Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Don’t turn off the lights just yet

MINNEAPOLIS – Angels fans are bailing left and right. I hear it every day in emails. They can’t take it anymore. They can’t watch. They can’t even listen to the games. It’s too frustrating, too distressing.

This is what happens when a team goes from really good to so-so virtually overnight. You want to know, you demand to know, if this is a temporary blip or a preview of dark times ahead, a return to the dead-ball era in Anaheim.

I’m no prophet, but I’ll take the blip route until I see or feel something that leads me to believe the organization is in the freefall imagined by so many doomsayers.

What makes this season so difficult – no, impossible – to accurate gauge is the loss of Kendry Morales. This man was the centerpiece of the offense, fifth in the American League MVP balloting last season. His loss has had an impact on the entire lineup, to say nothing of the attitude in the clubhouse.

The Angels had three players they couldn’t afford to lose – Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and Morales – and they lost one of them. They simply haven’t been the same with seven different bodies trying to fill the Morales void at first.

Would Morales’ presence – he had developed into a quality defender at first — have been enough to make up the difference between the Rangers and the Angels? Hard to say. But I think it’s fair to say they’d be much closer than they are to Texas – maybe three, four games off the lead. And well within striking distance.

The Angels players and staff know this, but they can’t talk about it. It would sound defeatist, and that’s the last thing you want with so much season left on the schedule. But it’s the truth, and sometimes the truth needs to be expressed.

As for the future, if I’m an Angels fan – my job description doesn’t allow for that – I’d be excited. Peter Bourjos is on his way to being one of the game’s most exciting players, and Mike Trout is coming right behind Bourjos: incredibly swift, developing power with the confident bearing of a young Pete Rose at age 19.

Bourjos has pretty much owned Target Field today with speed, power, arm, instincts. On his first Major League homer, a laser into the left-field seats against Kevin Slowey, Bourjos was at first base when the line drive hit the seats. That was amazing to see. On his triple to right center? Simply flying.

All those fans — you know who you are — who were ready to quit on Bourjos after 20 at-bats, as they did Brandon Wood, don’t understand that nobody conquers this game instantly. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, arguably the two greatest athletes to play the game, wanted to go home after failing in their first months in the bigs.

Bourjos and Trout in the outfield someday with Torii Hunter as the veteran anchor is a vision thrilling to ponder.

Eddie Bane and his scouting staff have had two consecutive intriguing drafts. If the kids from the 2010 Draft group – headed by position players Kaleb Cowart, Chevez Clarke, Taylor Lindsey and Ryan Bolden and pitcher Cam Bedrosian – show as well as the ’09 crop, the Angels are in the process of restocking their system with premium talent.

It’s easy to get depressed and negative, turn off the lights. But if you leave them on and give it a chance, you just might have some fun at the party.  – Lyle Spencer

So many possibilities . . . like Bourjos

ANAHEIM — The Angels didn’t get any more deals done by the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t make a move or two by the Aug. 31 waiver Deadline for postseason eligibility.

If they make a big move suddenly on the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the Angels could try to pluck a starting pitcher for the stretch run. The loss of Joel Pineiro was a huge blow, especially coming after Sean O’Sullivan had been included in the package shipped to Kansas City for Alberto Callaspo.

If the Angels don’t make a serious push in the next week or so, they could look to move chips of value. Among those who could pass through waivers and be dealt to contenders are closer Brian Fuentes and left-handed offensive weapons Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui. Other possibilities include right-handed thumper Juan Rivera – always dangerous this time of year – and a versatile infielder such as Maicer Izturis, who has two years left on his contract.

Fuentes has pitched superbly in the second half and would have appeal in a number of places. He’s unlikely to get the 55 finishes he needs to kick in his $9 million option for 2011; he’s not even halfway there with 26. Odds are he’ll be a free agent this winter, along with Scot Shields and Matsui.

Abreu and Matsui could be difference-makers in a place like the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox could use another left-handed run producer down the stretch. Abreu, especially, would have major appeal to his buddy, manager Ozzie Guillen. Abreu has $9 million coming next season and would be missed in a big way in Anaheim, but the Angels have a lot of decisions to make about their outfield in 2011.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Peter Bourjos summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake before too long — unless the Angels put some heat on the Rangers and manager Mike Scioscia likes what he sees from his outfield.

There are few players in the game as fast as Bourjos, who can outrun mistakes in the outfield and place enormous pressure on an infield if he makes consistent contact. He has been making progress offensively at Salt Lake, to the point where he might not be overmatched hitting in the No. 9 hole.

After a long season spent chasing down drives in the gaps, and having turned 35, Torii Hunter might welcome some time in right with Bourjos bringing those swift, young legs to center. Like Andre Dawson, one of his youthful idols, Hunter could be reaching a point in his illustrious career where a move to right is career-extending. The man has done all he can in center, with those nine consecutive Rawlings Gold Gloves as evidence.

It has been my view for a long time that the one impending free agent who would have the most dramatic impact on the Angels next season is Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford.

Like Hunter and Dawson, Crawford – whose speed is right there with Bourjos’ – could be at a point in his career where he sees long-range benefits in leaving behind the artificial turf of Tropicana Field for a grass field. A nice, refreshing place such as Southern California likely would have appeal to Crawford, who hails from Houston.

Leading off and playing center or left, the dynamic Crawford would transform the Angels, putting the juice back in the offense with Erick Aybar sliding into the No. 2 spot. Defensively and on the basepaths, Crawford has few equals. – Lyle Spencer
    
 

Trading Tony does it again

ARLINGTON – Tony Reagins might not look like a riverboat gambler, but that’s what the guy is. How does Trading Tony sound?

The Angels’ general manager once again has pulled the trigger on a potentially explosive midseason deal. That’s three in three seasons, Mark Teixeira and Scott Kazmir having preceded new Angels starter Dan Haren to Anaheim.

Teixeira is no longer around, but the Angels acquired some prime Draft picks for half a season of Tex at the cost of Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek. Kazmir also delivered a good half season but has been nursing a sore shoulder this season. If he comes back to something resembling prime form, the Angels could have the best rotation in the game.

Jered Weaver and Haren are legitimate aces. Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Kazmir — when he’s sound — are quality No. 2 or No. 3 starters. It doesn’t get much better, or deeper, than that.

Haren doesn’t come without a pricey tag. Joe Saunders has been a solid craftsman, and he’ll give Arizona quality work. If two of the other three arms in the deal deliver, it’s a smart move by the Diamondbacks. They can use the money they’ll save on Haren’s hefty contract to gather some of the parts they need to be competitive again.

It doesn’t look good for the Angels in the AL West at the moment, but there’s a lot of baseball left to be played, as Mike Scioscia likes to say. If this rotation starts spinning the way it can, and the offense picks up the pace, the Angels could make Texas aware of their presence.

Reagins said he might not be done shopping, and he has no financial constraints. If the right bat surfaces at the right cost, he’ll make a stealth move, as he always does. The guy moves in the shadows, BlackBerry attached to his ear, and when he emerges he tends to make things happen. The GM must like the organizational depth on the mound, having detached six arms to acquire Haren and Alberto Callaspo.

The Angels are going for it, responding to Texas’ acquisition of Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina. This is uncharted territory for most of the Rangers. I loved the response of Michael Young, their splendid leader, when someone asked if the series with the Angels this week had a playoff feel to it.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Young, who never has appeared in a postseason series.

The Rangers haven’t played meaningful October baseball since 1999. That was the year before Scioscia came to Anaheim and starting collecting titles. It wouldn’t be wise to dismiss the professor’s class just yet – especially now with this new guy showing up who knows how to win, and how to win big. — Lyle Spencer

 

Callaspo for O’Sullivan, Smith

ARLINGTON – A few hours before the start of a crucial four-game series with the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the three-time reigning division champion Angels moved to bolster their offense on Thursday.

Alberto Callaspo, a switch-hitting infielder expected to spend most of his time at third base, was acquired from the Royals in exchange for pitchers Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith.

Callaspo, 27, is hitting .275 for the Royals this season after batting .300 in 2009 with a career-high 11 homers and 73 RBIs. He has eight homers and 43 RBIs this season. He signed with the Angels in 2001 as a teen in Maracay, Venezuela, and was trade to Arizona for pitcher Jason Bulger. The Royals acquired Callaspo for Billy Buckner.

“He’ll be a boost,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He can definitely play third base every day. We’ll see how some of the pieces fit. The work he does in the batter’s box is special. He can hit. He’ll  help fill the void Kendry Morales’ departure created.”

O’Sullivan, 22, held the Yankees to two runs on two hits in six innings in a victory on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The Angels were 9-2 in the big right-hander’s 11 starts over the past two seasons. The San Diegan was a third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Smith, a 21-year-old native of Georgia taken in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is a 6-foot-5 left-hander in his third professional season. He has pitched for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas this season and is considered to have high upside.

“This was not by any means an easy decision on Tony’s part,” Scioscia said, referring to general manager Tony Reagins. “It’s not easy to put Sean O’Sullivan or Will Smith in a deal unless we were getting a player who can help us.”

Callaspo is expected to join the Angels on Friday night. O’Sullivan, who had been scheduled to pitch Sunday’s series finale, likely will give way now to Trevor Bell. Scott Kazmir (shoulder fatigue) is not eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list until Monday, and it is unclear when he’ll be ready to rejoin the rotation.

“It’s weird,” O’Sullivan said, minutes after being informed of the deal by Scioscia. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been traded. The goal is to go to a place where they need you, want you, so you can show you’re capable of playing at this level.

“I’m trading red for blue. That’s all I know right now.” — Lyle Spencer

 

To deal or not to deal

NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.

Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.

There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.

Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.

The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.

There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.

The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.

If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – Lyle Spencer

All-Star Phillips’ mind on P.J.

ANAHEIM – Heading into his first Major League All-Star Game at Angel Stadium, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips pointed to his brother, an Angels prospect, as his inspiration.

P.J. Phillips, a second-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, suffered a shoulder injury during Spring Training and is on the disabled list. He is on the Class A Rancho Cucamonga roster.

“This is for my younger brother, P.J.,” said Phillips, who leads the National League in runs scored with 66 and is hitting .294 at the break as one of four Reds playing in the Midsummer Classic. “I dedicate all my success to my brother. He’s really meant a lot to me. You never know what happens.”

A middle infielder when he drafted and signed out of Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., P.J. was playing center field this spring when he damaged the shoulder in a collision.

“He dove for a ball in the outfield,” Brandon said, “and the right fielder hit him and flipped him over. He broke his shoulder, the rotator cuff. It was pretty bad, but he’s a strong guy. He’ll come back.”

An All-Star in 2007 for low Class A Cedar Rapids, P.J. Phillips, a superb athlete, spent the past two seasons at advanced Class A Rancho Cucamonga in the California League. He batted .276 in ’08 but fell to .233 last season. He’s 23, 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds. — Lyle Spencer

 

Baffling All-Star selections

CHICAGO — Too bad Major League Baseball no longer showcases a second All-Star Game.

With Jered Weaver and, to a lesser extent, Howard Kendrick denied invitations to represent the American League in the All-Star Game in their home park, the Angels are not alone in their frustration and confusion.

So many qualified players were overlooked this season, MLB could stage a second Midsummer Classic with those neglected athletes and it would be almost as talent-rich as the one that will unfold on July 13.

I was dumbfounded when I learned Weaver, leading the Majors in strikeouts with a 2.82 ERA and 8-3 record, wasn’t chosen. I figured he was a dead-solid lock. You can make a strong case that he has been as good as any starter in the league, rising to the challenge of replacing good buddy John Lackey as the no-nonsense, no-doubt ace of the staff.

In fact, Weaver was that guy last season but nobody seemed to notice. This should be his second straight year in the All-Star Game, but he’ll be home with family members, pulling for Torii Hunter to represent his team with his customary passion, style and grace.

Hunter was visibly distressed when he learned that Weaver and Kendrick, who has been durable and productive, didn’t get the call. It stripped from Torii much of the satisfaction he took from earning the vote of his peers.

But even there, I was baffled. How could Jose Bautista of Toronto claim 10 more votes from the players than Hunter, who finished sixth in the players’ balloting? Sure, he’s hit a lot of home runs this season, but in no way, shape or form does Bautista compare with Hunter as a total performer.

The players’ infatuation with the Blue Jays, currently one game below .500, was puzzling. Vernon Wells is having a terrific season, but he’s not in my view the player Carl Crawford is. Yet Wells collected 64 more player votes than Crawford to finish third, ahead of the Rays’ star.

And don’t even get me started on the catching outcome. Toronto’s John Buck was third on the players’ ballots, ahead of Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, arguably the most underrated player in the game. The only area of the game where Buck compares with Suzuki is in lifting big flies.

By taking Suzuki, rather than Buck, to replace injured Victor Martinez on the AL roster, manager Joe Girardi could then have taken Weaver rather than right-hander Trevor Cahill, the Athletics’ representative. A promising right-hander, Cahill is having a solid season, but he is not in Weaver’s class yet.

In Suzuki and Weaver, the AL would have two truly deserving, no-doubt All-Stars.

Yes, Weaver is due to work on the Sunday preceding the All-Star Game, making him ineligible to pitch in the game. But that didn’t prevent Girardi and the AL decision-makers from selecting CC Sabathia, whose spot was awarded to Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte. If Nick Swisher, running second behind Kevin Youkilis in the Final Vote, joins the party, that would be eight Yankees All-Stars, if you’re counting.

Hunter, as the lone All-Star from the Angels, clearly must be the league’s MVP at this point in keeping his team in the hunt for what would be a fourth consecutive AL West title.

As for the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler getting the call over Kendrick, the players could not have been paying enough attention to what these two second baseman have done this season. Kendrick clearly has been the more productive performer, given all the games Kinsler has missed.

The lack of respect shown the Angels was just as glaring with their neighbors to the south. Padres manager Buddy Black, Mike Scioscia’s former pitching coach, has done a masterful job with that club. The Padres had at least three richly-deserving pitching candidates for the big show and none got the call.

Judging by the performances of their teams, San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez, like Hunter, must be the MVP at the midway point of the season. The first baseman is the only representative of the club with the NL’s best record.
 
One final thought, regarding the phenom: Stephen Strasburg should be in this game. The whole point of elevating the importance of the All-Star Game in attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner was to make sure that the best players competed at a high level and didn’t coast through the game.

If you’re the NL, and you’re serious about ending the AL’s run of dominance, you want Strasburg on the mound for an inning or two. You can’t tell me there are 13 better pitchers in the National League than this kid. I’m not sure there are three better than Strasburg. – Lyle Spencer    

 

Kendrick has All-Star look

ANAHEIM – With Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list, there is a strong chance the Angels will have three All-Stars in uniform when they host the July 13 Midsummer Classic at Angel Stadium.

Torii Hunter and Jered Weaver certainly deserve to represent the American League, and Howard Kendrick also has moved front and center as a legitimate candidate.

Kendrick, who banged his 50th RBI with a first-inning double against C.J. Wilson and the Rangers on Thursday night, is the logical candidate to join the Yankees’ Robinson Cano on the American League roster.

Kendrick has been the most durable of the Angels, and one of the steadiest offensively and defensively. Only Cano among Major League second baseman have driven in more runs than Kendrick, who flourished in the leadoff role when Erick Aybar was out with a knee injury.

Kendrick went through a stretch when he was hitting in terrible luck, drilling balls at gloves on a nightly basis, but the hits started falling and he’s been on a roll, batting .342 over his past 18 games.

A natural hitter with a stroke reminiscent of Derek Jeter’s, Kendrick has put in most of his work on the defensive end – and it is paying off with improved glove work, notably in turning the double play.

“Howie’s having a terrific season,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly deserving of All-Star consideration.”

Hunter makes an even stronger case.

“Howard belongs on the team,” Hunter said. “He deserves it.” – Lyle Spencer

 

Rangers are star-studded

The Rangers have eight, maybe nine legitimate All-Star candidates. Here they are: Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver. Darren O’Day also has the numbers to be considered.

The Angels have two serious candidates for the Midsummer Classic they’ll be hosting on July 13: Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter. After that, you have to start reaching to make a case.

And you’re wondering why the Angels are chasing Texas in the American League West?

The only surprise is that they’re as close as they are. The Rangers could be running away and hiding.

Coming into Wednesday night’s middle game of the series, the Angels having held on to take the opener, the Rangers had outscored opponents by 80 runs in 76 games. The Angels had scored one fewer run than the other guys in 79 games.

The Rangers’ bullpen had the third-best ERA in the AL at 3.30. The Angels were second to last at 4.84.

It’s difficult to find an area where the Angels have been better than the Rangers. Mike Scioscia’s troupe was even running behind in steals by 14. Defense? The Rangers’ .983 team fielding percentage was tied for sixth in the AL, while the Angels were tied for 11th at .981.

The Rangers are batting .283, while their opponents are hitting .243. The Angels are getting out-hit, .264 to .259.

Rumors are swirling that the Angels are interested in Hank Blalock, Garrett Atkins, Adam Dunn. A quick-fix would appease fans, but would it really improve the club significantly? That’s the question management has to weigh.

The only player who could make a huge difference is out for the season: Kendry Morales. My view is that none of those names being tossed around in trade chatter would dramatically alter the landscape. I’d go with what they have and hope the athletes in-house catch fire in the second half.

They have been known to do that. And these Rangers haven’t yet demonstrated they can make it through the heat of September. – Lyle Spencer

 

Where’s support for Hunter?

The Angels are hosting the All-Star Game on July 13. It’s a pretty big deal. You’d think their fans would be doing everything they can to make sure one of their players — ideally, their best player, Torii Hunter — would be in the starting lineup for the American League.

You’d think that would be the case, but you’d be wrong. It’s a clear case of voter apathy in Orange and its neighboring counties. 

Angels fans are sitting around not voting, evidently. They do a lot of complaining about what they have and don’t have, judging by my emails, but they’re not too interested in voting. They’re content to let eight other players start the game, without representation from the hometown team that has won its division the past three seasons and five of the past six.

Hunter is seventh in the AL outfield. That’s ridiculous. You can make a case that the three guys leading in the balloting — Ichiro, Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton — are all deserving. They’re having big seasons, and they’re talented, charismatic players.

I’d take Hunter in a heartbeat over any of the three.

I’m biased, of course. I’m around Torii every day and see what he does on the field, in the clubhouse, in general life. He’s as good as it gets. He should be in center field when this All-Star Game unfolds.

What’s really absurd is that a pair of Yankees — Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher — are running ahead of Hunter in the voting. I’m pretty sure they’d both agree they’re not in Hunter’s class as all-around players.

Hunter is having another big year. He started one All-Star Game, in Milwaukee in 2002, and made one of the most memorable plays in the history of the Midsummer Classic, scaling the wall in center to snatch a home run away from Barry Bonds.

Hunter is clutch. He goes all out, all the time. He lives for the moment and represents his sport as well as any athlete anywhere.

It’s a shame the fans aren’t doing their part to take care of a guy who never stops taking care of others. — Lyle Spencer  

 

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