Los Angeles Angels: Mike Napoli
No, because no series in July is truly pivotal and, with two wild cards, we may not see a truly pivotal series until mid-September. But the Angels are only going to have so many opportunities to make up ground and it's a lot easier to get to the World Series now if you win your division, so it's a big, big series.
To preview it, we caught up with colleague Richard Durrett, who covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. Durrett and I took turns asking each other questions about the two AL West rivals:
MS: It seems like both of these teams suddenly have some issues with their starting rotations. What's the latest on the Texas starting rotation and do you think any concerns are long-term or just blips in the middle of a season?
RD: For the Rangers, it's more about injuries. They avoided any roster move for the first five weeks of the season and then the injuries hit all at once. But they are starting to see some reinforcements. Derek Holland is back and has pitched well in two starts off the DL. Colby Lewis allowed just one run in five innings on Wednesday in his first start off the DL. Roy Oswalt bounced back with a better showing in his first start after the All-Star break. Yu Darvish is still looking for consistency with his command and didn't have it despite 11 days off (that includes the All-Star Game because he didn't pitch). He'll get another shot this weekend. Matt Harrison remains the club's most solid performer in 2012.
RD: What should Rangers fans expect from Dan Haren this weekend, assuming he pitches on Sunday?
MS: Tough one, Richard. On the one hand, Haren’s stuff hasn’t looked as crisp this season, including in a Single-A rehab game Monday night. On the other hand, he seems intent on proving to everyone he’s still a front-line starting pitcher. One thing they should expect is a relatively short outing, at least by his standards. I imagine he’ll be on a 90-pitch limit coming off lower back inflammation. One thing they can’t expect is for him to beat himself. If he walks more than two batters in a game, he’s having an off night.
MS: Did people in Texas expect Mike Napoli to do what he did last year again this season? Or, did people realize he's a super-streaky hitter?
RD: They know he's streaky and didn't expect him to hit .383 for the season like he did for the second half of 2011. But they sure didn't expect a .223 average. Napoli hasn't looked comfortable at the plate except for one week where he really tore the cover off the ball earlier this season. He's missing pitches he crushed last year and is striking out at a much higher rate than he has in his career. It's a surprise to see him in a rough patch for this long. Will a series against his former team help get him going?
This season, 12 of the 36 players on the American League roster play for the Angels or Texas Rangers. It helps, of course, that the AL manager the past two seasons, Ron Washington, gets to load up with his own guys (eight this year) and has a good feel for the AL West talent pool.
But it's also probably something of a bellwether of the shifting demographics in this league. The most vibrant rivalry -- at least in terms of pitting the two best teams against one another -- very well may be Angels-Rangers. The only question is whether the rest of the country realizes that, particularly since most of the Angels home games start after 10 p.m. on the East Coast.
"I think we're kind of making a push to get some of that notoriety over here," Jered Weaver said Sunday. "I think that's good to see, but I still don't think you can take anything away from the East Coast. They're still pretty much the popular group."
Mingling the Angels and Rangers will make for a happy reunion or two. C.J. Wilson will see his former teammates. Weaver likely will get to work with Mike Napoli, his catcher in the minor leagues and for five seasons in Anaheim."We won't have to go over pitches or anything. That'd be sweet," Weaver said.
It could also, however, make for some awkward moments. Napoli and Wilson have been in something of a cold war since spring training, when Wilson tweeted Napoli's cell phone number as a prank. And, frankly, the Angels and Rangers aren't exactly bosom buddies. The Angels have seen the Rangers take over the AL West the past two seasons and they're determined to get it back.
"It's a pretty heated rivalry, I guess. Just being the competitors we are, it's kind of tough to go in the same clubhouse with them and look them in the face," Weaver said."You've got to push that aside, swallow some of your pride and chat a little bit, I guess."
ANAHEIM -- The Angels continued to put pressure on the first-place Texas Rangers, most of it applied by their youngest player.
Mike Trout was on base three times and scored the decisive run in a 3-2 win at Angel Stadium on Saturday night that trimmed Texas' lead to 3 1/2 games. The Angels, who have won 10 of their last 11 games, took a series from Texas for the first time since July 19-21 of last season. They had lost 10 of their previous 13 head-to-head matchups coming into this weekend's series.
Guess who? Trout is already starting to get into opponents' heads. Team are well aware of his speed and it has been causing them to make mistakes. Elvis Andrus, perhaps speeding up unnecessarily, threw high for an error on a Trout grounder in the first and never even attempted a throw in the seventh on an infield hit. Nelson Cruz made a great throw to the plate, but Trout slid around Yorvit Torrealba's tag according to umpire Tim McClelland. There aren't many players with game-changing speed. Trout has it.
Crowd control. C.J. Wilson was as much a traffic cop as a pitcher Friday night. He kept crowds from gathering. Somehow, he got through six innings while allowing five hits and three walks. How? He got ground balls when he needed them and the Angels infield did the rest. They turned a couple of challenging double plays and one easy one in the first three innings. The law firm of Wilson and Wilson -- C.J. and Bobby -- took care of things in the fourth with a strike-'em-out, throw-'em out double play.
Still a relief. Scott Downs has made the most dangerous hitter in baseball, Josh Hamilton, look silly two nights in a row. Actually, he made him look dangerous in a different way. While striking out in the eighth inning, Hamilton lost hold of his bat and sent it helicoptering over Adrian Beltre's head in the on-deck circle. If not for an overly aggressive Torii Hunter throwing error, Downs and Ernesto Frieri would have combined for yet more scoreless work in the final two innings. It got dicey in the ninth, but Frieri picked up his fourth save.
Walden wobbles. If things continue this way, Jordan Walden might gain a reputation as a pitcher who thrives pitching in low-pressure roles and flounders under the bright lights. Since losing his closer job, Walden has pitched great. But thrust back into a pressure situation -- one-run lead in the seventh -- Walden walked two batters and gave up a hit to Cruz.
Texas 'D.' I thought the Cowboys were the Dallas-area team that couldn't stop the aerial game. Mike Napoli dropped a sinking liner and a routine pop-up. Andrus and Beltre booted grounders. An underrated part of this Texas team last year was its fielding, but lately it's been an issue. The Rangers were charged with three errors, but they made five bad plays in the field.
Balance. The Angels continue to make all their noise in the upper third of the lineup, followed by long lulls. The bottom five batters went 2-for-18 and one of the hits was on Erick Aybar's bunt. Howie Kendrick doesn't look like himself lately and Bobby Wilson, a very capable defensive catcher, is struggling to make contact.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A two-hour rain delay spoiled the anticipated C.J. Wilson-Yu Darvish pitching matchup. The Rangers stormed for five runs in the first inning following the delay and cruised to an easy victory in the opener of a three-game weekend series before a sellout crowd at Rangers Ballpark.
Pop at the top. Mike Trout’s second look at Darvish resulted in a 374-foot deposit into the left-field stands with a man aboard. It was the second home of the season by the 20-year-old and only the third allowed by Darvish in 42 innings. It came on the heels of a three-hit performance by the center fielder Wednesday. Trout has batted in the leadoff spot in all 11 starts this season and already has seven extra base hits. In the 21 games before his call-up, Angels leadoff hitters totaled three extra base hits.
Picking up the slack. Statisictically, not a great night for Jerome Williams, but credit him for eating innings and saving the bullpen. Williams, tabbed originally as Saturday’s starter, replaced Wilson after a two-hour rain delay. His line wasn’t great, six earned runs in six innings, but he limited the Rangers to one run over his last four innings.
New HR leader. Torii Hunter became the Angels’ leader in home runs after his fifth of the season with one out and the bases empty in the sixth. Hunter began the game tied with Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells. Hunter resides in North Texas in the off-season.
Defensive shortcomings. Even though the Angels were charged with only one error, it was not a good night for the Halo defense. It started in the first inning when second baseman Kendrick played a sharply-hit potential double play ball into what was ruled an infield hit and compounded it with a throwing error to first. Left fielder Wells had problems on Mike Napoli’s sky-high fly near the left field wall that went for a triple and turned into a run in the third inning. Trout and Wells almost bumped into each other chasing down a drive near the wall in left-center. Trout failed to make the catch.
After it rains, it pours: The Angels trailed 1-0 before Friday’s rain delay of almost two hours. When play finally resumed with Williams in relief of Wilson, the Rangers scored five more runs for a comfortable 6-0 cushion after one inning and the rout was on.
Rough night for No. 5. Albert Pujols saw his batting average dip to .192 after going 0-for-4 with a strikeout. He failed to get the ball out of the infield, twice fouling out to third base and rolling out to first. His only solid contact, unfortunately, was on the head of Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba on a follow through. Torrealba later had to leave the game.
"(The Angels) are not going to show us (anything)," Maddux told ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett. "A lot of teams do that."
Turns out, he's right. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the team likely will use C.J. Wilson in a camp game Sunday while using one of their minor-league pitchers to face the likes of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton. Scioscia was more coy about the reason, saying a minor-league game gives the team an opportunity to shorten innings, making sure Wilson gets to his proper pitch count and innings tally.
So, Angels hitters will still be in the dark, but the team's quest for information has already begun. Jeff Cirillo, the former All-Star infielder, has been scouting Texas for the Angels this spring, while general manager Jerry Dipoto has seen Darvish throw on a couple of occasions. Once the season starts, the scouting baton will be handed to advance man Gary Varsho. The Angels already are in the process of stockpiling video of Darvish from Japan.
"It's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game," Angels director of pro scouting Hal Morris said. "There are a lot of different areas where we're gathering information."
No matter how deeply the Angels dig this spring, the real game will begin when Albert Pujols and their other hitters get their first look from the batter's box. They could face Darvish during a three-game series in Texas May 11-13, one of -- most likely -- four to five times they'll see the right-hander this season.
Torii Hunter said the early edge will be Darvish's, but time is on the hitters' side. He said he gradually became more and more comfortable facing Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, another mega-star to emerge from Japan.
"All of the Japanese pitchers have pretty much the same style," Hunter said. "They throw almost the same breaking pitches, almost the same off-speed stuff, pitch in the same way. In fastball counts, they throw a lot of off-speed stuff and they have an explosive fastball. It might be 92 (mph), but it has a little extra get-up."
It’s typical to see pitchers running in the outfield during spring training games. It’s less common to see them running before games.
C.J. Wilson has been jogging a mile or two along the warning track before each of his Cactus League starts to simulate the rigors of a regular-season outing. Before Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals -- in which Wilson went five strong innings -- he tried something else to sharpen up.
“I stayed off Twitter today, so my thumbs were fresh,” Wilson said.
The reference, of course, was to Wilson’s tweet over the weekend revealing ex-teammate Mike Napoli’s phone number, something Wilson called a “prank.” Napoli reacted angrily to reporters earlier this week, saying he didn’t consider it a prank.
Wilson had no further comment on the matter, but when he was talking about working with a new set of Angels catchers, he named each of the six Texas Rangers catchers he had worked with over the previous few years, omitting one. When a reporter suggested it was Napoli, he replied, “Oh yeah, Napoli.”
AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps
Of all the moves this offseason, Prince Fielder not signing with Texas ranks as one of the biggest for the Angels.
If you were ranking this winter's free-agent news in terms of its impact on the Angels, you might have to put the stories in the following order:
1. Albert Pujols signs with the Angels.
2. Prince Fielder doesn't sign with Texas.
3. C.J. Wilson signs with the Angels.
4. LaTroy Hawkins signs with the Angels.
No offense to Wilson, a fine left-handed pitcher who I think will thrive pitching at Angel Stadium, or to Hawkins, who should be a winning influence on the bullpen in 2012. Their impact probably won't approach the damage Fielder could have done from afar over the next nine years.
Just imagine what Texas' lineup would have been like on a nightly basis after inserting a guy who has averaged 37 home runs (and hit 50 one year) and 106 RBIs, who doesn't turn 28 until May. The Rangers scored 855 runs last year, just 20 behind league-leading Boston.
Inserting Fielder would have given Texas perhaps the two most-feared left-handed hitters in the game (Fielder and Josh Hamilton) to go along with its four right-handed hitters who smacked at least 29 home runs last year. The only reason to think Texas wouldn't have had the best 3-4 hitters in baseball is you don't know whether manager Ron Washington would have broken up his two left-handed sluggers.
Not only would the Angels have had to pitch to Fielder about 75 times a year (as opposed to 25 or fewer now), they would have faced the possibility of meeting that lineup again in the playoffs. Who knows, it might have reduced the Angels to chasing one of the wild-card spots for years. Under the new proposed format, that's a far more perilous road to the World Series than winning the division.
Yeah, it's scary to think about, but now you don't have to. Instead, we can ask: Whose middle-of-the-order would you rather have, the Angels' or the Rangers'?
And yet, according to some, Albert Pujols could actually gain by switching ballparks. Busch Stadium negated much of Pujols' power to right-center, costing him home runs. He hit 37 last year and, in the above link, it's conjectured that he might have hit as many as 16 more if Angel Stadium were his home park. Especially in day games, the right-center power alley is one of the few areas of Angel Stadium susceptible to home runs. Mike Napoli likes to hit them over that scoreboard.
Hard to believe that Angel Stadium could actually help a hitter, but maybe it'll be good for a small spike?
According to ESPN's Park Factors under the "Resources" tab, Busch Stadium was one of only five major-league stadiums where it was harder to hit a home run than Angel Stadium. Of course, these things are dicey. For one thing, the Angels had the advantage of playing about 20 games at home against the weak-hitting Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's. They also had the advantage of being able to use Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and the rest of their well-above-average pitching staff. So, maybe it will be worth even more to Pujols to get out of Busch.
Changing stadiums: Yet one more reason to be excited to see what Pujols does this year.
Front office officials for Angels arrived 18 people strong, according to two sources, ready to strengthen the team that wound up second in the AL West.
The Angels filled one of their main needs last week with the addition of catcher Chris Ianneta from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitcher Tyler Chatwood.
Saturday, they sent catcher Jeff Mathis to Toronto, after Mathis never achieved what was expected from him offensively and one of the reasons the Angels decided to move Mike Napoli in 2010 to those same Blue Jays.
Ianetta batted .238 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 112 games for the Rockies last season. Mathis had a .174 average with three homers and 22 RBIs in 93 games.
Now, the Angels are trying to get a fourth or fifth starter who can work behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in the rotation, maybe ahead of veteran Jerome Williams.
Jerry Dipoto, the Angels' new general manager, said they are still interested in left-hander C.J. Wilson, who in the past two seasons was a starter for the Texas Rangers, the two-time AL champions.
“We have expressed our interest in improving certain areas,” Dipto said Saturday. “And we are no different than the other 29 teams in the major leagues; starting pitching is our priority.”
Napoli homered twice Wednesday, including the towering two-run shot in the ninth inning that gave the Texas Rangers a 3-1 win, allowing them to open the playoffs at home. Napoli hit six home runs at Angel Stadium this season, just three fewer than the man he was traded for, Vernon Wells.
Audition time: Garrett Richards finally got to show the Angels what he can offer them. He had struggled in his major league debut at Yankee Stadium, then injured his groin in his second start against the Rangers. Richards, 23, came out of the bullpen to make Wednesday's start after Mike Scioscia decided to rest Jered Weaver and largely dominated. Other than a long home run to Mike Napoli, Richards cruised through five innings. He could be in competition with Tyler Chatwood for a rotation spot next spring.
Support. Despite two straight seasons in which the Angels didn't reach the post-season, their fans continued to show up. The final tally: 3,166,321 tickets sold, according to the team. Soon, the Angels might have to start winning something to keep their momentum going.
Status intact: Who knows, maybe the Angels can win two Rookie of the Year awards in a row. Mark Trumbo is in the running this season and Mike Trout will still qualify as a rookie in 2012. Trout finished strong after a rough September, getting three hits in his final two games.
Bad taste. The end of this season couldn't have been much worse for rookie closer Jordan Walden, who blew an easy save Sunday to all but eliminate the Angels from the playoffs and then gave up Napoli's second home run Wednesday. It was an impressive one, too, a high arcing blast into the left-field corner. Now, Walden has to think about those two outings until April.
Wrap it up. Vernon Wells locked up the worst on-base percentage in the major leagues by going 1-for-4 and not walking in his 22nd consecutive game. Wells went 2-for-21 in his final homestand and finished the season batting .218. On the bright side, it won't be hard to improve next year.
Karma? The Detroit Tigers finish next season against the Minnesota Twins. The Angels had better hope they're not in a race against Minnesota, because the Tigers might have a score to settle. After the Angels fell out of contention, Mike Scioscia went to spring-training lineups in consecutive games, Texas swept and secured homefield in the first round.
The Angels flashed their youthful speed at times, but the Rangers made the loud noises, hitting five home runs. Texas can lock up the second-best record in the AL by completing the series sweep Wednesday. That would allow it to open the playoffs at home Friday against the wild-card team instead of venturing to Yankee Stadium.
Dashing lads. Peter Bourjos runs like a deer. Mike Trout churns up ground line a running back. For one night, it was fun to watch the two speedsters hitting together at the top of a lineup. Trout got on base twice and scored a run. Bourjos pushed a triple into the alley in right-center. You could see what one day might be a dynamic pair of table setters.
Streaking. It might be a mistake to bet against the Rangers in the playoffs. They're healthy at last and they seem to be hitting their stride at the perfect time. Adrian Beltre homered in his fourth straight game. Ian Kinsler hit his 32nd home run among three hits and stole his 30th base. Their No. 7 hitter, Nelson Cruz, hit a towering shot for his 29th home run. Mike Napoli has a career-high 28 home runs, 15 of them on the road. These guys have versatility. They can pitch with the good teams and slug with the big boys.
Chance to shine. There are players who toil in your organization that teams like to reward with September call-ups. The Angels weren't able to give those guys action, because they were fighting to stay in the playoff hunt. Tuesday, Mike Scioscia opened the gate to the youngsters. Jeremy Moore, Gil Velazquez and Andrew Romine all had hits. Efren Navarro made a brilliant play at first base. Nice moments.
Chatwood's decline. Back in early June, Tyler Chatwood was a key member of the Angels' rotation and looked like he might be an emerging young pitcher in the American League. Since then, he's gone 3-9 with a 5.58 ERA, lost his spot and now you wonder if he's in the mix next spring. One big problem: Chatwood has allowed a home run in eight of his last nine outings. Ian Kinsler took him deep Tuesday.
Home, bitter home.Vernon Wells' struggles have been a movable famine. He has made frequent outs in most of the venues the Angels have visited, but much of his worst work has been done at Angel Stadium, as usual. Wells is wrapping up his first Angels' season with a 1-for-17 homestand, bringing his Angel Stadium batting average this year to an even .200. He's hit just eight of his 25 homers here. No wonder they boo him so much.
Another injury. Aside from the season-ending injury to Kendrys Morales, the Angels were relatively fortunate in news from the trainer's room. Lately, things have started falling apart. Howie Kendrick jammed his left wrist diving for David Murphy's infield single and might be out for the year, meaning he won't play Wednesday.
By the end of this weekend's series in Texas, the Angels could be anywhere from first place (by a game) to barely clinging to contention, five games out with 29 to go.
But what doesn't speak for itself is the direction the teams have been heading lately. To catch up on the state of the Rangers, we checked in with our friend from ESPNDallas.com, Richard Durrett:
MS. Richard, What has happened to the Rangers? From your seat, is it just that they've been playing a tough team, the Red Sox, or are there indications of more systematic breakdowns?
RD. No question, the Red Sox came in with their bats swinging and ready to go. But two big concerns came out of the series. First, the starting pitching didn't do the job in the final three games. CJ Wilson has been great, but other than that, it's a trend for the whole month, really. Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando have all pitched more innings this season than they ever have and it might be taking a toll. They say they aren't tired, but they look it. Second, the offense struggled to do anything. They are batting .197 in the last 8 games, which includes that walkoff win by Trumbo, and are 2-6. The Rangers must get those trends turned around to win this series.
MS. Momentum is fickle in baseball. Do you see it as a factor in this series?
RD. Momentum can change quickly. We saw that last week in Anaheim. It's a factor early in the series, in that both teams come in on vastly different runs. But once the game starts, it just depends on who can get on a roll. I think it's more critical for the Rangers to score early just to feel like the bats can get going and that they have a lead. They haven't really had that feeling in three days.
MS. I read Nolan Ryan's comments about the pitching looking tired. Can you draw this out a little bit? Which guys, specifically, are wearing down?
RD. As I mentioned earlier, it's the young guys like Holland, Harrison and Ogando, though Lewis has struggled at times too. Harrison's velocity was down in his last start, which makes me wonder if that's also fatigue. But he said he felt good physically out there. The Rangers know it's an issue and they are meeting after the series to decide if they want to spot start someone and how to work the rotation with the off days. I think they'll do something to try to give these guys a little bit of a break.
MS. Everyone talks about the heat of Texas. This year it's been more ridiculous than usual. Something about a high-pressure system. Is it too late to build a retractable roof, can you give us some details about first-pitch temperatures and is it a factor in this series? In this season?
RD. It's been triple-digit first pitches for much of July and August. And it is more ridiculous than normal. A retractable roof isn't possible. Way too costly. I do wish there was a way to configure Cowboys Stadium for baseball, but I can't see that happening. So everyone will just have to deal with it. Even starting the game at midnight wouldn't help much. It's just hot here all the time right now.
MS. What's your prediction for the next three games?
RD. Though the Rangers are clearly struggling, I'll say they win 2 out of 3. I don't think either team will sweep and I can't think the offense can struggle like this much longer. But it should be very entertaining. What the Angels have done is make this a great race.
ANAHEIM -- Mark Trumbo quietly has been the most dangerous Angels hitter all year.
Thursday, Trumbo turned up the volume. The rookie slugger rescued the Angels' season from the brink of meaningless with a walk-off two-run home run off Texas Rangers reliever Mike Adams to help the Angels avoid a four-game sweep. The Angels are six games back with 36 games to play, six against the Rangers.
Torii Hunter led off with a single to extend his hitting streak to 16 games and Trumbo hit a hooking liner into the left-field stands.
Weaver rebounds. First, he had to sit around for seven days because he lost his temper and threw at a hitter and got suspended. Then, he was awful, probably because of rust, when he returned. But Jered Weaver got his brilliant season back on track with seven masterful innings, his outing shortened only because of a 29-pitch first inning. The only thing missing, as usual, was run support.
Catalyst. I didn't think Peter Bourjos could be this kind of offensive force. He's doing so many things well nowadays, primarily using his best asset to his advantage. He bunted his way on for the 12th time this year in the fifth and raced all the way to third on an errant throw. All he really has to do is make contact and he'll be a threat. Now, he's doing that and he is.
Meat of the order. Lately, it hasn't been the heart of the Angels' order that has let them down. It's been the fringes. Trumbo looks as if he's settling into the No. 5 spot and Hunter has been one of the hottest hitters in the league. Bobby Abreu even got involved, lining a double off the right-field wall.
Decisions, decisions. Nothing could have burned the Angels decision-makers more than what Mike Napoli did in this crucial series. He nearly knocked out his former team this series, while the man he was traded for, Vernon Wells, continued to disappear. Napoli went 7-for-19 with two doubles and two home runs. To think he's making about $20 million less than Wells, too, could he be making the front office look any worse?
Mathis' bat. What else can you say? You can't blame Jeff Mathis because Mike Scioscia plays him most days. After his second strikeout, he got lustily booed. He is virtually an automatic out, but the situation is as much to blame as anything. Mathis would be a solid backup in a lot of places, because he's so good behind the plate. But to continue to expose him as a front-line catcher does no service to anyone, least of all Mathis.
Everybody's bat. Colby Lewis isn't bad. He's a decent pitcher, and he did have a nice breaking ball working Thursday night. But this kind of dominance had more to do with this Angels lineup, which has been sporadically awful all season. From the end of the second inning through the start of the fifth, Lewis set the Angels down in order, striking out four. The Angels have let mediocre starters get on rolls like that all year long.
But there’s another possibility. Wells might be overcome with emotion, considering he spent his entire career with the Blue Jays organization before the Angels traded for him in January.
I talked to Wells about the trip back to his former in-season home – he recently sold his house in suburban Toronto – and what he could reasonably expect. You could tell he had already been thinking about it well before the Angels got on a plane for New York.
“That’s a good question. I don’t see it being too emotional, but I’m sure once you get in that situation everything changes,” Wells said. “I just hope it’s business as usual and I can go out and play, but this is the first time and obviously it’s a place I’ve spent my whole career in. It’ll be an intense moment that first day.”
The Blue Jays have scheduled a media conference with Wells for this afternoon.
As divorces go, this was as amicable as they come. The Angels felt they needed to upgrade their offense and their outfield defense, so they took on the contract few other teams would have touched and traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays for Wells. They’ve gotten the solid defense in left field, but he’s batting just .208 with a .241 on-base percentage. One area of his game has lived up to expectations, his 16 home runs, but nearly all of them came before the All-Star break.
Under general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays have embarked on what looks like a promising rebuilding campaign. Wells thinks that eventually it will pay off, even in a division ruled by big-spending teams from New York and Boston.
“That’s my personal opinion,” Wells said. “Obviously, the Yankees and Red Sox are going to spend money, but the Blue Jays are getting younger and those two teams are getting older and eventually it’ll happen. Hopefully, they don’t get there before we do.”
AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Vladimir Guerrero was a cog in the all-.300 lineup the Angels sent out Aug. 18, 2009.
Hatcher sent a clubhouse attendant scurrying to find a camera and take a picture of the scoreboard, a snapshot that has become famous around the Angels -- particularly as they have struggled to score runs the past two seasons.
The date was Aug. 18, 2009, and it was the first time since the pennant-winning 1934 Detroit Tigers of Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer that a team had gone that deep into a season with a lineup full of .300 hitters (each of whom had at least 200 at-bats).
Angels manager Mike Scioscia had had more powerful lineups (eg., 2000, 2004). He'd had faster lineups (most years). But he has never had a deeper lineup since he arrived 12 seasons ago.
That offense "might have been rolling as well as it ever has here," Scioscia told the Orange County Register. In the end, the Angels would set club records in batting average (.285), runs (883), average with runners in scoring position (.297) and hits (1,604). It would steamroll the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs, but then lose to the eventual world-champion New York Yankees in six games.
Since that season, Scioscia and Hatcher have pined for the days when they could post a lineup free of holes. It's not hard to figure out what happened: attrition.
Of the nine guys in that lineup, five have been missing since at least January: Chone Figgins (.308 at the time) signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners that winter; Juan Rivera (.310) and Mike Napoli (.300) were traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells five months ago; Vladimir Guerrero (.313) moved on to Texas and Baltimore via free agency; and Kendrys Morales (.303) broke his leg last May 29.
After the Angels' game Sunday vs. the New York Mets, their lineup featured one .300 hitter: Howie Kendrick (.301). It had one guy, Jeff Mathis, batting lower than .200 and three, including Torii Hunter and Wells, hitting beneath .235. Absent power, the Angels rely on a continual application of offensive pressure, a force they've lacked since the start of 2010.
How long ago that August day in Cleveland now seems.
This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.