By Chad Stewart
Following an encouraging Spring Training, I had increased expectations for the Angels in 2016. However, the Angels are notorious among their fans for their sluggish Aprils, and, through one week of games, this year is no different. The Angels are 2-4 for the fifth year in a row.
The Angels opened the season against the World Series-favorite Cubs and were — somewhat unsurprisingly — completely overmatched, dropping both games and getting outscored 15-1. I wasn’t necessarily expecting the Angels to win both or even one of these games, but the way the Cubs so easily cruised past the Halos and outclassed them in every aspect of the game was a bit dissapointing. Angels’ starting pitchers — Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney — allowed seven earned runs in 11 innings. Cubs’ starting pitchers — Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester — allowed one run in 14 innings. Angels’ relievers allowed eight runs in seven innings while Cubs’ relievers did not allow a run in four innings. The Angels recorded just seven hits in the two-game series. Nothing went right for them. I’m not sure it is right to gauge the talent of a team based on how they perform against the consensus best team in baseball, but it would have been nice to see them put up more of a fight. Fortunately, they won’t have to face the Cubs again until August. *Phew*
After an off-day on Wednesday, the Angels welcomed the division-rival Texas Rangers to town. Hector Santiago started game one for the Angels against fellow lefty Derek Holland, and was very effective, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits, striking out seven, and walking two over six innings. Following Santiago’s exit, relievers Jose Alvarez, Fernando Salas, Joe Smith, and Huston Street combined for three perfect innings. The Angels were 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and they had more hits than in the previous two games combined with 11. While they could have scored many more runs had they capitalized on more of their opportunities (10 runners left on base), the fact that they were able to create those opportunities and capitalize on the ones they did is a good sign.
The game remained tied at three as the Angels came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, and Johnny Giavotella got things started with a one-out single. Yunel Escobar followed with a walk, and the two advanced to second and third respectively on a Carlos Perez ground out. So with two outs and the winning run on the third, Mike Trout stepped up to the plate. One problem: first base was unoccupied. Because of this, Texas opted to intentionally walk Trout, and take their chances with Albert Pujols. This turned out not to be a problem at all, as Pujols ripped a line drive to a left-center, giving the Angels their first victory of the season in walk-off fashion. The Angels looked more like the team I expected to see on Opening Day. They pitched well, defended well, and scored just enough runs. I expected something similar the next night, and, well…
Matt Shoemaker started the next game of the series, and made sure the Angels were playing from behind from the outset, giving up three runs in the first inning. He had a clean second inning, and the Angels scored in bottom half of the inning to make it 3-1. It looked like the Shoemaker might settle down, and allow the Angels to come back, but he immediately allowed two more runs in the third. He exited the game in the fourth after allowing a lead off hit, and he was replaced by Cam Bedrosian who allowed the runner to score. Shoemaker allowed six runs on seven hits in just three innings. The Angels never had a chance. They lost 7-3. Due to their offensive inconsistencies, the Angels will have to win games with their pitching and defense. Friday night was not one of those nights. The only good sign was that their bullpen only allowed one run in six innings.
Saturday night saw the two teams’ aces match up, as Garrett Richards took the mound for the Halos, and Cole Hamels did so for Texas. Both teams tallied a run in the first, and Texas plated another in the fourth on an Adrian Beltre lead off homer. With two outs and a runner on first in the fourth inning, Rangers right fielder Ryan Rua lined a ball into left-center. Craig Gentry fielded it quickly and the runner, Elivis Andrus, was being waved home, so he fired it to shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Simmons gunned it home to nail Andrus at plate, keeping the deficit at 1.
The score remained 2-1 until the seventh inning when Andrus chopped a routine grounder to third, and Escobar airmailed the throw into the dugout, allowing Andrus to advance to second. Then, on a pick off attempt, Giavotella mishandled the throw, allowing Andrus advanced to third. Two unearned runs ended up scoring that inning, making the score 4-1. That would be the final score, as the Angels recorded just one hit in the final three innings. They definitely had their chances early, but went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Both Escobar and Craig Gentry did their jobs by getting on base multiple times, setting the table for the middle-of-order. However, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and C.J. Cron could not come through, going a combined 1-for-12 and leaving 10 runners on base. For a team that relies so much on the middle-of-the-order, they simply cannot afford for that to happen.
After his worrisome Spring, Jered Weaver was perhaps the Angels’ biggest question mark heading into the season. He started in the series finale on Sunday and, with six strong innings, silenced all of his doubters. Weaver struck out four, walked one, and scattered six hits across six innings. His ability to command his off-speed pitches kept the Rangers off-balance all game, which is exactly what he will have to do the rest of the season in order to be successful. The only hard-hit ball was the lone run he gave up, a solo home run by rookie Nomar Mazara. Weaver had only thrown 84 pitches, but was likely pulled because he didn’t throw over 90 pitches in a Spring Training start. His start was encouraging to say the least. If he can find a way to sustain success throughout the year, he will provide a huge boost to the rotation and team as a whole. An RBI single by Pujols, and an RBI ground out and sacrifice fly by Trout provided all of the offense the Angels needed. Salas, Smith, and Street struck out four and allowed just one hit over the final three innings, leading the Angels to a 3-1 victory and series split. This was a textbook Halos win.
The Angels did not stand a chance against the Cubs in the first two games, but showed some positive signs against the Rangers. Trout and Pujols are the keys to the Angels offense, and they are both batting under .200. Once they begin to show some life, the Angels should be able to put more runs on the board to give them a slightly larger margin for error.