Pujols is still without a home run (Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Series Preview: Angels @ Rays


The Angels (6-10) finally won their first series of the season just in time to start a six game road trip. First up, the Angels will travel to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Rays (9-7) in a matchup of two of the top preseason pitching rotations in baseball.

Previous Series:

Angels vs. Orioles (W 6-3, W 6-3, L 2-3 (10))

It only took four series, but the Halos finally took one! Catching Baltimore on the tail end of a 10-game road trip, the Angels managed to finally win back-to-back games and win their first series of 2012. Jerome Williams started off the series, looking like a completely different pitcher than the one that got shelled in Yankee Stadium and couldn’t get out of the third inning. In his second start of the year, Williams went 6.2 innings, giving up three runs on seven hits, striking out six and walking just one. He was helped out by Howie Kendrick‘s three RBI night and Jordan Walden got his first save of the season in a 6-3 win.

Jered Weaver took the hill for the second game and went the distance, pitching his first complete game of the season while giving up three runs on five hits, striking out five and walking zero, continuing his excellent start to 2012. The offense was led by Bobby Abreu‘s two RBI as the Angels broke out for five runs in the fifth inning en route to another 6-3 win.

In the series finale, Dan Haren went to the mound looking for his first win of the season. After looking shaky early this season, Haren came out strong, going seven scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the eighth, striking out nine along the way and walking just one. The offense wasn’t able to help Haren out, managing just two runs on the night, and the O’s would go on to win in the 10th. Nick Markakis was the offense for Baltimore, knocking in all three Orioles runs.

Rays vs. Twins (L 4-5, W 4-1, W 6-2)

The Rays hosted Minnesota for a three game set over the weekend and were able to come away with two of the three. In the opener, Rays starter Matt Moore went 6.1 innings, giving up three runs on eight hits, striking out two while walking three. He left the game with the lead, but reliever Brandon Gomes was unable to hold it as he gave up a single and a walk to load the bases before getting lifted for Joel Peralta who gave up a three-run double to Josh Willingham, giving the Twins the 5-4 win.

In the second game, James Shields took the hill for Tampa Bay and pitched eight shutout innings before giving up a run in the ninth. He scattered five hits, striking out seven and walking two. Fernando Rodney came on to close out the game for his fifth save of the season, two more than he had all of last season while with the Angels when he also blew four save opportunities before losing the job to Walden. The Rays were paced by B.J. Upton‘s two RBI and won 4-1.

In the series finale, the Rays recorded a team record four sacrifice flys as they roughed up Twins starter Francisco Liriano for five runs on five hits allowed. Jeff Niemann recorded his first win of the season for the Rays, going 5.1 innings, surrendering two run on three hits, striking out five and walking just two. Leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings knocked in three runs on the day, including a two-run home run off Liriano in the fifth. The Rays took the win 6-2 and cruised to the series win.

Pitching Matchup:

April 24: Ervin Santana (0-3, 6.75 ERA) vs David Price (2-1, 4.20 ERA)

Santana is still looking to get anything positive going this season. He’s given up at least four runs in each of his three starts this season, along with a pair of home runs in each appearance. His last outing was his best of the season, giving up four runs on two home runs against Oakland in a 6-0 defeat. It was his longest outing of the year, going seven innings, striking out five and walking a pair. While he pitched well outside of the pair of home runs, he has given up six long balls in three games. He also hasn’t been helped by the offense, which has been shut out in two of Santana’s three starts. Can Santana put a complete game together to keep the Angels in the game and can the offense score a couple of runs for the guy? Let’s hope so.

 David Price has become a perennial Cy Young contender and has set himself apart as the clear ace of the Rays staff. This season, he’s labored early on, failing to pitch to the seventh inning stretch in three starts. He’s had one bad start, a 3.0 inning, 83 pitch outing where he gave up three runs on four hits, issuing three walks and striking out three batters against the Red Sox in Fenway. He bounced back from that with a solid start in Toronto, going 5.2 innings, giving up two runs on a season high eight hits, striking out three and walking one. Price’s ERA and WHIP in 2012 (4.20, 1.73) are well above his career numbers of 3.40 and 1.21, so the early struggles probably won’t last. The Angels could get a shot at Price before he returns to form…or they could be the team that gets him back on track with the way the offense has disappeared with Santana on the mound.

April 25: C.J. Wilson (2-1, 2.37 ERA) vs Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 3.26 ERA)

Wilson has lived up to the expectations of a big-time free agent signing so far this season. He’s put forth three quality starts and allowed just two runs over his first 13 innings. He had a rougher time in his Angels home debut, though, giving up four runs (three earned) on two hits, walking three but striking out a season high eight. Wilson was lucky to last six as he was quickly racking up pitches in the early innings, and he suffered some lapses in defense behind him, including Gold Glove shortstop Erick Aybar, fresh off his trip to Disneyland to sign his new extension, had a pair of errors. Wilson has been stellar, however, in his two road starts againts Minnesota and New York, so the unfamiliar ballpark isn’t going to affect the Halos lefty much, if at all.

Jeremy Hellickson started off the season very strong, with an 8.2 inning shutout performance against the Yankees on April 8. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year has struggled some since then, however, giving up eight runs in his last two starts, including three against the Blue Jays (two earned), striking out four and walking three in 5.2 innings. Outside of his debut start against the Yankees, Hellickson has had trouble being economical with his pitches, throwing 106 pithces in his Toronto outing and 99 pitches in his second start against Boston, where he lasted just five innings. There are also concerns about his control, as the Rays righty has an unfortunate 9:10 K:BB ratio, and has walked at least three batters in each start. The Rays offense has been kind to Hellickson so far this season, averaging nearly six runs per start. A patient approach could help the Angels hang a loss on Hellickson for the first time in 2012.

April 26: Jerome Williams (1-1, 7.71 ERA) vs Matt Moore (0-1, 5.12 ERA)

What a difference a home cooked meal makes. Williams looked terrible in his first start against the Yankees in New York, lasting just 2.2 innings, giving up five runs on five hits, walking three and striking out just one. The poor showing after missing all of spring training had Halos fans up in arms about replacing the journeyman in the rotation. The Angels stuck with Williams, however, and he turned in a solid performance in the series opener against Baltimore. He limited the O’s to three runs on seven hits, striking out six and walking only one in 6.2 innings of work. The outing was enough to earn Williams some respite from his critics. If he struggles again on the road, though, expect the respite to be short lived.

Matt Moore is one of the best prospects in baseball and was considered an early front runner for Rookie of the Year. His campaign has taken a bit of a hit as Moore has limped out of the gate in 2012. In three starts, Moore is averaging 107 pitches per game, but has yet to complete the seventh inning, so he hasn’t been too economical with his pitches. His command has also been suspect, as Moore has more walks than strikeouts (11:12 K:BB ratio) and he threw just 60 of his 106 pitches for strikes in his last start against Minnesota, who dinged Moore for three runs on eight hits in the no-decision. The young hurler does have a history of slow starts, so expect him to figure it out at some point. For Angels fans, they just hope it isn’t at this precise point.

Storylines to Watch:

The good: Los Angeles won a series so we won’t have to hear about that anymore. The bad: Albert Pujols still hasn’t hit a home run, so expect to hear nothing but “when will Albert hit one out?” all over the place this week. The absense of power from Pujols has really put a dent in the offensive gameplan of the Angels, as the team did go out and spend a quarter of a billion dollars on this guy in order to make the lineup more powerful. Having Pujols sitting in the middle of the order and not hitting home runs is like sinking a ton of money into a new engine and then having your car not start. It’s not how things are supposed to work and it makes you mad as hell.

The Rays, at 9-7, have looked like a team that’s good…but hasn’t really put things together yet. David Price is 2-1, but his WHIP and ERA are way higher than they should be. Jeremy Hellickson is 2-0, but he’s walking a lot more people than he should. The offense has covered up a lot of the early struggles, ranking 6th in runs scored, 6th in on base percentage, and 10th in slugging percentage, but that won’t be the way this team finds lasting success. Can the team start to put things together and start to distinguish themselves in a very muddled AL East?

Season Implications:

The Angels sit four games under .500, still half a game in the cellar and 6.5 games back of Texas. With April winding down, the Angels need to get some answers to the questions that have creeped up about this team. Leaving Tampa, the Angels would really like to no longer be last in the division, if for nothing other than pride. They need to do something to get themselves back into the AL West race, which means they need to have a better road trip than their first one, where they went just 2-4. It’s not “still early” anymore.

The Rays have found themselves in a pretty feisty division race early on this season. They need to get a little more consistency from their team if they’re going to start putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack, which means the starting pitching needs to get back to being the best in baseball. Getting an Angels lineup in town which has struggled to find it’s offensive rhythm consistently this season could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Hangout View:

While the Baltimore series was just three games, it was a promising three games. The starting pitching looked very good, with Williams throwing a nice game, Weaver going the distance, and Haren being good enough to win, and the offense looked to have some teeth in two of the three games. Can they keep it going? I’m going to say, with extreme trepidation…yes? This lineup, constantly shifting as it may be, has too many weapons to lay down forever, so it’s bound to rise up. And this rotation was chosen as one of the best in baseball during spring training for a reason. I think they surprise the Rays and win back-to-back series against the AL East, taking two of three from Tampa.

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