team.
Last year’s record: 94-68, 2nd place (lost to Cardinals in NLDS)
Key additions: SP Edinson Volquez, INF Robert Andino, C Chris Stewart, OF Chris Dickerson, RP Daniel Schlereth, RP Cody Eppley
Key subtractions: SP A.J. Burnett, 1B Justin Morneau, OF Marlon Byrd, C John Buck, SP Jeff Karstens, RP Kyle Farnsworth, 1B Garrett Jones
Biggest strength: Bullpen depth. They ranked third in the Majors in bullpen ERA last year and practically return everybody, with Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson a very formidable back-end group.
Biggest question: Right field and first base. Byrd and Morneau were two big in-season acquisitions and now they’re gone, replaced in-house. Jose Tabata (.771 OPS in 2013) and Gaby Sanchez (.762) are once again set to take over two power positions.
Most important player: Wandy Rodriguez. He is, believe it or not, the Pirates’ highest-paid player and hasn’t pitched since early June because of forearm arthritis. If he rebounds, it’ll go a long way in easing rotation concerns in Pittsburgh. If he doesn’t, the Pirates may have to eat the $7.5 million they owe him (the Astros are covering the other $5.5 million).
In 25 words or less: The Pirates had a breakthrough season in 2013, but the front office simply hasn’t done enough to build on that for 2014.
Last year’s record: 90-72, 3rd place (lost to Pirates in NL Wild Card game)
Key additions: MGR Bryan Price, C Brayan Pena, 2B/OF Skip Schumaker, INF Ramon Santiago, SP/RP Jeff Francis, RP Pedro Beato
Key subtractions: MGR Dusty Baker, SP Bronson Arroyo, OF Shin-Soo Choo, INF Cesar Izturis, SP Zach Duke, RP Nick Masset
Biggest strength: Pitching, even without Arroyo. If Johnny Cueto can stay healthy and top prospect Tony Cingrani can step up, the Reds’ rotation will be a force. Their bullpen remains one of the best in the National League.
Biggest question: Feeding Joey Votto. The Reds’ first baseman had an NL-leading .435 on-base percentage but drove in only 73 runs last year. Votto needs the guys in front of him to get on base, and now that Choo (.423 on-base percentage last year) is gone, that’s a big concern. Zack Cozart (.284 OBP), Brandon Phillips (.310 OBP) and rookie Billy Hamilton are the candidates to make up the first two spots of the lineup.
Most important player: Hamilton. We know he can run, and he’s come a long way defensively in center field. Now, can he hit at the leadoff spot, and can he make Reds fans forget about Choo? It’s a big year for the 23-year-old.
In 25 words or less: The Cardinals are tough, but the Reds are good enough to contend. Can Price, the ex-pitching coach, pull a John Farrell?
Predicted order of finish …
The Angels have hired former All-Star Don Baylor as their new hitting coach.
Baylor, who won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award with the Angels in 1979, spent the last three years as a hitting coach with the Diamondbacks and has been a big league manager for nine years, with the Rockies from 1993-98 and with the Cubs from 2000-02.
Baylor replaces Jim Eppard, who was dismissed along with bench coach Rob Picciolo on Oct. 8. He is the club’s third hitting coach in the last 17 months, dating back to Mickey Hatcher’s dismissal on May 15, 2012.
“Don enjoyed a distinguished playing career, highlighted by his tenure with the Angels during their first two division championships,” Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “As a coach, he brings us tremendous expertise in the areas of hitting, communication and presence. It’s nice to have him home.”
Dipoto spent time with Baylor when the Angels’ general manager played for Baylor in Colorado in the late 1990s and had him in his staff when he was an executive in Arizona.
Baylor will be entering his 22nd season in either a managing or coaching capacity in 2014. Along with his managerial tenure and his time with the D-backs, Baylor has been a hitting coach with the Brewers (1990-91), Cardinals (’92), Braves (’99), Mariners (’05) and Rockies (2009-10). He was also the Mets’ bench coach from 2003-04 and compiled a 627-689 record as skipper, earning National League Manager of the Year honors in 1995.
Before that, Baylor – a member of the Angels Hall of Fame – was a former All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner during a 19-year career as an outfielder that spanned from 1970-88. He joined the Angels as a free agent in November 1976 and posted a .262/.337/.448 slash line in a six-year career in Anaheim, adding 141 homers and 523 RBIs while leading them to their first playoff appearance in 1979.
The Angels are still searching for a new third-base coach and an additional coach.
C.J. Wilson pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Cubs in Wednesday night’s 13-2 thrashing at Wrigley Field. But that’s not what had him all giddy postgame. He got a base hit — his second in 20 Major League at-bats — and went first-to-third on a single to center field.
“I love running the bases,” Wilson said. “It’s just fun. You feel like it’s a full baseball game.”
That’s great and all, but Wilson isn’t paid to produce offensively. He’s paid to pitch, and lately, he’s done that well.
Wilson has posted a 2.04 ERA in his last six starts, giving up 12 runs (nine earned) while striking out 32 and walking 12 in 39 2/3 innings. Now — despite a rough start to the season and many an inning that has gotten away — he’s 9-6 with a 3.37 ERA while tied for eighth in the American League in innings (120 1/3).
In short, he’s starting to look a lot like the pitcher who mostly dominated at the start of last season.
“It seems like he’s committing to pitches and pitching with purpose during this good streak,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
It goes without saying that if Wilson can keep this going — and avoid the rough second half that plagued him in 2012 — the Angels will have a much better shot at making the uphill climb to the playoffs, especially with Jered Weaver (two earned runs in the last 20 2/3 innings of his last three starts) looking like his old self lately. You can talk all you want about Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, but if the Angels don’t get a lot of good starting pitching in the second half, they aren’t going anywhere this year.
“I would say that even in the starts where I didn’t have good results this year, I felt better than most of my starts last year, like in a sense that if I get behind in the count or something, I feel like my mechanics are more dialed in and I can throw various pitches,” Wilson said. “… I need to pitch. I don’t throw 100 [mph]. I can’t just go out there and throw four-seamers by people. I have to pitch and I have locate. And I feel like, overall, my location has been a lot better this year.”