The Angels follow up their opening home series where they fell flat against the Royals…with a repeat performance falling flat in Minnesota against the Twins. Now, the Angels (2-4) head to the East coast for a matchup with the New York Yankees (3-3) in a showdown between preseason AL favorites who are trying to overcome early stumbles and get back on track towards the top of their divisions.
Angels @ Twins (W 5-1, L 6-5, L 10-9)
The Angels had an encore of their home stand, starting the series with a solid showing from C.J. Wilson, who kept the Twins off balance through seven strong innings in a 5-1 win. The follow up games were less impressive, however, as built, and then lost leads in the next two games. Jered Weaver got tacked for five runs in six innings of work, striking out seven and walking just one. He left the game with no decision and the bullpen took over to earn the loss, with Hisanori Takahashi giving up the game winning run and earning the loss. The Halos would come back the next day with Dan Haren on the mound and built up a 6-0 lead before giving it back. Haren finished with three earned runs, seven strike outs, and one walk in five innings of work. The loss eventually fell to Rich Thompson, who gave up four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to surrender the game to Minnesota. The Angels found a bit of offense from some unexpected sources, with Peter Bourjos getting five RBI in the series, including a three-run inside-the-park home run on Wednesday. The usual power group finally hit a home run on Thursday as Mark Trumbo hit a towering solo home run. Albert Pujols and Kendrys Morales continue to struggle without a home run and Vernon Wells has been put on notice to hit or share left field with Bobby Abreu.
Yankees @ Orioles (W 6-2, W 5-4 (12), W 6-4 (10))
The Yankees meanwhile went to Baltimore to try and bounce back from a season opening series sweep against the Rays. New York found some answers the questions that plagued them in Tampa, coming up with solid pitching and timely hitting. Ivan Nova controlled the Orioles in the series opener, giving up just two runs on 10 hits, striking out seven and walking none. In the second game, the Yanks were able to rally from a 4-1 deficit, scoring three runs in the sixth to tie it before winning it off a Raul Ibanez ground rule double in the top of the twelfth. They followed it up the next day by rallying again and sending the game into extra innings where Nick Swisher knocked a two-run home run in the top of the tenth to send the Yankees to the series sweep. New York showed the resilience that they had lacked against the Rays and were able to win tough games on the road to work back to .500.
Santana makes his second start of the year in the home opener for Yankee Stadium, coming off a pretty rocky start to open the season. The Angels number three went 5.2 innings against the Royals, giving up six runs, five earned, giving up two home runs while striking out two and walking a pair. He showed shaky consistency, lacking the ability to replicate any of his pitches, making each throw its very own adventure. His ball-to-strike ratio was “terrible” according to manager Mike Scioscia, and he got himself into trouble constantly, allowing a runner to reach scoring position in all but one inning. He will need to find some consistency in his pitching motion to regain some control, but he may be in for a long day even if he can. Santana’s tendency as a fly ball pitcher (career 0.65 ground ball to fly ball ratio) could lead to trouble with the short porch in right looming with a dangerous Yankees lineup. Santana has also had issues with the Yankees historically, going just 5-5 against them with a 5.55 ERA. Coming into the Bronx while struggling may not be the cure for what’s ailing Santana.
Hiroki Kuroda, meanwhile, is coming off a pretty rough start himself. Kuroda lasted just 5.2 innings in Tampa Bay, giving up six runs, four earned, giving up a home run while striking out two and walking four. He blamed the rough outing on a lack of control, saying he did not have his splitter working and his pitches were “all over the place,” which led to the four walks. Kuroda has the benefit of some experience against the Angels, playing them in inter-league play during his time with the Dodgers, and against Pujols during his time in the NL. Whether that helps or not will depend on if he can get his control back under him. If he can’t, this could probably turn out to be a fairly high scoring affair.
April 14: C.J. Wilson (1-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (0-1, 3.86 ERA)
Wilson had one of the more impressive opening starts the first time through the rotation. He pitched a strong seven innings against Minnesota, striking out five while walking four, giving up one run leading the Angels to their lone win at Target Field. He showed some minor control issues, hence the four walks, but was always in control of the game, making just the one mistake that ended up a home run to Josh Willingham. His ability to get ground ball outs (all but one out recorded by Wilson was on the ground) will serve him well against New York, and he’s shown an ability to pitch in hitter friendly parks during his time with Texas, and especially against the Yankees during the regular season. Wilson has a good chance to follow up his strong performance in Minnesota with another in New York and solidify himself as the top pitcher of the Angels rotation early this season.
Hughes pitched pretty well in his opening start against the Rays, but needed 99 pitches to get through just 4.2 innings. He gave up two runs while striking out five and walking two. Hughes didn’t do much to keep himself off the block to move back to the bullpen once Andy Pettitte gets back into the rotation. He has shown some excellent stuff at times that has really endeared himself to Yankees fans, but does have a tendency to give up the fly balls, which could lead to some trouble in his home park. He will have to be sharp in order to match the effort of Wilson, and this should be the lowest scoring game of this series.
April 15: Jerome Williams (0-0) vs. Ivan Nova (1-0, 2.57 ERA)
Williams was finally officially announced as the Angels fifth starter after a bullpen session on Thursday, which completed his rehab from a hamstring injury that kept him out all of spring training. Williams solidified his spot in the rotation at the end of last season when he went 4-0 with a 3.68 ERA in six starts for the Angels. Williams has seen his journeyman career ebb and flow before eventually ending up in Los Angeles and the Angels are turning to him to hold down the fifth roster spot this season while Garrett Richards earns a little extra seasoning at Triple-A Salt Lake. Williams relies on control and keeping hitters off balance, but his lack of work in the spring could lead to a bit of rust to start off with and Yankee Stadium probably isn’t the best place to break into the 2012 season. Expect Williams to show a bit of rust, and for the Yankees to figure him out pretty quickly.
Nova pitched the Yankees to their first win in Baltimore, pitching seven innings, striking out seven, walking zero while giving up ten hits and just two runs. Nova is making a strong push to stay in the rotation long-term if he can continue to work with the control and poise that he showed against the Orioles. If the Angel bats don’t wake up by this point in the series, look for Nova to have another impressive outing as he stifles the struggling bats of the Angels.
Storylines to watch:
The Angels need to find themselves, and in a hurry. Losing two straight series, falling two games under .500, and watching the pitching, both starting and bullpen, stumble and falter while the big bats in the lineup have been conspicuously quiet was not the way that the Angels had planned on starting 2012. The starters need to find some consistency, the bullpen needs to plug the dam, and Pujols and Morales need to start mashing the ball around, and out of, the park. Will they be able to do it against the Yankees in New York? That will be the question as the Angels, now suddenly a team exposed to be flawed, faces off against another AL contender.
For the Yankees, they looked like a team who had found answers to some of the questions plaguing them coming out of Tampa. The sweep of the Orioles puts them back on the road they want to be on, but they’ll want to keep the momentum going against an AL West favorite. Can the pitching get back on track and at least plug the rotation until Andy Pettitte is ready to return? Will the timely hitting they found in Baltimore keep going? Will the Yankees keep their winning streak going and keep moving up the AL East standings?
This isn’t the start that Los Angeles was looking for. Losing two straight series puts them at the bottom of the AL West, which wasn’t where anyone that they would be, even for this early stretch of the season. The Yankees were favorites in the American League as well, but stumbled out of the gates with a season opening sweep. They are still digging themselves out of that hole, and will try and continue their climb back over .500 against the Halos. Both teams would like to get this series simply for the momentum of a good showing against an AL contender. It isn’t going to decide any playoff races quite yet, but it’s going to give the winning fan base some good vibes moving forward.
The Hangout View:
After failing to win the series against Minnesota by completely losing the ability to pitch a complete game, the Angels don’t seem like they’re ready for this series in New York. The Yankees are going to get their hits, and in that park, some of those hits are going to go out. If the Angels can’t contain that offensive attack, it’s going to make for a pretty poor trip to the Big Apple. Santana and Williams aren’t sure enough options yet to count on shutting down the Yanks, and Wilson may be the best option for the Angels to steal a win and avoid a sweep. This likely will not be the way they wanted their road trip to go, but the Angels are going to drop their third straight series to open the year, losing two of three.