Catching Lightning In A Bottle: 8/13

Mike Trout, an Angel by contract but a 76er in his fantasies, tried his best to “will” a win for his 26th birthday on Monday. His 4th inning single, leading to the first run of the game was the 1,000th hit of his career and made him only the 10th player to reach that significant plateau by age 26. Two innings later, Trout belted a home run high off the left field foul pole to tie up the game. Unfortunately though, in the seventh inning, JC Ramirez, in an otherwise solid outing, couldn’t keep Manny Machado in the ballpark with the bases loaded and the game more or less ended with a grand slam that landed just over the Angels bullpen in left field. The Angels would not lose another game the entire week, though they did face some adversity as they fell behind in several of the games against Baltimore and Seattle requiring them to pull out a few victories by coming from behind.

The Angels have now won a season high, six straight, and 12 of their last 16. Even more significant, the team who many saw as “not ready for prime time” at the start of the season, and even destined for doom as injuries piled up, now has a hold on the second wild card slot in the American League. The likelihood of this happening when Mike Trout was injured on a slide in Miami, the Sunday before Memorial Day, was probably close to zero as not many believed in the Angels or even took them seriously.

The credit for the Angels’ successful play can be attributed to a high level of professionalism instilled in them by their 18 year skipper, Mike Scioscia, a clubhouse that produces no drama, stars who seem willing to set aside their egos, much hard work, and a level of resilience that has them leading the Major Leagues in comeback victories.

Sweeping in Seattle just might put the Angels on the radar screen and let some of their secrets out of the bottle. With slightly over a quarter of a season yet to be played, the Angels may well drop out of contention and not be a real factor in the pennant race, but one would be advised to keep a close eye on them as they appear to possess that certain intangible which might transform them from wanna be Cinderella’s into a true princesses.

Parker Bridwell has perhaps emerged as the new ace of the staff. The Angels are 11-1 in games he has pitched, including the win earlier in the week against his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, and the sweep clinching victory on Sunday against the Mariners. Another pleasant surprise appearing on the mound for the Halos has been Troy Scribner, who like Bridwell, stymied the Orioles this week.  JC Ramirez has been steady, though at times, he has faltered somewhat.  Ricky Nolasco’s occasional strong efforts will not be enough if he can’t stop baseballs from going over distant walls.  It’s too early yet to evaluate Tyler Skaggs, and as for Andrew Heaney who is due back this week after being out of baseball for a year, all that can be said is that he must be a determined young man to be where he is today.

If there was any pitching disappointment this week, it could be seen in the failed efforts of Bud Norris. A starter by trade, Norris has accumulated 18 saves this season.  Thru June, he compiled a solid earned run average, but unfortunately he has struggled mightily in July and more so, in August. It appears at this time that Norris has lost the closer’s role. Fortunately, Yusmeiro Petit, Blake Parker, Keynan Middleton, and Cam Bedrosian have each shown the ability to shut down opponents when situation’s arise or games  are on the line. Credit for handling this talented relief staff must go to Mike Scioscia, though General Manager, Billy Eppler was responsible for acquiring Petit and Parker, Bridwell, and Scribner and in making many wise roster decisions.

Hitting-wise, Mike Trout picked up where he left off when he returned to the lineup in June. He’s been even better in August. Albert Pujols tailed off significantly in June and July after coming on strong in May but was a vital offensive force this week against Seattle. Behind Trout, Andrelton Simmons has perhaps been the most consistent hitter, this year.  And, in Trout’s absence, many have suggested that Simmons emerged as the team MVP.  Kole Calhoun’s been more down than up but put up solid offensive numbers last week. CJ Cron, who struggled earlier this year prompting his banishment to the minors, seems to be really turning it around. This past week, Cron hit .458 with three homers and 7 RBI’s to help lead the Halos to their six wins.  More on the surprising side, is the respectable hitting of Martin Maldonado who was brought in mostly, if not exclusively for his glove and ability to hold runners. At various times this season, key hitting has also come from Yunel Escobar, but he’s missed his share of games too.  Cameron Maybe has made contributions, as has Ben Revere…more will be needed from both though if the Angels are to find their way to October.  I guess what comes through from this brief analysis, is that there always seems to be some player who steps forward in critical situations.  That often is a key to playing winning baseball.

If the Angels manage to make it to the post-season, this past week will likely be looked at as a turning point.  Having caught lightning in a bottle, let’s hope that they can keep it there.

I will have the good fortune to see first hand which way the wind blows in the aftermath of a most wonderful week.  I’m heading down from the Apple to catch a couple of game in DC and Friday night’s game in Baltimore.  The forecast calls for some thunder storms.  Perhaps that bodes well for a team that can seemingly capture lightning as well as hit with some thunder.