General Sports: May 5

-Albert Pujols got his 3000th hit on a dink into right field off of Mariners right hander Mike Leake. Kind of the opposite of what you would expect from a guy with 3000 hits and over 600 home runs, one of four guys to ever do so (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez are the others). Here’s the historic knock.

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It’s also interesting to note, as ESPN Stats and Info pointed out, this is the fourth consecutive season that saw a player get their 3000th hit. 2015 was A-Rod, 2016 was Ichiro, 2017 was Adrian Beltre, now Pujols in 2018. Baseball is weird. But I couldn’t be happier for Pujols. He was my favorite player when I was a kid and while he fell on hard times with the Angels, that has done nothing to diminish my memory of his greatness in St. Louis. I mean Hell, for each of the first 10 seasons of his career he hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI. And he just missed out on an 11th in 2011 when he hit .299. A great moment for perhaps the greatest hitter of his generation.

-The Dodgers got a huge positive in a season full of negatives as their pitching staff threw the 12th combined no hitter in Major League history. The combination of Walker Buehler, Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore shut down the Padres lineup for a special series in Monterrey, Mexico for the first combined no hitter since 2014 when the Phillies used 4 pitchers to no hit the Braves. Fun fact, the first ever combined no hitter was started by Babe Ruth in 1917 when he was with the Red Sox. He walked the first batter, chewed out the umpire, got himself ejected, then his replacement Ernie Shore retired the next 27 batters, which included Ruth’s inherited runner getting caught stealing. There wasn’t another combined no hitter until 50 years later in 1967 when the Orioles used 2 pitchers to no hit the Tigers and LOST (starting pitcher Steve Barber went 8.2 innings and walked 10 batters. His reliever, Stu Miller, got just one out). Normally I’m not a fan of guys getting pulled in the middle of a no hitter, but in this case I think it was warranted. Walker Buehler turns 24 in July and he’s had a history of health issues with his arm during his young career. He was at 93 pitches after completing 6 innings of work so it was only inevitable he was going to get pulled. I felt like he could’ve gone another inning, but ultimately it didn’t matter. This isn’t the first time Roberts has done this sort of thing. A couple years ago, Ross Stripling was making his Major League debut and had a no hitter going into the 8th but got pulled by Roberts due to his pitch count being over 100. That time it backfired, as the Giants pummeled the relievers and won the game. But Stripling’s family actually thanked Roberts for pulling Stripling because they knew Roberts was concerned about protecting the kid’s arm. So if they’re cool with it, I’m cool with it. And once again, Roberts pulls a young starter with immense potential (his season ERA is just a little over 1) due to health concerns in the middle of his no-hit bid. This time it worked out. What a treat for the people of Monterrey, Mexico, though. They get Major League Baseball coming to town and the first game is a no hitter.

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-Matt Harvey was DFA’d by the Mets after refusing an outright assignment to AAA. This has been a pretty steep fall from grace for the guy who was looking like the next big ace for the Mets. Hell he was nicknamed “The Dark Knight” as a 24 year-old. He debuted in 2012 and started the All Star Game for the National League in 2013 when the game was at Citi Field. He struggled with injuries for much of his career but when healthy, he was one of the best right handers in the game, carrying a sub-3 ERA each of the first 3 years of his career. Then Game 5 of the 2015 World Series happened. Harvey was spinning an absolute GEM. The Royals failed to score all game against Harvey and the Mets were entering the 9th inning up 2-0 and Terry Collins was about to pull Harvey for closer Jeurys Familia. Harvey convinced Colins to leave him in the game and Collins listened. Then Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain and served up an RBI double to Eric Hosmer to make it 2-1 before Collins finally pulled Harvey. Hosmer was able to score to tie the game up then the Royals scored 5 runs in the 12th and won the World Series. Ever since that game Harvey has been a shell of his former self, as he not only pitched poorly, but emotional problems began to take hold. In 2016 he had a 4.86 ERA and in 2017 it was 6.70. In 2018 Harvey was carrying an ERA of 7.00 before being DFA’d after being sent to the bullpen. Harvey’s issues were also off the field, as he missed a game last season after a night of drinking resulting from seeing his ex-girlfriend, super model Adriana Lima, with Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. This was one of many personal issues that Harvey allowed to affect his performance and now he’s being DFA’d by the Mets. If Harvey goes unclaimed by another team, he can accept a minor league assignment or be outright released. A part of me feels bad for the guy because he’s as talented as they come but he can’t get out of his own head. Hopefully a change of scenery is exactly what he needs to get his career back on track.

-I wanted to blog this yesterday but some school-related issues forced me to put this off until today. But Ichiro Suzuki’s career is basically over. Yes, his agent said he isn’t retiring, just moving to a front office position with the Mariners, but come on. Have you seen Ichiro lately? He’s not the hitter he once was by a LONG SHOT. He’s not the man who opened his Major League career with a record 10 consecutive 200 hit seasons nor the guy with the most hits ever as a professional hitter (Japan and Major Leagues combined). Hell he didn’t join the Major Leagues until he was 27 and he still managed to join the 3000 hit club. Now? He’s 44 years old, going to be 45 in October, and he was slashing .205/.255/.205 prior to the announcement. There were talks amongst Mariners Twitter whether or not the team should demote him because it was becoming apparent that his presence on the roster was becoming a liability. I doubt a Major League team’s going to pick him up given how apparent the deterioration of his skills has been. If he does want to continue playing baseball, I think his best bet is going to be a return to Japan where I guarantee he will get a hero’s welcome. The guy is as classy as they come and one of the greatest pure hitters of all time and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

-The Milwaukee Bucks are going to interview Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching position. Hammon made airwaves by being a female assistant coach in the NBA but from what I understand she’s very well-respected and must be a damn good coach because she’s held the position for 4 years, which is a long time for an assistant coach to be with a franchise. She takes over head coaching duties for the Spurs during the Summer League so it’s not like this is uncharted waters for her. Oh and there’s the whole nugget that she’d be the NBA’s first ever female head coach if she does land the job with the Bucks, who fired Jason Kidd midseason and had been running with Joe Prunty through their playoff exit against the Celtics. Hammon won’t be the only member of the Spurs organization the Bucks will be interviewing, though, as assistant coaches James Borrego, Ettore Messina, and front office member Monty Williams are all expected to be interviewed as well. Probably trying to recreate the magic that is Greg Popovich. It’ll be interesting to see how her interview goes because she will be under a LOT of scrutiny if she does land the position. But if you can work under Pop, you can work in any situation so I’m confident she’d be able to handle it.

-Ben Roethlisberger was seemingly not a fan of the Steelers taking Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in last week’s NFL Draft, saying he doesn’t think that a backup or third stringer in the third round was such a good pick to help the team win now. He also said (perhaps jokingly) that he wasn’t going to mentor Rudolph and if he had any questions, Roethlisberger would just “point to the playbook.” Whether he’s joking or not, I actually love this move. I think too often we just assume a quarterback is going to just go quietly. But not Ben. He wants to let everyone know this is still his team and he’s going to give it up when he’s good and ready. And to be fair, he’s earned that right. He’s a 2-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and his numbers are actually getting better with age (having a receiver like Antonio Brown probably helps). I think it’s also good for Rudolph that he isn’t given anything. I think too often we just assume that when a guy might be a franchise quarterback that they’re going to be given everything they need to succeed. Well Big Ben wants you to earn what you get and I fully respect it. But now that you’ve made claims like these, you’ve got to go back it up with your play. You have to prove that this is in fact still your team and the fact you’re 36 years old isn’t an issue.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you think of the topics discussed in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Anaheim Angels

With the baseball season quickly approaching, I thought I’d give this type of segment a try. Depending on how it goes, I may decide to do football as well when August rolls around. 30 MLB clubs in 30 days. My rules for when teams get to go are simple, it’s alphabetically in order of location. And yes, we’re starting with Anaheim because the Angels play for Anaheim, not Los Angeles of Anaheim. That’s stupid. Plus if you translate from Spanish, their name is The Angels Angels of Anaheim. Yes that was stupid to do but so is calling your team a city of a city. So enough bitching, before I get to the Angels, I want to bring to light the changes to pace of play that Major League Baseball has announced a few changes, the one major one being the limiting of number of mound visits per game. There used to not be a limit except that the pitcher had to be pulled if they were visited by a coach twice in one inning, but now they’re only allowed to be visited by coaches and players 6 times per 9 innings with an extra time being granted for extra innings. There are a couple of exceptions, for example if it is clear to the umpire that the pitcher and catcher were not on page with the last pitch, the catcher can ask for a mound visit that the umpire can grant without it counting against them so that he and the pitcher can get their signs straight. This change is long overdue because too many visits can cause a game to absolutely DRAG. Still no pitch clock but I’m still not sure how you’d be able to enforce that so I’m not bitching. Now, on to the Angels.

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2017 Results:

Record: 80-82, 2nd in AL West, 21 games behind the Houston Astros, 5 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the 2nd Wild Card spot

Notable Offseason Additions: P/OF Shohei Ohtani, 2B Ian Kinsler, 3B Zack Cozart, OF Chris Young, 1B Chris Carter

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B CJ Cron, RP Fernando Salas, OF Ben Revere, 2B Brandon Phillips, RP Yusmeiro Petit, 3B Yunel Escobar, CP Bud Norris

Best Position Player: CF Mike Trout

Best Pitcher: Garrett Richards

Depth Chart:

C-Martin Maldonado, Carlos Perez, Rene Rivera

1B-Albert Pujols, Chris Carter

2B-Ian Kinsler, Jefry Marte

3B-Zack Cozart, Luis Valbuena

SS-Andrelton Simmons

LF-Justin Upton, Chris Young

CF-Mike Trout

RF-Kole Calhoun

SP-Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, JC Ramirez

Bullpen-Blake Parker (CP?), Jim Johnson (CP?), Cam Bedrosian, Alex Meyer, Blake Wood, Noe Ramirez, Jose Alvarez, Kenyan Middleton

Wildcard-Shohei Ohtani

Coaching Staff:

Manager: Mike Scioscia (18 seasons with Angels)

Hitting Coach: Eric Hinske

Pitching Coach: Charles Nagy

1st Base Coach: Alfredo Griffin

3rd Base Coach: Dino Ebel

Bench Coach: Josh Paul

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I included an additional position of “Wildcard” for Ohtani mainly because we’ve never really had a player quite like him. A guy who can hit 100 mph as a pitcher and hit over .300 as a hitter, the biggest story following the Angels this year will likely be him. And that’s saying something, especially considering the best baseball player on the planet plays centerfield in Anaheim in Mike Trout. Ohtani’s usage in Anaheim will be one of the more interesting tasks that manager Mike Scioscia has had in his tenure as Angels manager, his 18-year term is the longest among active managers. Ohtani has also battled injuries during his time in Japan so I wonder if being a two-way player has anything to do with that. I think that if things start compounding on him and he struggles, then Scioscia will can the experiment and relegate him to whichever he is performing best at, or wherever the Angels need him most.

The Angels seem to be gearing up for a run at a World Series based on the series of moves they made in the offseason. It started with the signing of Ohtani, then they acquired Ian Kinsler in a trade with the Tigers and signed Zack Cozart away from the Reds. On paper, their lineup is as imposing as they come, even with Albert Pujols’ albatross of a contract. Here’s a look at what the Angels could be rolling out there when opening day against the Indians comes.

1. Ian Kinsler-2B

2. Mike Trout-CF

3. Shohei Ohtani-DH

4. Justin Upton-LF

5. Kole Calhoun-RF

6. Zack Cozart-3B

7. Andrelton Simmons-SS

8. Albert Pujols-1B

9. Martin Maldonado-C

Whether the lineup actually ends up looking like this is a different story because if I’m Scioscia, I honestly have no effing idea what to do with some of these spots. We really don’t know what Ohtani is capable of at the dish against Major League pitching and batting him third out of the gate like where I’ve got him slated may be a little premature. Also trying to place 5-8 was extremely difficult, Pujols being the most frustrating considering he will be making $27M this season as a 38 year-old who is WELL past his prime but kind of has to be in the lineup because he’s making so much. He’s still dangerous but he’s a far cry from the player he was in St. Louis. I put him 8th trying to ignore his name value, even though that will likely slot him higher in the order. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him batting cleanup just because he’s Albert Pujols. It’s also difficult to place guys like Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, and Andrelton Simmons because I think all three guys are capable of hitting at the top of the lineup. It’s just a matter of getting the most out of them. Calhoun has been a nice complement to Trout in the past whereas Cozart has struggled to remain healthy and one has to wonder if Simmons’ offensive breakout in 2017 was a fluke.

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One thing is for certain, though, this team will play defense. They’ve got two guys, Maldonado and Simmons, who rated #1 in the Majors at their position in DRS, with Simmons being #1 overall at any position, former gold glove winners in Kinsler, Pujols, and Calhoun, and Trout may have yet to put a gold glove on his mantle, but he’s one of the best home run thieves in the game. Last season the Angels were 2nd best in the Majors in Fangraphs’ defensive rating as a team, trailing only the Red Sox, and it appears that they have only improved defensively. Which they may need based on the issues they’ve had with their pitching.

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The Angels weren’t awful in pitching last season, as their team ERA of 4.20 was 12th in the Majors, but their performance outplayed their talent. Their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, made all of 6 starts last season due to injury (he pitched to a 2.28 ERA in those 6 starts) and he hasn’t pitched a full season since 2015. After him there really isn’t anything on the roster worth getting excited over. Ohtani will be interesting to watch, as I think he’s a better pitcher than hitter, but after him the Angels were sending out Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Parker Bridwell, and JC Ramirez primarily. Of that group, only Bridwell had an ERA under 4 (3.64) and that was probably a bit fluky because his strikeouts per 9 was abysmal (5.43). It leads one to believe that his lack of missing bats may come back to haunt him.

Their bullpen had some success last year, but they lost their best reliever, Yusmeiro Petit, to the division rival Athletics. Their closer role isn’t set after they lost Bud Norris to the Cardinals, but they do have some options. Newly-signed Jim Johnson appears to be the favorite, as amongst his competition he’s the only one with significant closing experience and success. He was excellent for a few years with the Orioles before falling off the face of the Earth for a couple years. The other legitimate option is Blake Parker. Parker had a very good 2017, where he pitched to a 2.54 ERA while striking out over 11 batters per 9 innings. If Johnson does win the closer’s job, which I anticipate he does, I expect Parker to be the 8th inning man and he’s a solid option for that.

Overall, I think Mike Scioscia is coaching for his job this year. It’s been 16 years since he led them to their only World Series title in franchise history and as of late they’ve been very inconsistent, as they’ve only made the playoffs once since 2010 (2014, where they got swept by the Royals in the ALDS). If the Angels fail to make the playoffs, I’ve got to imagine that ownership will be weighing their options. Scioscia’s a good manager, don’t get me wrong, but the production hasn’t been there of late. I don’t think they’ll win the division. The Astros are just too good to unseat at the moment. But I do think they’ll be right in the thick of the Wild Card race. Their pitching is going to be critical. They didn’t really do anything in the offseason to bolster their rotation so improving what they have and keeping them healthy is going to be the most important thing in Anaheim. If they can do that, I think they will at least make the Astros sweat because they’re going to hit and they’re going to play the field. But I think they’ll be one of the AL Wild Card teams.

Projected Finish: 86-76, Second AL Wild Card Team

That’s going to do it for the Angels on the first edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I preview the Arizona Diamondbacks, who look to improve on their huge breakout season that saw them win the Wild Card game but fall to the eventual NL champion Dodgers in the NLDS. Let me know what you think of the Angels’ chances this season in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.