By Chad Stewart
After a disappointing showing against Seattle, the Angels rebounded in the best way possible: with a sweep of the defending World Champions, the Kansas City Royals. Not only did they beat the Royals in three consecutive games, but they outscored them by 12 runs. Just like everyone expected.
The series began on Monday with a match up between Angels ace Garrett Richards and one of the Royals’ new additions, Ian Kennedy. In his first three starts, Kennedy allowed a total of three runs. He proceeded to allow three runs in the first inning against the Angels. Of course. Yunel Escobar led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch. The rest of the lineup followed with a pair of singles, a walk, a groundout, and a wild pitch, and, just like that, the Angels had a 3-0 lead. In the third inning, the Angels tacked on another run when Albert Pujols crushed his fourth home run of the season over the center field wall. He continued his power surge in the fifth by depositing his second home run of the game, and his third in two games, into the visitor’s bullpen. The batting average isn’t there yet, but the fact that he has found his home run stroke is a positive sign going forward for the both Pujols and the Halos. Mike Trout joined the party with a solo shot of his own in the seventh.
Pujols stole the show in this one, but Richards’ performance should not be overlooked. He allowed one unearned run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out five. He struggled with his control all night, walking five, but he was able work out of every jam he got himself into, and turned in an excellent start. After Monday’s start, Richards’ ERA is down to 2.35. Relievers Fernando Salas and Joe Smith closed the game out with 2 1/3 scoreless innings, and Angels took the first game of the series rather handily, 6-1.
Jered Weaver started for the Angels on Tuesday, and, this time, the Royals were the ones who took an early lead. Royals’ starter Edinson Volquez entered Tuesday’s game with a 3-0 record and a dazzling 1.09 ERA, so you’d think the Angels would have trouble recovering from an early deficit, right? Wrong. Heading into the bottom of the second, the Angels trailed 2-0. After a Rafael Ortega RBI groundout and a two-RBI single by Mike Trout, the Angels quickly took a 3-2 lead. With three doubles in the fourth inning, the Royals regained the lead. That would be their final lead of the game, as the Angels broke the game wide open in the fifth. Carlos Perez gave them the lead with clutch two-RBI single with the bases loaded. That left runners on first and second for second baseman Johnny Giavotella. The man who came through with so many clutch hits a season ago, delivered once again, launching a three-run homer to left to give the Angels an 8-4 lead. Volquez did not allow more than two runs in his first four starts, and the Angels tagged him for eight runs on 12 hits in just five innings. Not bad. The home run was Giavotella’s first extra base hit of the season, and it could not have come at a better time. He scored another run on an error in the seventh, and the Angels beat the Royals by a score of 9-4.
Jered Weaver wasn’t sharp, but he didn’t need to be. He gave up four runs in six innings and was able to work around eleven baserunners to keep the Halos in the game. Normally, it’s the starting pitcher that’s picking up the offense when they’re struggling, so it was nice to see it the other way around for a change.
With a sweep in their sights, the Angels sent Nick Tropeano to the hill to oppose Royals’ righty Chris Young. Like Weaver, Tropeano had to deal with a considerable amount of traffic on the basepaths, allowing eight hits and walking two, but he was able to allow just two of them to cross the plate on a two-run home run in the first inning. Once again, he was unable to make it through the sixth, lasting 5 1/3 innings. The offense wasn’t nearly as effective this time around, but it was just good enough. With nobody out and a runner on in the fourth, Trout took a chest-high, 0-2 fastball and launched it dead center for a game-tying home run. After Salas replaced Tropeano in the sixth, the Royals put runners on second and third with two outs. Fortunately, they failed to capitalize on the opportunity when Alcides Escobar grounded out to the other Escobar, Yunel, to end the inning. Then, Yunel Escobar led off the bottom of the sixth with a go-ahead home run and promptly sprinted around the bases. Why not? In the seventh, Andrelton Simmons hit his first home run as an Angel to give the Angels a 4-2 lead. That score held up, as Jose Alvarez struck out three in a scoreless seventh and eighth and Joe Smith recorded the save to complete the sweep.
At the time, we didn’t know why Smith closed instead of closer Huston Street, but we now know that Street suffered an oblique injury and has been placed on the 15-day disabled list. Losing your closer is always a big loss, but, as long as it is a short DL stint, the Angels should be able to absorb the loss.
The Angels’ offense ignited this week, and while Trout and Pujols were the biggest contributors, they weren’t the only ones. Escobar, Perez, Giavotella, and Simmons all produced runs with clutch hits, and the team combined to hit seven home runs. This series finally gave us a glimpse of what the Angels’ offense can look like when it’s clicking on all cylinders. On top of a balanced offensive attack, the pitching staff and defense were outstanding as usual. The Angels did nearly everything right, and that is exactly what you have to do to sweep a team like the Royals.
This weekend, the Angels will go on the road to clash with a familiar foe, the Texas Rangers. Texas is currently in first in the AL West at 12-10, but they are only a half game ahead of the Halos (11-11). The two teams played earlier in the month in Anaheim, and they split a four-game series. The Rangers enter the series on a two-game win streak after taking two out of three from the Yankees. On Friday, Hector Santiago starts, opposite Colby Lewis. Lewis has a 13.30 ERA in his last nine starts against the Angels; should be an interesting game.
On Sunday, Garrett Richards (1-3, 2.35 ERA) will face Rangers’ ace Cole Hamels (3-0, 2.52) for the second time this season. There are only 140 games left this year, so, if they can’t continue their hot streak and win this series, it might be time to panic.
In all seriousness, this is will be a good test for the Angels to see if, unlike previous years, they can find some sustained success early in the season.