Tuesday, May 26, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Columnist - 

I’m going to preface this article by apologizing for being selfish. I lost someone very important to me and it may not be important for you. Please bear with me, I’ll try to keep it brief but 14 years can’t be encapsulated in just a couple of sentences and words.

It’s December 2001 and I’m at work and I get a call from my wife, Firozeh, from her place of work: “Robert, Robert, there’s a dog here that needs a home! Can we adopt him?!?!?!?!”

After a short discussion I drove over and walked into the store. My wife opens up the door to the break room and she calls to a figure outside of my view: “Come here!”

Seconds later 16 lbs. of black and white Shih-Tzu walks up to her. My wife points to me and says: “There’s your new daddy!” He looked at me, looked back at her and nodded his head.

Who knew at that moment that 14 years of pure love and joy would enter our lives and change us forever?

The apartment we had at the time didn’t accept pets so we did our best to keep him hidden. We quickly discovered from his previous family, who was unable to keep him, that his name was “Blackie”.

We tried containing him in the kitchen to avoid potential pet stains on the floor but Blackie was a really smart cookie and after 2 days we woke up and found him laying on our couch in the living room.

Before we knew it he was in our bed and deep in our hearts. He ate like a pig and had the metabolism of an Olympic athlete.

Blackie loved to go for walks and we were happy because he provided companionship for my mother-in-law and father-in-law when they stayed with us and we had to go to work.

He was a perfect little gentleman and very well-mannered. Blackie loved to chase his toys and he loved to battle spider hand:

Here’s a short sample of pictures over the years. Although they obviously don’t fully capture the experience you can see the love that we shared:

Hanging with the Grand Parents:
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Hanging Out with Mommy:
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Enjoying a D-ahh-licious Dinner with His Parents:
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Studying Physics with Daddy:
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A Crowning Achievement for Me, My Queen and My Little Prince:
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Blackie died from complications from a cancerous cyst on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015. He died in his mommy’s arms while she sang a song to him.

To help honor Blackie’s memory I’d ask each of you to spend some time today with someone you love and care about.

Whether it’s your children, husband/wife, parents, girlfriend/boyfriend, or even just a friend, call them up, send them an e-mail, IM, or text, or, even better yet, watch the Angels play tonight.

Just spend some time with them and cherish it.

Tuesday evening I lost my son and the Angels won that night.

And I’m not just talking about the team. God called up his best prospect he’s ever going to get to join his Angels.

RIP Son, your Mommy and I love you and we can’t wait to see your beautiful, shining face, again, when our time is up.

Monday, May 25, 2015

By Adrian Noche, AngelsWin.com Minor League Reporter - 

1.) Sean Newcomb, Starting Pitcher, Inland Empire 66ers
Last two starts: 0-0  10.2 IP  0.84 ERA  5 H  4 BB  11 SO  0.84 WHIP
Overall: 2-0  45.0 IP  1.60 ERA  30 H  23 BB  56 SO  1.18 WHIP  .191 BAA

Newcomb kept on rolling in his last start. On Thursday, Newcomb had a no-hitter through five innings before it was broken up. Newcomb ended with a line of 5.2 innings pitched, 1 hit, no earned runs, 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. 

2.) Andrew Heaney, Starting Pitcher, Salt Lake Bees
Last two starts: 0-0  13.1 IP  1.35 ERA  13 H  2 BB  13 SO  1.12WHIP
Overall: 5-0  50.2 IP  3.02 ERA  56 H  12 BB  49 SO  1.34 WHIP  .276 BAA

Heaney has been dominant these past few weeks. The southpaw is in a stretch of 4 straight starts in which he has not allowed over 2 earned runs in a start. During that stretch, Heaney has only allowed 4 earned runs in 25.1 innings pitched (1.42 ERA). Heaney’s last start saw him go 7.1 innings while giving up 7 hits, no walks and 2 earned runs while striking out 6.

3.) Mike Fish, Outfielder, Inland Empire 66ers
Past 10 games: .447 AVG  17 H  1 Doubles  0 Triples  0 HR  0 SB
Overall: .304/.384/.363

After a slow start to the season (batting .213 through the first 25 games), Mike Fish has been an on-base machine as of late. The outfielder has reached based for the Burlington Bees in 21 straight games. During that stretch of games, Fish is batting .434 (33-for-76). Fish managed to raise his batting average up to .304 on the season and an OBP of .384. 

4.) Eric Aguilera, First Baseman, Inland Empire 66ers
Past 10 games: .333 AVG  13 H  1 Double  0 Triples  3 HR  2 SB
Overall: .311/.352/.461

Eric Aguilera had a power surge this past week. The first baseman slugged 3 home runs in his last 5 games after hitting just 2 thus far all season. Overall, Aguilera has been hitting a slash line of .311/.352/.461 on the season. Aguilera leads the 66ers in several offensive categories: hits (52), doubles (8), home runs (5), RBIs (30) total bases (77) and stolen bases (6).

5.) Sherman Johnson, Second Baseman, Arkansas Travs
Past 10 games: .310 AVG  13 H  4 Doubles  0 Triples  2 HR  1 SB
Overall: .226/.355/.387

Despite the low average, Sherman Johnson has still been able to reach the base via the base-on-balls on top of the Travelers lineup. However, it seems now that the bat is starting to catch up with his eye. Johnson is batting .310 in his last 10 games to go with 2 home runs and 4 doubles. Johnson is batting .226 on the season yet still has a very respectable OBP of .355 and SLG of .387. Johnson’s 29 BB’s this season ranks him 3rd in the entire Texas League.

Minor League Affiliate Report

Triple-A Salt Lake Bees

The Bees had a strong week, winning 6 out of their 7 games played and now have an overall record of 21-22 (5.5 GB). Nick Tropeano was pitching a fine game but had to exit due to being struck by a liner (he is fine). Tropeano exited with 4.2 innings pitched, 3 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts. Outfielder, Roger Kieschnick, has 3 home runs in his past 8 games and currently has 5 on the season. Alfredo Marte is batting .344 in his last 10 games and has an overall slash line of .341/.404/.508 on the season.

Double-A Arkansas Travelers

The Travelers only won 1 of their 6 games this week, bringing their overall record to 22-19 (6.5 GB). Tyler DeLoach pitched another good game on Wednesday. DeLoach pitched 7 complete innings of 2-run ball, giving up 5 hits and no walks with 6 strikeouts. Kyle McGowin has only allowed 2 earned runs in his last 2 starts (11.0 IP), lowering his ERA from 6.82 to 5.44. Eric Stamets was activated from the DL on Sunday.

High-A Inland Empire 66ers

The 66ers went 5-2 this week and now sit 1.5 GB first place with an overall record of 22-20. Christopher Ellis pitched 5.0 shutout innings on Friday, giving up 2 hits and 4 walks while striking out 5. His season ERA now sits at 4.17. Victor Alcantara struck out 8 batters in 5 innings pitched on his start Wednesday (2 H  2 ER  2 BB). Second baseman, Kody Eaves, is batting .324 in his last 10 games with 9 runs scored and a stolen base. Brandon Bayardi leads the 66ers in average with an batting average of .321.

Low-A Burlington Bees

The Burlington Bees split 6 games with a record of 3-3 this week. Overall, the Bees have a record of 22-21 and sit 11 games back first place. Keynan Middleton gave up only 2 earned runs in 6.0 innings pitched on Thursday. Middleton gave up 5 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5. Shortstop, Jake Yacinich was activated from the DL on Saturday.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

By Joe Tevelowitz, AngelsWin.com Guest Columnist - 

Last Monday, Matt Joyce had one of those days that all of us fear. Seemingly content in the knowledge that Sunday’s afternoon match-up would be followed by a Monday evening tilt with the Toronto Blue Jays, Joyce kept it comfy on Monday.  Unfortunately, that Monday game was scheduled for 1:07 P.M., thanks to Victoria Day in Canada for the awkward start time, and Joyce was late, resulting in a fine and benching.  

Now, you might think an outfielder who’s hitting below the Mendoza line with only one home run and 11 RBIs on the season isn’t that big of a loss for the Halos during any given game.  However, Joyce’s tardiness might be emblematic of a bigger problem the Angels have faced this year – this team has yet to really be a team. 

Not to absolve Joyce of his struggles, on the field or off, but his lack of knowledge about when the next game would be proves that there are serious communication problems.  The Josh Hamilton escapade should have been the first clue to the lack of organizational unity, from players just wanting to move past his absence to the front office that was seemingly unwilling to put Hamilton in touch with owner Arte Moreno. Joyce’s battle with the bed does not equate to Hamilton’s battles with the bottles, but both show a team that, for whatever reason, has yet to really gel.

Lacking any actual insider knowledge of what is or isn’t going on inside the Angels clubhouse, this lack of cohesion conclusion is based more on personal experience with waking up late, and making sure I had someone around to prevent that. My allegiance to sleeping in is probably second only to my love of the Angels. Actually, third to my Simpsons fandom, but still, I love a good no-alarm weekend as much as the next guy.  That love has caused a share of near-disasters, dating back to a freshman year Poli Sci test that had me sprinting for class in the uncharacteristic California rain while wearing basketball shorts and tank top (aka San Diego formal attire). Still, knowing about my love of extra rest and likelihood to stay in bed longer than I should has allowed me to build in safeguards to my schedule, and most of those safeguards are in the form of friends, parents, girlfriends, mailmen and once a kindly hobo named Gerard who also understood that I needed an extra push sometimes to get to where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

I’m sure Matt Joyce has many friends and family who would serve as safeguards, and with the six alarms he set for Wednesday’s game he probably won’t even need them.  Still, the truer safeguard should be all the guys he sees on the daily, wearing the same outfit as him, supposed to be there at the same time, and working towards the same goal – his team.  What surprised me most about Joyce not knowing the proper game time wasn’t that he slept in (because we’ve all been there, and during the rigors of a 9-5 would love to be there again); the real issue is that, his lack of knowledge about the early start time means A) nobody was talking about Monday’s game after Sunday’s loss and B) nobody was talking to Matt Joyce before Monday’s game. 

Teammates don’t need to be best friends and not everyone is going to love everyone, but with the whole squad traveling from Baltimore to Toronto, was there no plan to get together for pancakes (or whatever the Canadian equivalent of pancakes is) in the morning? Again, this is not to absolve Joyce of the blame for his misstep, or to point to anyone in particular as being responsible for keeping the team together.  Rather, this is another subtle reminder that, even with the best player in all of baseball, even with a team coming off a season in which the led the league in wins, there is something missing.  The 2002 Champs were not dominant on paper.  What set them apart was a feeling that when you saw that team on the field, they liked playing together and, maybe more importantly, they liked being together.  

Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and maybe the memories of camaraderie from that year are glossed over by the eventual title win.  Maybe this team is a lot closer than meets the eye and the importance of a Torii Hunter or David Eckstein bringing people together through their positive personality and family-first attitude is overstated.  Matt Joyce was late because of an error Matt Joyce made, but teams need safeguards, and thinking that true team success can come without greater unity is just a dream. Hopefully it’s one the Angels will awake from soon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Writer - 

The Angels led the majors in runs scored last year and now are among the worst in all of baseball. How'd it happen? Where are the problem spots? Let's take a look by position:

Key: BA/OBP/SLG, sOPS+ (which is OPS+ relative to league OPS+

2014: .239/.342/.364, 106
2015: .185/.237/.266, 51

Difference in sOPS+: - 55

First Base
2014: .253/.303/.421, 90
2015: .192/.237/.363, 48

Difference in sOPS+: - 42

Second Base
2014: .285/.337/.381, 110
2015: .276/.326/.341, 90

Difference in sOPS+: - 20

2014: .276/.321/.375, 106
2015: .269/.316/.303, 82

Difference in sOPS+: - 24

Third Base
2014: .240/.300/.365, 86
2015: .219/.280/.409, 82

Difference in sOPS+: - 4

Left Field
2014: .234/.293/.336, 75
2015: .150/.187/.218, 14

Difference in sOPS+: - 61

Center Field
2014: .283/.372/.546, 153
2015: .279/.374/.536, 148

Difference in sOPS+: - 5

Right Field
2014: .274/.330/.436, 108
2015: .295/.354/.450, 110

Difference in sOPS+: +2

2014: .253/.311/.442, 104
2015: .237/.271/.313, 59

Difference in sOPS+: - 45

The first thing that stands out to me is that the Angels are underperforming offensively at every position, except for right field, relative to last year. But that is a bit deceptive, as two other positions - 3B and CF - are close enough to be basically the same.

So the positions that aren't a problem, at least relative to last year: 3B, CF, RF. Everywhere else is a problem, in some cases a huge problem. So let's take a look at them individually:

Catcher - Hopefully this will be solved on two fronts, one, probable improvement from Iannetta. Actually, he's got 5 hits in his last two games, so hopefully he's finally coming around. Secondly, Carlos Perez can't be worse than Drew Butera with the bat. So it seems that catcher can, will be, and seemingly is being solved from within.

First Base - See above. While it is clear by now that Albert will never be anything more than a vague shadowy semblance of his former self, he still has something left in the tank. Since April 19, almost a month, he's hit .270/.295/.450 - still not very good, but better than his overall numbers would indicate. I have no idea where his walks went, but at least he's doing something. Still, like C we're unlikely to see equal performance at 1B this year as last.

Second Base - While we miss Howie, Johnny G has held his own - or at least he was, as he's slowed down quite a bit. But we knew this going into the year, that the best we could hope for was average performance. If Gio slows down too much, look for Featherston or Rutledge or even, gasp, Grant Green to get some at-bats. But I don't think we're going to see any improvement from what we've already seen.

Shortstop - Aybar is getting there. He's a streaky player and often seems to start slow, but is warming up. He'll get hot at some point and I expect will have a similar year as last.

Third Base - Freese has been about the same as last year, albeit with more power but less average. I wouldn't be surprised to see him surpass last year's numbers.

Left Field - Possibly both the biggest problem and the clearest area for improvement. People don't like to admit it, but getting rid of Josh Hamilton--at least as far as on-field performance goes--might not have been a good idea and is a clear gut reaction from Arte Moreno. There is no single position that the Angels could most improve the team than left field. We should be expecting a trade at some point. The player that makes the most sense is Justin Upton, but the Padres aren't exactly out of it and the Angels would have to send one or both of Newcomb and Heaney to start talks. But the Padres may not want to pay Upton the nine-figure contract he'll get after the year, and if they're slipping in the standings he is a likely trade candidate - but not until July, and that might be too late for the Angels if they don't improve the offense.

Center Field - Not much to see here. While there is some possible disappointment in that Trout doesn't seem to have improved from his slightly declined 2014, he's also in a slump right now and should right the ship in short order. I'm still hoping he can get back to being a .300/.400/.550 hitter. The Angels really need him to be.

Right Field - the Angels' second best player, by a good margin on either side, is not a true star, but he may be turning into a borderline star - something a bit better than a quality regular like Erick Aybar, but a bit less than a true star.

DH - Another possible area for improvement from the outside. CJ Cron just doesn't look like he belongs in the major leagues. He's 25, so the clock is ticking, but he probably should be in AAA. But the Angels need more than just filler (Cron, Joyce, Krauss) at DH. They need a bat.

So here's how I see it. The Angels will stand pat at seven of the nine positions and look to improve in LF and/or DH. The cheap way would be to give players like Grant Green and Kyle Kubitza a shot, but neither probably is the impact bat that they need. Green is more likely to get time at 2B or be part of a trade, and Kubitza will best serve the franchise by continuing to improve his 3B defense - in AAA. The only way I see Kubitza getting a regular gig this year is if Freese is injured, or the Angels tank and Freese is shipped off.

Given that we should expect improvement at many positions, the Angels don't necessarily need to empty the already thin farm to get a Justin Upton. I'm not sure what the options are, but a couple of above average bats at LF and DH would go a long way to improving this offense. I would be very surprised if we don't see at least one bat coming in; I can see Scioscia and Dipoto being willing to rotate mediocrity through one of the two positions, but not both. My guess is we have a new starting left fielder some time in June.

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