By Chad Stewart
The Angels were nearly swept in Texas, but a nine-run outburst helped them avoid a sweep, and win the final game of the series. They ended up doing something similar in Milwaukee; dropping the first two games and coming alive late to win the series finale.
The Halos held leads in each of the first two games, but the starting pitching was unable to provide any resistance to the Brewers’ offense. Jered Weaver started game one and was not fooling anyone, giving up seven runs on eleven hits in five innings. The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but Weaver allowed four runs in the fifth. Mike Trout homered in the sixth, but Weaver quickly gave up three more runs, and he was pulled before he could even record an out in the sixth. Weaver left the game with two runners aboard, and lefty Greg Mahle replaced him. Mahle struck out the first batter he faced, but walked the next to load the bases. Then, shortstop Jonathan Villar lined a ball up the middle that it deflected off of Mahle’s leg and into right field, allowing two runs to score. That was just one instance of bad luck the Angels received, but, bad luck aside, Weaver turned in his worst performance of the season, and the Angels never really had a chance. They scored two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth, but their comeback attempt fell short when pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi grounded out with the bases loaded to end the game, and the Angels dropped game one by a score of 8-5.
Like Jered Weaver, Tuesday’s starter Nick Tropeano coughed up an early Angels lead. RBI singles from Albert Pujols, Rafael Ortega, and Trout had the Angels leading 4-0 by the third inning. Tropeano walked catcher Jonathan Lucroy with two outs in the third, and Chris Carter made him pay by crushing a two-run home run to narrow the Angels’ lead to 4-2. In the fifth, Lucroy and Carter hit back-to-back home runs to give the Brewers a 5-4 lead. The Angels were unable to scratch across a run against the Brewers’ bullpen, so they lost game two, 5-4.
The series finale was started by Hector Santiago. He was not great, allowing three runs on eight hits and walking four in just 5 1/3 innings, but the bullpen was able to keep the Halos in the game. With the game tied at two in the sixth inning, reliever Cam Bedrosian was brought into the game with one out and the bases loaded. He struck out the first batter he faced, but allowed the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch. On the brink of being swept, Trout sparked a rally. He led off the eighth by lining a home run to right field to tie the game. It looked that was the Angels would get that inning, but Geovany Soto walked with two outs to bring C.J. Cron to the plate with runners on first and second. On a 3-2 pitch, Cron lined an RBI double to right field to give the Angels a 4-2 lead. Johnny Giavotella followed with a two-RBI single, and Kole Calhoun provided an insurance run in the ninth with an RBI single of his own. Joe Smith converted the two-inning save, and the Angels took the series finale, 7-3.
This series was very disappointing because the Brewers are one of the teams that the Angels should be beating because they are rebuilding and not a expected to be competitive this year. They scored 17 runs this series, which makes it especially disappointing that they could only manage one win since they don’t do that too often.
There were a couple of positives, however. Trout had another terrific series, and is now hitting .407 with six home runs and 18 RBI over his last 14 games. The bullpen was fantastic again. They have not allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings, and they a 1.65 ERA over the last 14 games. Cron seems to have finally found his stroke, hitting .364 with a home run, eight RBI, and a .940 OPS over his last 15 games. And he is now 10-for-19 with runners in scoring position on the season. Perhaps most encouraging about Cron’s last couple of weeks is that he has six walks compared to six strikeouts. Cron has lacked the ability to get on base consistently due to poor plate discipline in his first two major league seasons, so this is certainly a welcome sight.
The positives end there, unfortunately, as news broke this morning that ace Garrett Richards would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the rest of the season and a significant chunk of 2017. There’s no way to spin this one. Richards (1-3, 2.34 ERA) is the best the starting pitcher the Angels have, and losing him will make it very difficult for them to compete this year, to say the least. The Halos were able to sustain the loss of him in 2014, but that happened in August, not the beginning of May, and they had the best offense in baseball to counteract their starting pitching weaknesses. They are now a team that must rely on quality starting pitching to win games, and, with all of the injuries to the rotation, this is becoming extremely difficult.
Cory Rasmus is slated to start in Richards’ place tonight, but he likely will not be afforded more than four innings, so it will be a “bullpen game” like they did when Richards went down in 2014. They were able to do this rather effectively for the last month or so in 2014, but there is too much time left in the season to be able to do it for the rest of the year. Because of this, Shoemaker will probably be back, and lefty Nate Smith will likely be called up from Triple-A to take the fifth spot in the rotation. There are a couple of free-agent starters still available such as Tim Lincecum and Kyle Lohse, and John Danks and Tommy Milone, both of whom were recently designated for assignment. However, I’d be surprised if Lincecum did not go back to the Giants because of the fact that he has spent his whole career there, and they are also in dire need of starting pitching help. As for the other guys, well, there is probably a reason they aren’t on a team right now. On top of the Richards news, we also found out, that injured starter Andrew Heaney has a “damaged UCL,” the ligament Tommy John surgery is used to repair, but he is doing what he can to avoid surgery. Either way, he won’t be returning anytime soon. The list of injured Angels seems to grow by the day, and that coveted starting pitching depth they once had is nearly completely evaporated.
The future for this team seems bleak, but they play 162 games for a reason, and, hey, maybe Shoemaker will return to his 2013 form, and Nate Smith will morph into Clayton Kershaw. You never know.
The Angels are now 13-15, and four games behin the first-place Seattle Mariners in the AL West. They begin a six-game homestand by welcoming the Tampa Bay Rays to town this weekend and the St. Louis Cardinals after that. The Rays currently sit in fourth place in the AL East at 12-14, and they are coming off of a 2-game series split against the Dodgers at home. They’ll send their ace, Chris Archer, to the mound on Friday. Archer has struggled this season (1-4, 5.01 ERA), but he is one of the most talented starting pitchers in the league, so the Angels will their work cut out for them.
The odds were already against the Angels this year, and surely they will be counted out by everyone now, but people also counted them out when Richards got injured in 2014, and nobody expected them to stay in playoff contention until the last day of the 2015 season after the way they played in August, so maybe they can shock the world. Only time will tell.