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Don’t Worry, We Got Your Back

figgy maicer

The morning of July 10th seemed like the Angels’ 2009 fortunes were going to take another turn for the worst, and reasonably so.

Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels’ hottest hitter on the season and their .300+ avg., 30+ homer, 100+ RBI man respectively were placed on the Disabled List. Neither was expected back until sometime in August (expected to miss roughly 20 games, potentially more barring setbacks).

Their consolation? A 3-game series with the New York Yankees before the All-Star Break.

Fantastic.

They had gotten whomped by the Texas Rangers 8-1 the night before and had gone 4-5 entering the series with the Bronx Bombers.

The Halos had a record of 46-37 when Vlad and Mr. Hunter hit the DL, but for whatever reason, that may have been the best news the organization had received all year, believe it or not.

The Angels would go on to sweep the Yankees to go in to the All-Star Break with a 49-37 record, with the offense averaging just under 10 runs per game during the course of that 3-game set.

The Halos would have 3 representatives on the American League All-Star team in St. Louis in Brian Fuentes, Torii Hunter (withdrew due to injury), and of course Chone Figgins and his day-of-the-game addition to the squad.

Following the All-Star Break, the Angels would pick up right where they left off following the series with the Yankees, and that was hitting the ball hard, and scoring runs in bunches.

They would go 6-1 on a road trip beginning the 2nd half of the season, and would go 9-1 in their first 10 games of the 2nd half.

Until Vlad’s return to the lineup on August 4th, the Angels had compiled an eye-opening record of 17-3 that caught the baseball world’s attention. 10 of those games also were with the Angels’ lineup missing Juan Rivera, possibly the hottest hitter in all of baseball that many have never heard of.

How could they play their best ball all year without their regular 3, 4, and 5 hitters in the lineup?

In my opinion, most teams would go into a tailspin if they were without their 3 best hitters in the lineup. The offense would become anemic. They’d be lucky to post a 2-spot in the run column. You’d see that team slip farther down in the standings, unsure if they’d be able to make a late run at a division title.

Not this team. No way, no how.

First and foremost, winning 17 of 20 games without one of the lead guys in the MVP race (Hunter, who hit .305, with 17 home runs and 65 RBI before hitting the DL) as well as one of the most naturally gifted hitters the MLB has ever witnessed is a testament to one thing and one thing alone, the depth of the organization.

Torii Hunter’s out. Alright, time for Mike Scioscia to show his faith in Gary Matthews Jr. who had displeased the organization so much in 2007 that it made the Angels bring in Torii Hunter to relieve him of his everyday center field duties by Opening Day of 2008 (Matthews had hit a dismal .252 in ’07, one year following his All-Star year in Texas where he hit .313. He’d hit at any even worse .242 mark in 2008).

Vladimir Guerrero’s out. This was probably the most comfortable move for Scioscia to make considering Vladdy had been DH-ing the majority of the year. He gave Mike Napoli consistent at-bats as the designated hitter, and Nap came up with plenty of big hits, including a walk-off knock back on July 24th against the Twins (it marked the Angels’ 9th time the Angels had come back to win in their past 12 victories). Nap’s currently hitting at a .291 mark with 16 home runs, giving the Angels some great pop from the 5 or 6 spot in the lineup.

Juan Rivera’s out. Now time to really dig deep and pluck a head out of your selection of pine-riders. Now was a time to give the Angels’ notorious “guy who plays like once every 2 weeks” Robb Quinlan a spot in the everyday lineup for a small period of time. Quinny had been hitting a mere .222 in limited at-bats before being called to more often by Mike Scioscia. When the month of July had ended, Quinny had hit .350 for month (7-for-20) with 2 home runs, 6 RBI and 6 runs scored. That’s just Robb doing what he’s always done during his 6 1/2 years as an Angel, and that’s getting the job done when his name is called.

Another guy who had to be called upon was Reggie Willits, who up until the New York series had started only 1 game over the course of the ’09 season. Willits, who finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 after hitting .293 with 27 stolen bases, hit the “sophomore wall” in ’08, hitting .194 in limited at-bats. Willits had a fantastic series in Kansas City, which featured him going 5-for-12 with 2 RBI, 5 runs scored, and a stolen base.

All of these players stepped up and picked up the slack for the aforementioned absent players.

And since we’re talking about players who have stepped it up, it would be impossible not to mention both Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu, who both put together some monster numbers in July.

Kendry hit .326 for July, belting 7 home runs, and posting 20 RBI. His success would even trickle into August, where in the first 2 games played in August, he’d smack 3 more dingers. His hot hitting wouldn’t go unnoticed, as he would earn American League Player of the Week honors for the 1st time in his career during the week of July 27th to August 2nd. During that 6-game stretch, Kendry went 11-26 (a .423 average), blasting 5 home runs and driving in 13 runs.

As if it was hard enough to top hot hitting like that, Bobby Abreu one-upped KMo.

Abreu earned July’s Player of the Month honors after he hit .380, with a league-best 28 RBI for the month. Abreu also jacked what would turn out to be the game-winning homer back on July 19th against the Oakland Athletics.

Abreu’s 77 RBI ranks him 4th in the American League and 8th league-wide. His .322 batting average ranks him 6th in the AL and 11th league-wide. His .416 on-base percentage is 3rd in the AL and 7th in the MLB.

Let’s not fail to mention a few other players who have stepped up in a major way since the start of July.

Returning to the majors after a dismal start (.231 average through June 11th-last game before demotion to AAA), Howie Kendrick was ready to show that his ice cold start was a mere fluke. His July numbers let Angel fans know that the real Howie was back. Kendrick hit a sizzling .387, with 2 home runs, 15 RBI, and 13 runs scored in the 18 games he appeared in during the month of July. He’s now raised his average 41 points (currently hitting .272) since his demotion to AAA Salt Lake in mid-June.

And arguably the hottest hitter across all of baseball for month of July had to be shortstop Erick Aybar who hit a ridiculous .414 (yes, you saw that right, .414) over the course of the month. His totals for July were: 1 home run, 17 runs scored, and 18 RBI, more than double the total of his next highest RBI total for a month (9 RBI in June).

The Angels are currently tops in the majors in hits (1,062), with a league-best .289 team average (next highest is the LA Dodgers at a .279 mark). They trail the Yankees by 2 runs for the most runs in all of the MLB (averaging about 5.7 runs scored per game). Their .352 team OBP is 3rd best in the MLB.

A surprising statistic has to be that the Angels now rank 4th in the MLB with a .449 slugging percentage (they were 15th in ’08, 17th in ’07, 18th in ’06, 19th in ’05), and this was all after losing one of the most talented power-hitting sluggers in all of the game in Mark Teixeira, as well as the franchise’s RBI leader in Garret Anderson. The normally free-swinging “go ahead and give it a rip” Angels also rank 17th in walks taken after ranking 25th out of 30 last year (you can thank the plate discipline of Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins for that). The Halos also have struck out fewer times than 24 other teams league-wide.

To really put in perspective how hot this lineup has been all year, take a look at the top 17 batting averages in the American League, and look at how many Angels pop up.

6- Bobby Abreu – .322 avg.

10- Juan Rivera- .314 avg.

12- Erick Aybar- .311 avg.

17- Chone Figgins – .305 avg.

That’s 4 Angels in the top 17. No other team currently has more than 2.

The depth that the Angels’ organization has prided itself in ever since the new millennium rolled around continues to pay dividends. Depth can help win championships, only time will tell if the Angels’ remarkably deep bench can contribute to a World Series Championship. At this rate, I can’t quite tell if another team rivals the Angels’ depth from player #1 down to player #25 on their 25-man roster.

The losses of Hunter and Guerrero over that stretch could turn out to be the biggest blessing in disguise in the history of the Angels’ franchise.

It’s not too often that a team can feel confident when they lose an MVP-caliber player and a potential Hall of Famer for a month due to injury. How many other teams can say that?

I can’t exactly speak for the others, but I can confidently say that the Angels can.

kmo abreu hk

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Filed under Angel Stories, August Game Recaps, July Game Recaps

Angels Getting Plenty of Bang for Their Buck

dolla bill

It was an offseason that began with plenty of Angel fans hoping and praying that the front office could ink 1st baseman Mark Teixeira to a long-term deal, and somehow find a way to bring back their star closer Francisco Rodriguez, despite GM Tony Reagins saying the front office had “turned the page” on him. They were 2 of the 4 hottest commodities on the free agent market to go along with C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez.

Fans were hoping that (for once), the Angels would open up the wallet and spend the money they needed to improve… but when it was all said and done, the Angels roped in none of the big-namers.

Teixeira got 8 years, $180 million from the Yankees.

C.C. Sabathia got 7 years, $161 million from the Yankees.

K-Rod got 3 years, $37 million from the Mets.

Manny got 2 years, $45 million from the Dodgers.

Some Angel fans were down because they felt that by not forking out the doe for one of the aforementioned A-list free agents, the Angels lacked that powerful punch in the middle of the lineup and at the back end of the bullpen.

But as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

By not signing re-signing Teixeira or K-Rod, the Angels now had roughly $31 million of unspent money that they could choose to throw at other free agents out on the market.

Looking back, Tony Reagins spent wisely.

On December 19th of 2008, the Halos kept outfielder Juan Rivera in the mix by signing him to a 3 year, $12.75 million deal ($3.25 million spent for ’09).

On New Years Eve of ’08, the Angels went in a new direction for closing out ballgames by getting former Colorado Rockies closer and a California native in Brian Fuentes. Fuentes received a 2-year deal worth $17.5 million deal (total of $11.75 million spent for ’09).

On February 12th of 2009, Bobby Abreu was signed to sport the Angel red as he was inked to a 1-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives. In 2008, Abreu had a $16 million salary, and the Angels were able to get a guy who hit nearly .300, scored 100 runs, drove in 100 runs, and hit 20 home runs for $11 million dollars less than he earned in that $16 million 2008 season. Nice bargain, I’d say (total of $16.75 million spent for ’09).

Time to go by the numbers, side-by-side.

Comparing signed and unsigned closers:

K-Rod: 1.85 ERA/43.2 IP/23 saves/3 blown saves/1.21 WHIP/44 K/25 BB

Fuentes: 3.03 ERA/32.2 IP/28 saves/3 blown saves/1.13 WHIP/35 K/9 BB

Frankie has been dominant this year for the Mets and his ridiculous 1.85 ERA reflects that, but Fuentes has converted a higher percentage of his saves to date, has a lower walks to innings pitched ratio, has a lower hits to innings pitched ratio, strikes out more per inning and walks less per inning compared to Rodriguez’s numbers. Fuentes’ 28 saves leads the majors. As of now, looks like they made the right move here.

Comparing signed and unsigned hitters:

Teixeira: .280 avg./.381 OBP/.551 SLG/96 H/58 R/24 2B/0 3B/23 HR/67 RBI/50 BB/61 K/1 SB

Abreu: .306 avg./.399 OBP/.439 SLG/96 H/50 R/17 2B/2 3B/7 HR/60 RBI/51 BB/57 K/19 SB

Rivera: .309 avg./.352 OBP/.522 SLG/93 H/39 R/16 2B/0 3B/16 HR/53 RBI/21 BB/31 K/0 SB

So the “vaunted power hitter” may not be in the lineup, but I’d say Abreu and Rivera have done a darn good job of performing for nearly a combined salary that is $13 million less than that of Teixeira’s alone. Abreu currently has the most RBI in all of the MLB since June 1st and Rivera has been the most consistent hitter this year for the Angels outside of the presently sidelined Torii Hunter. Abreu’s presence in the lineup also has helped leadoff man Chone Figgins‘ on-base percentage rise drastically, so the impact of Bobby in the lineup goes far deeper than the numbers.

And those were just the offseason additions.

Let’s not forget to mention the guys who are already on the team who are far and away outperforming their current pay.

Let’s start with Jered Weaver, who has gone 10-3 with a 3.48 ERA this year, has undoubtedly been the ace of the staff since day 1. Entering this year, Jered hadn’t pitched a complete game (a span of 77 starts). He’s thrown 3 complete games this year, including 1 shutout (coming in a span of 8 starts). Opposing batters are hitting a mere .231 against him, and he’s been striking out a career-best 7.77 batters per 9 innings pitched.

So what do you think he’s earning? $4 million? $5 million? $6 million? More? I mean, his agent is Scott Boras after all.

Try $465,000. Yeah, not even 1/2 of a million dollars for those numbers (Robb Quinlan makes close to 2 1/2 times the amount of what Jered makes… try that one on for size).

How about Kendry Morales, he’s put together quite a season in his first year as a starter for the Halos over at 1st base. He was coming in with some massive shoes to fill after Teixeira bounced for the Yanks, but he has no doubt held his own.

The switch-hitting “K-Mo” has posted a .291 batting average, slugged 17 home runs (tied for team-high with Torii Hunter), driven in 52 runs, and has slugged at a .547 mark, good for 2nd best on the team. He’s also in the midst of a career-high 18-game hitting streak, and has provided some pop from the 1st base position that the Angels haven’t seen in a long, long time.

Kendry’s making $1.1 million this year, a.k.a. about $20 million less than Teixeira. Not too big of a drop-off from player to player in my opinion. He’s on pace to hit 32 home runs and post 97 RBI at this rate, a pretty good value by any standards.

Crafty veteran Darren Oliver has the team’s best ERA with a 2.88 mark, and has a 4-0 record, all for $3.67 million.

Mike Napoli, one of the Angels’ two catchers in Mike Scioscia’s platoon system, has the 4th most home runs on the team with 11, despite having roughly 2/3 the at-bats that the regular starters get. He’s also 4th on the team in terms of his on-base percentage (.376) and his slugging percentage (.502). And it’s been Nap Time for the low, low price of $2 million!

But wait, there’s more!

The two shortstops have been providing some value of their own.

With a 2009 salary of $1.1 million, Maicer Izturis has hit .303, with 28 RBI and a .359 OBP, all while playing exceptional defense at both shortstop and 2nd base when called upon.

Erick Aybar has hit .299 with 32 RBI and a .347 on-base percentage, also while playing some career-best defense over at shortstop. He’s earning $465,000 for the 2009 season.

And last, but certainly not least (except for amount of height among Angel players) is Chone Figgins. Chone is hitting a team-best .310, with a .395 OBP, 108 hits, an American League-leading 72 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases. And he’s been “Gettin’ Figgy Wit It” for roughly $5.8 million, earning him his first All-Star invitation of his career.

Heck, Torii Hunter is earning $18 million for this season, and even he’s outperformed his season’s contract (given that much money, that’s really saying something).

Now, it’s time to have a little more fun. Time for some more number-crunching.

*All salaries rounded to the nearest 100,000

2 players departed: Rodriguez, Teixeira = $30.9 million for 2009

3 players arrived: Fuentes, Abreu, Rivera = $16.6 million for 2009.

Getting more production for just under half the price.

And if you reeeeeeally wanted to know…

10 players: Fuentes, Figgins, Abreu, Rivera, Weaver, Morales, Oliver, Napoli, Aybar, Izturis = $32 million for 2009

You get the point.

I just thought I had to throw that last one in there to really drive home the value/productivity point.

“Less is more” seems to be a fitting slogan for the Angels (but then again, they’re getting more production from more players… oh, I’m just confusing myself).

On second thought, I’ll leave it up to someone else to think of a slogan for the ’09 Halos.

In the meantime, I’ll just let the numbers do the talking.

FAN POLL

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Hunter Withdraws From 2009 All-Star Game, Joins Vlad on DL

th injured

vlad injuredApparently an All-Star Game selection was Superman’s kryptonite this season.

The Halos’ Superman of the first half, Torii Hunter, withdrew himself from competing in the upcoming MLB All-Star Game today due to an injury he’s been playing with for almost 2 months. Nelson Cruz, a power-hitting outfielder for the Texas Rangers will replace Hunter in the Mid-Summer Classic.

As you may remember back in the first series with the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine in May, Torii slammed into the center field wall straight on while trying to make a grab on a long fly ball. Well, like Torii usually does, he made the catch… but he had to come out of the game for what would later be a nagging strained adductor muscle in his right side. He would re-aggravate it in a series with the San Francisco Giants in mid-June on an eerily similar play.

This injury not only forces Hunter out of what would have been his 3rd All-Star game, but also forces him to go on the Disabled List, where he’s eligible to come off and play on July 22nd.

If there’s any time to go on the DL, it’s now. With only 1 series left to play before the All-Star break, he’s only scheduled to miss 9 games, instead of being somewhere around 13 or 14 games if it had been any other time during the year.

Hunter also earlier declined an invitation to participate in this year’s Home Run Derby.

The Angels’ offensive leader is tops on the team in home runs with 17, and his 65 RBI ranks 3rd best in the American League.

As they say, misery loves company. It’s hard to call Torii misery, but his company will be Vladimir Guerrero.

The Big Daddy will join Mr. Hunter on the DL as well after planting his left leg awkwardly in right field during a game with the Rangers Tuesday night.

The current diagnosis consists of a strained muscle behind his left knee, as well as a hamstring strain.

Just as it seemed the Vladdy was getting his extra-base power back, he hits another setback in a year where he’s already missed 38 games while on the Disabled List. Vlad is scheduled to come off the DL at the same time as Hunter.

Coming up to replace the two men who combine for 11 All-Star appearances will be catcher Bobby Wilson, and “Mr. Get called up, play a few games, get sent back down” himself, 3rd baseman Brandon Wood.

This may now allow Jeff Mathis to be the regular catcher, while moving Mike Napoli back to the Designated Hitter role where he hit the ball exceptionally well earlier in the season with Vlad on the DL.

Wilson is hitting .261 with 6 home runs and 27 RBI for AAA Salt Lake.

As for Wood, he’s batting .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBI and has the 3rd best slugging percentage mark in the Pacific Coast League with a .592 mark for the Salt Lake Bees.

The Halos have a tough 3-game set with the Yankees before the All-Star break, and without their #3 and 4 hitters in the lineup, they’ll have their work cut out for them against quality starters in Joba Chamerlain, Andy Pettitte and C.C. Sabathia.

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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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Hall of Fame* and a Tarnished Game

mannyWell, it’s official, another high-profile superstar is “linked” to steroids. This time, it’s just Manny being Manny.

Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tested positive today, not for a Performance Enhancing Drug like HGH, but for hCG, a women’s fertility drug….

WHAT?

Yes, Manny Ramirez tested positive for a women’s fertility drug.

There’s more to it, though. The drug he tested positive for is used by steroid users who are coming off of a steroid cycle to restart their body’s natural testosterone production. It is a very similar drug to Clomid, a drug that Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi (both linked to steroid use) used as BALCO clients.

Hmmm, is that Manny being Manny, or is that Manny trying to mask being a cheat?

That’s up in the air, but Manny has never had his name come up in steroid investigations, I’ll give him that. But to use a drug that is used by steroid users, and to not take a look to see if it’s on the MLB’s banned substances list, is it just Manny being a blind idiot?

Could be, but Jose Canseco got busted for the same thing that Manny tested positive for. I just don’t even know what to think about these positive tests regarding high-profile big leaguers. Some players and coaches are thinking the same way.

Astros manager Cecil Cooper said, “Today, you’re not really surprised by anything.”

Lance Berkman of the Astros said, “When people make the game look as easy as some do, I’m not surprised.”

David Eckstein of the Padres said, “Nothing shocks me anymore.”

But Atlanta Braves 3rd baseman Chipper Jones brings up a great point, a point that is more than just Manny.

“You can’t have arguably the greatest pitcher of our era, arguably the two greatest players of our era and now another very, very good player be under this cloud of suspicion and not feel like it’s ruined it for everybody.”

The pitcher he’s referring to is Roger Clemens.

The “arguably” two greatest players of our era are Barry Bonds and Alex Rodgriguez.

And the “very, very good” player he refers to is now Manny Ramirez.

Roger Clemens was an 11-time all-star, 7-time Cy Young award winner and a 1-time MVP. Let’s not forget to mention his career record of 354-184, good enough for the 9th most wins in a pitching career in MLB history (2nd in the modern era behind Greg Maddux), and his 4,672 career strikeouts is 3rd all-time. Clemens was one of the most dominant pitchers to ever take the mound, and was a force year after year throughout his illustrious 24-year career*.

Barry Bonds was a 14-time all-star, 7-time MVP, 8-time Gold Glover, and oh yeah, he’s the all-time leader in home runs with 762. His 7 MVPs are the most by any player in baseball history, the next closest total is an 8-way tie with 3 career MVP awards. All-time, Bonds is #1 of all players who have ever played the game in home runs and walks, 2nd in extra-base hits and times on base, 3rd in runs scored and 4th in RBI and total bases. No doubt one of the best to ever play the game*.

Alex Rodriguez, considered one of the best players ever and still only 33 years of age, is a 12-time all-star, 3-time MVP award winner and 10-time Silver Slugger award winner. “A-Rod” has 553 home runs, and became the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, a mere 8 days after his 32nd birthday. He debuted as a major leaguer with Seattle before he even turned 19! He has 11 straight seasons of 35+ home runs and 100+ RBI and is still one of the most feared hitters baseball has ever seen*.

Manny Ramirez has been an offensive force ever since 1995 in Cleveland, and is still slugging at an incredible rate, even though he is due to turn 37 at the end of May. Manny is a 12-time all-star, 9-time Silver Slugger, and was the MVP of the 2004 World Series when the Red Sox broke their 86-year World Series drought. He has 533 career home runs, and has one of the most pure, compact strokes I have ever witnessed. It’s like art in motion every time he swings the bat. He’s always been one of the goofier guys in the MLB, but there’s no questioning that Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters of his generation, and of all-time*.

The * denotes the question: can you take their career numbers seriously?

Did they earn those statistics and accomplishments or did they have to cheat the system and cheat themselves to go from great to incredible?

The question remains to be answered for Manny. A-Rod admitted to steroid usage between the years of 2001-2003. Clemens and Bonds… not so much.

When you describe Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, a few words for me that come to mind are incredible and unbelievably good.

Incredible is defined as, “not credible; astonishing; hard to believe; so extraordinary as to seem impossible.”

Unbelievable is defined as, “having a probability too low to inspire belief; too dubious to be believed.”

Since these 4 have been linked to cheating, it’s kind of ironic to think of how we’ve described them the whole time, don’t you think?

Here’s what I say: strip them of their careers. Everything. Home runs, MVPs, Cy Youngs, every statistic, everything.

Let’s take a tally of what’s lost between these 4 players:

– 11 MVP Awards

– 49 All-Star selections

– 7 Cy Young Awards (just Clemens)

– 10 Gold Gloves Awards

– 31 Silver Slugger Awards

– 1,848 Home Runs

That’s a lot to lose, but their actions deserve consequences. Let’s not fail to mention other steroid users like Jason Giambi, Rafael “I have never used steroids… period” Palmeiro, Mark “I’m not here to talk about the past” McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco. Between the 5 of them, you’re taking away another 3 MVP awards, 34 All-Star selections, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, and a whopping 2,620 home runs.

These 9 players take away a total of 14 MVPs, 7 Cy Youngs, 83 All-Star selections, 46 Silver Sluggers, 14 Gold Gloves, 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts (from 1 player), and 4,468 home runs, and more importantly 9 potential Hall of Fame ballot positions.

Since 1990, 18 of the 38 players who won MVP awards have been linked to steroids.

The entire league hit 4,458 home runs in the 1987 season, 10 fewer than those 8 hitters did in their careers.

After the league had its highest total of home runs ever back in the 2000 season with 5,693 total home runs league-wide, the home run total has dropped in each of the past 3 years, hitting a 15-year low in ’08, most likely due to the recent spike in harsher drug testing and consequential suspensions from positive tests.

As much as I am disheartened by what has arisen regarding Manny Ramirez, I’m with Eckstein on his response, “nothing shocks me anymore.”

What I fear what is yet to be said. Although Manny did not test positive for steroids, he tested positive for something that is used to mask the effects of steroids. You could put 2 and 2 together, and let’s face it, what in God’s green earth is a man doing taking a woman’s fertility drug? Yeah, exactly. You can’t be that stupid to take a drug that’s prescribed for one sex (which is not the one that Manny falls under), let alone to have a doctor prescribe it to you, could you? Yeah, yeah apparently you can be.

The game of baseball has lost so much credibility in the past decade, and I’m not quite sure if the game can ever get it back.

And so help me God if a player like Albert Pujols gets linked to steroids… that’ll be the end of the game of baseball altogether.

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