ANAHEIM – This city has become used to hosting major baseball events. The Angels have become a perennial playoff team, having qualified for the postseason in six of the last eight seasons and winning the franchise's lone World Series in 2002. The flagship city of the OC also hosted the winter meetings six years ago.
Anaheim is the home of this season's All-Star Game, which will be played tonight at Angel Stadium, the first time it has been here since 1989 when Bo Jackson hit the memorable and mammoth home run off Rick Reuschel to lead off the bottom of the first inning.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia played in the '89 game as one of the National League catchers while downing his career with the Dodgers. Tonight, he will be on the coaching staff of AL manager Joe Girardi of the Yankees.
"I think it's a great venue for the All-Star Game now, especially with all the renovations that have been done to the stadium that have made it a lot friendlier for baseball and a lot less imposing," Scioscia said Monday before the All-Star teams worked out. "I think it's a perfect spot to show off the stadium, Anaheim, and Orange County. I know our entire organization is excited about it."
Whether the Angels will get to show their stuff again in October is another matter. They are in second place in the American League West, 4 ½ games behind the Rangers, who made a major player acquisition last Friday when they traded with the Mariners for left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee.
While a 4 ½-game deficit is far from insurmountable, the Rangers hold the largest lead of any of the six first-place teams in the major leagues. Scioscia realizes the challenge his team faces after the All-Star break and also knows that the Angels have the recent history of winning on their side, as they are the three-time defending AL West champions. He is also emphatic in what he feels the Angels must do in order to overtake the Rangers.
"We're going to have to score more runs," Scioscia said. "It's really simple. I believe our pitching is good enough to allow us to come back and win the division. We put a good starting pitcher on the mound every night and our bullpen is solid. What's really going to make or break us is our hitting. We need to pick up that side of the game to have a legitimate chance of winning the division."
That seemingly flies in the face of everything that has made the Angels so strong in this millennium. The perception has been that the Angels do not need to score tons of runs because they do the little things so well, such as running the bases and playing defense. In fact, the Angels and little things have been used so much in the same sentence over the years that it has become cliché and is cited as the reason why they consistently outperform their Pythaganport record, including by 3.9 victories so far this season.
Statistically, all indications are that the Angels could use a dose of run prevention, though, as they are 11th in the AL with an average of 4.79 runs allowed a game and 12th with a .684 defensive efficiency. They rank eighth in runs scored with a 4.53 average. Yet Scioscia is adamant in his belief that the offense has to pick up.
All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter is the only hitter having a stellar season, leading the team with a .301 TAv. The Angels miss the production of first baseman Kendry Morales (.291), who is out for the season with a broken leg, though backup catcher Mike Napoli (.278) has been a decent fill-in at first.
Scioscia is hoping the return of infielder Maicer Izturis soon after the break will help. He has been out since June 16 with a strained forearm, and though he has just a .261 TAv, he should serve as a potential replacement for third baseman Brandon Wood and his sickly .140 TAv. Still, Izturis figures to help only so much, as the Angels' depth has been depleted to the point where they have been giving playing time to long-time minor-league outfielders Paul McAnulty and Cory Aldridge.
General manager Tony Reagins would seem to be in a position where he needs to make a trade for a hitter in order to keep the Angels in the race. However, Reagins, like his predecessor, Bill Stoneman, does not believe in trading top prospects for quick fixes.
"Our organization's philosophy is to not trade away long-term assets and I understand that," Scioscia said. "It's been a philosophy that has been successful when you look at our track record."
The Mariners officially pulled the plug on the season by trading Lee. Thus, it can be said that the Mariners are officially one of the season's biggest disappointments, as they are out of the race at the All-Star break after being the trendy pick to win the AL West in spring training. However, Lee believes the Mariners could contend in 2011.
"They have a great organization there with a lot of great people," Lee said. "The management is good and there are a lot of good players. We just didn't win ballgames. It's hard to explain, hard to put your finger on exactly why, but we just didn't play nearly as well as I or anywhere else there thought we could. I still believe they have the talent to win."
Lee held up his end of the bargain after being acquired from the Phillies last winter in a trade for three prospects. He supplied 3.6 SNLVAR to a team that is 35-53 and last in the AL West, 15 games behind the Rangers.
That Lee was traded more three weeks before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline was a bit of a surprise, as was the fact that he was dealt to the Rangers, a franchise being propped up by loans from Major League Baseball while their ownership situation is resolved.
"I knew there was a good chance I was going to get traded because (Mariners GM) Jack Zduriencik was great through the whole process and kept me up to date on what was going on," Lee said. "It did surprise me that it happened so early, but I'm glad it did work out that way because I can get acclimated to my new team and get to know my teammates. It actually should work to my advantage. I'm with a first-place team now, and you have to be excited about that."
Center fielder Michael Bourn was sad to see Astros hitting coach Sean Berry get fired Sunday. However, he is quite intrigued by Berry's replacement, Jeff Bagwell, who starred as a first baseman for the Astros from 1991-2005, hitting .297/.408/.540 with 449 home runs in 15 seasons.
"He was a great hitter, a Hall of Fame hitter," Bourn said. "You've got to be excited about getting the chance to learn from someone like that."
The Astros could use any hitting advice they can get. They are averaging 3.45 runs a game, 15th in the National League and 28th in the major leagues.
"The guy obviously knows hitting," Bourn said. "I don't think there is any way you can talk to him about hitting and not learn something. It's the same with a guy like (Cardinals first baseman) Albert Pujols. The great hitters all know about hitting. You just don't become a great hitter by luck. It's up to me and the rest of the guys in our lineup to take advantage of having someone like Jeff Bagwell as our hitting coach and learn as much as we can from him."