The Angels (4-9) have still yet to find their groove, or even win back-to-back games, this season. Their offense has gone missing on an alarmingly consistent basis and their bullpen has been worse than last year, when it very likely kept the team from competing for a playoff spot down the stretch. They welcome the Baltimore Orioles (8-5) to town, in yet another effort against a preseason lower rung AL team to finally get things started in 2012.
Angels vs. Athletics (W 6-0, L 3-5, L 0-6, L 2-4)
For the third time in four series, the Angels won the opening game in convincing fashion only to drop the rest of the series. So far this season, the only times that the Angels have won games is when either Jered Weaver or C.J. Wilson has been on the mound, with the team going 2-1 for both of these starters. The series started with ace Jered Weaver doing what Jered Weaver does, dominating the A’s lineup into the seventh inning, cruising to an easy 6-0 win. The offense actually looked dangerous for one of the few times this season, with Kendrys Morales hitting his first home run of the year. The rest of the four game series didn’t go so well. Dan Haren looked strong in his start, but was pulled after just 85 pitches, and Kevin Jepsen coughed up the lead in the eighth with four earned runs while recording just one out, and the Halos dropped the game 5-3. In the third game, the Angels never had a chance as they forgot to take their bats up to the plate with them and they got dominated by Bartolo Colon (yes, that Bartolo Colon) who at one point, showing zero fear for this lineup, threw 38 straight strikes on his way to shutting out the Angels. In the series finale, C.J. Wilson took to the mound to try and salvage a split for Los Angeles, but struggled through six innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on just two hits, striking out eight and walking three on 112 pitches. Wilson wasn’t helped by his defense, with the Angels committing three errors on the night, two by newly extended and defending Gold Glove recipient Erick Aybar. At this point, nobody is playing up to their ability on this team and it’s cost them with a visit deep into the cellar. And oh yeah, Albert Pujols still hasn’t hit a home run.
Orioles @ White Sox (W 10-4 (10), W 3-2, L 1-8, W 5-3)
The Orioles may have been picked to finish last in the AL East, but they’re currently enjoying the view from the top spot in the division, one game up on Tampa and New York. Aside from an unfortunate three game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Orioles have been a solid bunch so far in the early going, including winning three of four against the White Sox in Chicago. The series kicked off with a mad rally by Baltimore, who trailed 4-1 going into the eighth inning. One run in the top of the eighth and two more in the ninth tied the game up and sent it into extra innings, where Matt Wieters put an exclamation point on the win with a grand slam in the tenth during a six-run inning to give the O’s the win 10-4. The next night saw Korean rookie Wei-Yin Chen notch his first major league win with a strong showing into the sixth inning with some support from Nolan Reimold’s fourth home run in as many games to push the Orioles past the Sox 3-2. Game three of the series was all about the White Sox, however, as Adam Dunn broke out of his early season slump with a couple of walks and a three-run double in Chicago’s four-run sixth inning that shut the door on Baltimore’s hopes of another comeback. In the series finale, Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel put together an impressive outing, striking out 10, and closer Jim Johnson was able to get the save with a strikeout of Alex Rios with the bases loaded to finish off the series and giving the Orioles a strong three of four in the middle series of their 10-game road trip.
The Angels activated Jerome Williams last Sunday to make his first start against the Yankees in New York…but seemingly forgot to tell Williams about it. The journeyman right hander lasted just 2.2 innings, giving up five runs on five hits, walking three and striking out just one. His ERA is a gigantic 16.88 and his WHIP is a ridiculous 3.00. Williams admitted to being a little freaked out about his first start in Yankee Stadium on Jackie Robinson Day, so that could account for part of the atrocious outing, but he’ll need to settle his nerves in a hurry. His short start put added pressure on a bullpen that has been dreadful, and did them no favors by forcing them to muddle their way through the majority of that game. He’ll have a little less pressure this time around being at home…unless he gets off to a similar start as his last start and the home crowd turns on him. Williams will need to find some of the 2011 groove that won him the fifth starter position to help staunch the struggles of the Angels early this season.
Brian Matusz has been a hard luck case for the Orioles over the last two seasons. The young lefty hasn’t won a start since June 6, 2011, losing his last 11 decisions. The Orioles were hoping that Matusz’s excellent spring (he finished with a 22:3 K:BB), but he’s struggled in back-to-back starts to begin the season. In his last start, he looked sharper than his first start, but not nearly sharp enough against Toronto. He gave up five runs on seven hits, surrendering two home runs, striking out four while walking four. Matusz hasn’t been able to translate his great spring into the regular season, but he’ll have the benefit of getting a shot against an Angels lineup that has been struggling to find any offensive rhythm. Will this finally be the start that Matusz gets off the losing streak? For the sake of the sanity of Halos fans, let’s hope not.
April 21: Jered Weaver (2-0, 2.18 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (1-0, 2.66)
Weaver has been impressive so far in his first three starts. Apart from a bad stretch in Minnesota, which resulted in his no-decision, Weaver has been dominant. In his last start against Oakland, Weaver shut-out the A’s, striking out six and walking just one over 6.2 innings in a 6-0 win. Weaver is sporting an impressive 23:2 K:BB ratio and really picking up where he left off last season when he finished as the runner up for the AL Cy Young. The Orioles will probably be the hottest hitting team that Weaver has faced so far this season, but he has the benefit of pitching in his own spacious home park where he has thrived. He will need to keep the great pitching rolling and avoid another Minnesota-misstep as the Angels can’t afford to have their ace fall flat.
Arrieta has had some bad luck of his own, resulting in back-to-back no decisions. In his last start against the White Sox, Arrieta gave up four runs (two earned) seven hits, striking out seven and walking just one. The two unearned runs put the O’s down and put Arrieta in line for a loss, but the team eventually rallied and won the game in extra innings. The young righty has hit some rough patches after a shutout seven inning performance to open the season against Minnesota, giving up four runs in each of his last two starts. Arrieta will look to turn things back around and finish a game strong, as he’s shown some pretty good stuff so far this season, striking out 16 and walking just four. He holds an excellent 2.66 ERA and a stellar 0.89 WHIP over his first three starts, so he will be a tough outing for the struggling Angels hitters. Expect a pitchers duel on Saturday…which will probably give Arrieta a third straight no-decision. What an unlucky guy.
April 22: Dan Haren (0-1, 4.76 ERA) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (1-0, 3.27)
Haren entered the 2012 season as the supposed co-ace of the Angels rotation. He has yet to pitch that way, however, in three starts so far, looking less than comfortable on the mound. He seemed to have things turned around in his last start against Oakland, though, where he gave up one run on a home run and five hits, striking out two and walking none over 6.2 innings. Haren got into a bit of a jam in the seventh inning, and was pulled inexplicably after just 85 pitches (63 of them for strikes), where the bullpen promptly gave up the lead in the eighth en route to a 5-3 loss, the second straight start for Haren that the bullpen has surrendered a slim lead. Manager Mike Scioscia said Haren was starting to look fatigued (something the workhorse righty denied), but has not looked like the pitcher that the Angels expected he would be when they slotted him as the number two starter. Haren’s starts have been getting progressively better, so he could continue the trend and help close out the Orioles series with a strong performance. Or he could look sloppy again and erode the seemingly thin faith the Angels currently have in him.
Chen makes the third start of his young career on Sunday coming off a strong performance in Chicago for his first career win. The lefty worked his way through five shutout innings before getting into trouble and being chased in the sixth. He ended up giving up two runs on six hits, striking out four and walking two in 5.1 innings of work. It was his second solid outing in as many starts, his first a two earned run on seven hits, six strikeouts, and one walk performance against the Yankees in a no-decision. Chen hasn’t been able to get very deep into games, failing to make it out of the sixth inning in either start and uses a lot of pitches to work his way through a lineup. He’s averaging 100 pitches a game despite just 11 total innings pitched, for an average of 18.2 pitches per inning. He’ll need to get a bit more economical if he wants to pitch deeper into games, but he will not be an easy challenge for the Angels to solve as he’s shown a great ability to work through trouble.
Storylines to Watch:
For the Angels, it’s all about when things will finally click. The offense has been bad, the starting pitching inconsistent, and the bullpen horrendous. They are a game and a half deep into the cellar and already seven games back from division leading Texas. Albert Pujols continues to extend his longest home run drought to start a season in his career, and it’s really grinding this offense to a halt. The ever-changing lineup cards and batting-practice style bullpen aren’t really helping either. Can this team find some consistent production from anybody? Will Mike Scioscia finally figure out how to use all his shiny toys, or at least just the shiniest nine? Can this bullpen protect a lead?? Pleeeease??
For the Orioles, they’ve been a surprisingly tenacious squad so far this season. They’ve gotten some big timely hitting from its lineup (must be nice), and their pitching has been solid. All of that has helped them to the top of the AL East, where nobody really thought they would be at any point this year. Can the O’s continue to mash at the impressive rate they’ve been able to so far (currently 3rd in MLB for slugging percentage at .458)? Can they keep pace with the Yankees and Rays who are nipping at their heels? How long can Baltimore reign over the AL East?
The Angels need need need to string some good games together in a row to start to turn this disastrous early season back around in the right direction. Texas is hot out of the gates and putting distance between themselves and the rest of the West, so the Angels can’t really afford to sink any further into the cellar than they already are. Scioscia needs to figure out his lineup card and he needs to figure out which of his relievers he can bring in without immediately giving up half a dozen runs. This series could be the series that the Angels finally put it together, or it could be another frustrating installment of “How many Bobby Abreu‘s do we have on this team?” like we’ve been subjected to in every series so far this year.
The Orioles, on the other hand, are top of the world! They’re sitting a game ahead of the pack in the AL East and enjoying the sweet, thin air of being on top. They like it. They’d like to keep it going. They’ll need to see if some of their pitching can get going (particularly Matusz) and hope that the lineup keeps knocking the ball around and out of the park like it has been. If it can, then the Orioles may stick around for awhile as contenders in the East and make everybody who picked them to finish way back in the division look foolish. Or, more succinctly, everybody.
The Hangout View:
Things can’t keep going wrong forever, can they? The Angels have yet to win a series, or even split this last one against the A’s, and have looked much worse than they should. The Orioles are a hot team to start the season, and they won’t be a pushover coming into Angels Stadium. The pitching matchups for this series are pretty even, so the games should all be close (unless the Halos get Colon’d again). Ever the optimist, I’m going to say the Angels get just enough hitting and benefit from catching the O’s on the tail end of a 10-game road trip on the opposite coast they’re used to and win two of three. They can’t lose every series, right?