I can’t imagine anyone thought the Angels would return home from a perfect road trip and proceed to have the homestand they did against the Red Sox and Giants. Yea, yea…I’ve heard from many fans this week about how they’re jumping off the bandwagon and how certain people should be fired because of the showing. Please stop! This team jumped out to an incredible start at 13-3 and did so with everything going its way…bullpen picked up starters and position players passed the baton up and down the lineup. So what happened this week? Well, both facets of the game went south and did so in a hurry.
The Halos opened up last week first in Major League Baseball in virtually every offensive category that mattered…Runs, Average, HR, SLG, Total Bases, OPS, Isolated Power & were 2nd in OBP and BABIP. Didn’t matter who was on the mound or what team they were playing, the offense just seemed to barrel-through everyone. That was until the Red Sox came to town and put a screeching halt to everything.
Boston’s rotation ERA at the start of the series stood at an MLB-best 2.06 and it lived up to the hype. David Price, Rick Porcello & Eduardo Rodriguez allowed a combined 2 runs through their 17 innings of work while striking out 17. The Angels managed to go just 3 for 18 with men in scoring position, something in which they had excelled in through the first 16 games (.307 as a team). Falling behind early and with the offense slowly falling into a funk, it made it even more difficult to mount any type of comeback even though Boston’s ‘pen was off to somewhat of a slow start. Now with all of that said, it’s not as if the pitching was devoid of blame.
I mentioned the big deficits early in games and it happened in the first 2 games of the series. 8-1 after 3 innings in Game 1 and 6-0 after 3 innings in Game 2. The finale was a little tighter of a game but the Angels still had their starter (Nick Tropeano) allow 5 runs in 5 1/3 innings of work, the longest outing of the three starters in the series. Credit the Red Sox because not only did they pitch very effectively, they came out swinging the bats from the get-go…Mookie Betts’ leadoff HR off Shohei Ohtani kind of set the tone for would be an offensive barrage by the Sox.
After being swept by the Red Sox, all the Angels could do was turn their attention to the San Francisco Giants, a team they hadn’t fared well against in interleague play (11-17 at the start of the series). As a matter of fact, the last time they met in 2015, the Giants swept the Angels at AT&T Park. The Giants sent Jeff Samardjiza, Derek Holland & Johnny Cueto to the mound over the weekend and it felt as if the Angels had a good shot of turning things around just based on the fact the Giants had started off slowly without the likes of Samardjiza, Madison Bumgarner and Mark Melancon but you can never underestimate a veteran team.
The Halos had a tough time trying to solve Samardjiza on Friday. Even though he was on a pitch count and was looking to shake off the rust of coming off the disabled list, he looked the Shark of old. Not overpowering but certainly fearless and he cut through the Angels lineup with ease. He did get into a little trouble in the 5th inning after walking Mike Trout to load the bases with 2 outs. After a visit by Bruce Bochy, Samardjiza threw a fastball to Justin Upton who took Mac Wiliamson to the track in LF to the end the inning. Other than Trout’s HR in the 8th, the Angels were limited offensively. On the pitching front, Andrew Heaney made his 2nd start and while he gave up a run in the 2nd on a HR to Nick Hundley, he couldn’t get himself out of the 5th inning…allowing 6 runs on 5 hits including 2 more HR’s (Williamson & Andrew McCutchen).
The Angels were able to bounce back in game 2 of the series facing a familiar foe in Derek Holland. The long time Texas Rangers starter, signed a minor league deal in the off-season with the Giants and would’ve been the perfect bullpen/swing guy for the ‘pen had it not been for the injuries to the rotation I mentioned earlier. Pressed into the rotation, Holland had pitched respectfully through the first couple of starts after struggling last year with the White Sox. While the Angels weren’t able to get the bats going as they had prior to the homestand, they were able to come from behind and pick up the 4-3 win with a total of 6 hits. Trout contributed with 3 more hits including his 8th HR of the year.
We knew the Sunday finale at the Big A was going to be tough considering Johnny Cueto would be on the mound and through his 3 starts this year, he had been phenomenal…including an 11-strikeout performance his last time out against the Diamondbacks. Cueto was as advertised, taking a no-hitter into the 6thinning before Ian Kinsler broke it up with a single up the middle.
I think the most disappointing part of Sunday’s game was the fact Jaime Barria was only able to go 2 plus innings. Not because his stuff wasn’t there but more so because of a prolonged top of the 1st which included the 21-pitch at-bat by Brandon Belt. All totaled, Barria threw 49 pitches in the 1st inning and while he didn’t allow a run (a moral victory), it may have taxed him. Personally, I love what I have seen from the 21-year old native of Panama. He has a presence on the mound and more importantly, he throws strikes and comes right after hitters. He possesses a lot of moxie for a first time big leaguer and I like it.
The Angels attempted to come back from a 4-0 deficit and they did cut it in half when Trout HR’d yet again, a 2-run shot to right CF in the bottom of the 8th…his 9thof the year. The Halos would get a couple of men on in the 9th against Hunter Strickland but were unable to push across any more runs.
Offensively, the Angels as a team hit just .164, scored a total of 10 runs, had an OBP of .254 and a SLG % of .283 for the homestand. When they did get men on in scoring position, they could not capitalize, hitting just .129 (4/31). But as I’ve stated, it wasn’t a one-sided affair this past week. The pitching had it’s own issues…Red Sox/Giants hit a combined .320, 17 HR, 42 Runs (41 earned), .375 OBP & .600 SLG. We talked a lot about the hitter-friendly counts and there were plenty of them throughout both series and it caused Angels pitchers to average 4.11 pitches per batters faced…leading to a total of 1019 pitches over the course of 6 games (Red Sox/Giants combined to throw 847…or 172 fewer pitches over the same amount of games). The concept of get ahead/stay ahead just hasn’t been applied and when you fall behind in counts, you’re asking for trouble. During the homestand, opponents 37 plate appearances and were 12 for 32 (.375) when an appearance reached a 2-0 count (58 PA’s that reached 2-1 count – .288 avg). That’s just not sustainable or manageable and it’s why we’ve seen so many guys being used out of the bullpen so early in the season.
So what has to change? Hopefully the scenery in Houston will help although it is the World Champion Houston Astros for the 3 games at Minute Maid Park. But with that said, the Angels have hit .102 points higher on the road than at home this year and their road record stands at 9-1…those are things you can build off. Hopefully Tyler Skaggs’ brief appearance in the bullpen for the 9th inning of Sunday’s game doesn’t affect his start on Monday because the Angels need him to be ‘the guy’ that sets the tone for the series, rotation & team (7 career starts vs. the ‘Stros – 3-2, 3.26). Offensively it’s Trout and the rest of the guys. Shoehei Ohtani won’t be hitting in the series because he’s scheduled to make the start on Tuesday night. That leaves the rest of the lineup to get back to what they were doing just overt a week ago in Kansas City…have everyone contributing. They’re going to need a complete team effort in this series as well as the next against the Yankees. The guys just need to relax a bit and not press as we’ve seen of late…get back to doing the little things instead of trying to get it all back with one swing of the bat. Unfortunately, those things tend to happen when a team starts to struggle. Let’s hope those struggles were left behind in Southern California.
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Livin’ the dream…