By Chad Stewart
The Minnesota Twins had an 0-and-9 record entering this weekend’s three-game set against the Angels. The Angels jumped out to early leads in all three games, but the Twins came back to win all three for their first three wins of the year. The Twins are not as bad as a nine-game losing streak to open the season would make it seem, as those nine losses came at the hands of three of the hottest teams in the league — Orioles, Royals, and White Sox. And they only lost one of their first nine games by more than three runs. Then again, maybe those teams are only playing so well because they played the Twins. Regardless, the Angels should have won at least two of the three games.
Game one of the series was started by Garrett Richards, and he turned in a quality performance, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out six in six innings. Lefty Tommy Milone started for the Twins and allowed four runs in six innings. The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when Yunel Escobar put the Halos on the board with an RBI double with one out. He was stranded there, as neither Craig Gentry nor Mike Trout could bring him home. The Twins answered back in the bottom half of the inning with two runs of their own. The key was that they made Richards throw 31 pitches in the inning, forcing him out of the game. The Twins’ first lead lasted for an even shorter period of time than the Angels’ did, as Albert Pujols led off the seventh with a home run to tie the game. A couple of batters later, Kole Calhoun followed suit, launching a two-run home run to straightaway right field to give the Angels a 4-2 lead. Lefty Greg Mahle began the eighth on the mound for the Angels and struck out the first batter he faced and walked the second. Mike Morin then came into the game, and he recorded the first out rather easily. With two outs and a runner on first, Eduardo Nunez fell to his knees attempting to check his swing on a 2-2 change up in the dirt. The barrel of the bat clearly crossed the plate, so Nunez should have been called out on strikes to end the inning. Instead, the first base umpire decided that he did not swing, allowing the inning to continue. Nunez lined the next pitch into left field for a double to bring Minnesota within one, and Joe Mauer followed with an RBI single to tie the game. The Twins scored the go-ahead run in the eighth, and beat the Angels 5-4.
Obviously it is easy to blame the umpire for that loss, and losses like these are especially frustrating after missing the postseason by one game in 2015, but the Angels had plenty of opportunities to expand their lead (1-for-10 with runners in scoring position) and did not capitalize on any of them. Their relievers could have also simply executed their pitches better. Sure, there is a good chance they would have won if the correct call were made, but it was not, and that wasn’t the only reason they lost.
Saturday’s matinee was a matchup between Jered Weaver and Twins right-hander Ricky Nolasco. Weaver’s performance was the polar opposite of his first start. He was shaky from the start and could not make it out of the fifth inning, allowing four runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. The Twins claimed the first lead of the game with two runs in the first inning, but the Angels immediately answered back with four runs of their own in the second. Twins’ third baseman Trevor Plouffe cut the lead to 4-3 with a solo shot in the third and knocked Weaver out of the game with an RBI double in the fourth to tie the game. The game remained tied until the eighth inning when the Twins hit back-to-back home runs against Joe Smith, giving the Twins a 6-4 win.
Weaver’s outing against the Rangers was very encouraging and surprising, but his outing on Saturday was kind of what many were expecting from him. Which one is more indicative of what he will provide for the rest of the season? It is hard to tell. His second start is likely more indicative, but his third start this Thursday against the White Sox should prove which one was an anomaly. Weaver’s poor performance coupled with the fact that the Angels’ offense went silent after the fourth did not give them much of a chance to win this one.
While the Halos’ offense was anemic in the first two games, it reached a new low on Sunday. They lost 3-2 in 12 innings, and their only source of offense was a two-run home run courtesy of Albert Pujols in the first inning. Their last hit of the afternoon came in the fourth inning. That’s right; they went 26 consecutive batters without a hit. On the bright side, starter Nick Tropeano was great, allowing one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings. Smith and Cory Rasmus each allowed a run, but this loss cannot be pinned on any Angel pitcher. You simply cannot expect to win when you score two runs.
The main problem with the offense right now is the middle of the order. The Angels rely on Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, and C.J. Cron to produce runs, and Calhoun is currently the only one doing so. Trout is hitting .233 with one home run and four RBI, and he has yet to record a hit with runners in scoring position. Pujols is hitting .196 with two home runs and 10 RBI. And Cron is 4-for-40 with a double. When all four of them start clicking on all cylinders, the Angels may have an above average offense which will take some pressure off of the pitching staff and lead to many more wins. Until then, their pitchers will have to be nearly perfect in order to win games.
Perhaps the only saving grace right now is that no AL West team is off to a particularly hot start. The Angels are 5-7 and are 1.5 games back of the 7-6 Texas Rangers for first place.
The Halos open a four-game set in Chicago against the White Sox (thankfully not the Cubs) on Monday. Chicago is 8-4 and tied for first place in the AL Central. The marquee matchup is on Wednesday when the two teams’ aces — Richards and Chris Sale — square off.
After a series like the one in Minnesota, things can only go up from here. Hopefully.