By Chad Stewart
The Angels entered the Freeway Series against the Dodgers with eight injured players and having swept the Mariners after losing six consecutive games. They went on to win three out of four against Los Angeles, but they added three more players to the disabled list because that’s just how this season is going.
On Monday night, the struggling Matt Shoemaker started the first game of the series for the Angels, and he was serviceable. Shoemaker permitted three runs on six hits in five innings, bringing his ERA all the way down to 8.49. Shoemaker gave up two runs in the second inning, and it seemed like it might be another rough start. However, the Angels stormed back with four runs in the third, forcing Dodgers’ starter Kenta Maeda out of the game after just four innings. The Dodgers scored again in the fourth, but Albert Pujols collected his second and third runs batted in, and Johnny Giavotella collected one of his own in the seventh to give the Angels a 7-3 lead. Reliever Jose Alvarez allowed a run in the seventh, and Los Angeles left-fielder Trayce Thompson hammered his second homer of the game to narrow the score to 7-6, and energize a once dormant crowd. But Fernando Salas dashed the Dodgers’ hope of a comeback, retiring them in order in the ninth to notch his second save in four days, and secure the Angels’ fourth straight victory.
The story of the Angels’ four-game win streak was their surging offense, but that offense was no match for superhuman Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw was his usual dominant self, allowing one run on four hits and striking out 11 without issuing a walk across eight magnificent innings. With Tuesday’s start, Kershaw became the fifth pitcher in MLB history to have double-digit strikeouts in six straight starts, and he now has 88 strikeouts to just four walks on the season for a 22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Phil Hughes set the MLB record with an 11.63 strikeout-walk-ratio in 2015. I think I can excuse the Angels for losing this one.
Jered Weaver started for the Angels on Tuesday, and he was not bad, allowing four runs (three earned) on 10 hits in seven innings. The Angels scored a run in the second, but they did not tally a hit after the fourth inning. Weaver kept it close for a while, but the Dodgers tacked on two runs in the seventh and eighth to put the game out of reach. Closer Kenley Jansen easily dispatched of Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout, and Pujols in the ninth to give the Dodgers a 5-1 win.
Fortunately Kershaw can’t pitch every game, and the Angels bounced back in a big way when they returned to Angel Stadium on Wednesday, routing the Dodgers, 8-1. Trout opened the scoring early with a line-drive home run to left field. The Dodgers tied the game in the fourth inning, but the Angels broke the game open in fifth. Escobar singled, and Trout and Pujols walked to load the bases with one out for C.J. Cron who hit a soft grounder in the hole that shortstop Corey Seager was unable to make a play on, allowing Escobar to score. Then, first baseman Howie Kendrick — that sounds odd — bobbled a soft grounder off the bat of Giavotella to score another run. Rafael Ortega followed by blooping a two-run double into shallow left field, and Carlos Perez hit a sacrifice fly, and, just like that, the Angels led, 6-1. Everything went right for the Angels this inning, but that’s what happens when you put the ball in play. The Halos tacked on two more runs in the sixth for their seventh and eighth runs of the night.
The offense stole the show, but Nick Tropeano twirled a gem. Tropeano permitted one run on seven hits in seven efficient innings. Before this start, Tropeano had not been able to complete even six innings this season, and efficiency was the difference. It took him 96 pitches to complete seven innings, and normally that’s about how many it takes him to get through five innings or so. He only struck out four batters, but he induced soft contact all night, and those two factors combined with just two walks led to him being the most pitch-efficient he has been this season.
In Thursday’s series finale, neither starter — Jhoulys Chacin of the Angels and Ross Stripling of the Dodgers — factored into the decision. Chacin was unable to complete five innings, allowing four runs in 4 1/3. Stripling was also unable to get through five innings, lasting 4 2/3 innings and yielding five runs. The teams traded runs in the first inning, and the Dodgers took a 3-1 lead on a Kendrick triple in the third. Mike Trout’s 10th home run of 2016 cut the lead to 3-2, but the Dodgers got that run back in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead. The fifth inning proved to be the turning point just like the night before. The Angels loaded the bases with one out for Pujols, but he struck out looking on three pitches. That brought Cron to the plate with two outs. On an 0-1 count Stripling tried to go inside, but Cron was hit by the pitch to bring in a run and narrow the lead to 4-3, keeping the rally alive.
Just like he did so many times last year, Giavotella delivered. This time, a two-RBI double to give the Angels their first lead of the game. Carlos Perez hit his first homer of the year in the sixth, and Trout hit in another run on a fielder’s choice to give the Angels a 7-4 lead. The bullpen tossed 4 2/3 hitless innings, and Joe Smith earned his fifth save of the year en route to the Angels’ sixth victory in seven games.
Yunel Escobar, Kole Cahoun, and Trout all continued their hot streaks this series, and Pujols finally joined them. The quartet combined to bat .344 (21-61) with nine RBI and 15 runs scored over the four games. Pujols went 6-for-14 (.428) with five RBI and two runs scored to go with four walks. In his last seven games, Trout is hitting .444 with a 1.383 OPS, eight RBI, and three home runs. His average on the season is now up to .327; his OPS now over 1.000. The top of the order clicking on all cylinders might have something to do with the 23 runs the Angels scored in the Freeway Series, and the fact that they are averaging 7.62 runs per game in their last eight games. The more likely cause, however: the Rally Cat.
Like Pujols, Giavotella has re-emerged after a slow start. The second baseman is hitting .462 with four doubles, a home run, and five RBI in his last seven games. He also has a hit in eight straight games.
As I mentioned earlier, the Angels disabled list grew to 10 players (11 if you count Tyler Skaggs who is on the Triple-A DL). Left-fielder Daniel Nava and reliever Cory Rasmus both suffered left groin strains and were placed on the 15-day DL. Catcher Geovany Soto tore his right meniscus and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Thus far, the Angels have done a fine job remedying their injuries. Rafael Ortega was recalled to take the place of Nava, and he has gone 2-for-7 with two RBI and one clutch hit. A.J. Achter was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake to replace Rasmus, and he allowed one run in two innings in this series. Jett Bandy was recalled to replace Soto, and he has yet to appear in a game. It may only be a seven-game stretch, but the way the Angels are playing right now is quite remarkable considering the amount of injuries they have suffered.
Injuries have hit the starting rotation the hardest, so, in search of consistent innings, the Angels signed right-hander Tim Lincecum. The two-time Cy Young Award winner underwent hip surgery in September and has not pitched since June. He won’t be with the big league club right away, but he should only require a few minor league starts. Lincecum has a 3.61 career ERA, but he is now 32-years-old and has a 4.68 ERA in 615 2/3 innings since 2012. Odds are he is not going to return to his days as one of the best pitchers in the game, but he doesn’t need to. All the Angels need are quality innings from a reliable source, and Lincecum should be able to provide that. There is almost no risk signing him to a one-year deal, so why not? Maybe he reinvents himself to dominate once again.
With the addition of Lincecum, Garrett Richards’ decision to not undergo Tommy John surgery, and C.J. Wilson slated to begin a rehab assignment soon, the Angels could have more starters than they know what do with by the middle of June. Wishful thinking, sure, but it’s nice to receive some good news regarding injuries for once.
After winning six of seven, the Angels are 19-22 and in third place in the AL West. They are 4.5 games behind Seattle for first place.
The Angels begin a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. The Orioles are tied for first in the AL East, and they have hit the second-most home runs in the American League. Despite all of the home runs, they are eighth in runs scored and have only scored 12 more runs than the Angels. Hector Santiago will look to follow up his dazzling start last week when he squares off with right-hander Mike Wright on Friday. Wright threw seven shutout innings in his major league debut against the Halos last year, but he finished 2015 with an ERA over six and is 2-3 with a 5.20 ERA this season.
The Orioles have the best winning percentage in the American League, so this series will be a good test for a short-handed Angels team trying not to fall too far behind.