Well, it took 13 innings and a whole lot of blown chances, but the Angels are on pace for 162 wins in 2013 after defeating the Cincinnati Reds 3-1 on Monday afternoon.
In a game that took well over five hours to complete, Chris Iannetta and the much-maligned Angels bullpen came through to deliver the win. Iannetta put the Halos on the board in the top-of-the-third with a 390-foot blast to left-center field, becoming simultaneously the first Angels baserunner, home run-hitter, and run scored of the 2013 season.
In the bottom-of-the-third, after a leadoff double by Shin-Soo Choo who was advanced to third on a Brandon Phillips groundout, Reds leftfielder Ryan Ludwick walked to put runners on the corners. Jered Weaver—who was making his fourth consecutive and fifth Opening Day start overall—uncorked a wild-pitch that allowed Choo to score and Ludwick to advance all the way to third (while Weaver was ill-advisedly arguing with the home-plate umpire). Ludwick’s praise-worthy hustle was not without cost, however, as he had to leave the game with a dislocated shoulder after an awkward landing while sliding headfirst into third. The damage isn’t yet known, but Ludwick will more than likely see DL time.
Weaver managed to hold the Reds in check for the first three innings, giving up only the solitary run despite labouriously trudging through the frames, giving up two hits, two walks, hitting a batter and throwing the wild pitch while tossing 63 pitches. From that point on, he was excellent retiring the Cincy hitters in order through the fourth, fifth and sixth.
Weaver threw 95 pitches in total through his six innings of one-run ball and typical to his form, mixed his pitches well and changed speeds to keep the Reds’ hitters off balance.
He struck out four in the game.
The game restlessly trudged along through the late innings as the Angels couldn’t get anything going offensively against Reds starter Johnny Cueto, who tossed seven innings of three-hit baseball, walking two and striking out nine. Both teams’ bullpens were dominant as the Angels received six shutout innings from Garret Richards, Sean Burnett, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs, and newly-acquired Mark Lowe, who combined to allow only three baserunners while striking out seven. The Reds’ ‘pen, meanwhile, got four shutout innings from Jonathan Broxton, Aroldis Chapman and Sam LeCure.
Finally, in the top-of-the-thirteenth, it was Iannetta again who gave the Angels the lead—this time for good—smacking a hard-hit single through the left-side of the infield off of J.J. Hoover after Josh Hamilton walked, Howie Kendrick was intentionally walked, and pinch-hitter Hank Conger was hit by a pitch. Closer Ernesto Frieri did his job in the bottom-half of the inning, striking out both Chris Heisey and Jay Bruce to end the game after surrendering a one-out walk to Joey Votto.
This here be a win-probability chart:
Player of the Game
In FanGraphs’ rundown of each game, they have a great feature that tells you how much each player added (or subtracted) from their team’s ability to win in terms of their win-probability-added (WPA). For today, unsurprisingly, Chris Iannetta was the most important player on the field for the Angels as he increased their chances of winning by 26.8%. Lowe, Weaver and Peter Bourjos—who came on as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter late in the game, hitting a triple over Choo’s head in center—were also instrumental. The worst player on the field for either team was Mike Trout who went 1-for-6 with two strikeouts and decreased the Angels’ chances of winning by 30%.
Cueto increased the Reds’ chances of winning by 30%, more than any single Angel contributed to their own win, while both LeCure and Choo also had WPAs higher than 20%. Hoover, who lost the game in the 13th, decreased the Reds’ chances of winning by 28.8% while terrible performances by both Heisey (0-for-3 with two Ks, -.235 WPA) and Bruce (0-for-5, with a walk and four Ks, -.266 WPA) sunk them as well.
The Crazy Thing(s) that Mike Scioscia Did
Manager tend to get in their own way a lot—probably far more than they positively affect the outcome of games, at least tactically. Mike Scioscia is no exception. In the top-of-the-seventh inning, after a Hamilton lead-off walk and a Mark Trumbo line-drive single to left, Scioscia had Howie Kendrick lay down a bunt to move the runners to second and third. The bunt was successful—at least as bunts go, but giving away the out ended up hurting the Halos. After Cueto intentionally walked Alberto Callaspo (a questionable move in its own right), he continued on to strike out both Iannetta and pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck to end the inning and the threat.
The bunt was at least somewhat defensible considering it was late in a close, low-scoring affair. Playing for one run (which is what bunting in that situation is doing since studies have shown that bunting with runners on first and second and none out decreases a team’s chances of scoring multiple runs) makes a small amount of sense. However, Scioscia should have been playing for the big inning considering the Reds powerful lineup would still have three chances to hit.
The bigger issue was pinch-hitting Weaver with J.B. Shuck. With Bourjos and Conger—much more capable hitters—on the bench, Scioscia decided Shuck was the better choice. Coming into the game, Shuck had only 92 big league plate appearances under his belt, wherein he hit just .272/.359/.321 with the Astros last season.
The Not-So-Crazy Thing Mike Scioscia Did
Of course, it isn’t all bad. In the top-of-the-eleventh, after Pujols led-off with a walk off of LeCure, Scioscia pinch-ran for the still recovering first baseman, but instead of using his fastest baserunner—Bourjos—he decided to go with utility-infielder Andrew Romine.
The next half-inning, Scioscia inserted Bourjos into centerfield as a defensive replacement, moving Trout to left, Trumbo to first to replace Pujols, and kept Romine in the game at third for Callaspo. This meant that Bourjos would hit in the pitcher’s spot, which was due up second in the bottom-half of the 12th—rather than fifth where he would have hit if he ran for Pujols.
The move paid off, as rather than having to use an inferior hitter in that spot, Bourjos promptly smoked a triple over the head of Choo. The move didn’t end up making much of an impact since after Bourjos tripled, Trout struck out and Aybar grounded out to end the inning, but that didn’t change the fact that it was a subtly savvy move by the manager.
Hamilton walked unintentionally twice in this game. He did that in only six games all of last season. He will walk a decent amount because he’s feared by pitchers, but patience is definitely not a virtue of his. Last season, he swung at 58.9% of the pitches that were thrown to him—a mark bested by only the awful hacker known as Delmon Young. For him to walk twice in one game without the opposing manager throwing up four of his digits from the dugout is rare to say the least.
If Hamilton can find some measure of patience, he’d be even better than he already is. His free-swinging ways are something pitchers eventually started to take advantage of last season after his hot start. Eventually, he just stopped seeing anything in the zone. In fact, Hamilton saw the lowest percentage of pitches in the strike zone of any player in baseball in 2012 by far at just 34%. The next closest to him was Bryce Harper who saw 38.6% of his pitches enter the strike zone.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Interleague Play. Not because I don’t want to see American and National League teams play against one another in the regular season, but because the idea of teams competing against each other despite being governed by totally different rules seems totally ridiculous to me.
The Angels are a team that is built on the premise that they will have a Designated Hitter. Mark Trumbo started in leftfield today which not only made them much worse defensively by sitting Bourjos, but also kept Bourjos’ bat out of the lineup. The Reds, meanwhile, are a team built to play without a DH, so when they—or any National League team—plays in an AL park, they are at a disadvantage since their roster is not constructed for the American League game.
I’m totally fine with pitchers hitting in the National League so long as they don’t play American League teams in the regular season—so as not to put one team or another at any kind of competitive disadvantage. If you’re going to implement Interleague Play all the time, then abolish the DH so everyone is playing by the same rules.
And actually, I take it back, I’m not okay with National League pitchers hitting because who the hell really wants to see a pitcher hit? They’re awful. Unless, you’re Clayton Kershaw, of course.*
Tomorrow, the Angels have an off-day before resuming their series in Cincinnati on Wednesday at 4:10 pm when left-hander C.J. Wilson will take the hill against Reds’ righty Mat Latos.
*Also, Vin Scully the best.