Results tagged ‘ Vernon Wells ’

Bourjos, Trout: Who’s swiftest?

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

Wells feels for Young

TEMPE, Ariz. – Vernon Wells and Michael Young have been buddies for 14 years. Wells, whose winter has gone more smoothly than Young’s, feels for his pal as his stalemate with the Rangers continues.

“We got drafted in ’97 by the Blue Jays and hit it off immediately,” Wells said. “He got traded to my hometown [Arlington, and the Rangers], and I got traded here {near Young’s home in the Los Angeles area]. I would love to have him, put it that way.”

Wells had been asked if he’d like to see the Angels deal for the All-Star third baseman now that he has become a man without a position for the Rangers. The big snag is the $16 million per year owed Young for the next three seasons.

“I dealt with it in a completely different way – in-house,” Wells said, referring to his trade to the Angels by the Blue Jays. “He is having to deal with it publicly. It’s been handled poorly on their [Rangers] end. It’s not just this offseason. It started a couple years ago. It gives me even greater respect for Alex [Anthopoulos, Toronto’s GM].”

 

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Brandon Wood was upbeat and looking strong and fit as he checked into camp on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s first full team workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium – weather permitting.

“I worked out all winter at the same place I’ve been working at since I was 15,” said Wood, a first-round pick in 2003 out of Horizon High School in nearby Scottsdale. Hoping to erase the memory of a disappointing 2010 season, Wood will be bidding to capture the third base job in competition with Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo.

Wood tied the knot with the former Lindsey Stratton on Dec. 4. They’ve known each other since February 2006. “It was a great winter,” said Wood, who recaptured his swing in the Arizona Fall League with a strong performance. “Now I’m looking forward to a good spring. One step at a time.” – Lyle Spencer 
 

Butcher misses first workout

Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher was not on hand on Monday as the team opened Spring Training at Tempe Diablo Stadium in perfect weather. Butcher is recovering from surgery performed on Thursday for the removal of a cancerous nodule on his thyroid gland.

Manager Mike Scioscia said roving pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan and Triple-A Salt Lake pitching coach Erik Bennett would handle Butcher’s duties until he’s able to return.

Butcher laid out the groundwork for the spring during a meeting of the staff on Sunday morning.

“Butch did a lot of work with me over the winter,” Angels pitcher Matt Palmer said. “He was typical Butch, in a great mood, full of energy. I didn’t know anything was wrong with him until I went home after working out [Sunday] and got on the Internet. I was shocked.”

Butcher, a resident of Chandler, Ariz., also spent time over the winter working with Scott Kazmir, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen.

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Scioscia’s early-morning comments on Monday made it clear his preference is to have Maicer Izturis play at least 100 games, primarily at third base, and lead off, with Peter Bourjos holding down the center field job between Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.

“Maicer is a guy who a couple years ago played [114] games,” Scioscia said. “It’s feasible for him to play in that range. I don’t know if he’s a 162-game guy, but hopefully we get him in enough games to take the pressure off other guys to be in that leadoff position. When he’s in the lineup, he’s going to lead off. If you project Izturis and [Bobby] Abreu 1-2, you’re going to have as good a 1-2 as you’re going to see.”

Izturis’ absence was felt last year when injuries limited him to 61 games and 221 at-bats. He was one of the club’s most versatile weapons in 2009 and is an exceptional clutch hitter.

As for Bourjos, who made a series of highlight-reel plays in his two months with the club last year, Scioscia said: “When we had Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right field, our pitching staff pitched at an incredible level. That wasn’t a coincidence.”

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Scioscia on new lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who excelled for the Mets in a variety of roles in his debut 2010 Major League season after working as a starter in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants: “He’s a pitcher who’s going to be lengthened out for Spring Training. He has the versatility for multiple innings and is on the depth chart as a starter. He’s way ahead of where a lot of pitchers might be. He’s [throwing] off the mound, throwing all four pitches. He hasn’t expressed any preference to [GM] Tony [Reagins], Butch or me. He was a starter in Japan. His value is his versatility.”

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All hands on deck. There were no absences on the first day of camp. – Lyle Spencer

 

A few words about Vlad, Young

Judging by comments I’m receiving from readers, I should apologize for writing a story about Vernon Wells — tying his football past into the Super Bowl in his hometown — rather than commenting on something that didn’t happen (the return of Vladimir Guerrero to the Angels) or something that in all likelihood won’t happen (a deal for Michael Young).

I won’t apologize for doing my job, but I will comment on Guerrero and Young.

As for Vlad, one of the best guys I’ve ever covered, when the Wells deal was made, any chance of the great slugger coming back to Anaheim effectively disappeared. There’s no way Guerrero was going to agree to come back and share the DH and swing outfielder role with Bobby Abreu. That’s what would have awaited him in Anaheim.

The Angels are committed to giving Peter Bourjos every shot at center field, and that is wise. His sensational defense will save dozens of runs over the course of the season. With Bourjos flanked by Wells and Torii Hunter, the Angels have a potentially great outfield – two wise veterans with Gold Glove histories guiding and tutoring a rising young star with the ability to be the premier defensive centerfielder in the game.

That leaves Abreu, a necessary component to the offense with his ability to get on base and drive in runs, as the primary DH. The only way Vlad could have come to the Angels in a meaningful role was to return Bourjos to Triple-A Salt Lake and play Hunter or Wells in center, with Abreu at a corner and Guerrero the DH.

At a cost of roughly $8 million, bringing the payroll to about $150 million, that would have improved the offense. But the defense would have slipped significantly — and one of the most exciting young talents in the game (Bourjos) would have been toiling again in the Pacific Coast League.

As for the highly respected Young, the three years and $48 million left on his contract realistically make him difficult to move. The Rangers would have to eat a chunk of that salary or accept a big salary in exchange.

At $16 million a year, Young would be an upgrade at third base for the Angels, obviously, but the truth is, this isn’t Mike Schmidt or Evan Longoria or Ryan Zimmerman. Young is a good player and a great leader. Maicer Izturis is also a good player. If he makes five starts a week to remain healthy, backed by Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood, it’s not going to cost the Angels a division title. If Wood relaxes and claims the job, performing to his talent level, the Angels will be in fine shape at third base.

From Texas’ end, unloading your unquestioned clubhouse leader by kicking in millions of dollars makes little or no sense – especially if it would mean improving the club you’ve spent five of the past seven seasons chasing. Young figures to emerge as the first baseman in Texas or the primary DH and all-purpose role player. In either case, he remains a vital part of their attack in the No. 2 spot in manager Ron Washington’s lineup.

Unless he has become extremely unhappy with the turn of events in Texas, starting with losing his third base job to Adrian Beltre, and wants out, Young should adapt yet again to another new role and continue to be a productive player — and hero to young kids in Texas. That’s really the way it should be, if you can look at it objectively. – Lyle Spencer     

Angels, Weaver talking extension

Angels owner Arte Moreno, meeting with reporters on Wednesday during Vernon Wells’ introduction to media and fans, said that contract extensions talks have begun with Jered Weaver’s camp, headed by Scott Boras.

Weaver, an All-Star for the first time in 2010 while leading the Majors in strikeouts, has requested $8.8 million in salary arbitration, with the Angels offering $7.3 million. If they can’t come to an agreement, it goes to arbitration for a settlement.

Weaver won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season. – Lyle Spencer

What will Texas do with Napoli?

The initial trade held promise for Mike Napoli in the form of a potential steady job at first base in Toronto.

The second trade, not so much.

Napoli is on his way to Texas, where all good Angels lately (Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day, Bengie Molina, Vladimir Guerrero) eventually seem to land.

Granted, there are benefits from Napoli’s end to Texas over Canada. He’s still residing in the U.S. A native Floridian, he’s in warm weather. He’s with a team that can go a long way. He’s on natural grass in a ballpark where he’ll launch some big flies over the inviting wall in right center when he’s locked in and feeling groovy.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts that it will happen often enough to make him happy. That’s the rub from my end with this swap that sends reliever Frank Francisco to the Blue Jays. I don’t see how the Rangers can keep Napoli busy enough to suit him.

The Rangers have two promising young first baseman (Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis), two quality catchers (Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor) and a new designated hitter in Michael Young.

Where, exactly, does Napoli find his playing time with this team? I’m unclear, and I’m guessing he has his doubts as well.

When the Angels face the Rangers, for example, it’s doubtful Napoli will get a start unless Scott Kazmir is pitching. He’ll probably get more opportunities against Oakland, with its lefties, but two or three starts a week will not be enough to satisfy him or keep his swing right.

One of the things I liked about the Angels’ deal for Vernon Wells, sending Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto, was that it held the promise of steady work for the two muscular hitters going to the Jays. Now it looks like a garden-variety Toronto salary dump from this laptop, and that’s too bad.

On a Canadian radio station after the trade, I talked up the idea of Napoli taking over first base. I felt it was the opportunity he’s been seeking, and he played surprisingly well there in Kendry Morales’ absence last season. I figured he’d win the job in the spring and run with it to a terrific season, making everybody happy.

Now I’m not sure what the future holds for the big lug with the big bat.

The problem with my job is I tend to care about the quality people I cover. I have to admit, I grew close to Napoli. I like him a lot. I think he has the talent to do some great things in the game. But my sense is that he’s going to a role in Texas much too familiar to him – that of playing now and then and growing frustrated over time.

Because he has a big swing with power to all fields – much like Brandon Wood – Napoli needs to play on a steady basis to get and keep his swing in a comfort zone. This is not such a big deal with hitters with more compact strokes; they can sit a few days and slash a line drive somewhere. Big swingers tend to have big mood swings.

I’m having a hard time figuring out how this move will improve Napoli’s mood – unless the Rangers have bigger plans for him than it appears. – Lyle Spencer

 

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Predictably, the Angels’ acquisition of Vernon Wells at the expense of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera has the critics howling. They do that largely because that’s what they’re paid to do, and you can’t really fault a person for that. It’s the carping of fans that is somewhat baffling.

The Angels just landed a three-time All-Star at 32, with four years on his contract, for two players who might not have had starting jobs but will get shots to play every day in their new environment. You have to be reaching hard not to like that.
 
The big talking point is Wells’ huge contract, which wouldn’t have been an issue back in the day when it was the game that mattered, not economics. If I’m an Angels fan, I ignore this aspect of the deal. Arte Moreno gave it his OK. If he doesn’t have to raise ticket prices, the bottom line should be of no concern.

The statistical focus has been on a decline in Wells’ metrics defensively, his struggles against left-handed pitching in 2010, his home/road splits showing a significant preference for Toronto cooking, and his career-long struggles at Angel Stadium.

These can all be addressed with logic and good sense, if that counts for anything in these stressed, high-anxiety times.

Center field and artificial turf are a deadly combination. Because of the nature of their position, with the constant stopping and starting and ranging deep into gaps, centerfielders suffer more than anybody else on turf. The demands on the extremities are extremely stressful.

Over time, the body feels the effects, and the player’s performance usually reflects the deterioration. This applies to his offense as well as his defense. This is a difficult game to play when you’re healthy; when you’re banged up, it’s a bear.

From 2004 through 2006, Wells was one of the three American League Rawlings Gold Glove outfielders, along with Torii Hunter, who was on his way to nine in a row. If neither man is the defensive player he once wals, it’s perfectly understandable – predictable, even. But both men are lucky in the sense that they have escaped the turf now and are resuming their careers on God’s green grass.

It is for this reason that I feel Wells will be best served moving to left, with Hunter in right, the two old pros surrounding a marvelous young talent, Peter Bourjos. Bourjos’ metrics in his two months with the Angels last season soared off the charts. He is capable of being the best in the game in center, and having the wisdom of Wells and Hunter off his shoulders will be immeasurably helpful.

If Bourjos relaxes and hits in the .250 range at the bottom of the order, he’ll be of tremendous value. And the Angels will have an outfield with few, if any equals.

Now, on to Wells’ statistical oddities in 2010.

He flourished at home, with a stat line (batting average, on-base, slugging) of .321/.363/.628 compared to .207/.301/.407 on the road. It happens to every player over the course of a career. His career numbers are closer: .286/.339/.505 at home; .274/.321/.446 on the road. He has hit 124 homers in Canada, 99 in the U.S. If he performs better in front of his family, that’s not necessarily such a terrible thing.

He definitely had a bad year against lefties: .195/.289/.354 in 113 at-bats. More representative of his prowess, it seems, is his career slash line in 1,485 at-bats against southpaws: .296/.359/.484.

And, yes, he has not hit to his customary level in Anaheim, where his slash line for his career is .226/.267/.340. But he would say that has more to do with the likes of John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields and friends than the ballpark, which he happens to love.

Here are the numbers that should be the focus with respect to Wells’ 2010 All-Star season if you are an anxiety-ridden Angels fan: .515, ninth in slugging in the AL; 31 homers, 44 doubles, 304 total bases, seventh in the AL in each category; 460 feet, fifth longest homer in the AL; 1.000, his fielding percentage as one of two regular outfielders in the Majors (151 games played) to commit not a single error, Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez being the other.

One more Wells fun stat line from 2010: 6-for-10, four homers, seven RBIs in three games. That’s what he did at Rangers Ballpark, back home in Arlington.

The man is a weapon, a pro’s pro. By all accounts, he’s a calm, generous individual who distinguishes his profession on and off the field.

My advice to fans who have endured a fitful, angry winter is to calm down and get ready to enjoy the show. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it could be something to behold. It’s a lot healthier to take that attitude than to drive up your blood pressure needlessly. – Lyle Spencer

 

A very big deal

Here’s what I like about the Angels’ big deal with Toronto: everything.

It’s an old-fashioned baseball trade, two for one – a pair of sluggers in exchange for one slugger with a glove of gold. Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera should flourish in Toronto, where the walls are inviting, and Vernon Wells brings a distinguished star-quality talent to Anaheim.

Critically for Wells, he gets off artificial turf. He joins a good buddy, Torii Hunter, in an outfield that could be the game’s best if Peter Bourjos continues to show all the right stuff. Any way manager Mike Scioscia decides to deploy these three guys, they’ll make it work. And if Bourjos isn’t quite ready, Bobby Abreu moves into left or right on a full-time basis.

Like all players, Abreu wants to play, not just hit. It will be an adjustment if he becomes a primary DH, but he’s smart and wants to win. He’ll do whatever is necessary to make his team better, an attitude I’m sure Wells will bring with him along with his credentials as a full-service star.

He has played under the radar his entire career in a place that hasn’t given him a lot of exposure, but he’s the real deal. Players know, and they respect Wells immensely.

Wells hit fourth last season and has been a No. 3 or No. 4 man his whole career. I see him slotting in at cleanup, between Hunter and Kendry Morales, but those three could end up in any configuration and, like the outfield, it would work.

Napoli should get to play every day in Toronto, something he has been yearning to do. I hope he gets a crack at first base, because I think that’s where he can be most effective. He was surprisingly adept at first in Morales’ absence last season, and playing every day there, in that park, Napoli could contend for a home run crown. He has that brand of power.

The deal also works for Rivera, who should get to play every day. That was not going to happen with the Angels.

It works best for Wells, in my view. Moving on to a natural surface after nine years on fake grass should do wonders for him. I know it has for Hunter, who doesn’t ache nearly as much as he did during his Minnesota days.

Just as moving to right is a good thing for Hunter long-term, extending his career by several years in my judgment, Wells also would be well served by a shift to left. Less wear and tear would keep him fresher and stronger over the long haul.

This has the makings of a dream outfield. The Angels, at considerable expense, have made a bold deal. I believe it will work for them. As for the Blue Jays, who surrender their best player, they figure in time to take a liking to the two new muscle men on the scene.

The best deals work to the benefit of everyone involved. This could be one of those. – 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    

 

The good, the bad . . .

In the afterglow of the Angels’ 7-5 decision over the Blue Jays in the wonderfully flavorful international city of Toronto . . .

THE GOOD

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.

THE BAD

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.

THE UGLY

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.

THE BEAUTIFUL

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

 

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