Thursday, May 24, 2007

Two straight

No one could have reasonably expected Santana to win today the way he's been going. As I've said before (and it's no great analysis), Santana during the day on the road is a recipe for disaster.

If they had taken some momentum into today's game, it may have been a different story, but Mike Scioscia, whom I can only assume was a little upset with Mike Napoli and his three run homer yesterday, inexplicably turned the ball over to arguably the AL's worst reliever this season. Predictably, he allowed the Tigers to double their lead, and predictably, the Angels almost came back, only to lose by one. And while the souls over at Halos Heaven may not like it, Vlad was almost as at fault as Bart and Scioscia, grounding into a double play with the tying run on first.

So what had the makings of nice trip has turned into a precarious journey, which now requires the Angels to take 2 of three against the suddenly not so terrible Yankees to salvage a .500 trip. And while they've had great success over the Yankees in the last 10 years, that has to end some time.

As for me, I missed today's game, partly because of work, and partly by design, as I had no desire to see Santana get drilled. And last night's game ended just in time for me to head over to Schuba's to catch the Broken West, this time headlining (they supported the Walkmen earlier). While the mix was a little too heavy on the guitar and to light on the vocals, the show was otherwise excellent. Not to sound like a music snob, but shows with less than 100 people are kind of cool to see when you really like the band, and they really are excellent.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Angels 6; Tigers 3

Last year the Angels gave up 80 unearned runs. Only the Cleveland Indians allowed more. And despite the offensive woes, I've maintained that it was the main reason that the Angels failed to win the AL West. Part of that was also a function of some bad luck. It seemed every time they made a mistake, they paid for it.

This year, their team ERA is the best in the AL. In addition they've cut their unearned run percentage by over 30% (from .49 to .33), which is a sign that a) their defense has played better, and b) mistakes haven't translated into a lot of runs. And at no time have they played better defense than they did last night.

HGHMJ made two terrific catches in center field, one which save at least two runs early in the game. In addition, Chone Figgins and Robb Quinlan each saved extra bases, and Orlando Cabrera ended the night with his spear of a Carlos Guillen liner that would have put the tying run in scoring position, and the winning run on base.

For Figgins, Cabrera, and Quinlan, it wasn't all defense. Figgins went 2-4 and scored both times he reached base, Quinlan took Mike Maroth deep in the sixth inning to provide the Angels final run of the game, and Cabrera added a two run shot of his own. Mike Napoli has pushed his average all the way up over the .250 mark, collecting two hits last night, including a fourth inning homer.

The only struggles came from John Lackey, who had trouble finding the strike zone until he really needed to, walking four against only three strike outs. But he held the Tigers to one run through five innings, and turned the ball over to Dustin Moseley, who continued to impress with two scoreless innings. Even Darren Oliver looked sharp until the ninth inning, at which point he remembered he was Darren Oliver and loaded the bases with nobody out, at which point the Angels required the services of Frankie Rodriguez.

Good start to the trip. Win one more in Detroit, and they can head to New York with their eyes on another solid road trip. As an added bonus, Homerin' Howie Kendrick rejoins the lineup tonight to take over for a slumping Erick Aybar.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

So, the Sweep

That really was a great sweep, wasn't it? Two fairly equally matched teams, one just kicking ass on the other all weekend. Of course, I'm referring to UC Riverside's sweep of Long Beach State, vaulting the Highlanders into first place in the Big West, and probably locking up no worse than a spot in the field of 64 for the second time in school history. They can clinch a share of the conference title with a win against UCI this weekend. If they win one, and LBSU loses at least one in their season finale against Cal State Fullerton, the Highlanders take the title outright.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the Angels. Alright, so I missed Saturday's game. It happens. I was unavoidably detained, drinking heavily with friends, including one who writes a national baseball column, so at least baseball was on the conversation menu. And Sunday was more or less spent recovering from Saturday's activities.

As has been the case recently, the pitching dominated yet again, and early offense set the tone, with the Angels getting first inning runs in every game. Ervin Santana continued his home goodness allowing one run over six innings to win the opener. Jered Weaver got himself back to .500 with another quality start, pushing his ERA down to 3.46 for the season. And on Sunday, Kelvim rebounded from a rough start to shut out the Dodgers over eight innings on Sunday.

It's been pointed out that Reggie Willits has a knack for getting on base. But one of his most useful tools is his ability to see a lot of pitches in every plate appearance. As mentioned in the Times article, this helps the Angels get to their opponents bullpen earlier. But what's occasionally overlooked is what this does for Orlando Cabrera, and nowhere was this benefit more evident than in game one. Willits drew a walk in a long at bat, seeing (IIRC) about seven pitches before getting the free pass. Not only did Cabrera get a chance to see much of Brad Penny's arsenal from the on-deck circle, but Penny had extra incentive to start the at bat off with a strike to avoid another long at bat. The result was a fastball that Cabrera hammered to left center field for an RBI double, and just like that, the Angels led 1-0. It's another example of Willits' value to the Angels, and it's why Mike Scioscia is going to have a hard time getting him out of the line up when Garret Anderson returns.

So the lead is up to 4.5 games as the Angels hit the road to face the Tigers and Yankees. The good news is that Ervin will start only one game on the trip, and it's in a pitchers' park. They've now won 8 of 10, and we're reaching the point of the season where champions open up ground on their pursuers. A 3-3 trip would be acceptable. A 4-2 trip would be great. Anything else is gravy.

Monday, May 21, 2007