Thoughts on a few hot topics of the day:
Peter Bourjos vs. Mike Trout
Who’s faster? And where will they play when they’re in the same outfield?
These are questions I get all the time. There is no definitive answer to the matter of speed. My guess is Trout is more explosive in the first 20 to 30 yards, but Bourjos would catch him and nip him at the wire at 100 yards. Everyone would like to see them race, but it’s actually better this way, keeping the debate alive as we watch these two phenomenal athletes grow into whatever they become.
My guess is that Bourjos, with great reads and a better arm, will remain in center field and win close to as many Rawlings Gold Gloves as his mentor, Torii Hunter, who owns nine. Bourjos is already the best, in my view, and can only get better.
Bourjos has the ability to be a highly productive offensive player, hitting in the .280 to .320 range consistently with 50 to 70 steals. He has the hand and bat speed and the willingness to put in the necessary work to make it happen.
Trout’s ceiling is Sistine Chapel-esque: colorful and enormous. I’m not sure he’ll ever be quite as good as Bourjos defensively, but he’ll be close. And he has the talent to be one of the game’s best total hitters. Still not quite 20, he won’t come into his power for a few more years, at which time I think you’ll see him land in the 25-30 homer range with triple digits in runs scored and RBIs. He has the tools to contend for batting titles.
With Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu coming back, there’s no need to rush Trout. But he might force his way into the outfield rotation next season. If he does, I see him in left. And that’s where I see him for a long time, giving the Angels the best left fielder in the game to go along with the premier center fielder, Bourjos.
Something else to ponder: Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Trout forming the fastest, most electric top third of a batting order anyone has seen in a long time. Maybe ever. Aybar is almost as swift as Bourjos and Trout.
Oh, and the guy hitting behind them, cleaning up by driving in loads of runs? Mark Trumbo. This guy is on his way to becoming one of the game’s most feared power hitters. He has the skill and the will and, the most underrated part of the formula, rare common-sense intelligence.
The best is coming for Angels fans. Patience is no virtue, I understand, when it’s all about winning RIGHT NOW. But there’s a whole lot of gold here waiting to be mined in the future.
Mike Napoli vs. Jeff Mathis
The collision of the front-running Rangers, with Napoli fitting in beautifully behind the plate and in the lineup, and the pursuing Angels, with Mathis doing his customary solid defensive work while scuffling offensively, has touched off an old debate among the so-called faithful.
A small segment of fandom seems to appreciate what Mathis has done for a pitching staff that has been the foundation of the Angels’ success. A much larger segment preferred, and still prefers, Napoli’s booming bat. Now that Nap also is putting together an impressive catcher’s ERA with a superb Texas staff, his supporters – and those who just don’t like Mathis – are coming unglued on web sites attacking Mathis, manager Mike Scioscia for playing him, and yours truly for defending him.
The venom is totally out of proportion to the reality, but when emotion gets involved, all logic goes out the proverbial window. I’m an idiot, and so is Scioscia, evidently, for continuing to defend and, in Mike’s case, play a guy WHO CAN’T HIT .200.
Numbers, thrown out to defend any position, now hold the game hostage. It’s all about all these categories I can’t even define. Watching and enjoying the game is secondary now. Sometimes it’s as if the stat people would be thrilled if they just stopped playing the game altogether and let them give us the results through their computers. Everything is so cut and dried, preordained statistically, they might as well do that.
In response to all those who insist I am biased toward Mathis, I would ask you to please, if you get a chance, ask Napoli our relationship when he was with the Angels. I’m pretty sure he’d tell you he had no bigger supporter, in or out of the media.
I’m thrilled to see Napoli with a big smile on his face, having a great time. He’s a good guy. So is his best buddy, Mathis. Their relationship has remained rock solid through their years of competing for playing time, which tells you a lot about both of them.
They used to joke that if you combined their talents, you’d have Johnny Bench. And that wasn’t far from the truth. Given the relative popularity of the two, it’s obvious about 95 percent of fandom would take Bench’s power over his defense.
Mathis knows he needs to hit. That’s his problem. He has to relax and let his natural athletic ability flow. He’s one of the five best athletes in the clubhouse, and if that ever happens, if he ever unlocks himself, he can be a decent offensive player.
The Mathis haters, of course, will laugh, as always. Go ahead. It’s your prerogative. Just please try not to be so hostile in expressing yourself. It cheapens your position.
Howard Kendrick vs. Howie Kendrick
Most everyone calls him Howie, but I’m sticking with Howard for one reason: Jody, his wife, calls him Howard, and so do other family members, from what I understand. If that’s who he is to those closest to him, I’ll go with that. Mike Scioscia calls him Howie because he believes there should be a separation between the athlete and the private person. Mike and I sometimes disagree.
At Spring Training a few years ago, another person close to Kendrick told me “there’s nothing Howie about him,” adding that he’s just too nice a guy to even care what people call him.
Kendrick once told me that Howie first surfaced next to his name early in his career when a bubble-gum company put that on his card. I remembered seeing (and hating) Bob Clemente, not Roberto, on a card when I was a kid. So I guess that’s another reason why I write Howard Kendrick, not Howie.
No big deal. Just setting the record straight from my perspective. – Lyle Spencer
In the afterglow of the Angels’ 7-5 decision over the Blue Jays in the wonderfully flavorful international city of Toronto . . .
The offense comes alive with lightning (steals by Jeff Mathis, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter), thunder (towering homer to right-center by Kendry Morales) and artistic merit (opposite-field, two-out RBI strokes by Abreu and Hunter back-to-back; two-out run-producing hits by Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis that proved decisive). These are the Angels you came to know and love last summer. Let’s see if it lasts a while.
Two pitches in bad places, a fastball by Jered Weaver up in Vernon Wells’ wheelhouse leading off the second inning, and a curve by reliever Jason Bulger that Adam Lind lost in the right-field bleachers in the eighth.
Artificial turf. Yes, it’s functional, in a twisted sort of way, and it’s nice that they can shut the roof and play when it’s stormy and freezing outside. But I’m sorry, I never could stand the stuff, from the moment I first saw it at the Astrodome so many years ago, and I still can’t take the fake grass after all these years. It’s sinful what it did to Andre Dawson and Eric Davis, to name two of many.
Everything Weaver did through besides unleashing two fastballs in the wrong places to Wells and Randy Ruiz in the eighth. The big kid who used to follow John Lackey around is becoming The Man before our very eyes, with the look, stuff and attitude of an ace. It’s a beautiful thing indeed if you’re an Angels fan.
A strong contender was Mathis’ athletic play in pouncing on a ball that skipped away from the batter’s box and erasing Lind trying to move up to third in the seventh inning. Very few catchers make that play. Mathis is an elite class defensively, and his eight-game hitting streak is starting to suggest that his postseason offensive eruption was no fluke. — Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM – Like Chone Figgins, his former partner on the left side of the Angels’ infield, Erick Aybar is practicing what Bobby Abreu preaches.
Patience and the confidence to hit with two strikes are essential ingredients, Abreu maintains, in the makeup of any quality hitter – especially one who leads off for his team.
“A five-pitch at-bat is great,” Abreu said. “If a leadoff man is doing that, he’s doing the job. A 10-pitch at-bat? Wow. That’s twice as good.”
Abreu was in the on-deck circle Monday night at Angel Stadium when Aybar set a tone in the season opener with his 10-pitch walk against Twins starter Scott Baker.
By the time the inning was over, Aybar and Torii Hunter had scored on singles by Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera, and the Angels’ offense was rolling again. The thunder would come a little later from Jeff Mathis, Hideki Matsui and Kendry Morales, but it was the new generator, Aybar, who put it all in motion.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons here,” said Abreu, a quiet 0-for-4 in the opener. “Aybar has come a long way. He’s getting there.
“I give him credit for an outstanding job last night. He had good at-bats all night, working counts every at-bat. As he gets more confidence, he’s going to be more dangerous.”
Aybar singled twice in three official at-bats, seeing a total of 24 pitches and scoring two of the Angels’ runs in a 6-3 decision.
“I’ve learned a lot from watching Bobby and Figgins both, the way they hit,” Aybar said. “They’re very patient in working counts, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I’m more patient than last year. I’m staying back and seeing the ball well. It’s important to stay confident even if they get two strikes on you. They still have to throw the ball over the plate.”
Aybar led the Angels and tied for eighth in the American League last year with his .312 batting average. The electric shortstop had a .353 on-base percentage.
Figgins’ .395 on-base percentage in his final season with the Angels might appear out of Aybar’s reach, but keep in mind the 26-year-old Dominican Republic athlete did elevate his OBP 39 points from 2008 to ’09. If he does that again, he’ll be at .392.
After recovering from a right elbow sprain, Aybar burned up the Cactus League, hitting .571 in his final 28 at-bats. He finished the ’09 season scalding-hot, hitting .337 in his final 72 games, with 27 multi-hit games.
A switch-hitter with blinding speed, Aybar primarily batted eighth and ninth last season. In his 35 starts as the No. 2 hitter, between Figgins and Abreu, the Angels were 26-9. They won his only start as the leadoff man, a role Figgins occupied 158 times.
“We saw some things in Erick’s game this spring that were impressive,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “To get your leadoff guy seeing 24 pitches, which he did last night, that’s a big part of what a guy who sets the table wants to do.
“One game doesn’t make a season, but what we saw from Erick was very encouraging.”
Aybar’s big-brother figure, Abreu, is watching . . . from the on-deck circle. – Lyle Spencer
Decision day is fast approaching. Catcher Bobby Wilson and outfielder Terry Evans are out of Minor League options and can’t be returned to Triple-A Salt Lake without the risk of losing them through waivers. Both almost certainly would be claimed.
Evans is competing with Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Michael Ryan and Cory Aldridge for a backup outfield role. Quinlan can play four positions and is the most experienced of the group. Willits, held back by a hamstring strain, can be sent to Salt Lake, but he’s the only proven center fielder. Ryan has the advantage of being able to play the corner infield spots. Aldridge has scalded the ball all spring. Evans can drive the ball and play all three outfield spots.
It becomes a matter of choice, and it figures to come down to the final days of Spring Training after the club breaks camp and heads west.
The Wilson situation is far more complicated. The Angels have to decide if they can keep a third catcher in support of Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis. If they can’t, Wilson will have to be dealt or lost.
Just the other day, manager Mike Scioscia liberally praised the 26-year-old Wilson, a Seminole (Fla.) High School teammate of former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman who has spent seven years honing his skills in the farm system.
“Willie from the defensive end is a terrific catcher,” Scioscia said. “He’s got terrific, is a great receiver and throws well. From the offensive end, he’s going to be a good situational hitter. He’s going to be a good offensive player in the Major Leagues.
“Obviously, we have some decisions to make. He’s a player that is in our discussions as to what role he’ll have with us. He’s a good player who’s going to be able to catch every day in the Major Leagues when he has the opportunity.”
Wilson is hitting .316 in Cactus League play with a .435 on-base percentage. He skillfully managed 20-year-old Trevor Reckling through four scoreless innings against the Giants on Friday in his second spring start.
“I feel like I’ve gone out and played hard, gone after it, done everything I can to stick,” Wilson said. “I’m still trying to prove to the staff here that I am able to play, and I feel like I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do. I’ve paid attention to the little details of everything that’s gone on.
“The one knock on me when I came up was, `Yeah, he can hit, but he’s an average catcher.’ To be voted best defensive catcher in the Pacific Coast League last year by the managers, that shows me I came in and did the job. I can block [pitches and the plate], I can throw, call a game, handle a pitching staff. I feel like I’m well-rounded.
“I pride myself on putting up zeros. Catching Trevor, 20 years old and facing Tim Lincecum, that wasa great experience for both of us. He did it with just his fastball and slider first time through the lineup, then we went to his changeup, one of his best pitches. He was in and out, back and forth, with a good tempo. That’s the one thing I pride myself in, that pitcher-catcher relationship.”
Carrying three catchers has benefits. It would give Scioscia flexibility with Napoli as a pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter, while providing support in the event of injury to either of the main receivers.
Crucial to the makeup of the 25-man roster is the pitching staff, whether Scioscia decides to carry 11 or 12 arms. Brian Stokes’ ability to go multiple innings – he’s done it three times this spring – could swing it toward 11 pitchers . . . and one more roster spot for a position player.
Decision day draws near. – Lyle Spencer
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers, the Angels’ Hideki Matsui gets his first start in the outfield today since June 15, 2008 when he plays left and bats fourth.
Hindered by knee problems, Matsui did not play at all in the outfield for the Yankees last season, limiting him to designated-hitter duties only. He took full advantage of his three DH appearances in the World Series to claim the Series MVP award for his bashing of the Phillies for the Bronx Bombers.
“He could play in Fenway Park or anywhere,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked why he chose to play Matsui in the outfield in an unfamiliar park. “He needs to get his prep steps, how he feels during games and – even more important – the next day.
“If you’re going to play a full game, you’re talking about 150 prep steps if the pitchers throw 150 pitches. Not that he’s going to play a full game – I imagine it’ll be somewhere around four innings.”
Matsui has been making gradual progress in outfield drills, strengthening his knees while reacquainting himself with the terrain.
“There’s a team element in defense that needs to get pushed forward,” Scioscia said, alluding to the coordination Matsui and center fielder Torii Hunter need to develop. “With Matsui, it’s understanding range with Torii, where he needs to go. It’ll just take a little time for Hideki to get their range down.”
Signed to a one-year, $6 million free agent deal, Matsui expressed a desire to be given a chance to return to the outfield at least on a part-time basis.
The Angels’ plan is to give him a few starts in left a week, if possible, to provide DH opportunities for the other outfielders: Hunter, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, along with Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli on occasion.
After missing a week and a half with a strain in his right elbow, shortstop Erick Aybar returned to the lineup on Monday against the Dodgers, leading off.
Scioscia said he did not play Brandon Wood on Sunday against the Mariners at home because he wanted his third baseman to sharpen his coordination with Aybar in a camp game.
“Left side defense is as important as anything you’re going to do,” Scioscia said. “The third baseman has to cover the hole. With Wood and Aybar, we worked on it yesterday. We also had Morales and [Howard] Kendrick on the right side stay back one day to work on it.”
This is the closest Scioscia has come to having his projected lineup together. Jeff Mathis was a last-minute insertion as DH when the Dodgers – using a split squad with a second game against the Brewers — notified the Angels they were freeing up the DH role.
With Matsui in left and Mathis occupying the DH spot, Juan Rivera was the only name missing from the lineup that is expected to be on the field when the Angels open the season on April 5 at home against Minnesota.
Freeing up the DH allowed Scioscia to switch back to Joe Saunders as his starter after deciding he’d go with Matt Palmer under National League rules.
Following Aybar in the lineup are right fielder Abreu, center fielder Hunter, Matsui, Morales, Kendrick, Napoli at catcher, Wood and Mathis.
They’ll be facing right-hander Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pickup bidding to nail down the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ rotation. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is pitching in Phoenix against the Brewers. – Lyle Spencer
Cue up the Four Tops. “It’s the Same Old Song” with respect to the Angels’ catching situation.
Mike Napoli is hitting up a storm this spring and trying to work through some throwing issues. Jeff Mathis is catching and throwing superbly but struggling to find base hits.
Manager Mike Scioscia used familiar language on Friday morning when he was asked about his catchers and – specifically — if a spot on the 25-man roster can be carved out for third receiver Bobby Wilson, who is out of Minor League options.
“It’s the same as the last couple years,” Scioscia said. “It’s worked out that it’s been a split. I know those guys [Napoli and Mathis] have the ability to go out and catch 130 games each. Why they haven’t done it is because there have been some rough spots on the offensive or defensive end.”
He didn’t have to spell out which receiver had which flaws. It has been there for everyone to see.
Napoli came into camp feeling healthier than at any time in the past three years, and it has shown with his exceptional ability to crush balls and draw walks. If he ever gets enough at-bats, he’s capable of putting up huge power-production numbers, in the 30/100 range, with a .360 to .380 on-base percentage and .500-plus slugging mark.
Not many receivers can do that. The question is whether his defense will allow Napoli enough plate appearances to stay locked in, given that Scioscia continues to value defense first and Mathis clearly is the better catcher in every respect.
Mathis has been throwing lasers this spring, while Napoli has been unloading some changeups. Scioscia has seen improvement in recent days with Napoli.
“It’s definitely mechanics,” Scioscia said, identifying the source of Napoli’s throwing issues. “It’s related to moving forward, with a rhythm.”
Basically, to paraphrase another old catcher named Yogi Berra, Napoli is finding that you can’t think and throw at the same time. He’s trying to conceptualize his mechanics rather than just cutting it loose confidently.
“When he’s on, he’s a plus thrower,” Scioscia said. “When Jeff’s on, he’s plus-plus. Jeff has been throwing as well as he ever has.”
From glove to glove, as Scioscia puts it, Mathis can get the ball to second base on a steal attempt in 1.9 seconds. Napoli is in the 1.95 to 2.05 range.
“With a 1.9, glove to glove, not many guys are going to beat it,” Scioscia said.
Scioscia said he wants to keep Wilson, but it’s hard to see how that can happen unless the club carries 11 pitchers on Opening Day and has one of the three catchers available as a backup at first base for Kendry Morales.
Wilson has played some first base and so has Napoli, but that was in the Minor Leagues.
“Nap is focused on being in our catching depth,” Scioscia said. “Bobby has played some first base. It would be an easy switch for him. Ryan Budde’s also played some first base.
“They’re still going through that pitcher-catcher relationship of trying to work with everybody on the staff.”
If the Angels can’t find room for Wilson, he’ll have to be dealt in order to avoid losing him to waivers. The same applies to power-hitting outfielder Terry Evans, also out of Minor League options.
“You don’t want to lose players, obviously,” Scioscia said. “Those two guys we’re talking about, Wilson and Evans, are Major League players, no question about it.”
The question is whether they’ll be Angels, and that likely won’t be answered until the last few days of Spring Training. — Lyle Spencer
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Angels manager Mike Scioscia held an impromptu hitting contest among his catchers.
With Scioscia serving up soft tosses, the receivers took their cuts. The prize for longest drive went, not surprisingly, to Mike Napoli when he unloaded a towering drive to left that bounced off a truck passing by on an access road beyond the trees at the back of an embankment.
“Nap killed it,” Scioscia said.
“He must not have gotten the memo,” Napoli said of the truck driver.
“Imagine what that guy was thinking,” Bobby Wilson said, “just driving by and then he hears something crash.”
Napoli, who said he hasn’t felt this good in the spring since his rookie year of 2006, is crushing balls in batting practice. Best buddy Jeff Mathis, meanwhile, is lashing line drives to all fields, hoping to maintain the stroke he carried through the postseason with five doubles among his seven hits in 12 at-bats.
Wilson also went deep against his manager, while Ryan Budde — arguably the team’s strongest individual — unloaded several bombs.
Scioscia routinely begins the day with a pre-game address that features a wide range of hilarious exchanges, usually involving young players asked to make unusual presentations. Roars can be heard outside the clubhouse on a daily basis, but the audience is sworn to secrecy.
What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.
The Angels have avoided arbitration with shortstop Erick Aybar, settling on a $2.05 million contract for 2010, according to Enrique Rojas from ESPNDeportes.
A ruling in catcher Jeff Mathis’ arbitration case is expected soon. Mathis is seeking $1.3 milion, while the club offered $700,000. The Angels settled with catcher Mike Napoli earlier for $3.6 million. Mathis and Napoli have shared the job evenly the past 2 1/2 seasons, Mathis respected for his defense, Napoli more for his booming bat.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said starter Scott Kazmir has a hamstring issue but has thrown off the mound, indicating that it’s nothing serious. New reliever Fernando Rodney has some soreness in his shin, Scioscia added. They’ll probably be kept out of pitchers’ fielding practice until fully healed, along with Scot Shields as he mends from June surgery on his left knee.
There are so many things to respect and admire about the Angels. Here are some that leap to mind in the afterglow of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs:
The tireless commitment of Torii Hunter, who represents every day, in every way. A guy couldn’t have a better teammate. When you play with Torii, you know he’s got your back, without hesitation, no questions asked.
The quiet assurance and endearing presence of Bobby Abreu, who walked into a new room and won it over from day one with his style, elegance, humor and wisdom. I had no idea he was this good a player and this brand of leader. If the Angels can’t keep him, they’ll be losing much more than hits, walks, RBIs, runs and steals. They’ll be losing a whole lot of class.
The unique greatness of Vladimir Guerrero. He seems oddly undervalued and underappreciated in this era where so much value is attached to working counts. Sure, he takes some wild swings. But he has been one of the most feared and productive hitters of this or any era, and it was so sweet to see him deliver at the big moment on Sunday – right after Abreu, a clutch hitter with few peers, came through.
The astounding athleticism of Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar on the left side of the infield. It doesn’t get any better than this. Figgins and Aybar have more range and stronger arms than any left-side combo in the past 35 years.
That’s how long I’ve been covering the sport – too long, some would say – and I’ve never seen a better third-base coach than Dino Ebel. He does his homework, knows every outfield arm in the game, stays on top of every possibility and rarely makes a bad decision.
The way Figgins keeps improving, simply by being so dedicated. He is totally immersed in the game, driven to succeed. He struggled finding hits against the Red Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of what would have been an inside-the-park homer – but Figgy worked a huge walk against Jonathan Papelbon during the big rally and has a history of delivering in New York. As with Abreu, Figgins’ many gifts would be hard to replace as he ventures into free agency.
Jered Weaver’s emergence as a sturdy, dependable top-of-the-rotation starter, smart, resourceful and – most of all – extremely tough under duress. He learned his lessons well from John Lackey, his mentor.
Lackey’s true grit.
The style and competitive natures of lefties Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay made this team complete. He’s a keeper.
The very real and productive mutual respect catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli continue to display. In another environment, this could be a toxic situation, but these guys have been so close for so long, nothing could pull them apart – not even competition over who catches which pitcher and how often.
Along those same lines, the way Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick have handled their second-base platoon with such uncommon grace. Both are everyday players and know it, but they’ve created not a single ripple of discontent over sharing a job.
Kendry Morales’ intelligence. By wisely taking advice from his elders (Abreu, Mickey Hatcher) and controlling his aggression, he turned all that potential into production and accomplished the impossible in making fans get over Mark Teixeira’s loss.
Young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen holding up under a heavy workload and holding it together in front of Brian Fuentes.
Fuentes: 50 saves. How can you not appreciate that? He might not be a prototypical closer with premium gas, but the guy gets outs, and that’s the whole idea, right?
The strength and consistency of Juan Rivera, a rock-solid left fielder, and the manner in which Gary Matthews Jr. handled his very difficult role – and came through repeatedly in the clutch.
The enduring cool of Darren Oliver. Nothing rattles this guy. A pro’s pro.
The way Ervin Santana retained his humor while searching for the right stuff to come back after elbow issues made for some long nights.
The big, good-natured manner of Matt Palmer, who came out of nowhere to deliver much-needed innings and wins and went so respectfully to the bullpen, embracing any role handed him. Nobody appreciates wearing a big-league uniform more than this guy.
The willingness of Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson to do whatever is needed to bring their team closer to a win. Even if it’s not something that will show up in a boxscore.
Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Speier, who did their part until they parted, and and all the young pitchers who helped stitch this crazy-quilt pitching staff together over the long haul.
The inner strength of Mike Scioscia, who navigated the most turbulent of waters this season with remarkable calm. Manager of the Year, no doubt. Manager of the Decade? Absolutely.
The dedication of coaches Hatcher, Ron Roenicke, Mike Butcher, Alfredo Griffin, Ebel, Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz. Wise is the manager who surrounds himself with strong, independent thinkers willing to put in long hours for the greater good.
The way everyone mourned respectfully and continually honored the memory of Nick Adenhart, one of the best and brightest, gone much, much too soon.
With their leading hitter, Erick Aybar, batting in the No. 9 slot for Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Angels either have an incredibly deep lineup or manager Mike Scioscia has something up his proverbial sleeves.
In this case, it’s probably both.
With Bobby Abreu batting second, between Chone Figgins and Torii Hunter, Scioscia likes to have a pair of table-setters in front of the versatile Abreu – a classic “swing man” in the manager’s mind, meaning he can set or clear the table.
Figgins and Aybar are the club’s fastest two players, and when they get moving, they’re a sight to behold. Abreu has the ability to do a lot of things behind, in effect, a pair of swift leadoff men.
Abreu drove in 103 runs and scored 96 this season, batting third 95 times and second 50 times. The Angels had a better record (60-35) with Abreu batting third than second (26-24), but Scioscia likes the way this lineup sets up.
Aybar, who made tremendous strides offensively in his selectivity in large part because of Abreu’s influence, excelled in the No. 2 spot. The Angels were 26-9 when the shortstop batted second, compared to a pedestrian 28-29 when Aybar batted ninth.
With Maicer Izturis batting second, the Angels were 34-21. Izturis is expected back at second base in Game 2 against Josh Beckett after Howard Kendrick – a .358 hitter in the second half – got the start at second against lefty Jon Lester.
Scioscia studies numbers to a degree, but he’s also an intuitive manager who relies on feel. He’d say the Abreu and Abyar lineup numbers are skewed by the times of the season when Abreu batted third vs. second and when Aybar hit ninth vs. second.
And when you’ve won six division titles in your first 10 seasons – something no manger has done before you – you certainly deserve a lot of benefit of any doubt
With Jeff Mathis catching John Lackey, the Angels had a .211 hitter batting eighth, right in front of Aybar and his .312 average. But Mathis made much better contact late in the season and hit .234 in the second half, compared to .192 before the All-Star break.