By Chad Stewart
After being swept by the Rays and losing seven of nine games, the Angels looked to rebound with a strong series against the St. Louis Cardinals. What they did instead was get swept again to fall eight games below .500.
Hector Santiago started game one for the Angels and was not able to make it out of the fifth inning, allowing four runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, striking out just two batters. Santiago has looked like a completely different pitcher in his last couple of starts than he did in his first few. His velocity’s down, he’s not striking out as many batters, and his ERA is up to 4.07. None of that bodes well for the rest of the season, especially considering he is probably the best starter the Angels have right now. Mike Leake started for St. Louis. Leake entered the game with an ERA over six and still searching for his first win of the season, but he apparently mystified the Angels, allowing one run on six hits in eight innings.Relievers Javy Guerra and A.J. Achter each allowed a pair of runs, and the Angels lost game one, 8-1.
Game two was more of the same. Matt Shoemaker started for the Angels and gave up four runs on seven hits in four innings. The Angels’ offense was stymied once again; this time by lefty Jaime Garcia. He allowed two runs — neither were earned — on four hits in seven innings. Angels’ relievers allowed one run over the next five innings, and the Angels dropped game two by a score of 5-2. Lately, every game the Angels play seems to have a similar formula: poor starting pitching performance, solid relief performance, and very little offense. The Angels’ only two runs came on a two-run home run off the bat of C.J. Cron, who has been on a tear the last couple of weeks. He is now hitting .375 with a 1.100 OPS over his last 15 games and has seemingly turned his season around.
The series finale was one of the most odd games of the season. It was a matchup between Jered Weaver of the Angels and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals. The Angels opened the scoring when Kole Calhoun completed a two-out rally with a two-RBI single in the third inning. After retiring the first 11 batters of the game, Weaver allowed three runs in the fourth to give the Cardinals the lead. Daniel Nava led off the home half of the inning with his first home run as an Angel, a solo shot to tie it at three. Cron and Johnny Giavotella followed with hits of their own to put runners on first and second with nobody out for Carlos Perez. Then, it got weird. When Wainwright came set to throw his second pitch of the at-bat, a cat — yes, a cat — sprinted onto the field near the visitor’s dugout and across the field, in between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, before hopping into the stands down the third base line. After dodging through the assortment of enamored fans, the culprit was finally apprehended when it reached the Diamond Club seats behind home plate. The cat seemingly provided a spark, as the Angels proceeded to score two runs. Because there was a similar occurrence in 2014, the cat was aptly dubbed “Rally Cat II” by the video board operators, as they flashed it on the screen multiple times throughout the rest of the game when the team needed it most.
We soon found out that that was not the last time the Angels would need the assistance of Rally Cat II, as Weaver surrendered a three-run home run to St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter the very next inning. The cat’s job was made even more difficult when Matt Holliday hit his second homer of the day, chasing Weaver out of the game. This one was of the two-run variety, and the Cardinal lead was increased to 8-5. Rally Cat II immediately went back to work in the bottom of the fifth. With Mike Trout on first, Nava lined a single into right field, but the ball squeaked between the legs of right fielder Stephen Piscotty, allowing Trout to score and Nava to advance to third. Cron followed with a double to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 8-7. In the sixth, St. Louis answered back once again. After Carpenter led off the inning with a single, Javy Guerra was brought into the game and walked the two batters he faced. Jose Alvarez was then brought in to face Matt Adams, who promptly lined a two-RBI single to center. Alvarez was able to limit the damage, and escape with just the two runs in.
The next two innings provided a much-needed break in action, but the action resumed in the ninth inning. Yunel Escobar jammed his thumb when he made a diving stop the inning earlier, and, because Cliff Pennington was already taken out the game and the Angels were carrying an extra pitcher on the roster, the Halos did not have many options. Catcher Geovany Soto was the best option they had, so he replaced Escobar at third, and, of course, the ball found him. With two outs, Piscotty smoked a hard grounder directly at Soto. He fielded it cleanly, but made a poor throw to first that Cron was unable to handle, allowing Piscotty to reach and inning to continue. Three consecutive singles resulted in two more runs and a 12-7 St. Louis lead.
The Angels were not done yet, however, and Rally Cat II went back to work. Calhoun followed a leadoff double by Soto with an RBI single. Trout lined out to short, and Albert Pujols followed that with a two-run home run, quickly narrowing the lead to 12-10. St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny then brought in his closer, Trevor Rosenthal to try to save the game, but he did quite the opposite. Rosenthal threw a total of 14 pitches. 12 of those were out of the zone, and he walked the three batters he faced to load the bases with one out. Matheny made another trip to the mound and brought Keven Siegrist into the game. Siegrist was able to set down the next two batters on nine pitches, and Rally Cat II’s valiant effort fell short.
After the series sweep, the Angels have now lost six consecutive games and 10 0f their last 12 to drop their record to 13-21, third-worst in Major League Baseball.
Because the Angels weren’t dealing with enough injuries, Pennington and Escobar were both hurt on Thursday evening. Pennington suffered a hamstring injury while Escobar jammed his thumb. Both are listed as day-to-day. If either has to miss any time, Kyle Kubitza or Kaleb Cowart will likely be recalled from Triple-A.
Pujols went 2-for-5 with his seventh home run of the year on Thursday, but he continues to struggle. In his last seven games, he is hitting a meager .154 with a .502 OPS. The Angels rank 11th in the American League in runs scored, and, while you can’t blame one player, a productive Pujols would certainly boost the offense. He is the cleanup hitter after all. Escobar, Calhoun, Trout, and Cron are all producing; it’s time for Pujols to join them.
The Angels begin a three-game set in Seattle on Friday night before heading to Dodger Stadium to begin the Freeway Series. The first-place Mariners are 21-13 and have won 10 of their last 13. The Angels with have to deal with Felix Hernandez (3-2, 2.27 ERA) for the second time this year on Sunday. He will square off with Santiago (2-2, 4.07 ERA).
The Angels acquired right-handed starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin (1-2, 5.40 ERA) from the Braves on Wednesday, and he will make his first start for the Angels on Saturday. He allowed eight runs in his most recent start, but he allowed three or fewer earned runs in his first four starts of the season. However, he only made it through six innings once. Chacin is 41-51 with a 3.82 ERA in his career with the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Braves. Due to injuries, he hasn’t completed a full season since 2013. In that season, he went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA. In the hitter’s paradise known as Coors Field in Colorado, an ERA that low is quite the accomplishment.
The Angels and Mariners are going in opposite directions right now, but, at this point, this series would be considered a win for the Angels if make it to Dodger Stadium without any more injuries.