Friday, April 18, 2008

New UCLA Post

I have a new post up at the SoCal Sports Hub on the decisions of Love, Westbrook, Mbah A Moute, and possibly Collison and Shipp to declare for the draft. Here's an excerpt:

Yesterday, freshman Kevin Love and sophomore Russel Westbrook declared their intentions to enter the NBA draft. Both have been projected to go anywhere from the lottery to the late first round. It has been widely rumored that juniors Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will do the same. Word is that Josh Shipp is also considering going this route. When the season started, it was generally assumed that Love was one and done, and Collison was also probably gone after this year. Both had their ups and downs, and we can all look for faults in their game, but at the end of the day, nothing has really changed since those pre-season assessments. In the meantime, Westbrook showed the athleticism and scoring ability in starter minutes that had us all salivating after watching him in limited minutes last year. In doing so, he turned himself into a likely first rounder, and possibly lottery pick. Shipp and Mbah A Moute didn’t have tremendous seasons. Shipp likely regressed a bit. But their decisions, should they decide to enter the draft, don’t surprise me one bit.

These decisions have prompted a number of critical comments from UCLA fans. They generally fall into a few categories. I’m going to attempt to categorize those complaints and deal with them in this post.

Click here for the rest. I'm going to be do some more occasional posting over there in addition my stuff here.


Chone Figgins has hit in nine straight games, and his batting average has been barely affected. After the rash of walks to start the season, he's slowed down a bit. He's now averaging one walk every 5.7 plate appearances, which is still pretty damn good. We can talk all night about how they need production out of Vlad, GA, Hunter, etc., but if Figgins can get on base four times out of ten all year, it's really going to make the offense go, assuming he's not immediately eliminated by Matthews every time.

Scot Shields has allowed one base runner in his last four outings (3.2 innings), and none in his last three. He's also struck out four in that span. Worries over the arm troubles that landed him on the DL to start the season, well, they aren't so worrying anymore. Beyond the numbers, he's looked fairly sharp.

Another big series with the Mariners, but I think last weekend soaked up most of the early season drama. They should be able to just relax and play baseball for a while. Well see tonight whether Hokie Joe can keep it going.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Angels Sweep Rangers

Finally a bit of a return to normalcy after the way the Rangers took the Angels apart in the second half of last season. They got a decent start out of Ervin Santana on Monday, who looked like the road version of last year's model in the first inning. From there he settled down and tossed six scoreless innings before turning it over the bullpen.

Yesterday they got a less than adequate start out of Dustin Moseley, who gave up four runs in four innings, and really did himself in with five walks. It was the type of start that normal teams expect out of a fifth starter. The good news for the Angels is that Moseley is their seventh starter. The key for the April Angels is to get this team into May without a lot of damage done so that when Lackey and (God willing) Escobar return, they'll be poised for the mid-season run that puts the division away in late July/early August.

Don't look now, but over the last two days, the bullpen has provided seven innings of earned run free baseball, the only blemish coming when Erick Aybar's throwing error in the eight inning on Monday led somewhat indirectly to Frankie Rodriguez's save opportunity. Speaking of Frankie, two innings, two base runners (both walks), two strikeouts, and two scoreless saves, yesterday's being of the 1-2-3 variety. They actually looked like the real Angels bullpen this series. And don't forget Scot Shields' 1.2 IP, 0 baserunners, 2 Ks performance in the two games. It's no secret that the bullpen is going to be essential to the Angels' success this year, and if they can get the 7-8-9 inning guys going, things may turn out OK.

On the offensive side of things, Chone Figgins picked up three more hits in nine at bats, and saw his average drop 10 points. After two straight games without a free pass, he picked up number 13 in 69 plate appearances yesterday. His ability to get on base (currently a .507 clip) is probably THE reason the Angels have the top scoring offense in the league to this point, well, that and the fact that they've played as many or more games than everyone else. Mike Napoli (four homers) continues to pour on the power when he's in the lineup, and Casey "he'll top out at 20-25 homers" Kotchman also hit his fourth of the season. Maybe the experts are right, but my gut tells me he's got 35 homer power in him. Maybe not this year, but at some point.

Next up will be a contrast in styles as the Angels head home to take on the surprising Royals, who aren't plating many runners (3.5 per game), but are allowing even fewer to cross (just over 3 per). Fortunately they miss Brian Bannister and Zack Grienke, but Gil Meche is better than his ERA shows to this point (though Brett Tomko likely isn't). The Angels counter with Jered Weaver and Jon Garland, who could use a game against a low scoring opponent just about now. Just a quick two game set before another showcase series with Seattle this weekend. It would be nice to see them keep the momentum going.

Monday, April 14, 2008

One of Three

I think we all wish things would have gone a little differently in Seattle over the weekend, but them's the breaks, and when all is said and done, 1-2 in their building isn't all that awful.

Cause for concern:
  • Two straight poor outings from Jon Garland.
  • The bullpen continues to be less than impressive.
  • Nobody seems to be able to get Raul Ibanez out.
  • Gary Matthews Jr. is an out-making machine.
  • Despite the flood of offense so far this season, the Angels sit just one game over .500.
  • Howie Kendrick can't seem to stay healthy.
  • The defense is at times not so good.
Cause for optimism:
  • Lackey's throwing again.
  • Frankie's velocity was up a bit yesterday, even though his location wasn't great. Maybe getting guys back into their normal roles will help everyone calm down a bit.
  • Raul Ibanez doesn't play for the Rangers.
  • I'm sorry, I can't think of anything positive about Matthews.
  • Howie, when healthy, is on fire.
The strength of the offense actually may be sustainable. No, I don't expect Figgins to hit .400, or Howie to hit .500, or Kotchman to stay as hot as he's been. But I also expect a little more out of Vlad than we've gotten so far, and I expect those three to hit all season.

In Figgins' case, I think we're getting past the point where we can call his success over the last four and a half months of regular season action a fluke. I've mentioned before that I think somewhere between .300 and .310 is a fairly conservative, yet realistic estimate of what he can do this year, and if the plate discipline (12 walks in 50 plate appearances) is real, and I suspect it is (to an extent - I think one walk every 8-9 appearances is a realistic goal), then he could be poised for a very fine season.

Kendrick is Kendrick, and if he's in the lineup, he's going to hit. He doesn't seem to be a guy that pitchers can figure out for very long. As he makes his way around the league a few times, they may catch up to him a bit, but he's had sustained success at the lower levels, and he just seems like the type that will be able to adjust to what the pitchers at this level will do.

As for Kotchman, the average isn't a surprise. I don't expect .370, but it's a small sample, and I do expect him, if healthy, to stay north of .300 all year, and if things break right, .325 or so isn't out of the question. As for the three homers, I'm not surprised. I know the pundits don't expect him to ever show a ton of power, and maybe their right. But what I saw last year and this are: 1) a lot of doubles, which usually portend decent power numbers; and 2) although he didn't hit a lot of homers last year, many of them were LONG home runs. He wasn't hitting shots that scraped the wall. He crushed a few of them deep into the right field seats, which isn't easy to do in Anaheim. Already this year he killed one in Minnesota, AND he hit one out in Seattle that was on a pretty good pitch, not a pitch a guy with little power should have been able to hit out. The predictions are that he'll top out around 25 homers. I think we may see that many, or more, this year assuming good health (a big assumption).

The Angels routinely have trouble firing on all cylinders at this point in the season. They muddle along doing some things well and other things not so well until they hit a summer stretch where they start to assert themselves. That's pretty much what I see happening this year as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

0 for 2. Series Finale Tomorrow

Until then, enjoy some Paisley Underground. This be the Long Ryders. Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of "Here Comes That Train Again" and "The Light Gets In The Way" on youtube.

Looking For Lewis and Clark

Lights of Downtown

Gunslinger Man