--Last week NBC cancelled three of the best written comedies on network TV by axing Community, Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock in one Al Dunlap-style house cleaning. Word is canning this trio has made room for another Matthew Perry comedy vehicle which is kinda like the San Diego Chargers giving Norv Turner one more chance...oh wait... I mean, what the Hell, why not give Jenna Elfman another sitcom while were at it? Or did they do that already and call it Whitney? Additionally NBC announced that Anne Heche will be given one of the newly opened 30 minute Thursday night spots though this may be more of a "pity pilot" due to Ms. Heche previously being diagnosed with what the medical profession calls "crazyballs". Good luck with all that, if it's even possible to fall to 5th in the ratings you're well on your way.
--In other Reality TV/pseudo-Sports news production is under way for the Bikini Hockey League because when most people look at the NHL they think, "not bad, but if only there was more chance for hypothermia and nipples that could cut glass..." Plans are for the "too-ugly for The Bachelor" contestants to live together in a mansion while they compete for spots on the handful of proposed teams before returning to their respective poles when the whole thing tanks. If nothing else it should give new meaning to such Hockey lingo as "butt-ending", "5-hole" and "putting the biscuit in the basket". If you're interested I'd suggest keeping abreast (pun intended) of, I'm guessing, the Versus Network schedule for the debut episode.
Looking at the skimpy bottoms I'm not sure I want to see this league's take on the "Playoff Beard"...
--QUICK HITS: Odd to hear that the broken zip-line incident that led to a case of flesh eating bacteria occurred in Georgia...cause when I hear "flesh eating bacteria" I automatically think "Guatemala". Is that wrong?...Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was married on Saturday once again confirming my long held belief that making lots of money does not necessarily mean you are smarter...And finally the MLB firing of Ryan Braun steriod case arbritrator Shyam Das was sadly not big enough news for the New York tabloid papers to go with my suggested back page headline "DAS BOOT-ED". I have no more to add since I never actually saw the 1981 critically acclaimed German psychological thriller and have been told by the Film & Theatre teacher here at school that the hotel room rental of Das Booty I once purchased is only remotely related to the original.
And with this on to baseball...
--On May 6th Phillies starter Cole Hamels drilled Nationals rookie OF Bryce Harper with a pitch for what many claimed was no apparent reason though others might conclude merely coming to the park with this Coon-Skin hat of a haircut (refresh page if pic doesn't show) and enough eye black to frighten The Missing Linkwould be reason enough. Most likely Hamels plunked the phenom as some sort of "hazing/right of passage" type deal which considering Harper trotted to first, later stole home with the game's first run and Hamels ended up with a five game suspension wasn't exactly the most "team first" move he could've made.
Let's start by saying the whole idea of mean-spirited hazing of this nature is stupid. It reminds us of those news reports you hear every so often of new recruits getting sodomized at a high school football training camp or military school. First off when did sticking things up another guy's ass outside of Spring Break at Fire Island become an all-join-in recreational activity. And secondly if, as psychologists tell us, this is the hetrosexual BMOCs way of protecting their turf wouldn't it come to backfire when word got out about what was taking place and every Glee-ed up, friend of Dorothy in the school was trying out for the team?
This whole incident also gave the Neanderthal-ish John Kruk another chance to trot out the riduculous old school story of how if you so much as hit a hard foul ball against guys like Sal "The Barber" Maglie you'd wind up having to dust off your baggy flannels the next time you stepped up to the plate. I assume this theory is based on the idea that if you can't do your job well then nobody should which is just plain dumb. If you don't want guys to hit homeruns off you here's an idea...make better pitches. Don't make the problem worse by getting behind in the count or giving up a free baserunner next time around in an effort to massage your misplaced macho ego.
Now this doesn't mean that every hurler has to turn into the Marquis of Queensbury on the mound. If an opponent is thought to be throwing at your teammate then certainly retaliation is deserved. Similiarly, if a batter stands at the plate admiring his HR like he's auditioning to play an extra in the remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind then again plunk away. Or in short as Steve Martin's character advised John Candy's Del Griffith about telling a story in Planes, Trains & Automobiles ...have a point. And if the Phillies miss the playoffs or a Division title by one game remember it may just be a suspension forced Kyle Kendrick fill-in start that tipped the balance.
--Ever since the Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg the baseball media has been in David Clyde meets Todd Van Poppel style overdrive hype mode. And now that Strasburg is delivering on his promise in a full season, blinkers off the pitch count scenario pundits are looking everywhere from the ill-fated Herb Score to the coke-sated Dwight Gooden for rookie pitcher comps and still finding them all wanting.
So how good is Strasburg? Well before you go all Sidd Finch on us consider this...Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw were born 4 months apart. Had they both declared for the draft in 2006 it's debatable who would've went first, but Strasburg opted for 3 years at San Diego State before bursting on the scene. Kershaw struggled with some control issues early on, but is now the reigning NL Cy Young and flat-out nasty. Strasburg's learning curve was shortened by the polish and maturity he gained in college ball...and lo and behold there they are this year with identical 4-1 records. They've both walked 13 and while Strasburg has a dozen more Ks Kershaw tops him in ERA.
So in other words Stephen Strasburg is Clayton Kershaw 2.0 and that's damn good, but he's not going to change the way the game's played. That said combined with talented, young hurlers Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez the Nats have a formidable Big 3. Here's hoping 24 year-old, potential lights-out closer Drew Storen returns by the All Star break and management is not afraid to upgrade the offense come trade deadline time. If so there could be meaningful Fall baseball in our nation's capital for the first time since Goose Goslin and The Big Train roamed the diamonds.
--So like everything else surounding the under-achieving Angels this year writers would have us believe that the recent firing of batting coach Mickey Hatcher is really "All About Albert". However, like most things in life and everything in politics this is only partially true. So let's play "What's Albert's Fault in Anaheim" and try to decide if there's any hope that this whole thing won't turn out to be the biggest bust outta Disneyland since John Carter:
1. Pujols Slump-ALL ABOUT ALBERT: This would seem pretty self-evident, but apparently it's not. Everyone from Angel management to ESPN talking heads to most recently Alex Rodriguez has weighed in with the theory that Pujols poor early season numbers are related to moving to the AL. Once he adjusts to the pitchers and umpires, Ball Girls and blades of grass in the Junior Circuit, they say, a finely honed athlete like Albert will go on a prolonged tear. Hmmm, it doesn't seem to be bothering a fat, pantload like Prince Fielder that much. Nor did it stop Adrian Gonzalez from posting career numbers in Boston last year. Sure there are examples that back this idea up, but all this arguing does is obscure some very real warning signs that cropped up in Pujols' numbers last year.
For most of this year the story that dogged Pujols was when/if he was going to hit his first HR. When he finally did in Game #29 the highlight was run as often as the Shawshank Redemption on TNT complete with head twisting shots of Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchinson repeated ad nauseum until you'd think someone had just shot him with a high-powered rifle from the 2nd floor of the Toronto Book Depository. Once that was out of the way everyone thought Albert would go back to being Albert, but it hasn't been quite that easy. Fourteen more games later he has a couple additional HRs, but still sports an OPS not seen in Anaheim since the days of Dave Chalk and Rance Mulliniks to go along with a .253 OBP.
And while everyone looks at the power numbers the latter figure may be the biggest concern. Looking back the most notable number from 2011 may be that Pujols walked only 61 times, the lowest total of his career and the first time he was under 90 walks since 2005. Even if you try to mitigate this by pointing to time missed due to a broken wrist, as a percentage number things were even worse with his .366 OBP representing the worst On-Base tally of his career by 28 points and only the second time the figure dipped below .400 (2002-.394). Indicating that either he's expanding the zone and trying to do too much or that pitchers weren't as worried about pitching to him as they were putting on another runner and pitching to Matt Holliday who by the way will not be signing a $254 million contract any time soon.
Albert's doubles, SLG% & OPS were also career lows. Solid numbers all, but still below the standards of Pujols himself and the contract he signed. No doubt things will get better as the season progresses, but unless it's of an other-worldly nature this will likely pull the Halos from next to last in the AL in runs scored to the middle of the pack which wasn't enough to allow them to catch the Rangers or even make the playoffs the last two years.
2. Angels Record (18-25)-ABOUT HALF ABOUT ALBERT: In 2011 the Angels won 86 games, but still fell 10 games short of the division and 5 shy of the WC. The club finished 2nd in the AL in Runs Allowed, but a dismal 10th in Runs Scored. Despite the addition of C.J. Wilson offense was the real concern this off-season. In many ways it would seem things have improved considerably. Mark Trumbo is crushing the ball, Mike Trout arrived and excelled, Vernon Wells has improved from abysmal to mediocre, Kendry Morales is back and hitting over .300 and C Chris Ianetta despite a Tom Egan-esque BA has clubbed 3 HRs and drawn double digit walks in 77 Plate Appearances something it took Jeff Mathis a full season and nearly 300 PAs to do last year. With Macier Izturis/Alberto Callaspo taking some of the sting out of a slumping Erick Aybar that leaves Pujols seemingly holding the bag for much of the run scoring blues.
On the other hand Pujols is scoring baserunners that are on in his At Bats at about the same percentage he always has (18%). The problem is he's on pace to see far fewer on than at any time in St. Louis as Anaheim languishes 12th in the AL with an OBP of only .305. Throw in a bunch of shaky starts from Ervin Santana and the usually consistent Dan Haren along with a few blown leads by the bullpen and it can't be all Albert's fault. Nonetheless the team is third in the AL in Runs Allowed and if Pujols was just playing to the numbers of the average MLB First Baseman Anaheim might be at or over .500 which is why we're giving him a good share, but not all the blame.
--Mickey Hatcher Firing-ONLY A LITTLE ABOUT ALBERT: Our theory on this may surprise some who have been reading sportswriters trying laboriously to link a public spat between the Batting Coach and Pujols from late April to Hatcher's firing. But we're not buying it and instead feel the writing was on the wall this off-season when owner Arte Moreno cleaned out the front office after twice missing the playoffs while getting passed like a Yugo on the Autobahn by Texas in the AL West.
Jerry DiPoto was brought over from the Diamondbacks to be GM and immediately announced that he wasn't just establishing an Analytical group (read Sabermetric) in the front office, but turning the entire front office into an Analytical group. Immediately gone were the days of slap-hitting, base stealers like Chone Figgins and Reggie Willits at power positions. Mark Trumbo was moved to 3B despite fielding trepidations, Sciosia favorite and noted game-caller Jeff Mathis was shipped to Toronto in favor of the power and eye of Ianetta and the slow starting Peter Bourjos quickly gave way to Baseball Prospectus cover boy Trout.
Whether these moves work is another question, but they are a step in a new direction. Hatcher, on the other hand, represented the old bunting, base stealing, free swinging Angels who in the last 12 years only finished in the top 3 in OBP once, but in the bottom 3rd on four different occasions. Pujols certainly didn't help Hatcher's case any as we pointed out above, but if the Angels batting coach had been one of a more Sabermetric-friendly approach he probably would've survived the ax.
So where does this all leave our beloved Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? Offensively things should improve as Pujols heats up, but they need to come a long way to get to respectable from their current place of 13th and 12th in the AL in Runs and OPS respectively. That's with Trumbo going off, the 20 year old Trout playing like an All-Star and Morales trying to return from over a year and a half on the DL. Regression, pitcher adjustment and fatigue could sap the numbers of all three meaning in the end this O may not be much better than 2011.
Pitching-wise it would be hard to improve on their last year's #1 in ERA and 2 in Runs Allowed not to mention the 34-18 record they got out of Jered Weaver/Dan Haren. And so far they haven't ranking 7 in ERA, 3 in RA along with Haren dragging down Weaver into a mere 7-6 record. Additionally the staff loses on defense where Trout is a downgrade from the leather-necked Bourjos and to get Pujols/Morales/Trumbo all in the lineup one of the latter two has to don a glove and that's a Catch-22...as in if you hit 100 flyballs/groundballs in their direction they'd probably catch 22.
Toss in the fact that their current closer is the less than athletic 36 year old Scott Downs, a player who has one AB in the last 8 years and that resulted in a 3 month DL stint, and it's easy to see possible holes cropping up in the pen as well. Frankly all this seems to add up to about what they did last year which left them 4 games behind Boston for the then mythical 5th playoff spot. They're not going to catch Texas, but with the Yankees and Red Sox coming back to the pack and the Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians and White Sox improving everyone should be knocking each other off leaving a wild scramble for the two AL WC spots. Being somewhere among those scramblers is probably the best Anaheim can hope for in 2012.
Wear as little clothes as you like I'm still siding with the Rangers in this matchup.
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