Tag Archives: boston red sox

From Scapegoat to Unsung Hero

aybar hero

Although the Angels’ 2008 season ended on a walk-off hit by the Red Sox, many remember it ending with Erick Aybar at the plate.

With 1 out and a pinch-runner Reggie Willits on 3rd, Mike Scioscia opted to win or lose by doing what they had done all year… play Angel baseball.

A suicide squeeze was the call, but when the pitch ran up inside on Aybar and he couldn’t get the bat on the ball, Willits, like the rest of the team, was done for. You could feel the momentum shift away from the Angels, it was that monumental. Pack it up. Head home. Season over.

One could only imagine what had gone through Aybar’s head on that flight home, and for the entire offseason for that matter. Many people (including myself) blamed Aybar for ending the Angels’ postseason run. Many people blamed Mike Scioscia for putting on a high-risk play in such a crucial situation.

When a suicide squeeze is called, the manager puts the absolute utmost confidence in the batter to at least hit the ball into the field of play, because if not, the runner is a sitting duck, and the team squanders a potentially vital run-scoring opportunity.

But, as the great Mark McGwire once said, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” It’s time to recognize what’s been going on in the present day.

Since day 1 of  being part of the Angels’ system (just like that fateful at-bat in Boston), the club had invested the utmost of confidence and placed immensely high hopes in this “Aybar kid”. He’s quick, he’s a slap-hitter, his range in the field is jaw-dropping, he’s acrobatic, you name it. Over his minor league career, Aybar hit at an impressive .312 mark. When he was 20 years old, he stole 51 bases over the course of his season in Advanced-A ball.

Management had touted Aybar as a player where “the sky’s the limit” for him in terms of potential and the type of player he could grow to be.

In 2007, he hit .237.

In 2008, he hit .277.

An improvement, yes, but me like plenty of other Angel fans out there were missing something. If this kid is supposed to be “so good”, don’t you think he could lay a suicide squeeze down? You’d think. This guy’s our future everyday shortstop? Yeah right.

As you can tell, I was not impressed with Aybar whatsoever since he had been called up to the Angels’ big league squad. I had seen flashes of him being who the Angels hyped him up to be, but he was way too streaky. He’d go on a tear for a few games with the bat, then go ice cold for a week. Consistency was nonexistent.

Then 2009 rolled around.

A redemption year for Aybar, if you will. And a year where I finally understand why the Angels’ front office loved this kid so much.

To start the season, I was hoping they would give the starting shortstop job to Maicer Izturis, a guy who was consistent, clutch, and more proven to-date. But Aybar had put forth a better spring training than Mighty Maicer, and was the Opening Day shortstop for the Halos.

Erick would hit at a disappointing .245 mark over the course of the opening month, which had me somewhat furious why Mike Scioscia kept putting him in the lineup.

He would hit .303 during the month of May, which made me a tad bit happier. His season average was just a shade under .280 after 2 months of play… not great, but not horrible either.

June gloom hit Aybar pretty hard as he batted a mere .256 during June, but then Aybar would turn on the jets.

EA had an absolutely unreal month of July. So good in fact that he had the highest batting average of every starting position player in the entire league over the course of the month.

What did he hit, you ask?

.414. Let that soak in for a moment, do a double take if you need to, you’re reading it correctly.

36 hits in 87 at-bats, 17 runs scored, 18 RBI, a homer, 2 triples, and 6 doubles. All while playing exceptional defense in the field.

In a double-header at Kansas City, Aybar collected 7 hits (yeah… 7 hits in one day!) by going 7-for-9 with 5 runs scored! I don’t know if you could draw up a more successful day of baseball for one player.

His batting average has dipped below .300 once since July 19th (September 4th’s game with the Mariners capped off an 0-for-20 slide… which brought his average to .299).

On the season he’s hitting .306 with 5 homers, 53 RBI, 62 runs scored, 21 doubles, and 5 triples, all career bests. He’s also stolen 13 bases and posted a .350 on-base percentage, also his best marks in his young career.

But as much as he’s been letting his bat do the talking, his work at shortstop has been nothing short of sensational.

Entering 2009, Aybar had possessed unbelievable range in the field, meaning he could cover so much ground that he would almost always get a glove on a ball hit in his general area. He has a cannon for an arm despite being just 5’10” and 170 pounds. But he had always been erratic. For every highlight reel play that he’d make, he would counter by messing up the simplest of grounders.

But as in almost every aspect of Aybar’s game, 2009 would be a new season.

This year has proven to be a “make a name for myself” type of year for Aybar. He would routinely make plays that even the best of shortstops could only dream of making. He’s been making appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day feature seemingly every other day.

At this juncture, I don’t think I could be any happier for Erick.

Nearly 11 months after a potentially career-defining blunder at the ripe age 0f 24, he’s helping erase Angel fans’ unforgettable memory of his ALDS Game 4 mishap by playing the best ball of his career.

And although 2009 has been a year that has shown me a lot about individual players (Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Aybar, Juan Rivera just to name a few), but more about what this team is really made of.

This team is made of competitors. This team is made of positive influences. This team is made of winners.

This team… is a team of destiny.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Angel Stories

Where is the Love?

kendry point

Entering this year, the departure of Mark Teixeira probably had a decent amount of Angel fans worried.

By Teixeira leaving Anaheim to sign a lucrative contract with the New York Yankees, and Casey Kotchman being shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Teixeira at the trade deadline in 2008, it opened the door for a capable, but unproven Kendry Morales to be tabbed as the Angels’ everyday first baseman.

Questions like, “can our offense possibly get any worse?”, “can we ever recover from Tex leaving us?” and maybe even, “who the heck is this Kendry Morales guy?” arose.

Entering the 2009 season, Morales had played in 127 games over the course of 3 seasons, while posting a .249 batting average to go along with 12 home runs.

Angel fans got a glimpse of what the big switch-hitting Cuban talent could do in Game 4 of last year’s ALDS against the Boston Red Sox when he hit a pinch-hit double off the Green Monster to start of the 9th inning in a 2-2 ballgame (which would end in Erick Aybar botching a suicide squeeze… you know what happens from there).

Kendry picked up where he left off with that at-bat, and has been absolutely scorching the ball throughout the entire 2009 campaign, which brings me to ask the following question, “where is the love?”

At this point, all you hear on TV or read about is “Joe Mauer or Mark Teixeira for the AL MVP? Who will it be?” and that’s it. No Morales. Not a hint that he’s even in the running for the MVP award. Nothing at all.

No disrespect to Joe Mauer, who’s put together an absolutely remarkable season (league-best .367 average and 1.044 OPS marks), and Tex who has definitely put up the numbers that Yankee fans have envisioned him doing (32 home runs, 101 RBI after Sunday’s game).

But what more do you want the guy to do? It’s hard to say that he’s been struggling at any point of this season.

He put together a career-best 20-game hit streak earlier this year. He had a 5-for-5 night a couple games back where he blasted 2 homers and drove in 6 runs. You think that would put him on the map? Nope, still no love for KMo.

Entering Sunday, KMo’s numbers look like this: a .309 batting average, 29 home runs, 91 RBI, 70 runs scored, 34 doubles, a .587 slugging percentage, and on defense (the big question mark regarding his game entering this season) he’s only had 6 errors (.994 fielding percentage).

Let’s stack those numbers up against the rest of the American League entering Sunday’s games.

His .309 batting average ties him for the 21st-best mark in the American League.

His 29 home runs ties him with Justin Morneau of the Twins and Jason Bay of the Red Sox for 5th most in the AL.

His 91 RBI is also 5th most in the AL.

His .939 OPS (on-base + slugging percentages) is the 5th highest in the AL.

His .585 slugging percentage is 2nd best.

His 65 extra-base hits gave him the 2nd most as well.

He’s up near the top for most of the power categories and it’s a shame how all of his accomplishments this year are somehow continuing to go under the radar.

Let’s get real here, Joe Mauer may just be the best player in baseball not named Albert Pujols. Not in a long, long time has a catcher come along and been able to hit like Mauer has in his young career (.326 career average, 2-time AL batting champion)… oh, and he’s only 26 years old. The sky’s the limit for this kid, and the MLB would be stupid to not begin to advertise the kid some more. He’s a player who just plays baseball the way it should be played, has no strings attached, and is easily likeable… that is, unless he’s torching your team that day, but that’s another story. He’s had an unreal year (.367 average, .435 OBP, 25 homers, 79 RBI), but his team isn’t even winning the weakest division in baseball. It just leads to the age-old argument: does it go to the best player on the best team or the league’s best player on a team that may not even make the playoffs?

Mark Teixeira has had an outstanding year following an early season slump that left many Yankee fans restless. Tex is too good of a player to stay down for that long, though, and I think all baseball fans know what kind of player he has been over the past 6 years. Tex leads the AL in RBI with 101, and his 32 home runs ranks 2nd behind Carlos Peña of the Tampa Bay Rays (37 homers). The two-time Gold Glove award winner has been exceptional at 1st base game after game for the Bronx Bombers, no surprise there. But it just seems that picking Teixeira would be the “sexy pick.” Pick the guy with the gaudiest numbers, yeah he deserves it. Not to take away from the season that Tex has been having, but if you were batting behind Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, with Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui among others hitting behind you, I’d sure hope you’re putting up numbers like that.

It’s almost as if it’s a David vs. Goliath type of situation. The Goliaths in Teixeira and Mauer are dwarfing Morales to the point where he may not even get MVP recognition by the media.

As much as I’m lobbying for Kendry to get his fair share of recognition, I truly don’t believe he’ll win the MVP award. I think Joe Mauer’s 100% got it in the bag. With the type of year he’s been having, I say how can you not vote for him? All I’m asking is that the baseball world gives KMo the respect he deserves for the season he’s been having, it is undoubtedly a season worth recognizing… especially for a guy in his first full year as an everyday player. Even 2006 MVP award-winner Justin Morneau of the Twins deserves some MVP race consideration with the year he’s been having as well.

But, hey baseball writers, all I’m asking is that you throw him a few votes, just a few! Don’t overlook our KMo!

To add to it, while writing this article, Morales hit a 3-run bomb with 2 strikes and 2 outs to put the Angels comfortably ahead 8-1 against the visiting Oakland Athletics. The Halos would go on to win today 9-1. Is that something that we haven’t seen from him this year? Nope, that’s what we’ve seen him do time and time again.

Maybe a little love shown now that he got that 30th home run? Maybe… just maybe.

As I had written back in the beginning of May in “(So Far) the Angels Look Like They Made the Right Moves“, “The future has a lot in store for KMo, and I truly believe that he could become one of the most productive offensive first baseman in the game in only a matter of years…. This kid’s gonna be something special, make no mistake about it.”

I can firmly say that I continue to stand behind those statements nearly 4 months later.

My final question that I’m asking to baseball writers is this: where would the team be if you removed that player from the lineup?

The Yankees would still be winning thanks to having 6 or more All-Stars in their lineup everyday.

The Twins would still not be leading their division.

The Angels would be nowhere near where they are today with the 2nd-best record in baseball.

That’s all I have to say.

Leave a comment

Filed under Angel Stories, August Game Recaps

Angels Acquire Scott Kazmir From Tampa Bay

scott kazmir

Seeing that the Angels had lost 6 of their last 8 games entering Friday night’s contest with the Oakland Athletics, GM Tony Reagins felt that the Halos needed to shake it up a bit.

Starting pitching has been the Angels’ weak link of late, and if the Halos couldn’t pull anybody up from within, then a deal had to be made.

Friday night, that deal was made.

The Angels looked to the American League East division for hurlers who had cleared waivers, and found that Tampa Bay Rays’ lefty Scott Kazmir had cleared waivers, which prompted the front office to pull the trigger on landing a quality arm.

The Halos were able to bring in Kazmir in exchange for minor league pitching prospect Alex Torres, infielder Matt Sweeney, and right-hander Jordan Walden.

The 25-year-old Kazmir, who was a 1st round draft pick (#15 overall) of the New York Mets back in 2004, was shipped to the Rays with Joselo Diaz (back when they were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) in 2006 in exchange for pitchers Victor Zambrano and Bartolomé Fortunado.

In 2006, Kazmir was tabbed as the Opening Day starter for Tampa Bay, becoming the youngest Opening Day starter (22 years, 2 months, 10 days old) since Dwight Gooden was the starter for the New York Mets in the 1986 opener.

Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 with 239 punchouts.

In his Tampa Bay career, Kazmir compiled a respectable 55-45 record to go along with a 3.92 ERA (prior to an injury-plagued 2009 season, he had an ERA of 3.50 or lower in each of the 3 previous seasons).

At one point during his high school career, Kazmir threw 4 consecutive no-hitters (yes, that’s right, 4 straight no-hitters). After allowing a hit in his bid for his 5th no-hitter, he’d finish the game, and then throw 2 more no-hitters in his next 2 starts (add it all up, and you get 6 no-hitters in a span of 7 outings… that’s pretty good if you ask me).

In his senior year of high school, Kazmir set a Texas high school record formerly set by current Red Sox ace Josh Beckett by striking out an incredible 175 batters in 75 innings… that’s over 2 batters per inning (about 2.33 per inning to be exact)! He verbally committed to the University of Texas, a college baseball powerhouse before opting to go to the pros.

Kazmir was elected to the American League All-Star in both 2006 and 2008 (helped lead Rays to World Series in ’08).

He is in the 1st year of a 3-year deal, so this is no Mark Teixeira 1 1/2 month rental that we came to see last year, folks.

As long as he can be a dependable middle-of-the-rotation guy, I don’t think there’s anything else that we as Angel fans can ask of him. He was not brought in to be any “savior” of sorts, but to be a quality arm to compliment the rest of the Angels’ struggling yet promising rotation (he’s even been rumored to have been brought in as a bullpen arm, but I’d confidently put my money on him having a spot in the starting rotation).

Not only do I welcome the addition of Kazmir as a fantastic short-term addition, but to have him inked for the 2 following years as well seems like a steal of a deal at the present time… I mean he’s only 25, he’s yet to even hit his prime!

For the Rays, it gives them salary cap relief for the upcoming few years, but for the Angels it guarantees them of a pitcher that they know will be under their control for the next couple of seasons (considering John Lackey will get plenty of money thrown at him this offseason due to his contract being up following the end of this season).

Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what Mr. Kazmir can do for the Halos, so let’s all welcome in the newest member of the Los Angeles Angels… welcome aboard Scott!

Leave a comment

Filed under Angel News

The Forgotten Arm

arredondo

Remember that kid who came up last year with that mid-90s fastball and that devastating split-finger fastball?

The kid who was originally drafted as a shortstop but was converted to a pitcher because of his remarkable arm strength despite being only 6’0″ and weighing 175 pounds?

The kid who appeared in 52 games last year, compiled a record of 10-2, and posted a microscopic ERA of 1.62?

The kid who struck out 55 hitters in 61 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a mere .190 average?

The kid who appeared in 3 games against the Red Sox in the 2008 ALDS, and closed the door on them without allowing a run each time?

Well, he’s 25-year-old Jose Arredondo, who electrified the Angels in ’08 with brilliant outing after brilliant outing.

This year has been a different story. In 24 1/3 innings this year, Arredondo has given up 4 more earned runs than he gave up in all of the 61 innings he pitched in last year (15 earned runs in ’09, 11 in ’08).

His ERA ballooned to 5.55. He had a record of 1-3.

“He just wasn’t in sync with his delivery,” Mike Scioscia put it.

All signs pointed to a demotion, and that’s exactly what happened.

Arredondo was sent down to AAA Salt Lake on June 9th while also dealing with an injury in his throwing arm which struck similarities to the injury that Ervin Santana suffered before the start of the ’09 season.

Some are calling it the proverbial “sophomore slump”.

Others are saying that the loss of a mentor may have triggered some old demons that held Arredondo back while in the minor leagues.

This mentor was Preston Gomez, a man who had been working in the Angels organization for 27 years.

When coming up through the minors, people just knew that Arredondo had a major league-caliber arm, but also had a big-time temper that at times, hindered his development.

In 2006 while in single-A ball, Arredondo and his catcher fought in the dugout after mixing up calls.

In 2007 in AA ball, Arredondo got into an altercation with a teammate who tried to cool down his rage in the clubhouse.

This prompted Mike Scioscia to call in Arredondo and have Gomez “drop the hammer on him” as pitching coach Mike Butcher put it.

The turnaround was remarkable, just look at his 2008 season statistics for proof.

But in March of 2008 before the regular season started, Gomez was hit by a truck at a gas station, and never fully recovered, eventually passing away at the age of 85 in January 0f 2009.

You may noticed the black diamond patch with the name “Preston” sewn in white that the Angels have on their jerseys, in memory of the man who spent nearly 3 decades with the organization.

“I love that guy. He taught my everything,” Arredondo said of Gomez. “He was all over me, trying to make me better.”

It’s tough to truly judge the effect that Gomez’s passing had on Arredondo, but clearly something has not been right.

But since his demotion to AAA, Arredondo has appeared in 11 games, while posting a 2.19 ERA for the Bees. And in a year where the Angels bullpen has been rocky, as well as feeling the absence of an 8th inning guy that can bridge the gap to get to Brian Fuentes in the 9th, Arredondo may do what he did last year… make lots of noise down the stretch after being called up to the Halos’ big league squad.

It isn’t too clear when he may be called up, but he’s been making a case to Mike Scioscia to call him up in the near future.

As of yesterday, in his previous 3 outings, Arredondo has gone 3 2/3 innings, giving up only 2 hits, while striking out 4 batters and walking none.

Only time will tell when Arredondo will be ready to pitch back in the big leagues, but when he comes back, let’s not forget the type of pitcher he can be. He will be an instant bullpen bolsterer, and hopefully he can work his way into being a Scot Shields-like reliever (as in bridging the gap from the 8th to 9th inning, not the recently erratic Scot Shields, of course… who wants that?) for the Angels, being a guy the Mike Scioscia can be comfortable giving the ball to in the 8th inning in close games.

But could he possibly crumble twice in two stints for the Angels this season after relatively no meltdowns on the mound last year?

In my honest opinion, no way, Jose.

Leave a comment

Filed under Angel Stories