Tag Archives: los angeles angels of anaheim

Fighting To Keep His Halo

vladdy pointing

In 2004, he came to the Angels as the best baseball player many fans had never heard of.

Just about 6 years later, everyone in the baseball world knows who Vladdy is.

The Angels got one of the biggest bargains baseball has seen this decade.

Earning himself nationwide superstar status (American League MVP in his first year with the team), Vladimir Guerrero had emerged as the face of the Angels franchise from Day 1 in Halo red… so why would it seem that the Angels may have turned the page on him?

Now 34 years of age and relegated to the Designated Hitter role with an abundance of injuries this year, Vlad’s durability has become a major concern.

His power numbers and run-producing numbers are way down, but he’s still shown that he can still put the bat on the ball.

His knees have all but given way, and he has grounded into more than his fair share of double plays.

And he’s doing this all in the final year of his contract, which leads Angel fans to ask, “What are the Angels gonna do with Vlad?”

That’s the burning question on everybody’s mind.

But it’s not like Vlad has done all bad and no good this year.

He’s still muscling balls as he has his entire career.

He’s still hitting over .300 on the season as he has every season in his career.

And lastly, he’s still the most recognizable face in all of the Angels organization.

You can’t go a handful of steps in Angel Stadium without seeing a fan wearing a Vlad Guerrero shirt or jersey.

All of this leads to the front office will have to answer, “do we want to keep him around or look elsewhere to fill a very “fillable” void?”

Although he will be 35 next season, I still firmly believe that Vladdy can play baseball at a high level.

Will he be able to play regularly in right field as he always had? My guess is no.

Will he put up 30+ homers, 100+ RBI as he has regularly during his career? Again, probably not.

But can he still be a productive player that Angel fans can root for and love?

No doubt about it, yes.

In 91 games this year, Vladdy’s numbers look like this:

.299 average, 14 doubles, 15 homers, 47 RBI, 15 doubles, 54 runs scored.

By far the weakest year of his illustrious and Hall of Fame-worthy career, but he’s still getting on base and he’s still hitting at a very respectable mark of just a smidge under .300. He’s also begun to catch some fire as the season has wound down.

I view the decision that the front office has to make to be one very similar to that of the decisions they made regarding players like Garret Anderson and David Eckstein.

These were players who were adored by the franchise, could still play, but were let go of. It will be a big PR move for the Angels and I hope they elect to hold on to Vladdy for a 1 or 2-year contract for low money.

I was let down by the Angels when they let Eck go, but he was replaceable. Orlando Cabrera did a great job of filling his void. I was able to move on from that front office decision pretty quickly.

I was incredibly disappointed to see the Angels let go of a lifetime Halo in Garret Anderson this past offseason, but it’s been a decision that’s been almost too easy to cope with thanks to the play of Juan Rivera in left.

I just don’t think I’d ever be able to move on from the departure of the Big Daddy.

That violent, crazy swing.

That awkward, painful running motion he has thanks to his knees getting run down after years in Montreal on astroturf.

The dreads (which he had for quite some time).

That helmet with more pine tar on it than any other helmet in the league.

And of course, that smile that could light up the city of Anaheim.

Regardless of how he plays, you just can’t replace a guy like Vlad. Plain and simple.

After all, he’s only one of 6 players in Major League Baseball to have career numbers of 400+ home runs and a .320+ batting average (the others only happen to be Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Stan Musial… 5 of the all-time greats).

On a side note, the Angels do not have 1 player representing the team in the Hall of Fame. Not 1. Who better to have potentially represent the organization in the Hall of Fame than a guy whose career is in the same class in some regards as The Babe, Gehrig, Teddy Ballgame, Foxx, Stan the Man?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Angel fan through and through, but I could never forgive the Angels for letting him go.

You can’t replace a once-in-a-generation player, let alone a once-in-a-century player.

Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed to see Vladdy in Halo red for just one more year.

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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.

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Kazmir Impressing After First 2 Starts

kazmir

Before the waiver deadline last month, the Angels were hoping to find an arm somewhere in the MLB that could help solidify a struggling Angels rotation.

Scott Kazmir, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, turned out to be that guy, despite having a rough year up until the time of him changing scenery.

Don’t look too deeply into the new hurler’s 0-1 record with the Angels after 2 starts, the record misleads Kazmir’s contributions completely.

He’s faced one of the American League’s best pitchers and a potential Cy Young award-winner in Félix Hernández in both of his starts (14-5 record, 2.61 ERA), and has received virtually no run support in return (offense has produced 3 total runs in his 2 starts).

Here are Kaz’s numbers for his first two starts in Halo red:

September 2nd @ Seattle – 6.1 innings/3 hits/2 runs (1 earned)/1 walk/8 strikeouts (loss – 3-0 final)

September 8th vs. Seattle – 7 innings/3 hits/1 earned run/2 walks/4 strikeouts (no decision – 3-2 final)

His numbers combined through his first 2 starts are:

13 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts

He has now gone 6 or more innings in 10 of his last 11 starts.

He has allowed 1 earned run in each of his last 3 starts (best streak of the season).

Despite a rough first few months for the 25-year-old Kazmir, he’s apparently saved his best baseball for when it matters most… crunch time.

It looks like Kazmir seems rejuvenated to be pitching with a contender since the Rays have fallen off in the past few weeks, and you have to love the composure he brought in his first start.

After an error, a walk, and a hit batter (Kazmir’s first 3 batters he faced as an Angel), it seemed like the Angels made an awful decision to bring him in… at first glance.

How would he respond?

3 straight strikeouts to end the inning. No runs. No damage done. Inning over. Whew!

And he’s been sensational ever since. His walk-to-strikeout ratio has been outstanding. His control has been great. And he seems to have garnered a new sense of self-confidence that he hasn’t had since the Rays made their improbable run to the World Series just a year ago.

For better or worse, pitching is contagious. For a decent portion of the year, pitching has been unfavorably contagious for the Angels’ rotation as well as their bullpen.

Now that September has rolled around, and Kazmir has injected a little bit of new life into this Halo rotation, I’m hoping his positive starts can continue to influence Jered Weaver (14 wins entering tonight’s start), Joe Saunders (3 straight wins), John Lackey (17 innings, 1 earned run in last 2 starts), and most importantly Ervin Santana (5 straight starts of 3 or fewer earned runs until his last start).

Hopefully, the best from this Angels rotation is yet to come.

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More Than an Average Joe?

average joe

2008 was a fluke. There’s no way that guy pitches anywhere near the way he did last year. He’s nothing special.

Those were the grumblings Joe Saunders was hearing entering the 2009 season for the Angels, and I didn’t believe a word any of those critics had to say. For showing great composure and dependability in ’08, I thought they were just plain crazy for saying that.

Coming off of a surprise 2008 season that featured him being selected to the American League All-Star team, the expectations were high for Saunders, who was tabbed as the Opening Day starter for Mike Scioscia and the Angels.

Saunders finished the ’08 season with a 17-7 record and a 3.41 ERA, over 1 run less than his ERA for the 2007 season (3.44).

His Opening Day start against Oakland was nothing short of brilliant. Saunders scattered a mere 3 hits over 6 2/3 fantastic innings of scoreless baseball en route to an opening day 3-0 shutout of the visiting Athletics.

Joe would start the year by winning 6 of his first 8 decisions, while keeping his ERA at a pretty respectable mark of 3.26 through the first two months of baseball.

Then he would hit a prolonged speedbump.

His 6.06 ERA in the month of June was nearly twice as high as his ERA for the month before (3.12).

July would be even worse. His 8.08 ERA over the course of July would be more than 2 full runs higher than his dismal June numbers.

Saunders would hit a streak that ran all the way up to 8 straights starts in which he allowed 4 or more runs in a given outing (4 runs twice, 5 runs 3 times, 6 runs twice, 8 runs once).

His ERA would just about double over the course of three months, and it was starting to seem like Saunders’ critics somehow saw something bad in him that many Angel fans including myself didn’t see.

His August 7th outing would last not even 2 full innings, but Joe would still allow 5 earned runs.

Maybe he was just an “average Joe” after all.

Following that start, Saunders was placed on the Disabled List due to shoulder soreness that had been troubling him for a majority of the season. His tight throwing shoulder wouldn’t allow him to fully extend and follow through comfortably like he normally does with his mechanics, which led to decreased velocity and leaving way too many pitches hanging out over the middle of the plate.

Saunders would come off the DL and make his 1st start on August 26th at home against the Detroit Tigers. He’d throw 89 pitches over a carefully shortened outing that lasted 5 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits while striking out 6 Detroit hitters. The Halos won the game 4-2, with Saunders the winning pitcher.

Joe would stifle the Mariners in Seattle in his next outing, throwing 7 innings of 3-hit scoreless baseball en route to a 10-0 Angels win. Saunders would, obviously, be the winning hurler in this contest.

His last outing against Kansas City would be his weakest ever since his return from the DL, but he’d still minimize the damage incredibly well. Saundo would scatter 2 runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings of work, but would earn the win in a 7-2 Angels victory.

Since he’s come off the DL, Joe’s done nothing but win the Angels ballgames while allowing no more than 2 runs an outing. He’s given up 2 runs or less in each of his 3 starts since coming off the Disabled List. His previous 14 starts would feature only 2 outings where he would allow 2 runs or less.

He now has his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since July 22nd.

As much attention has been paid to the recent acquisition of Scott Kazmir and how he may be the missing piece that can solidify the Angels’ rotation, I think people are continuing to overlook the guy who was the Halos’ Opening Day starter.

Saunders doesn’t have to be the ace of the staff. Jered Weaver‘s had a fantastic year. John Lackey‘s rounding back in to form in a contract year. They can take care of occupying the #1 and #2 starter slots in the 5-man rotation. Saunders, if healthy and pitching the way he has the past few outings, could be a fantastic #3 starter to throw at teams.

It’s been a roller coaster year for the only Virginia Tech alum in all of the MLB, but if he can channel his 2008 style of pitching, rhythm, and composure, Joe will be the missing piece to the Angels’ jigsaw puzzle.

Not “can be”, he will be.

Time to prove the critics wrong one more time.

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

Morales Tabbed As August Player of the Month

kmo august

Last month, it was Bobby Abreu who won the American League’s Player of the Month award.

Kendry Morales wanted to keep it within the organization.

The powerful switch-hitting Morales was recognized for a fantastic month of August yesterday, being issued his first Player of the Month award in his young career.

Minnesota Twins’ “Mr. Do-It-All” Joe Mauer finished 2nd to Morales after he posted some tremendous August numbers (.391 average, 8 home runs, 23 RBI).

Check out some of K-Mo’s numbers from 28 games played in August:

– .385 batting average

– 8 doubles

– 10 home runs

– 33 RBI

– .734 slugging percentage

His 33 RBI set a new Angels record for RBI in the month of August previously set by Bobby Bonds (31), a record that stood since 1977.

His RBI total also tied him with Ryan Howard (NL Player of the Month for August) for the most in the MLB during August.

He was tops in the MLB for August with that gaudy .734 slugging percentage.

Since the All-Star break, no player has driven in more runs than Kendry with his 45 RBI.

He had two outstanding games during August, with the first being on August 2nd, when he hit two 3-run home runs, posting a career-best 6 RBI.

He would match his top RBI mark again on August 28th as he went a perfect 5-for-5.

From start to finish, K-Mo has been en fuego.

On the season, Kendry’s hitting .313 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and his 69 extra-base hits is 2nd best in the American League behind only Adam Lind of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Manager Mike Scioscia strongly believes that Morales is deserving of MVP contention, and said, “If you take Kendry out of our lineup, I think you’re looking at a different offense.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mike.

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Vlad Joins 400 Home Run Club… Hall of Fame Awaits?

vlad 400th

On Monday, August 10th of 2009, Vladimir Guerrero blasted his 400th home run of his illustrious 13+ year career.

Not only would his blast eventually lock up a win for the Angels against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, it also virtually locks him into being a future Hall of Famer after the “Big Daddy” decides to hang ’em up.

Vladdy became the 45th player in Major League Baseball history to reach the 400 home run plateau. Of the other 44:

23 are in the Hall of Fame

8 are still playing

Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Delgado, Chipper Jones, Jason Giambi

1 will be eligible for being elected this year

Fred McGriff

7 aren’t yet Hall of Fame eligible as of 2010

Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Piazza

That just leaves out Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Kingman, Andre Dawson, and Darrell Evans as the only members of the 400 home run club who have not yet been enshrined in Cooperstown.

Let’s take a quick look at some of Vlad’s career numbers:

– 2004 American League MVP

– 8-time All-Star

– 7-time Silver Slugger Award Winner

– 2007 Home Run Derby Champion

His best year can be debated between 2000 with the then-Montreal Expos:

.345 avg./.410 OBP/.664 SLG/101 R/197 H/28 2B/11 3B/44 HR/123 RBI

or in 2004, his first year with the Angels, in which he won the AL MVP award:

.337 avg./.391 OBP/.598 SLG/124 R/206 H/39 2B/2 3B/39 HR/126 RBI

My vote would have to go to the year where he put a team on his back and single-handedly willed himself and his team into the postseason, with that year being 2004 in Angel red.

Vladdy has posted years of a .300 batting average, 30+ home runs, and 100+ RBI in 10 of 11 seasons where he appeared in over 112 games.

Despite being arguably the biggest free-swinger the game has ever seen, Vlad has hit over .300 in every full season’s he’s played in (.302, .324, .316, .345, .307, .336, .330, .337, .317, .329, .324, .303).

To go along with his “hack away” mentality, Vlad has never struck out 100 times or more in any season, a rarity that possibly may never be seen again.

To-date, the injury-plagued 2009 season could mark the first year where Vladdy’s batting average falls below the .300 line… and he’s batting .299.

He posted 2 years of 30+ home runs and 30 + stolen bases back in 2001 and 2002 with Montreal.

Entering the 2009 season, Guerrero’s career numbers ranked pretty high up on the all-time lists:

– #13 all-time – slugging percentage  (.575)

– #43 all-time – batting average (.323)

– #99 all-time – on-base percentage (.389)

Although his current career statistics are so staggering, the thing that makes Vlad so special is that he is more than a rare breed of a hitter.

Sure, there have been hitters before Vladdy who could turn their wooden bat into a 9-iron and literally golf a pitch that bounces in the dirt, 430 feet away to straightaway center. Sure, there have been hitters before Vladdy that make you feel the breeze from every swing he takes… even if you’re sitting in the cheap outfield seats. Sure, there have been hitters before Vladdy that make you marvel at the raw strength that they possess to muscle a ball in off their hands, to the deep power alleys of a ballpark.

Sure, that puts Vlad in rare and special company, but the thing that makes Vlad so unique, is that he has the uncanny ability of turning a pitcher’s best pitch into a ball that lands deep into the left field stands.

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Guerrero would play stickball with his friends, a game where a thin stick would be used as a bat, and a rock as a ball. The object, like baseball, was to hit the rock into play, but there was a catch… you had to hit the ball, regardless of where it was thrown. Vladdy’s roots haven’t left him.

A sharp-breaking 12-6 curveball could start right in the middle of the plate and drop down to his shoetops, but Vlad, the great “bad ball” hitter that he is, uncoils that powerful swing of his, and makes his way around the bases, giving the fans in the cheap seats a souvenir.

A 100 mile per hour fastball could run inside on him, but he’d get the bat out in front and send a 450+ foot mammoth blast sailing into the night.

And he’s been having fun all the way through. His big smile could light up a dark room with ease.

Here’s to the guy who truly deserves it.

A once-in-a-generation type of hitter who swings at everything, and hardly misses anything (as Rex Hudler says, “from his nose, to his toes, that’s how Vladdy goes!”).

(Here’s a funny video of a guy spot-on imitating (duplicating sounds about right) Vlad’s quirky stance/swing… in front of the man himself!)

A player who was both a contact and a power hitter.

A player with one of the best cannon arms to ever play right field (as ESPN anchor Stuart Scott said following Vlad gunning a guy out at third, “he’s a mutant!”).

A player who could do it all.

Here’s to you, Vladdy. And as much as it’s hard to believe after your remarkable 13-year career (and still going), you will continue to be on your way to bigger and better things.

The baseball world congratulates you on reaching another incredible milestone.

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, August Game Recaps

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.

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