By Chad Stewart
When it was announced that Garrett Richards would require Tommy John surgery earlier this week, you probably thought that would be the worst part of the week. Well, you would have been wrong. The Angels were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays at home, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons injured his thumb during Sunday’s game, requiring surgery and a DL stint.
The post-Richards era began as poorly as it possibly could have. Cory Rasmus started in his place on Friday, and he quickly gave up four runs in the first inning. His outing was finished after allowing five runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings. The bullpen was forced to soak up the next 6 2/3 innings, and it did a fantastic job, not allowing a run and keeping the Angels in it. The most impressive Angels pitching performance of the night came courtesy of newly-recalled righty Javy Guerra. Guerra came into the game with the bases loaded and no outs after Jose Alvarez allowed three consecutive single to begin the fourth inning. He easily set down the next three batters in a row, striking out two of them, to escape the inning, and prevent the Rays from breaking the game open; not bad for your first appearance as an Angel. The Angels had plenty of opportunities to score, but failed to capitalize, going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. The most notable of these opportunities came in the seventh when they loaded the bases with two outs for Mike Trout. Trout drew a hard fought walk to bring in the Angels’ first run of the game and bring Albert Pujols to the plate. Pujols promptly flied out to the warning track in right field on the first pitch, and that was that. They scored another run in the eighth on a one-out single by Simmons, and that was all they would get, losing game one, 5-2.
Jered Weaver started the second game of the series and was quite effective, allowing two runs (one earned) in six innings, striking out five and walking none. Tampa Bay’s starter, Drew Smyly, was similarly effective, also allowing two runs in six innings. The game remained scoreless until the fifth inning when the Angels were finally able to breakthrough with a two-RBI single by Simmons. Following an error by C.J. Cron, the Rays were able to answer back in the sixth when Steven Souza unloaded on a hanging breaking ball for a game-tying two-run shot. Both offenses went quiet after that. It remained that way until the ninth inning when, once again, an error cost the Angels. With Joe Smith pitching, Logan Morrison led off the inning with a walk. He attempted to steal second on a 2-1 count to the next batter, but the Angels snuffed it out by pitching out and catching him in a rundown.Perez threw down to Simmons, and when Simmons was chasing Morrison back to first, he tried throwing it to first baseman Cron. However, when he threw it, it hit Morrison in the head and bounced towards the dugout, allowing him to advance to second. One thing led to another, and the Rays loaded the bases with two outs. On a 1-1 count, second baseman Logan Forsythe lined a single up the middle to score two. Cron singled with one out in the ninth, but Johnny Giavotella quickly ended all hope of a comeback by grounding into a double play to end the game, and the Angels dropped game two, 4-2.
On Sunday, Matt Andriese made his first start of the season for the Rays, and the first inning made it look like it might be a short one. Kole Cahoun and Trout hit back-to-back one-out singles in the first to bring Pujols to the plate with runners on the corners. Pujols took a 1-0 fastball and drove it deep to left field, but, alas, it was only a sacrifice fly, as left fielder Corey Dickerson made the play with his back against the wall. It turns out that that would be the only run the Angels would score on Sunday, as Andriese settled down, and extinguished any threats by getting the Angels to add to their league-leading double play total. Nick Tropeano toed the rubber for the Halos, and it was kind of what we have come to expect from him, allowing three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. Something slightly unusual, and impressive, about his start is that he struck out 10 batters while walking only two. The three runs he gave up were on a couple of home runs, and he has now given up five home runs in his last two outings. Neither bullpen ceded a run, and the final score was 3-1.
As I mentioned earlier, Simmons hurt himself in Sunday’s game. It happened in the third when he attempted to make a diving play, and rolled over on his left hand. He was taken off the field immediately, and, after undergoing an MRI on Monday, he was diagnosed with a “‘full thickness tear of the ulnar collateral ligament’ in the thumb.” He will be forced to undergo surgery to repair it. He is expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks, but, if other players who have suffered similar injuries are any indication, it is possible that it could take closer to 12 weeks, or even longer. Just what the Angels needed: more injuries. They didn’t have enough of those. Simmons is now added a disabled list that includes starting pitchers Richards, Andrew Heaney, C.J. Wilson, and Tyler Skaggs, outfielder Craig Gentry, and closer Huston Street. As MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez noted, those players combined for 8.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last year, and Skaggs didn’t even play. Also, neither Wilson nor Heaney played full seasons, so I guess you could say these injuries may have a small impact on the Angels’ chances this year.
Thus far, it seems like anything that could have possibly gone wrong, has gone wrong. All of these injuries are beginning to add up, and they continue to make it more difficult for the Angels to compete in a tight division.
The most likely scenario is that Cliff Pennington takes over the everyday shortstop role. Pennington was signed to be the utility player, but he has been seeing more time at second base due to the fact that Giavotella is still struggling. Gregorio Petit will likely be recalled from Triple-A to fill the utility role.
Pennington is an outstanding defender, and his offense is not much different than Simmons’. However, the loss of one of the game’s premier defenders should not be understated. Pennington will not be able to replace Simmons. Sure, Pennington is a very good defender, but Simmons is on a whole other level. He makes the most difficult plays look routine, and he does it on a daily basis. He is arguably the best defender in the league, at any position, and his presence will be sorely missed; there is no other way to put it. Simmons’ absence will also likely force the struggling Giavotella to see more playing time. Unless, of course, Petit produces more than him, which is especially unlikely because Petit currently has a .679 OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, which would be below average in the majors. Things could be better.
Despite the loss of Huston Street, the bullpen continues to be one of the few bright spots for the Halos. They currently have the fourth-lowest ERA in the American League at 2.68, and the two runs Smith allowed in game two were the only runs they allowed in this series. They even received Bullpen of the Week honors this week. The Angels lost five of six games this week, which makes the fact that their bullpen was so effective a little bittersweet. Their starting pitching and offense was not able to take advantage of the terrific performances from all of their relievers, and that is a shame.
While Trout’s offensive prowess has come to be expected, he is not the only one pulling his weight on the offensive end. Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun have both been terrific this year. Escobar is hitting .301 with three home runs, eight RBI, and an .812 OPS. In his last seven games, he is hitting .370 with an .863 OPS. The Angels had struggled to find a consistent lead off hitter in years past, and Escobar has filled that role very nicely. Calhoun is hitting .295 with a pair of home runs, 12 RBI, and a .793 OPS. He has mostly hit behind Pujols, in the fifth spot, but he was moved to second on Sunday, and we might be seeing him in that spot more often, which should help the offense a bit.
After losing five of six this week and seven of their last nine overall, the Angels are now in fourth place in the AL West at 13-18 and 5.5 games back of the first-place Seattle Mariners. The Angels will begin a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night. The Cardinals are in third place in the NL Central at 16-16, have scored the second-most runs in baseball, and they are coming off a series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which they lost two out of three. The best pitcher the Angels will face in this series will be on Thursday when fireballing right-hander Carlos Martinez (4-2, 2.61 ERA) takes the mound, opposite Jered Weaver (3-1, 4.72 ERA). According to FanGraphs, Martinez’s average fastball velocity ranks eighth among starters at 94.6 MPH, and Weaver’s ranks second to last at 82 MPH, so we will be seeing two contrasting pitching styles going head-to-head.
The series began and ended with bad injury news. Oh, and somewhere in the between those two snippets of news, the Angels got swept by the Rays. It was truly a week to forget.