Greetings from Tempe, Arizona

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I’d have a nice picture of an Arizona sunrise here for you, but as I am typing this it is 5AM local time and it’s still dark. Stupid body, thinking it’s still on Eastern Standard Time.  I’m guessing the sun will be up soon anyway. It’s the desert. The sun tends to shine here.

I got in to Phoenix late yesterday, somehow resisted the urge to immediately go to In-N-Out Burger, to get a gigantic plate of Mexican food or a Sonoran hot dog. I may fall off the wagon later this week, but I’m at least attempting to be healthy for now.  Of course given that the hotel gave me a smoking room for some reason and my lungs and nasal passages are already burning with the rich tobacco flavor of the furnishings of my room, I probably shouldn’t get too hung up on health. Heck, I should probably go buy a pack of smokes and just go with it, right? Then it’s settled.

Enough of that. I’m here for baseball.  And a little later this morning I’ll be heading to the other side of Tempe, to Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Which makes them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Tempe for the next month or so. Stuff I hope to figure out:

  • How the big splashes this offseason by Jerry DiPoto are fitting in. You know, guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Iannetta.  Wait, what? Why are you looking at me like that?
  • How good Kendrys Morales looks. I know he’s supposed to be good to go this year, but one of the most striking things of last spring was seeing Morales barley be able to walk around, all the while the team’s official position on him was that he was doing OK.  That changed pretty quickly after the games started. I’m sure he’s fine now — it’s been a year — but I do want to see the difference.
  • I also would like to anger all of my analytical friends and delve into the world of intangibles and mood-analysis and see if there’s a different feel around Angels camp this year. Last year there was a sense that the Angels were in for a dreary season. They overperformed spring expectations, but in early March it seemed a little quiet and almost dour at Tempe Diablo. Will things seem more upbeat, both among players and fans and the overall zeitgeist now that they have Pujols and Wilson and buckets and buckets of hope?  My normal left-brained self is not ashamed to admit that I care about such things.

Finally, it looks like I’m going to get a chance to interview Torii Hunter for NBC SportsTalk tonight.  If you have anything you’re dying to know from the man, leave it in the comments. And don’t worry: I already plan on asking him what kind of tree he’d be if, in fact, he were a tree.  This isn’t my first trip around the block with this Media Professional thing, you know.

I’ll check in with you from Angels camp later this morning.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.