A week ago plus one day, I stood amazed in our broadcast booth at the Big A as the Angels hung a miraculous 7 runs in the bottom of the 9th to finish the sweep of the Seattle Mariners. It was awesome (I may have used some colorful language off air) and it injected some adrenaline into a fan base that honestly may have had some questions about what kind of team the Angels were going to be in 2017. After an off day on Monday, these same guys did it again…scoring 3 in the bottom of the 9th against the Rangers and then eventually winning it in walk-off fashion in the 10th inning on a safety squeeze by Carlos Perez. Holy cow, this team is just going to keep on rolling and never worry about coming from behind all season long…so we thought after those consecutive wins. Of course, that hasn’t been the case and it’s why we’re closing the door on this past week and not looking back.
This team is still very resilient and just because there’s one bad week, I’m not going to abandon the thought of them getting back on track. There were 2 main issues this past week…the starting pitching and the offense. That’s not good, right? The starting staff’s inability to keep the opposition from scoring early and often was an issue, making it difficult for the offense to continuously come back in games. That said, the offense went into shutdown mode as the week progressed. As much fun as last Sunday and Tuesday were, the offense has been limited in a big way over this stretch of games. They’ve had opportunities early in games and while they’ve scratched out a run here and there, they haven’t been able to put together a big inning and give their starter a big early lead.
Offensively, the Angels showed some promise through the first 8 games of the season. Big hits and moments were part of the show but along the way this past week, something happened. These types of things happen during the course of a 162 game schedule and every team goes through it. This current losing streak started on Wednesday. Now, I’m no scholar by any stretch of the imagination but if you go back to Wednesday’s game against Texas at the Big A, AJ Griffin really did a good job of slowing down the Angels offensive train. Sure he gave up 3 runs in his 6 innings but he threw enough breaking balls at different speeds to get guys off-balance (the Angels hit Griffin pretty well last season in 3 starts). If you add in the bookend games of that series (Tuesday v Cole Hamels and Thursday v Yu Darvish), you see a little bit of a trend. The Angels are a very aggressive offensive club and the Rangers tried to combat that with off-speed stuff. Remove the late rally against 3 bullpen arms the Rangers featured on Tuesday night (Barnette/Dyson/Jeffress), and you see Hamels was extremely effective, especially with off-speed/movement pitches (Hamels: 20% Change-ups/10.4% Curveballs/17% Cutters/24% Sinkers). Darvish featured even more off-speed stuff on Thursday (25% Sliders/23% Cutters/13.5% Sinkers – courtesy of BrooksBaseball). Darvish only threw his four-seam FB 31.07% of the time in his start on Thursday, which was his lowest amount since throwing 27% to the Oakland A’s in a start last July. Whether or not it’s the reason why the offense has come to a halt all of a sudden remains to be seen but it’s not a stretch to point to a game (or series) where this can happen. The old adage is, ‘good pitching stops good hitting’ and that was the case this week. Sometimes it can have a prolonged effect…kind of what we’re seeing during this stretch.
Even when the offense has been able to get guys on base, they struggled to bring them in. Over the course of this 5-game losing streak, the Angels have gone just 3 for 27 with men in scoring position (RISP). This kind of stuff is going to happen but when it’s coupled with starters struggling out of the gate and/or you’re playing from behind early in games, those opportunities need to be capitalized upon. In Kansas City, they ran into Danny Duffy, Nate Karns & Ian Kennedy and all three starters did a tremendous job of working both sides of the plate. While these guys rely on their fastballs for a good chunk of the time, they showed the ability to throw off-speed stuff in any count and it worked well. The Angels were limited to just one extra base hit (XBH) in the series and that came in Sunday’s game in the form of a CJ Cron double…his first XBH of the season.
From the pitching side of things, I mentioned the starters above and it was clearly something that stood out. It’s not good when you have a stretch of 5 consecutive games with a starter allowing 5 or more runs…it forces you to rely on the offense to continuously pick you up. Things did turn for the better on the starting pitching front on Saturday and Sunday. While Matt Shoemaker did allow a first inning run, he settled in very nicely to finish with 5 1/3 solid innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. He got a feel for his off-speed pitches (67% of his pitches had movement) and kicked it into another gear against a very aggressive Royals offense (see Angels offense). Tyler Skaggs finished off the series for the Angels and he one-upped Shoemaker’s performance…not only becoming just the 2nd Angels starter to get through 6 innings, but also becoming the first to work 7 complete. In a game where Ian Kennedy had it working for the Royals, Skaggs matched zeroes with him, racking up 9 strike-outs (matching a career high). Skaggs located his fastball with precision and it allowed him to get guys off-balance with his big curve ball, which he threw 29% of the time. The neutralizer for Skaggs in this game was his ability to throw his changeup and throw it for strikes…he just had a great feel for all of his pitches. He owned the mound yesterday afternoon and it’s something, hopefully, he can build off of because he should be THAT guy every time out…he has that kind of stuff.
So now we’re in Houston, where things don’t get any easier. Four game series are always difficult to win, especially out on the road. Minute Maid Park has not been kind to the Angels over the years (3-7 in 2016 – 4.88 ERA – .240 AVG – 7 HR’s). With that said, it must start somewhere and on Monday, it’ll be Jesse Chavez trying to get the Angels back on track. The hope being Chavez can take what Shoemaker and Skaggs did over the last two games and follow it up in the same manner…he’ll need to do it in order to limit a very good Astros offense and more importantly, to get the boys back on track. Win one and then go from there…
As always, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Livin the dream…