The second road trip of the season couldn’t have gone any better for the Angels. The offensive production this team has put up through the first 10 games of the year, continued through Texas and Kansas City and it wasn’t about any one particular individual.
The Halos did not fare well against the Texas Rangers in 2017, managing just an 8-11 record versus their division rivals. In 19 games last year, the Angels hit just .241 and posted an OPS of .711 while pitching to a 4.79 ERA and allowing a season-high 31 HR’s. If the beginning of their 2018 meetings is a start of a new trend, then watch out in North Texas.
The Halos used a balanced 13-hit attack in the opener of the series in Arlington, taking game 1 by the final of 8-3. Zack Cozart, Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, Adrelton Simmons and Martin Maldonado each had multi-hit games. Maldonado also made some news later on the game with a dramatic leaping attempt at home trying score on a pinch-hit double by Chris Young (1sthit as an Angel)…originally called out by Angel Hernandez, the call was later overturned after Mike Scioscia challenged the play. As exciting as we thought the play was, Maldonado joined us as our walk-off interview and plainly stated while it looked good, it wasn’t planned that way…his knee jammed into the dirt and it propelled him over Robinson Chirinos’s tag (Chirinos still hasn’t tagged him, BTW).
One thing that will continue to be monitored, and it’s not just starter Garrett Richards’ issue, is the amount of walks issued by the pitching staff. Richards at times looked brilliant on Monday but at other times looked like someone who just couldn’t figure out the command issues. While the Angels won, Richards did not get through the requisite 5 innings to pick up the W, lasting just 4 1/3 and allowing one run on 4 hits but walking 5 & striking out 6. Richards arsenal is all there including the velocity but on Monday night, his body was not in sync mechanically and it’s something that needs to be rectified sooner rather than later if he’s going to lead this rotation.
A tip of the cap went to Jose Alvarez on Monday, who came into the game with the bases loaded and 1 out and had to face Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo…he proceeded to retire both rather easily (Mazara on an infield fly rule pop-up and Gallo on a fly ball to shallow center), allowing him to pick up his 1stwin of the year.
Facing the lefty Martin Perez on Tuesday, the offense did not stop. Even without Calhoun and Shohei Ohtani, the Angels had a season-high 18 hits in picking up game 2 by the final of 11-1. Like Richards, Tyler Skaggs should’ve been able to mow through the Rangers lineup, especially after being staked to an early lead. While Skaggs did get through 5 innings and eventually picked up the win, his start was uneven. At times showing flashes of brilliance but at other times he was inconsistent and could not command his pitches, leading to 4 walks. You could use the term ‘effectively wild’ but it wouldn’t apply here. There were times when he had hitters set up but just didn’t finish them…if his first 3 starts are any indication, the lefty’s stuff is all there but he needs to trust his ability to finish off hitters quickly instead of trying to make the perfect pitch every single time. You don’t have to give hitters that much credit when you’re featuring the stuff Skaggs has in his arsenal.
As impressive as Alvarez has been to start the season, Luke Bard is quietly getting the job done himself. The 27-year old Rule V selection from the Minnesota Twins has not looked at all like the rookie that he is…using his high spin-rate on the fastball, he’s getting MLB hitters to swing and miss often on the pitch. He also has terrific secondary pitches and hasn’t been afraid to use them in any situation. The bullpen, as a whole, continues to be solid and productive through the early part of the season.
Jaime Barria made his MLB debut in the series finale on Wednesday and he showed us why he’s high on the Angels radar. Pitching on three days rest and not a lot of work since Spring Training, Barria gave the Angels a solid 5 innings, allowing a run on one hit (HR by Ryan Rua) while striking out 3 and walking 3 in picking up his 1stMLB win. It’s just another layer to the story that is the 2018 Angels team. Barria was supported by the offense once again as they put up 7 more runs, led by Calhoun’s 3-hit/2-RBI game…Jefry Marte added two more hits, adding to the hot start he’s off to while playing 1B & 3B. All totaled in the 3-game series, the Angels scored 26 runs against Texas and really seemed to get the job done when they had men in scoring position, going 15 for 38 in those situations. The Angels, to date, have had a lot of men in scoring position and unlike recent history, they’ve been able to capitalize on it and bringing those guys home.
The Royals series opener on Thursday featured the return of Nick Tropeano. Tropeano hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since July of 2016 after having Tommy John surgery. On beautiful spring day in Kansas City, “Trop” was masterful. It was about as sharp a performance I’ve seen from him since he joined the Angels (Tropeano and Carlos Perez from the Astros for Hank Conger, once upon a time). He seemingly had everything working and was able to pick up the win after lasting 6 2/3 innings and striking out 6. The best part about the start was the fact he was able to keep all under control in a very tight game. The only run through the first 6 innings was ian Kinsler’s leadoff HR to start the game off Ian Kennedy (47thcareer leadoff HR for Kinsler, now 4thon the all-time list). Kennedy kept Angels hitters at bay and has now had 3 very good starts for Kansas City, as he’s looking to bounce back after a tough season in ’17. The Angels offense came to life in the 7thagainst the Royals bullpen, batting around and scoring five times to open the game up. Trout would homer in the 8thto add a little insurance (3rdhit of the game, 2ndtime this year he’s picked up at least 3 knocks).
The Angels, with back to back starts from first-time 2018 pitchers, made it 3 in a row on Friday night as Andrew Heaney returned to the mound. Heaney, after making just 5 starts in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2017, was having a very good spring when he was shut down due to left elbow inflammation. He knocked the rust off early, striking out 5 through the first 3 innings. Although he allowed a run in the 3rdand 3 in the 4th, it’s not as if he was getting knocked around the park. As a matter of fact, the theme of the night, for both teams, seemed to be the bloop hits…and there were plenty of them. The Halos were able to chip away with a run in the 7thand 2 in the 8thto come from behind and win their 6thconsecutive game. Kinsler had 3 hits & 2 stolen bases, Pujols added 2 hits (HR & 1B) & Ohtani picked up two more hits, including his first MLB 2B. Blake Wood was credited with the win, making him the 10thdifferent pitcher to register a win for the Angels through the first 15 games of the season, making the Angels the 2ndteam in the last 100 years to do this (2002 Mariners).
The guys continued to roll on Saturday night even though it was cold, rainy and then snowy at the very end. Fortunately, everyone came out of the game unscathed and victorious as they picked up their 7thconsecutive win and set a new ‘best start’ in franchise history, running their record to 13-3. Richards made his second start of the road trip and he looked sharp early, not allowing a baserunner through the first 4 innings. With a 4-0 lead (solo jacks by Valbuena/Upton & 2-run HR by Trout) in the 5th, Richards came undone a bit. As was the case in his start against Texas, command just went away from Garrett as he walked the leadoff man and then proceeded to throw several wild pitches which resulted in a run. Fortunately, he was able to induce an inning-ending double play to keep it a 4-1 lead. Richards would only last one more batter, leadoff walk to Drew Butera to start the 6th. While Richards would end up with the win, his outings are starting to look very familiar…looking marvelous early and then going away from his strengths as the game progresses. As Gubi always states, Richards isn’t really a strikeout pitcher but more of a groundball guy but when he starts to get into K-mode, things begin to unwind for him. That said, he’s still 2-0 on the year and giving the guys a chance to win with each start.
With the cold-out in Kansas City on Sunday, the Angels return home to enjoy the off day on Monday before kicking off a 6-game homestand with the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants. Ohtani, who was scheduled to pitch in KC, will instead get the starting nod on Tuesday vs. Boston. With that, it seems he’ll be available as a DH solely for the final game of the series and then then next couple of games against the Giants. It appears as if Ohtani’s 4thstart of the year could come against the Astros in Houston but it’s all up in the air. It seems the Angels would like to keep Ohtani on 5-6 days rest between starts but as we keep telling most that ask, this book is still being written and will more than likely continue to be adjusted as the season plays out.
There’s no doubt the Angels return home on a roll. Each night there’s a new hero. Lineup depth, defense & the bullpen have certainly stood out while the rotation has shown glimpses of putting it all together. Now comes a pretty good stretch of games to test this crew. Red Sox, Giants, Astros & the Yankees will cover the next 12 games (9 at home). This team has been must-see-TV through the first 16 games and there’s no indication it won’t remain this way for the foreseeable future…
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Livin’ the dream…
Cover image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times