Results tagged ‘ Rangers ’

The tougher AL West …

canotroutThe 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) …

Mariners: 33.4
Angels: 32.6
A’s: 29.2
Rangers: 27.7
Astros: 23.4

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).

Alden

The Angels and the Hall of Fame …

Vladimir GuerreroNine Hall of Famers have played for the Angels at some point in their careers — sometimes for pretty long stretches — but none have gone into Cooperstown with an Angels hat. Nolan Ryan pitched in Anaheim for eight years, from 1972-79, but went in with a Rangers cap. Rod Carew spent his last seven seasons with the Angels, from 1979-85, but went in as a member of the Twins. Reggie Jackson spent five of his twilight years here, from 1982-86, but alas, he’s a Yankee.

So basically the Angels have zero representation in the Hall of Fame. Seven other current teams are in the same boat, but that can change soon for the D-backs (Randy Johnson), Mariners (Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr.) and Astros (Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell). The others are the Rockies, Marlins, Rays and Nationals, four teams that didn’t exist as recently as 1992.

The Angels have had some very notable representation on the ballot. Darin Erstand, Troy Percival and Tim Salmon have recently received token Hall of Fame votes, but have dropped off the ballot because they didn’t get the required five-percent support. Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, David Eckstein and Bengie Molina will debut in the next ballot, but four of them probably don’t have a shot and the other (Edmonds) would probably go in as a member of the Cardinals if elected.

I recently wrote about why Bobby Grich may have deserved more love from Hall of Fame voters, and how he could’ve been the first Angels representative in the Hall, but it looks like he’ll never get in.

At some point, though, the Angels will have their Hall of Famer.

Question is: Who?

Maybe it’s Vladimir Guerrero, whom Pedro Martinez vouched for recently, but Guerrero — eligible for the 2017 class — spent his first eight years with the now-defunct Montreal Expos.

Maybe it’s Albert Pujols, who should definitely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer but will have always put up his greatest numbers in St. Louis.

Maybe it’s Mike Scisocia, who’s building a Hall of Fame resume as a manager.

Or maybe it’s Mike Trout, who is on a path to becoming one of the greatest players in baseball history but, you know, is only 23 years old.

Class of 2035?

Vote below on who you think it will be and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Alden

Sound bites from the Angels’ clincher …

Jered WeaverHere’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.”

Alden

Two games, three fastballs to Trout’s left triceps …

Nick Martinez, Mike TroutMike Trout slung his bat and hissed as he jogged to first base in the fifth inning of Thursday’s eventual 7-3 win. For the second straight time, and the third time in the last two nights, the Angels’ 23-year-old center fielder — and typically mild-mannered superstar — had absorbed a fastball to his left triceps area.

Trout took an 89-mph sinker there from Nick Tepesch in the first inning on Wednesday, then a 90-mph from Nick Martinez in the third inning on Thursday and an 88-mph fastball there in the fifth inning on Friday. It would’ve been four times, had Trout not dodged Tespesch’s fifth-inning fastball inside on Wednesday, instead drawing a walk.

After the game, Trout said he was “good” and “just sore.”

Asked of his frustration to get hit in the same spot so often, Trout said: “I mean, you go up there to have at-bats. You don’t go up there thinking you’re going to get hit. They’re just pitching inside. They’ve been doing it the whole series, and I just got hit a couple times.”

Martinez said he was “just trying to establish the fastball inside and it got away from me.”

“I understand the frustration,” he added, “but it’s not on purpose.”

Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes him, but was also unhappy.

“When you are pitching inside, you can’t pitch inside with reckless abandon,” Scioscia said. “You have to have the command to be able to do it. I don’t think anyone likes when you get hit in the arm twice.”

Four innings later, the Angels got what seemed like retaliation, when Joe Smith came out of the bullpen for the bottom of the ninth and fired a first-pitch fastball near the waist of the first batter he saw, rookie catcher Tomas Telis. Scioscia said Smith “yanked a sinker” and added, “We’re not trying to hit anybody.” Smith said “one just got away” and “nothing was intentional.” But they’re supposed to say that. Everyone can see what happened.

The important thing is teams are constantly trying to pitch Trout inside this season, and lately they’ve been missing.

“It’s been all year; they’ve been pitching me more inside,” Trout said. “Different teams, different ways. I’m going to keep my same approach. I think I get in trouble when I look for that pitch [inside], so I’m just going to stay up the middle and see ball, hit ball.”

Alden

Street wasn’t available on Tuesday night …

Huston StreetThe Angels eventually ran away with it on Tuesday, but before the offense cranked out seven runs in the eighth inning, it was lining up to be a one-run game, and a save situation in the ninth.

Huston Street, however, was not available.

Mike Scioscia said Street has some tightness in the upper portion of his right hamstring, an ailment that prompted the Angels’ manager to stay away from his veteran closer. Instead, Fernando Salas pitched the seventh, Kevin Jepsen had the eighth and Joe Smith was ready to come in for the save in the ninth before the Angels’ offense batted around. Scioscia could’ve stayed away from Jepsen with an eight-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, but he hadn’t pitched in four days and wanted to use him nonetheless.

Street — with a 1.33 ERA and 37 saves — appeared in three straight games from Thursday to Saturday and has had the last three days off. Scioscia expects him to be available on Wednesday. Scioscia made a rare mound visit without making a pitching change in the bottom of the ninth, when Mike Morin plunked Michael Choice, then walked Guilder Rodriguez, the journeyman Minor Leaguer who had struck out in his first three plate appearances.

“It looked like he was over-thinking some things,” Scioscia said, “so I wanted to make sure he was OK.”

Morin retired the next two batters to seal the Angels’ season-high-tying sixth straight win.

Alden

A look at some starters who may be moved …

Mets Phillies BaseballAngels 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.

Alden

Scioscia, running out of ideas, sits Hamilton, again …

Josh HamiltonAfter 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.

Why?

“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.”

Alden

Angels ‘not seeing the aggressive Josh Hamilton’

Josh HamiltonJosh 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.”

Alden

Erick Aybar not in lineup, but ready to go …

Erick AybarErick Aybar was out of the starting lineup for a third straight day on Monday, a precaution for the sore right groin the Angels’ shortstop suffered while reaching first base on a ninth-inning single against the Mariners on Friday night.

Prior to batting practice, though, Aybar did some light agility drills on the field with strength-and-conditioning coordinator T.J. Harrington, then took some BP and felt good. The 30-year-old — an All-Star for the first time while sporting a .283/.320/.409 slash line — expects to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday and should be available off the bench for Monday’s series opener against the Orioles.

The groin initially bothered the switch-hitter while batting from the right side of the plate.

“But I’m good now, from both sides,” Aybar said in Spanish. “I’ll be ready to go tomorrow. They told me one more day, and then tomorrow I’ll [return to the starting lineup]. But I’m ready for whatever they need today, too.”

Some other notes as the Angels look to build on a Major League-best .824 winning percentage in July …

  • As I type this, C.J. Wilson is throwing his first bullpen session since landing on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle on July 10. Wilson said he has “no idea” how much longer he’ll have to be on the shelf. “It’s going to be how does it feel today throwing, and then after throwing tomorrow.” Wilson will eventually have to go out onto a rehab assignment. “I’m going to have to adjust to how it feels, because it’s not just going to heal itself in a week,” he added. “Some of the adjustment is going to have to be pain tolerance and things like that. And just learning how to use a somewhat-destabilized ankle.”
  • From Matthew DeFranks: Collin Cowgill rejoined the Angels on Monday and said he should return from the disabled list in a couple of weeks, barring an unforeseen setback. Cowgill broke his nose and thumb after he was hit by a Matt West pitch trying to bunt on July 13. Cowgill, who flew in from his home Kentucky on Sunday night, had stitches removed from his nose on Monday and said it would probably be another few days before he can take any swings.
  • The Angels signed veteran catcher John Buck to a Minor League deal and assigned him to Triple-A Salt Lake, where they currently have three active catchers. Buck, 34, was released from the Mariners on Tuesday after batting .226/.293/.286. For the Angels, he can be a third catcher when rosters expand in September — unless he finds an immediate Major League opportunity before then.

Lineup …

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, DH
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Efren Navarro, LF
Hank Conger, C
John McDonald, SS

SP: RH Matt Shoemaker (7-2, 4.38 ERA)

Alden

Where does Hector Santiago stand? …

Hector SantiagoMike Scioscia knows who his starters will be on Saturday and Sunday, but won’t announce them until Friday, probably because a corresponding roster move is involved. One of the games will be started by Jered Weaver, and for the other it’ll either be Hector Santiago or Matt Shoemaker. And with that, the Angels’ manager will have essentially made the much-wondered-about rotation decision, which was made difficult by how effective Shoemaker and Santiago have been lately.

Santiago has one thing pointing in his favor: Soon, the Angels have to basically figure out whether or not he’s going to start for them down the stretch.

The non-waiver Trade Deadline is exactly six weeks away, and the Angels have two potential needs: Lefty reliever and starting pitcher. Santiago has a chance to fill either of those roles, but obviously not both. And the decision to keep him in the rotation could rest partly on the fact that they need to figure out whether or not trading for a starting pitcher is necessary.

The Angels have the flexibility to absorb payroll – remember, the money they offered to Matt Garza this offseason essentially went unused — but getting a front-of-the-rotation starter would mean parting ways with top prospects from a farm system that needs to grow. Acquiring a lefty reliever probably would not.

The Angels have been heavily linked to Rays ace David Price, most recently by ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden, who believes C.J. Cron and Alex Yarbrough could be enough to get a deal done. FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal linked them to Ian Kennedy of the Padres and Dillon Gee of the Mets. I’ve heard they like Kennedy, Travis Wood of the Cubs and J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays (albeit a contender), among others. The Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija is a sexy name who could be shopped since he turned down a reported extension offer, but he — like Price and the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, who’s currently rehabbing from an elbow strain — will cost some top-shelf prospects.

But before they go in that direction, the Angels need to find out if Santiago’s last two starts were a fluke or a sign that he’s actually rounding into the form they expected when they traded for him.

Now, is five weeks enough to draw a conclusion?

Alden

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