After an off day on Monday, the team with the second best record in the National League came riding into town along with their five game win streak. With them came their manager and old nemesis from the 2002 World Series, Dusty Baker who is currently managing the Washington Nationals, his fourth team in the Big’s, all in the NL. Baker has won at least one Division Title in every city he’s managed…San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, and DC. Still, he’s only won one NL pennant and that achievement did not lead to the ultimate victory that he is still in search of. Likely, coming to Anaheim for Baker, amounts to returning to the “scene of the crime.” I guess you’d have to ask him about what he thinks of Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, John Lackey, Troy Percival, K-Rod, and especially, Scott Spiezio to know how he really feels about the ’02 Angels…but I don’t think you’ll making a friend if you do!
Along with Manager Baker, came the Nats MVP candidate, Bryce Harper, who plays both hard and with a lot of swagger. Harper doesn’t seem to be beloved in the way Mike Trout is, but he has gained the respect of the entire baseball world. Harper arrived in Anaheim with a .329 BA, 23 homers, and 72 RBI’s…not too shabby. In his first at bat, he deposited the baseball thrown to him by Angels starter Jesee Chavez, over the center field wall, directly behind Mike Trout. On this night, Harper would wind up going 4-4 and help lead Washington to a 4-3 win over the Halos. Still, Mike Trout provided some heroics of his own on Trout “double MVP bobblehead night.” In the bottom of the first, as if to say to Harper: Take That, Trout blasted a home run into the centerfield rocks, estimated by Statcast to have travelled 448 feet, his longest dinger since September of 2015! The game see-sawed, and the Halos had a chance to tie it in the bottom of the ninth, but alas, Albert Pujols could not drive in the tying run with a runner on second and two out.
Trout added a second homer against Washington the next night as if to say: take that again, as the Angels coasted to a 7-0 shutout win behind the dynamic pitching of Alex Meyer who was recalled from Salt Lake to pitch the game after having been banished to Triple A two weeks earlier. Meyer gave up but one hit…a sixth inning single, but more importantly, Alex yielded only one walk in his longest start of the year, seven innings. CJ Cron added a monster shot into the California night, the longest of the season by any Angel, measured at 461 by Statcast. Amazingly, the ball nearly landed in the Sherwin Williams paint can in left center. As to who would have benefitted by the $1,000,000 that is to be paid if a ball winds up in the can, I don’t know, but it was the closest I’ve ever see the ball come to finding it’s way into the exact right spot.
The Halos had an unusual second day off in one week, following the Nationals series and before the Red Sox arrived in Anaheim on Friday. Having taken 2 of 3 against Boston a few weeks back the Angels went with Ricky Nolasco who did not pitch in that series. In three of the last four games he started, Nolasco had given up either no runs or one run. In the other outing, he was charged with eight runs in less than 2 IP. Unfortunately for the Angels, the Friday night game was a total bust for Nolasco. Though he was not bitten by the home run ball that has plagued him all season long, Nolasco lasted but 4 innings while giving up six earned runs in a 6-2 loss to Boston, led by their ace, Chris Sale who struck out nine Halos. Since 2002 (Randy Johnson, 334), only Clayton Kershaw has struck out as many as 300 batters in a season (301 in 2015). Sale may be heading for a dreamlike season. Of course, Nolan Ryan holds the modern day record for strikeouts in a season with 383. Sale’s only chance to reach that number might be if MLB were to add another 30-40 games to this season. Truly, it’s hard to see how anyone could ever seriously challenge Ryan’s record set in 1973 as a California Angel.
The Angels showed their resilience and took the final two games from Boston by scores of 7-3 and 3-2. In those two wins, Trout, and Valbuena had a home run apiece while Andrelton Simmons blasted two. Quietly, Simmons has emerged as a big-time star and GM Billy Eppler should get his due credit for acquiring Simmons for Eric Aybar, Sean Newcomb, 2 other prospects + cash in 2015. His batting average is up to .292. With eleven home runs, 44 RBI’s, an arm that can rifle out the speediest of runners on a slow roller, and range that is pretty spectacular, Simmons is one heckuva ballplayer. He’s also now one of only four Angels shortstops to hit ten taters or more in a season. The others? Aybar, Jim Fregosi, and Dick Schofield (Fregosi is the only one to top 20).
At weeks end, the Angels were but two games back of .500 and 2 ½ behind the second wild card slot. Baseball can be fun and Mike Scioscia and his staff, under the toughest of circumstances, have done an amazing job in spite of a DL that sometimes seems to exceed their roster in number.