The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. -- Mark Twain
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first. -- Mark Twain
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I went on ESPN Radio on Friday to discuss the slow start of the Los Angeles Angels, pointing out the obvious: The rotation was a concern heading into the season, was a bigger concern now with Jered Weaver on the disabled list, and that nobody should be surprised that Joe Blanton is pitching somewhere between awful and atrocious. I also said the offense will be fine. What I neglected to mention was that the Angels were heading into a big weekend home series against the Tigers, staring at a 4-10 record and facing the team many consider the best in the American League. Three more losses would put the Angels at 4-13 and put them in the same big hole as last season when they were unable to overcome a 6-14 start.
Well, three games does not rescue a season, but maybe it will help rescue the Angels' April. They took advantage of the good fortune of not facing Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and roughed up the Tigers 8-1 on Friday, 10-0 on Saturday and then won 4-3 on Sunday on Mark Trumbo's dramatic walk-off piece against Phil Coke in the 13th inning, following a bizarre intentional walk to Albert Pujols in the previous inning.
We learned something about the Angels this weekend; namely that their demise has been too quickly fabricated. But we also may have learned something about the Tigers, who are a mediocre 9-9 and exposing the same flaws as last year when everyone predicted them to run away with the AL Central and they didn't.
So, some random thoughts on the Angels and Tigers
1. As always, don't overreact to two weeks' worth of stats. Remember when Peter Bourjos couldn't hit three days ago and it was a huge mistake for the Angels to count on him as their regular center fielder (and Vernon Wells has been doing so well for the Yankees!)? Well, Bourjos had three hits on Friday, three on Saturday and another on Sunday and is hitting .302/.333/.491. Look, he's not a .300 hitter and the one walk is an issue, but he's probably not going to be awful.
2. Mike Trout is fine. After a five-hit weekend, including his first career grand slam on Saturday, he's up to .307 and has 10 extra-base hits. I still see him as an MVP candidate by season's end, assuming the Angels are any good. Because MVPs can't play for losing teams!
3. Josh Hamilton continues to struggle, enough that Jim Leyland had the left-handed Coke intentionally walk Pujols with two outs and the bases empty in the 12th. Hamilton struck out on three pitches but Trumbo led off the 13th and hit a 3-1 changeup deep into the left-field stands. So many things to discuss with that move: putting the winning run on base (crazy!), the complete lack of respect for Hamilton (how far has he fallen?), leaving Coke in for a third inning to face a string of righties (well, he didn't get through the first one). Interesting stuff there.
4. As for the Tigers, they're 9-9 and that's with a lot of things going well so far: Miguel Cabrera is hitting .355, Torii Hunter is hitting .392, Prince Fielder is hitting .333 and slugging .638. Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta have been fine. Four starters have an ERA under 3.00. They lead the majors in strikeouts. The bullpen hasn't been great -- 20th in the majors in ERA -- but the Tigers have lost just one game they've led heading into the eighth or ninth. They've lost two extra-inning games, but those came in the 12th and 13th innings, hardly the fault of the bullpen, and have won a 14-inning game. The pen hasn't been great but isn't the reason the Tigers are .500.
5. Alex Avila: The new Rick Wilkins? Avila and the bottom of the Tigers' lineup have struggled -- the same problem as last year when Detroit's offense had two of the best hitters in baseball (and a superb Jackson) and was still inconsistent scoring runs.
6. Rick Porcello [n.]: A mushroom whose legend grows in the absence of light and rational inquiry.
We don't want to overreact to any of this. The Angels are still throwing Blanton out there every fifth game, and if they lose three in a row to the Rangers this week, we'll be right back asking, "What's wrong?" The Tigers have six games at home against the Royals -- that's the division-leading Royals -- and the Braves, which will potentially tell us more about the Tigers than this weekend's fiasco in Anaheim did. In the long run, I still believe the Tigers will end up benefiting from a weak AL Central, but after 18 games I don't think we can assume they're going to have an easy road to a third straight division title.
Oh, as for the frog quote above, that was just there to make you laugh. Or maybe to suggest that maybe neither the Angels nor Tigers are the biggest frogs in the American League this year many thought back in March.
REST OF THE WEEKEND
1. Ryan Braun, Brewers. Braun hit a first-inning, three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Cubs and a go-ahead, three-run shot off Scott Feldman in the sixth of Sunday’s 4-2 win. Suddenly, the Brewers have won seven in a row and are 9-8 after that 2-8 start.
2. Pirates pitching staff. After losing the series opener on Thursday, the Pirates cooled off the red-hot Braves with three straight wins, holding the Braves to three runs in the three games. Wandy Rodriguez threw seven innings of one-hit ball on Friday and the bullpen tossed six scoreless innings in relief of terrible Jonathan Sanchez on Sunday.
3. Matt Harvey, Mets. Harvey makes a repeat performance with his gem to beat Stephen Strasburg on Friday. Here’s everything you need to know about the hottest pitcher in baseball (4-0, 0.93 ERA, .108 average allowed).
Clutch performance of the weekend
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays. The Rays entered the weekend scuffling at 5-10, but swept the A’s at home. Hellickson outdueled Jarrod Parker 1-0 on Saturday, allowing three hits in seven innings, with Matt Joyce's home run standing up.
Red Sox 4, Royals 3 (Saturday). From the stirring pregame ceremony paying tribute to the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombing, to David Ortiz’s rousing speech ("This is our f------ city!") that even the FCC forgave, to Neil Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline", to the Red Sox rallying for three runs in the bottom of the eighth to win 4-3, it was a game many in Boston won’t forget.
Hitter on the rise: Joey Votto, Reds.
I mean, Votto was already pretty good. But there were those worried about his power production, with just one home run in more than 50 games going back to last year. But he homered on Saturday and Sunday (going 7-for-11 in the two games) and is now hitting .328/.522/.516.
Pitcher on the rise: Garrett Richards, Angels
The Angels have always liked Richards’ power arsenal and he’s getting a chance to start with Weaver on the DL. His first start was a so-so effort against the Astros, but on Saturday he shut down the Tigers on two hits over seven innings. More impressively (and importantly), he struck out eight and walked nobody. Command has been the big question for him, and if the 24-year-old throws enough strikes he’ll hold on to his rotation spot when Weaver returns.
Team on the rise: Rockies
The Rockies blew a 4-2 lead to the Diamondbacks to end their eight-game winning streak, but at 13-5 are tied with the Braves for the best record in baseball. Yes, they’re 6-0 against the Padres and 3-0 against the Mets, so they’ve taken advantage of a soft schedule, but that’s what you have to do. Their next 19 games are against the Braves, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rays, Yankees and Cardinals, so let’s see where they stand on May 12.
Team on the fall: Mariners
The Mariners scored eight runs in six games, got shut out Friday and Saturday by the Rangers and haven’t won two in a row since starting the season 2-0. The Mariners are right back where they’ve been in recent years: 29th in the majors in batting average (.218), 28th in OBP (.285) and 26th in runs scored. A bad, boring, slow baseball team; you wonder how much longer manager Eric Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik will have their jobs.