Weaver has been the Angels' only consistent winner (Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Series Preview: Angels @ Indians

The Angels (6-13) did not get their road trip off to the start they were looking for in Tampa and now head to Cleveland to take on the Indians (9-8), a surprising division leader in the AL Central.

Previous Series

Angels @ Rays (L 0-5, L 2-3, L 3-4)

While the Angels have been struggling to win a series this season (1-4 heading to Tampa), one of the bright spots in their early struggles was that they had avoided getting swept. Well, all good things come to an end, it seems, as the Angels worked very hard to drop all three games against the Rays. Ervin Santana continued his early struggles, having his worst outing of the year in the series opener, giving up four home runs for five runs in the 5-0 loss. The offense continued its disappearing act in support of Santana, getting shut out for the third straight time the righty takes the hill.

The Angels looked to bounce back with C.J. Wilson on the mound, who had gone 2-0 and given up just two runs in his previous two road starts. Wilson was sharp, striking out 11 over seven innings, but surrendered a home run to Ben Zobrist in a two run third inning that was enough to saddle him with the loss. Jeremy Hellickson kept the Angels bats quiet, holding the Halos hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position through the first two innings. On the night, Los Angeles went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

In the series finale, the Angels sent Jerome Williams to the hill to try and salvage the series. He was solid through seven innings, allowing just two runs on five hits. Mark Trumbo provided the offense for the Angels, knocking in two runs with a solo home run and an RBI double, and would also score the third Halos  run when he was knocked in from second by Vernon Wells. The Angels took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning, turning the game over to their young reliever Jordan Walden for just his second save opportunity of the season. He converted the first one, but wasn’t as lucky this time, as he gave up a three-run walkoff home run to pinch hitter Brandon Allen to give Tampa a 4-3 win and the series sweep.

Indians vs Royals (W 4-3, L 2-8, L 2-4)

The Indians came off a nine-game road trip where they went 7-2, including a three game sweep of the Royals in Kansas City. That series got pretty heated with a number of benches clearing altercations, so both teams were amped up for the rematch in Cleveland. Derek Lowe went to the hill in the series opener for the Indians and pitched six strong innings, allowing just one run. The Royals scored in the top of the ninth to pull within one run and had the winning run at the plate against Cleveland closer Chris Perez, but Perez was able to close the door to record the save, sending the Royals to their 12th straight loss.

In game two, Ubaldo Jimenez started for the Indians and gave up four runs over six innings on a pair of two-run blasts. The bullpen gave up another pair of home runs and the Indians offense failed to capitalize when they got the bases loaded with one out in the sixth and only came away with a single run. The Indians couldn’t mount a rally and lost 8-2, giving the Royals just their fourth win of the season, and first in 13 games.

For the series finale, Josh Tomlin looked to get the Indians the series win, but was chased in the fifth inning after allowing four runs, including a three run fifth for Kansas City that broke a 1-1 tie. Cleveland once again couldn’t capitalize with a bases loaded situation, this time with no outs in the sixth, coming away with just one run on a sacrifice fly from Travis Hafner. The Cleveland bats were held in check the rest of the way, and the Royals won their first series since their opening weekend triumph over the Angels.

Pitching Mathcup

April 27: Jered Weaver (3-0, 2.43 ERA) vs. Justin Masterson (0-2, 6.65 ERA)

Weaver has lived up to his role as the ace of the Angels staff so far this season. In four starts this season, he’s pitched two shutouts in wins over Kansas City and Oakland and tossed a complete game in a win against Baltimore. He leads the team in strikeouts with 28, good for 4th in the AL, and is second in the AL in WHIP (0.78). He’s been spectacular outside of one bad inning in Minnesota that earned him a no decision after giving up five runs on seven hits. In his last start, he dominated the entire Orioles lineup, except for Matt Wieters who drove in three runs, as he went all 9.0 innings, scattering five hits, striking out five and walking none. He’s been one of the few bright spots so far this season, and is looking to make another run at a Cy Young. He’ll try and put the brakes on the Halos’ four game losing streak by pitching another gem in Cleveland.

Masterson has seemed to lose his command after a dominant Opening Day start where he went 8.0 innings, gave up one run on a pair of hits, striking out 10 and walking one. That performance was wasted by the bullpen in an eventual 7-4 loss to Toronto, but Masterson looked poised for a big year. However, over his next three starts, he hasn’t been able to locate his pitches, walking 11 and striking out just five. He’s given up 15 earned runs since his Opening Day performance and hasn’t been able to pitch more than five innings in a start. In his last start, he gave up four runs on six hits, striking out two but walking six in a 5-1 loss to Oakland. Seeing his great first start put to waste seems to have shaken Masterson, who will need to find himself in a hurry to turn his season around.

April 28: Dan Haren (0-1, 4.07 ERA) vs Jeanmar Gomez (1-0, 1.93 ERA)

Haren has been working himself into form, and finally looked to be finding his command in his last start against Baltimore. He went 7.1 innings, giving up just two runs on six hits, striking out nine and walking one. Kevin Jepsen came out in relief, however, and blew the lead in the eighth inning, making it the third time in a row that the Angels bullpen has failed to hold a lead when Haren leaves a game, hence the three straight no-decisions. Haren will want to try and go as ddep into games as possible if he keeps getting let down by his relief pitchers, but he will need to keep improving his command and control over opponents’ lineups if he hopes to do that. The start against Baltimore was a good start, but he needs to show he can do it again…and improve on it by just maybe staying out there for a couple more innings this time.

Gomez moved up into the Indians rotation after the season started, and was the pitcher who set off one of the brawls in Kansas City. He receieved a five-game suspension for his part, but appealed it, and was able to make his next start against Oakland. He allowed just one run and four hits over 5.1 innings, striking out three and walking one. He has only allowed two runs over 9.1 innings this season and has a very nice 6:1 K:BB ratio. Time will tell if Gomez can maintain his strong start, as he does have a career 4.38 ERA, but for now hitters are batting just .125 against the young righty, so he’s found something that’s working for him and he’ll try to keep the hot start going.

April 29: Ervin Santana (0-4, 7.23 ERA) vs. Derek Lowe (3-1, 3.00)

Can Santana turn things around? (Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

This season could not be starting much worse for Ervin Santana. In four starts, he’s given up 10 home runs and 19 earned runs and failed to have a quality start. In the last series against Tampa Bay, Santana had his worst outing yet, giving up four home runs to the Rays. The rest of the Angels haven’t played well in Santana’s starts either, scoring just three runs in his four starts, including three straight shutouts. On the year, Santana does have a nice 16:8 K:BB ratio, but the Angels have been outscored 23-3 in his outings. Everything needs to change when the right hander takes the hill, from his pitching to the rest of the team’s hitting and defense, if the Angels are going to have any hope of winning with Santana. But first things first, he needs to keep a few fly balls in the yard.

Derek Lowe is finding some success in the late stages of his career. The 38-year old has a very good ERA despite a high WHIP of 1.67 and opponents batting a very good .323 off him this season. He isn’t blowing anyone away with his stuff, posting as many walks as strikeouts, but has consistently worked out of trouble by using his ability to create ground ball outs. He’s coming off his best outing yet, going 6.0 innings, allowing one run on eight hits while striking out a season high five and walking just one against Kansas City. Against the Royals, Lowe was able to get 10 of the 13 ball put in play to stay on the ground. The walks and hits will probably catch up to him at some point, but for now, he’s finding ways to escape almost any trouble.

Storylines to Watch

For the Angels, it’s the ongoing drama of the missing bat of Albert Pujols. He finally snapped a five game hitless streak on Thursday with a 1-4 outing in Tampa, but he still doesn’t have any home runs, and teams have started to use the shift with some success on him. As a guy that is supposed to be the most complete hitter in baseball, a shift should be an automatic base hit. Pujols is quickly closing in on a historic slump for a slugger of his caliber, and should dominate the headlines until he can finally get one out. The rest of the Angels should be grateful, because otherwise we’d be talking about how poorly everybody on the team is playing.

The Indians rode a strong road trip to surge to the top of the AL Central. However, they’ve been unable to find much of any success at home. After losing two of three to Kansas City, Cleveland is just 2-6 at home this season. They’ll want to try and turn that around, and will have a good shot at it as the struggling Angels are just 2-7 away from Angels Stadium. Either way, one streak of ineptitude will end, or at least get a little relief, but which one will it be? The Angels’ road woes or the Indians’ hometown disappointment?

Season Implications

For Los Angeles, it’s time to make a move. After 19 games, they are already nine games back of Texas, who has been one of the hottest teams in baseball out of the gate. The Halos are even losing ground on Seattle and Oakland, who have both managed to stay at 10-10 through 20 games, 3.5 games ahead of the Angels. With April wrapping up, the “it’s still early” excuse is officially dead. Every aspect of this team needs to play better or they may dig themselves a hole in the division that they won’t be able to climb back out of.

The Indians are enjoying things on top of the Central, and are trying really hard to stay there. They don’t seem like a club that’s equipped to go toe-to-toe with Detroit, so they need to take advantage of as many series as they can. They let the Royals off the hook, but get a chance with another struggling club in Los Angeles. If they can hold off Chicago and Detroit for a little while longer, maybe they build up some confidence to let this run on top ride for a little while longer.

Hangout View

The Indians have struggled mightily at home, which makese it tempting to take the Angels to win the series. Unfortunately, the Angels have struggled everywhere, and they will send a pair of winless pitchers to the hill in this series that can’t seem to get things turned around. Haren has had some tough luck getting deep into games, and the bullpen hates him (or so it seems) and Santana is auditioning for the pitcher in the Home Run Derby, so it’s hard to pick Los Angeles in this series. But I’m forever an optimist, and I think Haren gets off the no-decision streak and joins Weaver in getting a win in this series. I’m not dumb, though, so Santana is going to have to show it before I pick him to do anything. Angels take two of three in Cleveland.

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