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
Brandon Wood, with all of five professional games of experience at the position, found himself on the lineup card at first base and batting seven against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia on Sunday at Angel Stadium.
“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Wood said. “I’ve played enough there now at [Triple-A] Salt Lake to get a feel for it. It’s definitely a different look and feel, but I’m getting more comfortable every time I play there. By the third or fourth game, I was checking things off: I can do that, I can do that.
“One thing I didn’t realize is how much is involved at first in terms of physical activity – all the squatting, moving around. I find that my legs are more tired after playing first than at short or third.”
A shortstop all his life, taken in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wood has been the gem of the farm system since ’04. He has been brought along slowly – the Angels are loaded with quality players at shortstop and third base – but has shown clear signs in limited opportunities this season of putting it all together.
His first three starts this season have been at third base, where he has excelled spelling Chone Figgins. Wood made a superb back-handed stab on Saturday, robbing Johnny Damon of a hit in the fifth inning, and responded in the bottom half of the winning with a homer to right center against Andy Pettitte. It jump-started the Angels’ offense, and they went on to prevail, 14-8.
Wood had two hits against Sabathia in New York on May 2, including an opposite-field single that ignited a decisive rally.
“A play like the one Woody made can give you a boost of confidence,” teammate Reggie Willits said. “I’ve seen that carry over to your next at-bat – and you saw what happened. Woody has big-time talent, no question about it.”
Wood agreed that his defensive contribution might have sharpened his focus in his at-bat against Pettitte. He was ahead 3-1 in the count when he went after a pitch down and on the outer half of the plate and sent it rocketing into the seats in right center.
“He has ridiculous power,” Willits said. “I’ve seen him hit some shots you wouldn’t believe in the Minors.”
Wood, who swung at only two of Pettitte’s first 10 pitches on Saturday, walking in his first at-bat, is making an impression on the man in charge.
“Brandon is making significant strides, offensively and defensively,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s looked good at first in Salt Lake. He’s athletic, with good hands, and he is taking to it well, just as he did at third.”
Brandon Wood was in the Angels’ lineup on Saturday against Andy Pettitte, getting a start at third base with Chone Figgins awarded a day off his busy feet to serve as designated hitter.
Wood welcomes any chance to face anybody, even if it’s one of the game’s premier southpaws. He made one of his two starts for the Angels this season at New York against CC Sabathia, collecting a pair of singles in three at-bats. He went the other way with a single to contribute to a decisive rally against the Yankees’ ace.
The slugging gem of the Angels’ system for four years, Wood also had a single in two at-bats against Pettitte during one of his appearances at home last September when he got his first taste of consistent Major League playing time at shortstop.
“I’ll go check with Torii [Hunter] and some of the guys about how to approach him,” Wood said of Pettitte, who is known to bring his cut fastball in on right-hander’s fists. “Two at-bats help, but Torii has seen him a lot longer than I have.”
Wood, hitting .333 for the Angels with nine at-bats, was batting .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake when he was recalled on Friday with Hunter (strained adductor muscle) and Vladimir Guerrero (strained muscle behind his left knee) going on the 15-day disabled list.
“Woody can help us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t want him sitting around getting one start every 10 days. There’s a role for him to get at-bats and contribute.”
A natural shortstop coming out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2003, Wood has made excellent strides at third base and lately at first in an effort to expand his horizons and make him more attractive to Scioscia.
He has sure hands, an accurate arm and an easy, gliding manner in the field calling to mind a young Cal Ripken Jr.
With a grin, Wood said, “All I can ask for is a chance to play and contribute. It’s exciting every time I get on the field.”
The Angels will face the Yankees this weekend without the heart of their lineup.
Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, the third and fourth hitters in the Angels’ lineup, were placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday. The move will take Hunter, selected for the American League roster in the players’ poll, out of what would have been his third All-Star Game appearance.
Recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to help fill the void were infielder Brandon Wood and catcher Bobby Wilson. Wilson’s presence as a backup to Jeff Mathis will free up Mike Napoli for designated hitter duty.
Guerrero, 34, has a strained muscle behind his left knee and a lower hamstring strain. He landed awkwardly pivoting to make a play in right field against the Rangers on Tuesday night.
Hunter, 33, has an adductor strain in his right side, an area he has been favoring for almost two months. He initially injured his right rib cage banging against the wall at Dodger Stadium making a catch on May 22 and re-injured the area crashing into a wall in San Francisco on June 15.
He missed only one game, after the June 15 mishap, but was forced out of the lineup on Wednesday night when he couldn’t run full tilt the night before against the Rangers.
“I didn’t want to go on the DL – that’s not me – but maybe it’s for the best,” Hunter said. “The way I have it figured, I should be ready to go on July 22. The All-Star break helps, since those days count.”
Guerrero, who had right knee surgery last September, was playing in his second game in right field after tearing a pectoral muscle in an exhibition game on April 2. Serving primarily as a DH, he is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 46 games. Guerrero has missed 38 games this season while on the DL.
Hunter, who already had declined an offer to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby in St. Louis at the All-Star Game, is batting .290 with team highs in home runs (17) and RBIs (65) in 77 games. This is his first trip to the DL with the Angels and his first since 2006.
An eight-time Rawlings Gold Glover, Hunter has been as good as ever defensively while enjoying potentially a career year with the bat.
Wood, 24, is batting .313 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 70 games for Salt Lake, ranking third in the Pacific Coast League with a .592 slugging percentage.
Wood, a natural shortstop who can play third and first base effectively, excelled in two starts – including one big hit against CC Sabathia of the Yankees in a victory at Yankee Stadium – before he was sent to Salt Lake.
Wilson, 26, is batting .261 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 65 games at Salt Lake. With Wilson in support of Mathis, Napoli can return to the DH role, where he flourished during Guerrero’s absence.
Brandon Wood is a natural shortstop who learned how to play third base capably. Now he is increasing his versatilty by another position, playing first base with remarkable dexterity for someone with no experience with the big glove.
This scouting report comes courtesy of Sean Rodriguez, who played alongside Wood in the Triple-A Salt Lake infield as recently as Friday night in Reno during an extra-inning game the Bees lost despite Wood going deep and driving in a pair of runs. Rodriguez, playing second, marveled at how quickly his buddy has adapted to another new position.
“Woody made some great plays down there,” Rodriguez said. “He went across his body to catch one throw that kept them from winning in regulation. The ball would have probably sailed into the stands, but Woody’s an athlete, and he showed it on that play.
“There was another ball headed for the hole, and I was on my way to try to make the play. But Woody got there first and got the out throwing to the pitcher covering. He was there in a heartbeat, man. That was a big-league play.
“He’s 6-3 with soft hands and quick feet. He’s a natural down there at first. But he’s a little concerned, I think, that people might start to think he’s not a shortstop. Believe me, he can play short in the big leagues. No question in my mind.”
Wood had two excellent performances for the Angels at third base, filling in for Chone Figgins, before getting sent to Salt Lake. The Angels won both those games, and Wood had a positive impact each time. He came up big against CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium with a clutch hit igniting a decisive rally.
Wood carried a .333 average with one walk and two strikeouts in 10 plate appearances to the PCL. He’s batting .299 with 14 homers and 35 RBIs in 44 games. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) is .986.
Wood has made major strides in pitch recognition and plate discipline. How long the Angels can keep him down on the farm remains to be seen, but it’s increasingly baffling to a lot of people that a club that ranks last in the American League in homers and eighth in slugging can’t find a role for one of the premier power prospects in the game.