Jeff Miller: Angels Will Beat The Odds, Win World Series

Jeff Miller: Angels Will Beat The Odds, Win World Series

By Jeff Miller, The Orange County Register

The Angels will not, contrary to the consensus, finish third in their division this season.

They will not, as suggested by The Sporting News, finish fourth, ahead of only Houston, a team that lost 111 times in 2013.

And they will not, as Sports Illustrated’s website just forecast, finish with the same record — 78-84 — they had last year.

No, the 2014 Angels will…

Win the World Series!!!

Remember, you read it here first, where the Orange County Register has learned, according to sources familiar with the way the baseball gods are thinking, that Mike Scioscia will guide this team to the second title in franchise history.

Hey, everyone else reports the news this way today, without attribution of the facts, so why can’t we?

And who even needs proof or evidence or anything more concrete than belief when it comes to predicting the order of finish for a 162-game season that hasn’t started yet? Not even this sport can quantify hope, and baseball gathers stats on everything but the spitting.

A year ago, we based our preseason thinking on a pile of facts, all of which pointed to Boston finishing last in the American League East. So that’s what we forecast. Well, that turned out to be a pile all right, a pile of something other than facts.

The Red Sox instead won the World Series. So maybe Angels fans shouldn’t get too excited about what they’ve read here to this point.

But, as wrong as we were last spring about Boston, why can’t everyone else be equally wrong right now about the Angels? If this game was meant to make sense, a ball that hits the foul line wouldn’t be fair, right?

The Red Sox won last season despite having only one pitcher with more than 12 victories, only one hitter with more than 25 home runs and no one among the top 12 in WAR. They won a year after going 69-93.

Jeez, the 2013 Angels finished nine games better than that. You don’t have to be the Rally Monkey — or an Angels’ broadcaster — to find belief in that statistic. Still…

“I like the Angels to be better,” one expert said. “But I’m afraid Mike Scioscia doesn’t have enough in his rotation to get this team back into the postseason.”

That expert was Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, who clearly is looking at this from the perspective of someone bogged down in reality.

Maybe Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, and Tyler Skaggs aren’t exactly well known right now. But we knew plenty about Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton, and Tommy Hanson a year ago, and look at how well that turned out.

“I’m not nervous at all,” Jerry Dipoto said of his team’s young pitchers. “I’m very excited for those players.”

As the Angels’ general manager, Dipoto obviously doesn’t have to concern himself with reality, which explains why Blanton’s still around. Even the Angels owner, Arte Moreno, likes to fantasize. That’s a topic we’ll be sure to ask him about, after he moves the team, as some have suggested, to Hawaii.

At least we’re taking a positive approach to this coming season, something that isn’t easy to do when writing about a team as generally joyless and staid as the Angels have been the past few years.

Then again, when you’re supposed to win, when you’re paid like a team that should win, and you keep missing the playoffs, perhaps being only joyless and staid actually is an accomplishment.

In other words, things could have been worse around here, and how frightening is that possibility to fans who have been suffering since the Angels’ most recent postseason appearance, back in 2009?

We still think there’s a decent chance this is all the fault of Gary Matthews Jr., who, somewhat incredibly, remains the last Angel to bat in the playoffs. If that seems hard to believe, recall that he did so as a pinch-hitter, batting for Mike Napoli.

If that, too, seems hard to believe, take comfort in knowing that Matthews did something in that final at-bat that is staggeringly plausible. He struck out.

Anyway, Matthews’ time with the Angels was not terribly positive and was, more to the point, an embarrassment. The only memorable thing he produced here were suspicions of HGH use. The team still might be paying for Matthews’ sins.

But that all ends now, with a season that will feature the return of Albert Pujols, the continuation of Mike Trout, and even the resurfacing of Josh Hamilton. The young pitching will emerge and the bullpen finally will be solidified.

Why? Sorry, that’s not the question right now.

The question is why not? If the 2013 Red Sox could do it, why not the 2014 Angels, another team expected to do nothing?

That’s what the Register is reporting today, regardless of whatever Sports Illustrated says. We like to fantasize, too, you see, and we don’t have a swimsuit issue to do it.

AFP Photo/ Jamie Squire

U.S. And Canada Set For Friday Fracas

U.S. And Canada Set For Friday Fracas

By Jeff Miller, The Orange County Register

ADLER, Russia — The Canadians are going to the Olympic hockey semifinals!

Congratulations, boys.

For a while there, it looked like they might be going home. By foot.

Team Canada narrowly avoided becoming part of Latvian lore — for an ice hockey player, a very bad place to be — when Shea Weber scored in the final seven minutes Wednesday, lifting his team to a startlingly tight 2-1 victory.

Canada’s roster is made up entirely of NHL players. Latvia has just a single NHLer – Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons – plus former Ducks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, who still moves well, especially for someone who’s 41.

“They are here for a reason,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said of the underdogs. “They’re not just going to roll over and die. They were playing hard, too, especially around the net. That’s why we didn’t get the second and third opportunities there that we wanted.”

But the Canadians scored just enough to survive and get another opportunity. They will play the United States on Friday, with the winner advancing to the gold medal game Sunday.

The Americans moved on by beating the Czech Republic, 5-2, in a game that lacked the drama and sweaty palms happening at the exact same time in an adjacent arena here.

Politically, this wouldn’t have been another “Miracle on Ice.” But, athletically, it might have been even more stunning.

The Latvians finished last in the Winter Games in 2010 and 2006 and, before beating Switzerland on Tuesday, hadn’t won an Olympic game since 2002.

“We left all our strength out there,” Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis said. “This is the highest level we are going to play. This is even a higher level than the NHL and, if you can play here, you can play everywhere. It really means a lot for me.”

Gudlevskis was the main reason the game remained close. Canada outshot Latvia, 57-16. The Canadians had 22 shots in the third period alone.

Eleven Canadians had at least three shots on goal, but only Weber and Patrick Sharp could beat Gudlevskis, 21, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who plays for Syracuse (AHL).

“That was one of the best goaltending efforts I think I’ve ever seen,” Canadian goalie Carey Price said. “That was one heck of an effort.”

Canada took a 1-0 lead on Sharp’s goal at 13:37 of the opening period. Latvia came right back to tie two minutes later on a goal by Lauris Darzins.

It stayed 1-1 until Weber scored at 13:06 of the third period, providing an opportunity for the Canadians to exhale just enough to hold on in the final minutes.

“I don’t think you can worry,” Weber said. “You’re going to run into adversity. There are tough teams in this tournament, and there are games that might not go the way you want them to. So you have to stay even, and not get up-and-down.”

Earlier, in the same building – the Bolshoy Ice Dome – Finland upset Russia, a team playing with home-ice advantage but also home-ice pressure.

The Canadians were clearly the team burdened by expectation in this matchup and Latvia was in position – just a fluky bounce away perhaps – from a shocker that would have brought comparison to the USA’s Olympic victory in 1980 over the mighty Soviet Union.

After the game, Team Canada announced forward John Tavares will miss the remainder of the Olympics because of a leg injury. He was hurt in the second period.

The Americans, on the other hand, cruised against a Czech Republic team that was overmatched from the start.

Dustin Brown of the Kings, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk, David Backes and Phil Kessel scored goals and Ryan Suter had three assists. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick had 21 saves.

So both the Americans and Canadians did their part Wednesday to set up a North American semifinal and rematch of the 2010 gold medal game in Vancouver, a game Team Canada won.

But it didn’t happen without a scare coming first.

“We just talked about the hockey gods,” Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said when asked about his third-period message on the bench. “You keep doing the right things and you are going to be rewarded.”

Chuck Myers/MCT

Jeff Miller: Questions about NHL and the Olympics asked, and unanswered — again

Jeff Miller: Questions about NHL and the Olympics asked, and unanswered — again

By Jeff Miller, The Orange County Register

ADLER, Russia — He arrived here Tuesday, just in time, reminding us of everything that is great about sports.

And everything that isn’t.

“There are constituencies that not each of us control,” he explained, “that we have to rely on others to determine.”

Who knew it was possible to perform a double Axel with your tongue?

In a Winter Olympics that gained instant fame for everything it lacked — shower curtains, gay rights, winter — among the things Sochi 2014 didn’t need now was Gary Bettman.

Or Donald Fehr, the man who once helped put a bullet into something as beloved as the World Series.

But there they were, the commissioner of the NHL and the head of NHL players union, a pair of lawyers, using the exciting start of the elimination portion of the Olympic hockey tournament to bore the life out of everyone. Death by dull.

Thankfully, those of us in the business of writing a sports column still have the U.S. speedskating team providing fodder too rich and ridiculous to ignore. Hey everyone, we just figured out what’s wrong with the Lakers! Their uniforms are holding them back!

To be fair, Bettman and Fehr didn’t have to make themselves available to reporters at all. And it was an unending, inane barrage of media questions that can’t really be answered at the moment that forced their joint news conference to go splat worse than even Jeremy Abbott did.

See, the only thing reporters wanted to talk about was the NHL’s future participation in the Olympics, a subject Bettman attempted to defuse by answering the first query, “We’re all focused on what should be a terrific tournament (here), period.”

Forty-five minutes later, he was still not answering the same question, which by now had been posed 10,000 different ways — or 18,000 using the metric system they employ here — by everyone, including, we think, one of Sochi’s famous stray dogs.

Since we know how painful those 45 minutes were and since we really want to get to those speedskaters, we’ll save you the time and torture by providing a quick update:

Neither Bettman nor Fehr is certain if NHL players will be part of the 2018 Games, but they hope to have an answer as soon as possible.

Beyond that, Fehr began one of his answers with “From our standpoint, we have a process that we go through…” Bettman used the word “myriad” so often we’d have to call it a myriad of times someone seriously asked about the NHL participating in the 2022 Games.

Yes, it was both unending and inane, a headlong foray into standing completely still.

There also was a moment when they started discussing the importance of women’s hockey in the Olympics and someone suggested the possibility of starting a professional women’s league in North America and I better stop writing about all this right now or face the same treatment Richard Petty is getting these days.

OK, about our speedskaters. In case you’re unaware, they have done nothing more here than literally go around in circles, blame their poor showing on their clothes and be characterized as incurable head cases.

More than anything, what they haven’t done is win a medal, putting the team in position to have the worst U.S. Olympic showing in the sport in 30 years.

The Americans arrived with what they thought was a secret weapon, an Under Armour racing suit that was promoted as a feat of aerodynamic brilliance developed with the help of a defense contractor.

Just a thought: Shouldn’t defense contractors have more important things to do right now than make spandex sports apparel?

According to reports, reinforced fiberglass mannequins were built and dressed in the suits, researchers testing the dummies in a high-speed wind tunnel for more than 300 hours, and — just picture that image for a second — why isn’t that an Olympic sport?

Couldn’t be any stranger than curling, which offers almost no chance of a reinforced fiberglass mannequin coming loose and being launched into space.

Yet, the so-called Mach 39 soon became the Mocked 39, the Americans either convinced the suits were slowing them down or so worried about the possibility that it became a mental hurdle none of them could clear.

They eventually trashed the Mocked 39s in favor of their old suits, and maybe someone should have noticed sooner that, instead of a hood, Under Armour had equipped the outfits with an anvil.

OK, that’s just a joke, but so is being so desperate for an excuse that you start blaming your tailor. Come on, it’s not like Under Armour issued them tuxedos.

Maybe the Americans should go back to the old Olympic ways and compete in the nude.

What, they couldn’t do any worse, right? Although being naked on an icy oval might not be the best option for a team that’s fallen and can’t get up.

McClatchy Photo/Chuck Myers