Category Archives: June Game Recaps

Comeback Kids Channeling ’02 Mojo

kendry napAs of late, the Halos have found themselves trailing early in ballgames, digging themselves into holes that we really haven’t seen a Halo squad dig themselves out of since that magical 2002 season.

Table-setter and offensive catalyst Chone Figgins, the only offensive player left from that World Championship team, and the rest of the Halos’ attack have been channeling that 2002 mindset and magic this year.

After Saturday’s come-from-behind 14-8 win over the visiting New York Yankees, the Halos had recorded the most comeback wins in all of the MLB with 26.

Normally, you’d like to be the team that jumps out in front and puts runs up early, right?

For the Angels, not exactly. They’re saying, hey, you score some now… we’ll score more later.

Entering Sunday’s finale with the Yankees’, the Angels’ last 5 wins have all been in come from behind fashion.

July 4th vs. Baltimore Orioles (down 3-0) — win 11-4

July 5th vs. Baltimore Orioles (down 4-0) — win 9-6

July 6th vs. Texas Rangers (down 2-0) — win 9-4

July 10th vs. New York Yankees (down 4-0) — win 10-6

July 11th vs. New York Yankees (down 4-0) — win 14-8

So, if you add it all up, after allotting opposing teams 17 runs to start in the past 5 games, the Angels have outscored their opposition 11-1, 9-2, 9-2, 10-2, and 14-4 (added all up that’s 53-11).

Keep in mind that Friday’s win in the Yankees series opener, the Halos didn’t have Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero, the regular #3 and #4 spot hitters in the lineup. Then on Saturday in game 2 of the series, they were also without their #5 hitter and arguably the hottest hitter of the MLB since the beginning of June in Juan Rivera.

They Angels are getting timely contributions from different players. And lots of them.

July 4th- 17 total hits. Vladdy has 4 RBI, Torii has 3 RBI. 3 more Halos with 1 RBI each.

July 5th- 8 total hits, 7 different Angels with 1 or more RBI.

July 6th- 10 total hits, 5 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Mathis with 3 RBI, Torii and Juan each with 2 RBI.

July 10th- 13 total hits, 5 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Morales and Aybar each with 3-run homers.

July 11th- 16 total hits, 7 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Abreu, Napoli with 3 RBI each. Wood, Kendrick, Matthews each with 2 RBI.

The Angels put up their most runs in a single game this season on Saturday, without their regular 3, 4, and 5 hitters… go figure?

Here’s the key.

In his first game since being called up when Torii and Vlad went to the DL, Brandon Wood nailed a 2-run home run. Howie Kendrick and his anemic season-long hitting slump mustered up a 3-for-5 showing with 2 RBI. Gary Matthews Jr. even pitched in 2 RBI late in the game. It’s a good day when your 6, 7, 8, and 9 (both Quinlan and Willits) hitters are picking up the slack by going a combined 8-16 with 1 home run, 6 RBI, and 5 runs scored. Pretty good I’d say especially when the rest of your lineup gets you the other 8 hits and the remaining 9 runs.

It’s a long way away from telling if this is a team of destiny (or history repeating itself), but neither me nor anyone else can’t deny that this team is as resilient a ballclub as we’ve seen in recent memory, on and off the diamond.

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Filed under Angel Stories, June Game Recaps

First Half Report

The Angels now have 81 games in the books following last night’s 9-4 win over the Texas Rangers, and the Halos find themselves where they usually have been at the halfway mark over the past few seasons… in first place.

At this point last year, the Angels (who would go on to win a club record and MLB-best 100 games), were 48-33. This year’s Angels, with all the ups and downs, would only be 2 games off that pace with a record of 46-35.

The Halos have won the AL West division 4 of the past 5 years, so being #1 isn’t all that new to them.

But this year, things are much different. It was a year of big changes and adaptation for the Angels.

Preseason

Noteworthy Re-signings:

  • OF- Juan Rivera (3 yrs./$12.75 million)
  • OF- Vladimir Guerrero (1 yr. club option/$15 million)
  • SP- John Lackey (1 yr. club option/$9 million)
  • 3B- Chone Figgins (1 yr./$5.775 million)
  • SP- Ervin Santana (4 yrs./$30 million) – 2008 All-Star selection
  • SP- Joe Saunders (1 yr./$0.475 million) – 2008 All-Star selection
  • 2B- Howie Kendrick (1 yr./$.0465 million)
  • SP- Jered Weaver (1 yr./$0.465 million)
  • INF- Maicer Izturis (1 yr./$1.6 million)
  • RP- Darren Oliver (1 yr./3.665 million)

Noteworthy Additions:

  • CL- Brian Fuentes (2 yrs./$17.5 million) – 3-time All-Star with Rockies in ’05, ’06, ’07 seasons
  • OF- Bobby Abreu (1 yr./$5 million) – .300 batting average, .405 on-base percentage for his career

Noteworthy Subtractions:

  • 1B- Mark Teixeira (Yankees – 8 yrs./$180 million) – .358 avg., 13 HR, 43 RBI with Angels in 54 games
  • CL- Francisco Rodriguez (Mets – 3 yrs./$37 million) – MLB record 62 saves in ’08, 194 saves in 4 full seasons as closer, 208 total saves with Angels, won 5 games in ’02 postseason as 20-year-old phenom
  • OF- Garret Anderson (Braves – 1 yr./$2.5 million) – Was an Angel for 15 years, 2,368 hits, 489 2B, 272 HR, 1,292 RBI with Angels, starter in left field for ’02 World Championship team

To this current point in time, the Angels haven’t exactly had that gold-paved road to the top of the division, that they’ve seemed to have in years past. Injuries decimated the Angels’ rotation to start the year, and an unexpected tragedy would rock the Angels organization and the baseball world in the opening month.

April

Month record: 9-12

Highest point: 1-0 (the only time during the month they had over a .500 record was after the Opening Day win)

Lowest point: 6-11

3+ Game Winning Streaks: 1– 3 games (April 26, 28, 29)

3+ Game Losing Streaks: 1– 3 games (April 17-19)

April Player of the Month: Torii Hunter (.325 avg./.379 OBP/8 HR/16 RBI)

A look back on April

It all started great, nothing like an Opening Day shutout of an in-state division rival. Joe Saunders would dazzle in the April 6th season opener, en route to a 3-0 Halo win against the visiting Oakland A’s.

The A’s would take game 2, and then the bullpen would blow a tremendous outing (soon to become a recurring theme) from young hurler Nick Adenhart in game 3 of the series, a game in which he threw 6 innings of shutout ball, striking out 5 Oakland batters.

But just hours after that April 8th Angels loss, the Angels would be dealt a loss that no one saw coming.

In the early hours of April 9th, that same Nick Adenhart who threw 6 magnificent innings for the Halos in his season debut, would be killed by a drunk driver, as well as 2 of the other 3 people in the car. He was only 22 years old. This was a kid who you just knew was going to be special. At 22 and having good, yet still improving control of a knee-buckling curveball complimented by a mid-90s fastball, as well as having composure and resiliency on the mound… not many come around like that, especially that early in a career. He was exuding with promise. Such a promising career that I believe in all my heart he was going to have, now is just a “what could have been” thought.

The final game of the series against Oakland was postponed in wake of the tragedy.

It just put baseball on the shelf and really put into perspective what’s important in life.

The Angels’ first game following Adenhart’s death would be Friday April 10th against the Red Sox. Before the game, the Angels put together a brief video in memory of Nick Adenhart that I thought was pretty neat, and you can hear (as well as not hear for the moment of silence) the fan appreciation for the fallen Angel.

It still kills me to see that face following the end of the “Calling All Angels” video that the Halos play just about 5-7 minutes before the first pitch of every home game at the Big A.

In that game against Boston, Jered Weaver, who was scheduled to move in and room with Nick Adenhart within the week, was the scheduled starter. When he was removed from the game in 7th inning after throwing 6 2/3 ball where he allowed 1 unearned run, he pointed up to the sky on his way back to the dugout, as if he was saying, “this one’s for you, Nick.” They’d win the game 6-3.

The rest of the month would come with it’s fair share of anemic bats and horrendous bullpen work.

It would also take the Angels the longest amount of time to string together back-to-back wins, becoming the last team in Major League Baseball to do so (wins on April 26th, 28th).

The overall character, resiliency and companionship of the Angels’ organization was tested early by having all-stars John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Vladimir Guerrero all on the DL at the same time to go along with Kelvim Escobar among others. Then with the additional blow of losing a teammate, the Angels showed incredible heart to finish the month at 9-12, a success in my honest opinion.

I think a lot of that reflects upon Mike Scioscia and the way he runs his team. He treats his major league squad not as a team, but as a family. It was a month that I believed would go 1 of 2 ways: the Angels fold completely or they rise up and persevere.

Towards the end of April, perseverance was beginning to break through.

May

Month record: 16-12 (25-24 overall)

Highest point: At 18-15, Halos had won 9 of their previous 11 games.

Lowest point: 9-13 to start the month, tough 10-9 loss to the Yankees to begin May.

3+  Game Winning Streaks: 2– 3 games (May 2, 4, 5), 4 games (May 7-10)

3+ Game Losing Streaks: 1– 3 games (May 15-17)

May Player of the Month: Matt Palmer (6 starts/4-0 record/1 blown lead/3.76 ERA/26 K)

A look back on May

To sum it up quickly, May was a very “up-and-down” month for the Halos. Right when you think they’re picking it up and starting to play quality baseball, they go on and lose 2 or 3 in a row. And then, right when you think they’re stuck in a rut, they go on and win 2, 3, or 4 in a row.

Their hottest hitter, Torii Hunter, continued to kill the ball for the Halos game in and game out, recording 26 RBI during the month of May. Had it not been for Hunter making up for the lack of a clean-up hitter (Vladdy on the DL), who knows where the Angels who have been after May, and even now into early July.

But Torii’s stellar player was not even close to being the story of the month.

No doubt about it, the story of the month would be that of 30-year-old rookie right-hander Matt Palmer.

Palmer, a journeyman for years in the minor leagues who could never seem to get his shot with a major league ballclub, contemplated giving the game up altogether at one point. Although it took some convincing, Matt’s wife Michelle convinced him to keep giving baseball a try (Matt wanted to start a landscaping business if baseball didn’t work out for him in his hometown of Caruthersville, Missouri… a small town of just over 6,000 people!).

He would break through with the San Francisco Giants in 2008, and have 3 rough outings, prompting the Giants to let him go after the ’08 season.

The Halos would sign him as a minor league free agent in January of 2009, and by the end of May, Palmer would find himself to be 5-0 to begin his Angels career. Palmer still continues to wear his wedding ring underneath his glove as a reminder of why he’s still on the mound.

The Angels’ play of the year, and a top candidate for the top play in all of Major League Baseball to this point in the season came in the 9th inning of a 1-run game against the Royals on May 10th from Spiderman himself, Torii Hunter. Check out the video below to see his absolutely incredible grab.

As much as the ground he covered and the catch itself are just flat-out remarkable, you can’t help but love the passion, fire and competitiveness and that Torii shows after the catch. That’s what baseball is all about.

June

Month record: 17-9 (42-33 overall)

Highest point: 42-32 (highest amount of games over .500 all year to that point)

Lowest point: 29-29 (Scioscia would give the team a tongue-lashing, and would finish the month by going 13-4)

3+ Game Winning streaks: 3– 3 games (June 3-5), 7 games (June 12-17, 19), 6 games (June 23-24, 26-29)

3+ Game Losing streaks: 1– 3 games (June 20-22)

Player of the Month: Juan Rivera (.290 avg./29 hits/6 2B/8 HR/24 RBI)

A look back on June

July would mark the start of the Angels… well, playing like the Angels. While relying on small ball to win in May (36 doubles, 20 home runs, 37 stolen bases), the Angels would start pounding the ball and playing uncharacteristic long ball (53 doubles, 33 home runs, 15 stolen bases), en route to their most successful month of the season.

Juan Rivera would no doubt be the hottest hitter of the month with his aforementioned June statistics, but guys like Torii Hunter (9 XBH), Bobby Abreu (10 XBH) and Kendry Morales (15 XBH) would compliment Rivera’s hot hitting with some consistent extra-base hitting of their own.

The Halos would rack up 2 impressive winning streaks (7 games and 6 games respectively) and really start to hit their stride on their way to getting as high as 10 games over .500.

Pitching stayed solid and consistent, and meanwhile, the arms of the bullpen seemed to have settled in and really calmed down after a rocky 2 months to start the season (thankfully).

Matt Palmer’s remarkable run would continue, with him ending June with a 7-1 record in 11 starts.

But Jered Weaver would no doubt be the Halos’ best pitcher through the first 3 months. Weaver would compile a record of 8-3 by June’s end, and post one of the MLB’s lowest ERAs with a mark of 2.65. To compliment his ERA, his command would be nothing short of outstanding all the way through June by recording 83 strikeouts to only 32 walks.

Brian Fuentes would sit atop the MLB with the most saves (22) at June’s end, going 9-for-9 in save opportunities over the course of the month.

June would also mark the end of Interleague Play. The Halos would post the top record in the MLB against the opposing league, by going 14-4 against National League teams (11-1 against teams not named the Los Angeles Dodgers).

Player Grades

Now that we’re in early July, let’s take a look at some 1st half stats and grade some players:

(bold statistics indicate team-high)

(* denotes All-Star selection)

All statistics are as of the first 81 games.

Torii Hunter *- .307 avg./.382 OBP/86 H/56 R/19 2B/1 3B/17 HR/65 RBI/13 SB

Grade A+

The Angels’ MVP, no questions asked. He’s done everything for the Halos so far. He’s hit for average (.307 avg.). He’s hit for power (37 extra-base hits). He’s driven in runs (65 RBI is 5th in all of the MLB). He’s stolen bases (13). And like the typical Torii Hunter always does, he’s played Gold Glove-caliber defense game in and game out. He picked up the slack for the offense when Vladdy Guerrero was out for over a month, and is one of the first-half MVPs for the American League, no doubt. And talk about a clubhouse leader, he handled everything regarding the Adenhart tragedy so well, and really rallied his team to stick together and face everything with a smile and a positive attitude. It’s really hard to measure the impact that Torii Hunter has had on this team, because his impact reaches far beyond the playing field and stat sheets.

Chone Figgins– .311 avg./.393 OBP/97 H/63 R/16 2B/5 3B/1 HR/25 RBI/24 SB

Grade: A

He’s been the table setter for the Angels’ offense this year, and has really developed his plate discipline since the end of last season, and Bobby Abreu’s presence and influence seems to be the main reason why. For his career, Figgy has an on-base percentage of .359, and this season alone, he’s on pace to post a new career high with a current mark of .393. His defense has been spectacular at 3rd base and should be in the consideration for a Gold Glove, no doubt. He’s getting on base, he’s stealing bases, and he’s scoring runs. The Angels go as Figgy goes. If he scores at least 1 run, the Angels have a remarkably higher record compared to when he doesn’t score a run in a game. You get an A from me Chone, and deserved an All-Star nod in my honest opinion.

Bobby Abreu- .302 avg./.405 OBP/83 H/45 R/16 2B/2 3B/6 HR/51 RBI/17 SB

Grade: A-

Talk about a steal and a bargain. I was hoping and praying that the Angels would go after Abreu, because he’s the type of #2 hitter that Mike Scioscia had been begging the front office to get for years. A guy who, over his career, is a .300 hitter and has an OBP of over .400, Bobby is right at his career levels at the midway point of the year. He’s stealing plenty of bases too, so he’s still got some wheels despite being 35 years of age. He’s played adequate defense in right field, but more importantly, has been able to compliment Figgy’s high on-base percentage with that of his own, which sets up run-producing situations for Torii, Vlad, Kendry, Juan etc. Although Abreu doesn’t have his typical home run numbers (6, but averages roughly 20 per season over the course of his career), he’s been worth every penny.

Juan Rivera.312 avg./.353 OBP/87 H/34 R/15 2B/0 3B/14 HR/50 RBI/0 SB

Grade: A-

I wrote an article on Juan a number of weeks ago talking about how this is his first year being back as an everyday player for the Angels after a few years of being the odd-man out in the stacked Angels outfield. I was thrilled to hear that the Angels inked him for 3 years in the offseason, because he can be a productive hitter when given regular at-bats. He’s impressed me every bit so far this year. He’s been on a power surge after a slow start (home run-wise) and has been driving in runs, all while leading the Angels in batting average with a .312 mark. His defense has been solid in left field as it usually is, and I hope Juan can continue his success because he played the role of a true professional the past couple of years; knowing he could be easily getting everyday at-bats while he wasn’t and not making a scene about it like Jose Guillen did years ago… it’s a feeling of clarity for the man.

Brian Fuentes*- 24 saves/3 BS/3.38 ERA

Grade: A-

After blowing a save in his 2nd appearance as an Angel, Fuentes has calmed down and performed nicely late in games lately, converting on 11 straight save opportunities, as well as 18 of his last 19 save situations. I was a little shaky on him early on, but then again, the whole bullpen was imploding before Angel fans’ eyes. He’s been mowing down opponents lately, and with his league-leading 24 saves, made the All-Star team in his first year as a Halo.

Jered Weaver9-3 record/3.15 ERA/114.1 IP/95 K/12 QS

Grade: A-

As you can see, Weaver’s the team leader in every major pitching category (most wins, lowest ERA among starters, most strikeouts, most quality starts). Over the years, Weaver had been the kind of pitcher who would run his pitch count up towards 100 early, and have his night be finished after the 5th inning. This year, he’s done a much better job of controlling his pitching, to where he can pitch deeper into ballgames (recorded his first career shutout back on June 14th against San Diego). He’s been much more composed than in years past too, where sometimes his emotions used to get the best of him. He’s a special pitcher with good stuff, and has far exceeded my expectations this year by being the most consistent pitcher the Halos have to throw out, and he’s not only acted, but also performed like a legitimate #1 starter for the Angels as well.

Kendry Morales– .285 avg./.340 OBP/80 H/37 R/23 2B/2 3B/14 HR/45 RBI/0 SB

Grade: B+

Talk about coming in with some big shoes to fill. KMo had to fill the void of All-Star slugger Mark Teixeira, who opted for the New York Yankees and the 8 years and $180 million dollars they threw at him. A raw talent from Cuba with great power from both sides of the plate, Kendry has done a better job than I thought he would do. He leads the team in extra-base hits (39), and to my surprise, has played pretty good defense at 1st base for the most part. As long as he continues to hit well in the 5 or 6 hole in the lineup, the Angels will continue to have a steady attack if guys like Vladdy, Torii and Bobby continue to get on base. For having such high expectations, he’s responded incredibly well and has produced much more than I could’ve imagined going into the ’09 season.

Matt Palmer– 7-1 record/4.88 ERA/70.1 IP/42 K/4 QS

Grade: B+

What a story Matt Palmer has turned out to be. Right when Mike Scioscia needed to find another starter, when he could’ve thrown a talented young arm into the regular rotation, he took a chance on a 30-year-old journeyman… and Matt Palmer has made Scioscia’s decision look nothing short of brilliant. He won his first 6 decisions, and has been eating up innings for the Angels as a starter, and has even appeared in relief in 3 games. They say “all good things must come to an end”, but for Matt Palmer, he has been defying that old saying for just about 3 months now.

Maicer Izturis- .303 avg./.351 OBP/56 H/37 R/9 2B/3 3B/2 HR/26 RBI/7 SB

Grade: B+

He’s been a space-filler for most of his tenure with the Angels, but now people are really taking note of how Maicer’s play is deserving of making him an everyday player for Mike Scioscia. Consistent with the bat, and clutch when you need him to be, Maicer’s been very productive through the first half of the season, all while playing impeccable defense at shortstop and 2nd base. Now with Howie Kendrick back from the minors (yet still sputtering), I hope that Maicer won’t find himself as the odd man out again, because he has played far better than Erick Aybar has at the plate and in the field. I’d take my chances with Maicer over Aybar any day.

Erick Aybar– .271 avg./.314 OBP/60 H/26 R/11 2B/2 3B/2 HR/22 RBI/5 SB

Grade: B/B-

Aybar and Izturis create the problem at shortstop that Napoli and Mathis create behind the plate… who to start? Aybar is lightning fast and may be one of the most athletic shortstops in all of the league, but is a streaky hitter whose defense can be erratic at times. While Izturis doesn’t have the speed, range or athleticism that Aybar has, he is a much more consistent hitter at the plate, and is one of the more clutch hitters the Angels have to offer with runners in scoring position. Izturis has impressed me more than Aybar, but when Aybar goes on a tear, look out.

Joe Saunders– 8-5 record/4.44 ERA/107.1 IP/61 K/9 QS

Grade: B-

Coming off an All-Star year where he went 17-7, expectations were high for the former Virginia Tech Hokie. He started the year by throwing 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball en route to an Opening Day shutout, and would move on to compile a 6-2 record at one point. But recently, he hasn’t quite had his pinpoint command, thus giving him his B- grade. He’s put forth 9 quality starts, but the rising ERA is worrisome. He’ll have one more start in all likelihood before the All-Star break, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does following the break. Entering the All-Star break last year, he would go 5-2, but have his fair share of rough outings. We’ll see how he responds, but as of now, he’s been fading quite a bit.

Mike Napoli – .288 avg./.376 OBP/55 H/28 R/10 2B/0 3B/10 HR/30 RBI/2 SB

Grade: C+/C

Pretty good stats for Nap with limited at-bats, so why the low grade, you ask? The defense. Napoli and Mathis foil each other perfectly. Napoli can hit the ball and get on base, but can’t play good defense. Mathis can’t hit the ball or get on base, but plays very good defense. Put them together, and they’d create the unstoppable catcher! Too bad that can’t happen or the Angels would be a juggernaut. Nap’s quietly batted .288 and still works his way on base with pretty good plate discipline, but after this year, management has a decision to make with who to keep and who to let go (if any). Both of their contracts are up following this season… will they stick with one or platoon both like they have this season and last season? Time will tell.

Jeff Mathis – .205 avg./.295 OBP/25 H/17 R/3 2B/0 3B/3 HR/19 RBI/0 SB

Grade: C-

Had it not been for his good defense behind the plate, he’d be a D- or an F. Mathis’ poor hitting continues despite hitting well in Spring Training (.340 avg./6 2B/4 HR/13 RBI in only 54 at-bats). He’s done a great job of calling games and has played waaaaaaay better defense than Mike Napoli this year. I just don’t know how much longer I can give Mathis the benefit of the doubt by saying “well, his defense makes up for it”… because his hitting has been nonexistent ever since he’s been in the majors.

Howie Kendrick – .227 avg./.275 OBP/45 H/26 R/7 2B/2 3B/4 HR/22 RBI/7 SB

Grade: D-

What an unexpected disappointment. After hitting .285, .322., and .306 in his first 3 years in the MLB, his .227 average just came out of nowhere. After being a .360+ average hitter in the minors, his hitting translated well through his first 3 seasons, but has dramatically dropped off so much that Mike Scioscia sent him down to AAA Salt Lake for 3 weeks to find his swing. His defense hasn’t been all that great either, which opened the door for Maicer Izturis, and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. Kendrick doesn’t deserve to start at this point, in my opinion, but it’s Mike Scioscia’s opinion, not mine, that matters.

Vladimir Guerrero hasn’t had enough at-bats for me to give him a fair grade, but he’s been picking up the pace ever since he shaved his head (good idea, because those dreads were getting a little nasty!). He’s starting to look like the Vlad of old, and the Big Daddy has been racking up the extra-base hits over the past week, which is a welcome sign to Halo fans as well as the rest of the lineup.

John Lackey has been regaining his stuff over the past few starts and is looking like the Lackey of the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Ervin Santana has been on and off of the DL this year, but has struggled mightily in his starts.

Still 81 more games to go, but so far, the Angels have faced a lot of adversity, and have done the most that they’ve been able to do with the hand they’ve been dealt.

I still truly believe their best baseball is in front them.

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, April Game Recaps, June Game Recaps, May Game Recaps

Angels Enjoying Interleague Success

aybar lackey abreuWith only 3 games left to go in Interleague play, the Angels are wishing it didn’t have to end so soon.

The Halos hold the MLB’s top Interleague mark at 11-4 against the National League, and are a game below .500 at 27-28 against all other American League teams.

Interleague play started off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a Freeway Series at Chavez Ravine back in late May. The Halos would take 2 of 3 from the Blue Crew before playing 9 of their next 15 games on the road against American League teams.

Over that 15 game stretch, the Halos would sputter by going 6-9. They would take 2 of 3 at Toronto, their only series win over this 15-game span, but drop 2 of 3 to both the White Sox and Mariners at home as well as 2 of 3 to the Tigers and Rays, each on the road.

Then Interleague play came back, just in the knick of time for Mike Scioscia’s club who now sat at an even .500 with a record of 29-29.

Scioscia would give his players a tongue-lashing following their enormous 11-1 loss in the final game of a 3-game set in Tampa Bay.

Pitching had been awful (John Lackey had 9 ER in that 11-1 in loss), and all pitchers, starters and relievers alike, were just in a funk of walking batters with ease.

Hitting had been sporadic at times, but was just poor altogether to be brutally honest.

The Angels headed back to the friendly confines of the Big A, hoping that some home cooking would do the trick to get them out of the funk that they had been mired in for about half a month.

That would be just the case.

Or maybe it was just because the Padres are just plain bad.

Either way, the Halos would sweep the Padres in a 3-game set which the Angels outscored San Diego 26-7.

Game 1 featured home runs from Torii Hunter and Kendry Morales, while also pushing Matt Palmer’s season record to a surprising 6-0.

Torii Hunter would record his 1st career 3 home run game in game 2 which the Angels would win 9-1 backed by a solid effort from starter Joe Saunders. Saunders would throw 8 1/3 dazzling innings of 1-run ball, while striking out 5 Padres hitters.

Game 3 would be all Jered Weaver, who would throw his first career shutout in a 6-0 win for the Halos, moving his record to 7-2, and lowering his ERA to an incredible 2.08.

The Angels would then travel up to the Bay Area for a 3-game series with the San Francisco Giants. The Halos were coming in hot, hitting an uncharacteristic 9 home runs in their series with San Diego.

The Angels would pick up where they left off, blasting 6 home runs in the first 2 games, winning both contests 9-7 and 8-1 respectively.

The Giants would throw out 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum for the final game of the series, and he was tough as nails on the hot Halo offense through the first 7 innings. But the Angels, entering the 8th inning trailing 3-1, would tax Lincecum for 3 runs in the half-inning, and would end up closing out the game by a score of 4-3, securing themselves of their 2nd consecutive sweep of an NL West opponent.

The Angels would come back to Anaheim riding a 6-game winning streak thanks to their all-of-a-sudden hot offense, and were set to take on the Dodgers at home.

The Halos would win game 1 5-4, a game that I was fortunate enough to be at. Over the years, this Angels/Dodgers rivalry has begun to grow more intense, and on that night of game 1 of the Freeway Series in Anaheim, the Big A was electric with fan energy.

Before the first pitch was even thrown, all you could hear were fans chanting, “Let’s go Angels!” and “Let’s go Dodgers!” The crowd was into it from the first pitch, all the way until the final out in the 9th recorded by Brian Fuentes. The general dislike between the two teams was tangible, and that made the atmosphere of this game one of the best that I’ve ever been a part of (and that includes Adam Kennedy’s 3-homer game against Minnesota in the 2002 ALCS as well as World Series Game 1).

The cross-town Dodgers would break the Angels’ season-long 7-game winning streak and nail down the final 2 games against the Angels including the incredibly hyped-up “Battle of the Brothers” featuring Jeff Weaver of the Dodgers and Jered Weaver of the Angels. Jeff would get the better of his younger brother en route to a 6-4 win, and Clayton Kershaw would throw 7 spectacular innings of shutout ball in game 3, resulting in a 5-3 Dodger victory.

The Angels took 2 of 3 from the visiting red-hot Colorado Rockies (who had entered the series winning a remarkable 16 of their past 17 games). The Rockies killed the Angels 11-1 game 1, but the Angels rallied to win 4-3 in game 2, and would whoop the Rockies in the finale by an 11-3 final.

The Angels have now gone 9-3 in their last 12 games, all against NL competition.

The Halos travel to the Valley of the Sun next to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks for a 3-game series (hopefully they’ll close the roof at Chase Field considering temperatures are forecasted to be 100+ for all 3 days), hoping to build on their overall Interleague success.

The Angels are now in a tie for 1st place for the first time since the early goings of the season. Go Halos!

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Juan Fire!

Dodgers Angels BaseballThe Angels are on fire.

Now 7 wins in a row for the Halos, 7th Heaven if you will.

And there unarguably has not been one hotter Halo hitter than Juan Rivera during this stretch.

Over the Angels’ current 7-game winning streak, Juan has gone 11-29 (.380) with 4 home runs, 2 doubles, and 9 RBI.

Juan has been instant offense over the past 18 games, hitting at that same .380 mark (27-71 overall) with 6 homers, 8 doubles, and 20 RBI. Rivera has an RBI in 15 of his last 18 games he’s appeared in and also has recorded 9 games of 2 or more hits during those 18 contests.

Today’s game against the Dodgers where he blasted a tie-busting solo home run marked the 2nd straight contest where a ball off his bat helped score the go-ahead and eventual game-deciding run.

Juan’s the type of home run hitter who will hit home runs in bunches of games, which is frequently followed by a long power outage of sorts until his next blast. But no doubt, his power is surging at this point of the season.

His average is now up to .316 on the season, the 3rd best mark on the team behind leadoff man Chone Figgins (.324) and the Halos’ Superman of the 1st half in Torii Hunter (.321). He’s also tied with Kendry Morales for 2nd on the Halos for home runs with 10.

Juan has been thriving in his starting role this season, but things have not always been so sweet during his season-by-season rollercoaster tenure in Anaheim.

Juan Rivera came over to the Angels along with current 2nd baseman Maicer Izturis in a deal that sent outfielder Jose Guillen from the Angels to the then-Montreal Expos back in November of 2004.

He would appear in 106 games in his first year as an Angel in 2005, hitting .271 with 15 home runs and 59 RBI on the season.

’06 would be a career year for Juan, where in 124 games, he would post career highs in batting average (.310), hits (139), runs scored (65), doubles (27), home runs (23), and runs batted in (85). Rivera would be an impressive mainstay in Scioscia’s lineup that year, and made the Angels look like geniuses for trading away Jose Guillen after his most impressive offensive year in 2004.

However, toward the end of 2006, his fortunes would change.

While playing Winter League ball in Venezuela, he would need a rod and screws inserted into his tibia bone after he broke his leg in a game.

His prolonged absence prompted the Angels to bring in a new outfielder, lassoing in center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. from the Texas Rangers, who made the All-Star team the year before.

He would only appear in 14 games that year, mustering up 12 hits in 43 at-bats with 2 long-balls and 8 RBI.

His return to an everyday role in the outfield and lineup would take another turn for the worst (for him at least), as the Angels shocked the baseball world by bringing in another center fielder in Torii Hunter, who had spent his whole career in Minnesota prior to the signing.

2008 marked a year where the Angels had an absolute logjam in the outfield with guys like Hunter, Matthews, Vladimir Guerrero, left field mainstay Garret Anderson, and even Reggie Willits who was coming off of a great 2007 rookie year. That put Juan as outfielder #5/maybe even #6 on the depth chart, meaning that in a matter of just about 12 months, he had gone from being an everyday player to even lesser of a situational player. And trust me, it’s not easy for a productive player like him to swallow a situation like that.

But he took it all in stride during the ’08 campaign, getting situational starts in the outfield or DH duty from time to time, appearing in 89 games altogether, his lowest total in the past 4 full years he was able to play. He’d hit at a disappointing career-low .246 mark on the season, while tallying 12 home runs and driving in 45 runs.

I give Juan a lot of credit because he could have gone off and been a baby like Jose Guillen and thrown a tantrum about his playing time, but he didn’t. He stayed within himself and knew that Mike Scioscia and the Angels would give him his chance to be back as an everyday player for the ball club. He took it all in stride like a true professional while trying to make the most out of each opportunity that he was given, knowing that if he continued to work at the level that he had been working at, all while keeping a level head, a bigger and better opportunity would come his way.

2009 would be that opportunity.

Gary Matthews Jr. struggled mightily with the bat in 2008 which carried into Spring Training.

Garret Anderson, who had spent his whole 15-year MLB career in Anaheim with the Angels (he was a member of the Angels when they were referred to as the California Angels, Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, so you know he’d been a Halo for quite some time), was not picked up and ended up signing with the Atlanta Braves.

The door opened up for him, and he made sure he seized the opportunity.

Juan landed the Opening Day role for the Halos in 2009, and has been a productive and consistent hitter for the Angels all year long.

It’s been a long time coming since that career year of 2006, but he’s on pace to surpass those numbers as he tries to guide the Halos back in to 1st place in the American League West division and hopefully capture 1 of the 4 available playoff spots in the American League.

After Friday night’s game-deciding solo blast, the fans were in a frenzy, begging Juan to take the curtain call for his late-game heroics.

But I can imagine that at that moment, it was much more than one home run in one brief moment to him. It was years of hard work and sacrifice, mixed in with his fair share of flourishing moments and hardships; going from a nearly indispensable player one year to an almost forgotten player the next.

And as he went to make his way up those steps, I sure hope he felt that he earned the right to bask in that brief moment of glory.

Take your curtain call, Juan, you’ve earned it.

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Angels Find Power Surge

hunter 3 homersFor years, Southern California residents have seen those “Flex Your Power” commercials on TV.

Over their current 4 game winning streak, the Angels finally got that memo.

Season after season, the Angels have always been one of the best teams in team batting average, but at the same time have been one of the worst home run hitting teams in the major leagues, and entering their 3-game series with San Diego, the Halos dead last in the American League in total team home runs.

When the Padres came in to town, the light went on. They flexed their power, and it’s now spilled into a series by the bay.

In Friday’s game against San Diego, the Angels hit 2 home runs. Torii Hunter blasted his 13th homer of the season and Kendry Morales jacked his 10th in an 11-6 whooping of the Padres.

Then on Saturday, Torii Hunter and the Halos erupted to blast 5 homers off the Padres’ pitching staff. Torii had his 1st career 3 home run game, pushing his season home run total to 16. Kendry Morales hit his 10th, and Jeff Mathis hit his elusive 1st home run of the year in a game the Angels ended up winning by a comfortable 9-1 margin.

In the final game against the Padres on Sunday, the Angels didn’t slow up, or should I say Juan Rivera didn’t slow up. Juanito hit 2 home runs, giving him a total of 8 on the year. The Angels would shutout the Pads 6-0 in a game that featured Jered Weaver earn his first career shutout, allowing only 5 hits.

The Angels totaled 9 home runs in the 3-game set, after hitting only 42 in the previous 58 games (0.72 home runs per game).

Then they traveled up for a series in San Francisco with the Giants, and they carried their newfound power with them.

In Monday’s contest, when it was all said and done, the Angels tallied 4 more home runs against Barry Zito and company. Juan Rivera hit his 8th, Erick Aybar hit his 2nd, Bobby Abreu hit his 3rd in a back-to-back homer effort with Aybar, and in his 1st start of the season, Sean Rodriguez laced his 1st home run of the season. The Angels would win it (although the bullpen found a way to make it interesting yet again) by a score of 9-7, taking the 1st of a 3-game set.

What could be the reason for this power surge of home runs and offensive production? I can’t be too certain to tell you the truth.

However, prior to that 3-game set with the lowly Padres, Mike Scioscia had given the Angels an absolute tongue lashing, telling his pitching to step up, and more importantly, he told his hitters to start producing, or else (he already demoted Howie Kendrick to AAA to find his swing). Entering the 3-game set against San Diego the Angels had also dropped 4 of their last 5 games.

So far, it’s safe to say that the starting pitchers have taken Scioscia’s words to heart, given the fact that the last 3 starters (Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and John Lackey respectively) have each gone at least 7 innings and given up less than 3 runs.

And the hitters have no doubt made noise with the bats. It’s as if someone corked all of the Halos’ bats recently, blasting 13 home runs during their current 4-game winning streak. As a matter of fact, the Angels have hit nearly 1/4 of their home runs on the season in the past 4 games alone!

So who says Southern California needs to conserve their power?

The Angels are powering the southland with no signs of slowing up.

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Kendrick’s Demotion Means It’s Maicer’s Time to Shine

kendrick izturisWhen you try to think of one word that can describe Howie Kendrick‘s offensive production for the Angels this year, what words come to mind?

Poor? Dismal? Nonexistent?

No matter how you slice it up, Howie Kendrick needed to be sent down to Triple-A ball. In my opinion, this move was made a month too late.

Howie on the year is hitting a depressing .231 for being regarded as one of the best pure hitters to come out of the minor leagues in recent memory. Heck, he hit over .360 in his 4 minor league seasons altogether.

Kendrick hit an even lower mark of .193 during the month of May. And the fact that he’s drawn only 10 walks in the 51 games he’s played in, it’s not like his on-base percentage of .281 is going to give Scioscia a reason to keep him in the bigs.

In his first 3 seasons in the MLB, Howie hit .285, .322, and .306 respectively, so it’s not like the kid can’t hit. But if there is one thing that gets to him, it’s the pressure.

Take the postseason for example, a time of the year where all the lights are on him to produce, and he shuts down. In 2 postseason appearances, Kendrick has amassed 4 hits in a total of 27 at-bats, good enough for a .148 batting average. In last year’s postseason series against the Red Sox, Howie compiled 2 hits in 17 at-bats, while striking out 7 times and drawing no walks.

To put it lightly, he just hasn’t been able to find his swing so far this year.

Thankfully, there is a “replacement” who I’m excited to see get regular starts in the field as well as at-bats.

That somebody is 28-year-old Maicer Izturis.

Maicer was acquired by the Halos back on November 19th, 2004 along with Juan Rivera from the Expos/Nationals (whatever they were at that time) in exchange for the talented but ticking time bomb named Jose Guillen.

Although Izturis is listed as a shortstop, he has also filled in time valiantly at both the 3rd base and 2nd base positions. Mike Scioscia is confident to put Maicer anywhere in the infield because he is as sound as they come with the glove.

Standing in at 5’8″, Maicer isn’t the prototypical shortstop people think of. He doesn’t have that incredible range, doesn’t necessarily have the strongest arm, that kind of thing. However, although he may not be great at one thing in particular, he is good at everything else.

He has made countless plays in the field this year that have gone straight to ESPN’s Top 10 Plays or Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems. He reads the ball great off the bat, always puts himself in great position to make a play, and always seems to deliver a great throw to finish the play, whether it be from 3rd, short or 2nd base.

And at the plate, while Maicer may not be the guy who hits over .325 in the lineup (.273 career hitter), or club countless home runs (career high in HR’s is 6), he does virtually everything else.

He’s a contact hitter, and rarely strikes out (career high in strikeouts was 39 in 336 at-bats in 2007).

Although he’s a career .273 hitter, his batting average seems to skyrocket any time there are runners in scoring position or if it’s a late-in-game or pressure situation (pretty much the polar opposite of Kendrick).

He puts pressure on the defense because he can run well, and does a great job of spraying the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate.

Ever since Mighty Maicer’s come to Anaheim, he hasn’t ever been able to really call himself an everyday player for Mike Scioscia’s ballclub.

In 2006 after centerfielder Darin Erstad hit the Disabled List, super utility man Chone Figgins was moved into center for the time being, opening up 3rd base for Maicer Izturis where he established himself as an incredibly capable defender worthy of more playing time (he ended up starting 78 games at 3rd in ’06).

In 2007, the Angels (much to my and many Angel fans’ current dislike) forked out $50 million dollars for centerfielder Gary Matthews Jr., fresh off an All-Star 2006 season. This forced Figgy back to 3rd, and Maicer back to being the odd man out. He once again became the space-filler for whenever any infielder would go down with an injury (mainly the oft-injured Howie Kendrick at 2nd).

Maicer suffered an injury-plagued 2008 campaign, but in his 52 games at shortstop throughout the season, he only committed 2 errors, good enough for a fielding percentage of .991 (translation = pretty damn good).

Now, he finds himself being the space-filler until Howie can find his swing, and the way we’ve seen Howie swing the stick this year, that could be quite a time-consuming search.

In his 1st start replacing Kendrick at 2nd base on Friday, all he did was go 4-for-4 with 2 singles, a double and a triple, as well as an RBI and 2 runs scored. He followed that up with a 1-for-3 showing Saturday night with a double and a run scored, all while playing spectacular defense at 2nd base.

And if I may add, man do Maicer and Erick Aybar make a pretty double-play tandem! Maicer and Erick compliment each other perfectly in my opinion. Aybar has arguably the most range of any shortstop in the major leagues and can make some incredible acrobatic plays (he’ll get to balls that Maicer has no chance of getting), let alone the fact that he’s got a cannon for an arm. However, all these incredible plays mean that he’s more susceptible to errors. Maicer makes every play look routine and is very consistent in the field.

I’m excited to see what this new lineup will do on a regular basis. It’s been pretty damn good so far, they’ve posted 20 runs in the first 2 games with this Kendrick-less lineup.

The lineup and overall defense can only improve from this move.

So Howie… take your time, buddy. No rush.

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Escobar’s Return Inches Angels Closer to Full Strength

escobarIt had been a long time between appearances for Halo hurler Kelvim Escobar, and I mean a lonnnnnng time.

Try a good 20 months between regular season outings.

His last start for the Halos before tonight’s game was back on September 29th of 2007 against the Oakland A’s. Escobar would go 6 innings en route to his 18th win of the season, giving up 1 run on 5 hits while striking out 4 Oakland batters.

Escobar would end up going 18-7 with a quite respectable ERA of 3.40 in 30 starts for the Angels in 2007. Escobar’s 18 wins tied him for 7th best in the MLB in 2007, while his ERA of 3.40 was good for 8th in the AL. He also struck out 150 opposing hitters, 15th best among American League hurlers.

However, Escobar suffered a torn labrum and was declared out for the duration of the 2008 season due to opting for surgery after initially trying to rehab the shoulder without any type of surgery.

You would think the Angels feel the loss of an 18-game winner in the rotation, wouldn’t you? Escobar was undoubtedly the #2 pitcher the Halos had to offer, behind John Lackey who went 19-9 the previous year and led the American League for the lowest ERA, posting an impressive 3.01 mark.

Ervin Santana struggled mightily and was erratic all season long in 2007, going 7-14 with an ERA of 5.76. Jered Weaver pulled together a record of 13-7 with an ERA just under 4. Bartolo Colon went 6-8 with an ERA over 6 in his final year in Angel red. Joe Saunders burst onto the scene by winning his first 6 starts of 2007 and would finish the year at 8-5.

Who was going to be the guy to fill that void? Fortunately for Mike Scioscia and Angel fans, there was more than 1 answer to that question.

Two Angels again exploded onto the national scene, those two being Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. Both would go on to be representatives of the Angels on the 2008 American League All-Star team, joining closer Francisco Rodriguez on the team as well. Saunders would go 17-7 with a solid 3.41 ERA in 2008, while Santana would have an incredible bounce-back year by going 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA. Ace John Lackey missed the 1st month of the season, but thanks to Saunders and Santana, the #1 starter void was filled quite valiantly.

All 5 starters in Joe Saunders (17), Ervin Santana (16), Jon Garland (14), John Lackey (12) and Jered Weaver (11) would post 10 or more wins on the season, a feat that no other MLB team could boast. Even phenom reliever Jose Arredondo collected 10 wins as a 7th inning guy.

There’s no doubt that Angel pitching was going to be deep going into 2009.

Santana’s back and true to form. Saunders looks like a legitimate #2 starter, possibly even a #1 in some cases, Lackey’s still got his stuff working and Weaver was continuing to progress and was doing a good job of keeping his pitch count down so he could go deeper into ballgames.

Only one problem.

To start the season, John, Ervin and Kelvim were all injured coming into 2009. You could legitimately say that your #1, #2a, and #2b starters were all out to start your ’09 campaign. That’s not exactly starting out on the right foot.

Saunders took the reigns as the #1 and put forth a second straight brilliant month of May pitching-wise, Jered Weaver has been outstanding and the most consistent pitcher for the Halos this season, and the feel-good story has to be that of Matt Palmer, a 30-year-old rookie who broke into the majors for the first time with San Francisco last year after spending countless years bouncing around in the minors and contemplating giving up on baseball altogether. Palmer’s been a pleasant and most certainly unexpected surprise by going 5-0 (could have easily been 6-0 or 7-0 if it wasn’t for the bullpen and their blunders) with an ERA of 4.06.

Now, Lackey, Ervin and Kelvim are all back. Lackey’s working his kinks out, Santana finally broke out of his horrific 2-outing slide, and Kelvim was set to make his return Saturday night in Detroit.

Saturday’s contest marked the first time that Kelvim toed the rubber for the Halos in the regular season since that game in Oakland 1 3/4 years ago.

Ever since he joined the Halos in 2004 as part of Arte Moreno‘s big off-season splash that brought in Vladimir Guerrero (won the AL MVP award that year), Bartolo Colon (would win the AL Cy Young award in 2005) as well as Jose Guillen (would be very productive in his 1 year with the Angels before his falling out/spitting on of Mike Scioscia), I’ve always viewed Kelvim as being the guy who has the best stuff and best arsenal of pitches in the staff.

He may not be a #1 starter, but his stuff can only be described as flat-out nasty. He’s got a fastball that can run up to 96 mph, a good hard slider and a devastating split-finger fastball that he can also throw as a change-up to hitters. Escobar has always had a knack of keeping hitters off-balance in the batter’s box throughout his career both as a starter and as a reliever (he actually posted 38 saves with Toronto back in 2002).

And when he’s on, he’s unhittable.

He can start you off with a nice heater at 95-96 for strike one. Next pitch you see, he’s coming at you with what at first looks like another heater, but it drops off the table at around 89-90 mph with great late movement. Now you’re down 0-2 and at Kelvim’s will. He can afford to waste a few pitches at this juncture, but if you’re not careful, he can make you look silly by dropping a slider that starts in the zone and ends up in the dirt on you.

He can also bring in another heater up around eye high to mess with the hitter’s eye level, and if the batter doesn’t chase that for strike 3, he could easily throw that splitty and use it like a change-up, getting the batter to swing early; strike 3, see you later.

I was looking for Kelvim to throw right around 90 pitches tonight, but I really didn’t know what to expect out of him, considering the injury he was coming back from required major surgery.

His first inning would be a little wild, but hey, I can’t be too hard on him for that. He’d give up 2 runs on 2 hits while walking 1, and also record his first strikeout of the season to end the inning. Although Kelvim threw 30 pitches in the 1st inning and was a bit wild with his command, I couldn’t help but notice the fact that he was throwing 96 on his heaters by inning’s end, and would freeze Jeff Larish with a filthy splitter. Those were quite welcome signs for his 1st inning of work in well over a year and a half.

He’d only need 10 pitches to get through the 2nd, and would end the inning on a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play. No runs allowed in the 2nd, and as a matter of fact, no runs allowed the rest of the way for Kelvim.

Kelvim would only give up 1 more hit in his final 3 innings of work, and would leave after his 5th inning of work, 92 pitches in total. In his 5 innings, he would only give up those 2 first inning runs while allowing only 4 hits, walking 4 and striking out 5. Kelvim got tagged for the loss despite a great 1st outing in my opinion (the Angels would only give him 1 run of run support throughout the game en route to their 2-1 Saturday night loss).

The loss doesn’t mean much in my opinion, and I’d think it wouldn’t mean much to Mike Scioscia either. Kelvim was back and clocking fastballs routinely between 92-96 miles per hour. His splitter was looking good. Sure the command’s a little off, but it’s his first start of the season (and as I recall, John Lackey’s command in his first start was just a bit off to, wasn’t it? *cough cough* he threw 2 pitches at Ian Kinsler’s dome and then was ejected *cough cough*).

Kelvim will get into his groove, I feel confident with that statement. Ervin threw 8 2/3 brilliant slump-busting innings of 1-run ball the night before. Jered Weaver continues to look phenomenal and actually has the 4th best ERA in all of the MLB with a 2.26 mark. Saunders is looking to bounce back tomorrow after being roughed up by Toronto for 6 runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched in his last outing. Joe found just a little too much of the plate in that outing but has been great for the Angels in 8 of his 11 starts this year.

On the offensive side, Vladdy’s starting to take some good cuts, Bobby Abreu‘s beginning to find that power stroke of old, Torii Hunter is continuing to produce, Figgy seems like he gets on base every at-bat, but I’m still waiting for Howie Kendrick to bust out of his season-long slump. Nap‘s been pretty much a guaranteed out of late and a liability behind the plate, that goes for you too, Jeff Mathis (with the bat at least).

On a positive note, I’d like to give major kudos to Jason Bulger who has been outstanding in his last 14 relief appearances, picking up 2 wins and giving up only 1 run in those 15 1/3 innings of work. His fastball has been absolutely flying out of his hand, hitting 96-97 on the radar gun, and his change-of-page breaking ball has been absolutely devastating. His year started off rocky (that’s an undestatement), but Scioscia has been giving him the ball more frequently of late, and he’s been closing the door on opposing offenses in return. He’s been a bright spot in a pretty bad bullpen otherwise so far this season (but I guess I spoke to soon, as Bulger walked a few batters in the 8th in Sunday’s game and allowed  a grand slam homer to Clete Thomas to bust the game wide open in Detroit’s favor). I must’ve jinxed him. Great. Just great.

Anyways, as long as the Angels get healthier, they’re only going to get more dangerous. Currently, the Halos are only 3 1/2 games behind the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. Once the Angels finally have a clearly defined starting rotation of pitchers 1-5, I think they’ll hit their stride and make their run. Good pitching is contagious, last year’s Angel rotation is a prime example of that. The Angels will have 4 solid workhorses in Lackey, Santana, Saunders, and Escobar and a potential emerging star in Jered Weaver.

Be excited Halo fans, the best is yet to come.

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