Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mariners 6; Angels 8; Cubs Slaughtered

I missed the first five innings or so of last night's game due to a friend of mine coming up with free Cubs tickets. I hate the Cubs, and I couldn't really care less about the Marlins, but the tickets were pretty good (first row of the upper deck, about even with the bullpen), and it was a nice night. First game I've been to at Wrigley this year, which is fun to go to, but doesn't really hold the allure for me that it does for most people. It was neat the first couple of times, but it kind of feels like a glorified high school stadium to me. For me, major league parks are giant monoliths surrounded by parking lots. At least the Cubs didn't disappoint, getting hammered more than most of the people in the stands for once.

I was in a cab on the way home when Vlad hit the three run homer off of King Felix to put the Angels in front for good. Weaver was already gone by the time I got home, but it sounds like he really struggled with his command. While I don't want to see him struggle, games like last night's don't bother me. First, they still won. Second, it wasn't an issue of him getting so much as he just had a hard time finding the strike zone. Only two of the nine hits he allowed went for extra bases, and none of them left the yard. Sometimes guys just don't have it.

Just ask King Felix, who got drilled for seven runs on nine hits, including three homers and a double. It was the second time the Angels got to him this season, and he could still be struggling coming back from his injury. His big mistake came against Vlad in the fifth, when his high fast ball got crushed over the right center field wall for the Angels third homer of the night.

Reggie Willits was on base three times again, while Cabrera continued his scorching pace with three more hits. While Napoli has cooled a little, Casey Kotchman stayed hot, hitting his fifth home run, and pushing his average comfortably back up over .300 to .309. Meanwhile, Howie Kendrick has yet to find a consistent stroke since returning to the lineup. He was 0-4, dropping his average to .256. He's now 0 for his last nine, and has just four hits in 25 at bats since his return.

Scot Shields has quietly gone from the unreliable Scot Shields to the once again dominant Scot Shields. He pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two, and his ERA is down to 2.83. Frankie was a little shaky in the ninth, starting it off with a walk before striking out the side. His slider must have been really breaking hard, because it appeared that he couldn't control it, and they were taking some pretty awful swings at it. But hey, sometimes that's to a pitcher's advantage. I mean, if he doesn't know where it's going, chances are the hitter doesn't either.

The Mariners were a hot team entering Anaheim before the Angels cooled them off. Now Baltimore comes in having won five straight, moving all the way up to second place, still 10.5 games behind the Red Sox. Escobar, Lackey, Saunders, and Santana will work the series for the Angels.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mariners 1; Angels 4

No shame in thinking this one was trouble about two batters into the first inning. Ervin Santana allowed the first two runners to reach, and only retired Guillen on a shot to third that Quinlan was able to stab. He became Ervin the Usual against Ibanez, turning an 0-2 count into a walk before completing his streak of eight straight balls against Richie Sexon. For a team that doesn't walk, the Mariners' first five batters were very patient, laying off some very close pitches. Then Kenji Johjima stepped up, grounded into a double play, and Santana had escaped with minimal damage. To top it off, the Angels got a run back in the first to tie it up.

With his new lease on life, Santana exploded. He went six more innings allowing only two hits and no walks, completing seven innings having allowed only one run, and needing fewer than 100 pitches to do it. So a reprieve for now. He'll remain in the rotation, and his next start is at home. Maybe two straight home starts, if he can get it done again, will boost his confidence for that next road game. Maybe that double play was a turning point. We can only hope.

On the offensive side of the ball, Reggie Willits showed that last night wasn't just a bump in his slump, as he produced his second two hit game in a row. Behind him, Orlando Cabrera added three hits of his own, pushing his average to .314. Kind of a strange game offensively. The top three hitters reached base a total of 8 times, yet they still needed an unlikely two run homer from Shea Hillenbrand to provide the winning runs (with insurance added later). Mike Napoli's hitting streak ended on a rocket to third that Adrian Beltre had to grab simply to save his own life.

Speaking of Cabrera and Napoli, if you're wondering about the Angels recent success, you need look no further than those two players and Casey Kotchman. Not that they've been alone, but on May 8th, the Angels lost to the Indians and dropped to 17-16. Following that game, those three stood as follows:
  • Kotchman - 232/304/384
  • Cabrera - 266/338/379
  • Napoli - 194/296/339
Where are they now? (average through tonight's game - OBP and SLG through last night, to be updated tomorrow, because I'm lazy):
  • Kotchman - 302/381/487 - 6th in AL OPS among every day first basemen
  • Cabrera - 314/359/425 - 5th in AL OPS among every day short stops
  • Napoli - 259/339/491 - 6th in AL OPS among every day catchers
Certainly those rankings aren't monumental, but the turnarounds are, and they're a big reason the Angels have won 15 of their last 20. The Angels now sport five starters hitting over .290. The offense isn't outstanding, but it doesn't have to be. If they can simply be average, middle of the road (they're currently 6th in the AL in runs scored), that will be plenty to win the AL West.

Jered on the mound tomorrow night to hopefully take the series. He hasn't been great of late, but he's been good enough.

Long Weekend

Lots to cover, so I'll just give it all the short shrift in which I specialize.

The Angels finally reached .500 on the road, recovering from a couple of awful games in Detroit to take three from the Yankees. Kendrick's back, and Kotchman and Napoli are currently raking. Figgins looks pretty much lost on both sides of the ball, alternative good plays with spotty plays at third base, and generally alternating bad at bats with crappy at bats. Hillenbrand is still a total waste of a roster spot.

They came home and harnessed that momentum into a total implosion against the Mariners last night. Poor pitching, poor fielding, and mediocre hitting against a team that has now won four straight and sits only 3.5 games behind the Angels in second place. Santana and Weaver close out the set against the M's, then it's Baltimore for four and the Twins for three. It's a 10 game homestand in which the Angels should really go 7-3, but last night wasn't exactly a confidence builder.

In the college ranks, UC Riverside won it's first ever Big West championship, and will be making it's second appearance in the field of 64. Unfortunately they were screwed by the selection committee and have to travel to Tempe for the regional. Traditionally, the Big West champ hosts a regional. This year, the committee decided to reward second place Long Beach State. That would be the same Long Beach State that UCR bitchslapped three straight times a couple weeks ago. Sort of reminds me of that year in the mid '90s when UCR was the top team in the regional (D2) and was forced to head up north because the NCAA didn't want to make Sac State and Chico State travel south.

As for me, I spent the weekend running around, playing golf, and boozing with friends for the most part. Finally took the new irons (it's a mixed set) out on the course and struck the ball pretty well. CDGA Amateur qualifying is next week.