On June 9, the Angels had just lost two out of three to the Oakland A’s and two out of three to the Seattle Mariners at home. The 31-35 Halos looked poised to lose both games to the Dodgers as the boys in blue drove 40 miles to Anaheim to begin a short two-game series against their cross-town rivals. Then a fire got lit under the Halos.
The Angels Start Winning
Although the Dodgers had Hyun Jin Ryu pitch in the first game and the Dodgers had a 3-0 lead, the Halos were able to get to the Dodgers bullpen and win 5-3. In the second game, the Angels built an early 5-0 lead in the first inning and it all happened with two outs. Ohtani homered off his fellow Japanese countryman Kenta Maeda, Kole Calhoun got hit by a pitch, Jonathan Lucroy walked, Brian Goodwin singled scoring Calhoun, and Justin Bour (his first game back since working out his mechanics in the minors), hit a three-run home run. The Angels were fortunate enough to win that game though. The Dodgers climbed to within 5-3 but left 15 men on base including hitting only 2-for-13 with men in scoring position. But some things just never change. The Angels won and kept their good luck against the Dodgers going in the Freeway Series and now lead the all-time series, 68-54.
Then the Angels traveled east to Tampa Bay and played a very competitive series against the American League Wild Card-leading Rays. They split the four-game series but could’ve easily taken three out of four or even swept the Rays if they had just played a little better:
In the first game, Tyler Skaggs was rolling until the fifth inning came. He gave up four singles and a double causing the Rays to pull to within 5-3. He got Travis d’Arnaud to ground out to get him to qualify for a win. But he couldn’t pitch any longer since he had thrown 95 pitches. Fortunately for him, Noe Ramirez, Justin Anderson, and Cam Bedrosian preserved the win.
In the second game of the series, the Angels had a 4-0 lead when Andrew Heaney departed with a runner on first base in the 6th inning. Ausmus pulled Heaney after throwing 99 pitches. Garcia, Buttrey, and unreliable Cody Allen all failed to hold the lead and the three of them combined to give up 8 runs and 1 inherited run. The Rays went on to win 9-4. Cody Allen’s implosion was especially costly and it caused the Angels to fail to reach .500. It also cost Allen his job as he was designated for assignment after another sub-par outing.
Suarez pitched 5.2 innings in the third game giving the Angels a 5-3 win. Home runs by Justin Bour, David Fletcher, and Kevan Smith helped key that win.
In the final game of the series, Griffin Canning kept the Angels in the game although he was trailing 4-3 when he left the game after six innings. Unfortunately, Taylor Cole allowed two insurance runs to score to give the Rays a 6-3 lead. In the 9th inning, Tommy LaStella singled to center field with one out and Trout hit a home run to cut the lead to 6-5. Ohtani singled to put the tying run on first base before Pujols grounded out and Calhoun struck out on a questionable call by the umpire. The Angels failed to reach .500 again.
The Halos then went to Toronto and played a very good series especially with the bats. In the first game, Upton made his 2019 debut since suffering turf toe in Spring Training and it seemed to spark the offense. Not only did he homer, but also Trout, Ohtani, and Calhoun did as well. The Angels won 10-5 to climb to within one game of .500 (36-37) again in hopes that they can finally get to .500 in the second game of the series.
This time the Halos didn’t disappoint. Tyler Skaggs pitched arguably his best outing of the season by going 7.1 innings, giving up only 4 hits (but 2 home runs) and three runs, only allowing one walk, and striking out three. Buttrey and Robles shut the door, the Angels won 3-1 and made it to .500 (37-37) for the first time since they were 8-7 on April 13.
Yesterday, the Angels had another huge offensive performance. If you thought Mike Trout couldn’t do anything more amazing, you were wrong. He set a career high with 7 RBIs by hitting two home runs (including a grand slam) and a single. Justin Upton added a home run allowing the Halos to win 11-6 and finally get over .500.
Sadly, the Angels couldn’t stay over .500 for long. Andrew Heaney gave up two home runs (the Blue Jays hit four home runs in total) and only lasted 3.2 innings. However, the Jays had to go extras to beat the Halos, 7-5 in 10 innings. The Angels heart of the order Upton, Calhoun (although he walked twice), and Pujols combined to go 0-for-12 messing up a few rallies in the game. Despite the disappointing loss, the Halos took three out of four from the Toronto Blue Jays on the road and find themselves at 38-38 as they travel to St. Louis for a three-game series. That’s a series that will be an emotional one for Albert Pujols who gained most of his accolades and accomplishments while playing for the Cardinals.
How Can the Angels Stay Contenders?
The Angels will actually be able to play competitively in every ball game since they proved they can hit and the lineup is almost 100% healthy. Andrelton Simmons was rumored to come back next week, but the Angels said he hit a setback from his Grade 3 ankle sprain. However, the team said it was just a minor speed bump and he should be back shortly. But let’s look at how explosive the offense is already. Trout is out of his slump and is back to looking like the AL MVP, Bour seems improved (so far), Ohtani is healthy and getting back to his AL Rookie of the Year form, Upton is healthy while already hitting two bombs, Calhoun’s power seems to be back, and Fletcher and LaStella continue to surprise. The offense is a huge strength and will keep this team fighting to the end.
The issue is and always has been the starting pitching. Although the starters have improved recently especially with Matt Harvey in the minors and Trevor Cahill sidelined due to elbow soreness, the starters are still not going deep enough in games to rest the bullpen.
In 18 games in June, the starters have only gone 6 innings five times, which is actually an improvement from the beginning of the season. However, the bullpen can’t continue to get overworked or they will be useless when September rolls by. The Angels used five relievers on June 3, six relievers on June 6, five relievers on June 11, five relievers on June 14, and five relievers on June 21.
The rotation is in a bit of a quandary at the moment…
- Griffin Canning is still maturing and learning, but he’s not 100% reliable yet. He has a tendency to fall behind in counts getting him into trouble at times.
- Jose Suarez might have to go back to the minor leagues for more experience to work on his breaking pitches.
- Tyler Skaggs (4.61 ERA) had a great outing recently but can he maintain it? He needs to step up and be the #1 starter he’s capable of being.
- Andrew Heaney is still serving up home runs like candy (7 home runs in 25.1 innings) and has an ERA over one run higher than Skaggs at 5.68.
- Speaking of home runs and poor performances, Trevor Cahill has given up 16 home runs in 57.2 innings (7.18 ERA) and might take Jose Suarez’s spot for the time being, but will he be designated for an assignment like Cody Allen was if he continues to disappoint? Or will be put into the bullpen?
- Felix Pena has done an average job but could have had better results if he didn’t let one bad inning ruin his decent outings.
Let’s hope the starters can get solidified before the end of July and allow the strengths of Luis Garcia, Taylor Cole, Justin Anderson, Ty Buttrey, and Hansel Robles to be used to their full capacity. Then hopefully the Halos can make a Wild Card run in August.
Featured Image: Lori Shepler/ UPI