By Chad Stewart
After earning a hard fought series split against the first place Chicago White Sox, the Angels fell flat against their division foes, the Seattle Mariners, dropping two out of three at home. They received outstanding starting pitching performances in the first two games of the series, but were only able to win one of them, and they were unable to overcome an early deficit in the series finale.
Nick Tropeano started Friday night’s game and turned in another solid outing, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out five. He walked four batters and got himself into trouble a couple of times, but he was able to limit the damage to two first inning runs. Tropeano has done a nice job (1-0, 1.69 ERA) filling in for the injured Andrew Heaney. He doesn’t provide much length (averaging 5 1/3 innings per outing), but he always does just enough to keep the Angels in the game, which is about all you can ask for. Felix Hernandez was scheduled to start for the Mariners on Friday but was scratched due to illness, so right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma started in his place, and he was tremendous. Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron went deep in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, but that was all the Angels were able to manage against Iwakuma. He allowed six hits over eight efficient innings, throwing just 89 pitches. The game went to extra innings tied at two, but Seattle quickly scored three runs in the tenth against lefty Jose Alvarez, and the Angels went quietly in the ninth, dropping game one by a score of 5-2.
After being scratched on Friday, Hernandez took the mound on Saturday. Opposing Hernandez was lefty Hector Santiago. Santiago won the battle, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out seven across six innings. Santiago’s command wasn’t nearly as good as it has been this season, as he worked a lot deep counts and fell behind quite a few batters, but he was able to work through it and managed to only walk two batters. The Mariners loaded the bases in the second inning, but Santiago was able to hold the Mariners to one run on a sacrifice fly. Second baseman Cliff Pennington evened the score with a solo home run in third — his first as an Angel. The game stayed tied until the sixth when Nelson Cruz homered to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. Looking to answer back, Rafael Ortega singled to lead off the home half of the sixth to bring Mike Trout to the plate. On a 1-0 count, Trout crushed his fifth career home run off of Hernandez to dead center to give the Angels a 3-2 lead. They tacked on an insurance run in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Calhoun, and Huston Street earned his fifth save of the year.
Once again, the Angels’ defense shined bright. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons made a run-saving over-the-shoulder grab in the first inning to go along with a nice backhanded play later in the game. Trout showed off his arm in the seventh, gunning down Adam Lind at second on what would have been a double. Beating a team’s ace is always impressive, and this game had a few common threads with the time they beat Athletics ace Sonny Gray a couple of weeks ago; great defense, dominant pitching, and a clutch home run from Trout. Now, if only they could do that every game.
While the first two games of the series could be considered pitcher’s duels, the same cannot be said about the series finale. The game was started by Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Wade Miley of the Mariners; both of whom now have ERAs over six. Shoemaker gave up four runs in the first, but the Angels brought home three of their own on an Albert Pujols two-run shot and a Geovany Soto RBI double. Wade Miley seemed to figure something out after the first, as he was able to make it through 7 1/3 innings, and allow just one more run on a Yunel Escobar home run. Shoemaker, on the other hand, could not make it out of the fourth, allowing seven runs (six earned) on six hits (two home runs) in only three innings. Escobar’s home run in the eighth brought them within three, but Cory Rasmus served up a two-run homer in the ninth to put this one out of reach, and the Angels dropped the series finale, 9-4. Matt Shoemaker struggled from the jump, failing to find the strike zone consistently. However, the defense did not do him any favors either, committing three errors. Most of the blame should be put on Shoemaker, but the defensive miscues just made Shoemaker’s already bad day even worse, forcing him to throw even more pitches than he would have anyway. The offense shutting down after the third inning certainly didn’t help either. Sunday’s series finale was just an ugly game all around.
I think it’s safe to say that Trout is officially out of his early season slump. In his last seven games, he is 10-for-24 with two home runs, four RBI, and four runs scored. He’s still pretty good, I guess. Pujols entered Sunday’s game riding a career-long 0-for-26 stretch, but he quickly ended that with his first inning home run. He also had a single in his second at-bat, and hit the ball hard in all four at-bats. It’s only one game, but Pujols looked much better on Sunday than he has at any point this season. The production of those two is vital to the success of the Angels’ offense, and it likes they may be coming around.
Following this weekend’s series, the Angels are now 8-11. The Mariners were the only AL West team to win a series this weekend, so the Angels are only 2.5 games behind first place (a tie between Texas and Oakland at 10-9). It doesn’t get any easier for the Angels this week, as the Royals come to town for a three-game series before the Angels head to Texas to square off with the Rangers.
The Royals enter the series having won four of their last six after taking two out of three from the Tigers and Orioles at home. They currently have the second best record in the American League at 12-6. The Angels seemingly have the starting pitching advantage in two of the three games, but we’ve seen how much that has mattered for the Royals over the last couple of years. It hasn’t.