Will Pujols finally return to form against the A's? (Image: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE)

Series Preview: Angels vs Athletics


The Los Angeles Angels (15-20) finish their six-game road trip a disappointing 3-3 and return home for a two-game series against the Oakland Athletics (18-17) in another opportunity for the Angels to make up some ground in the AL West race.

Previous Series

Angels @ Rangers (L 3-10, W 4-2, L 6-13)

The Angels headed down to Arlington with a showdown with the first place Rangers, who continued their big swinging start to the 2012 season. In the series opener, C.J. Wilson took the mound in his much anticipated return to Texas, but faced just five batters and got one out before rain delayed the game for nearly two hours. The Angels decided not to send Wilson back out after long layover, who was charged with four runs on three hits with a walk and a strikeout to take the loss. Jerome Williams, originally scheduled to start Saturday, instead came out after the delay to face the Rangers. He also got roughed up, giving up six runs on 11 hits, including three home runs, over 6.2 innings, striking three and walking a pair. Mike Trout led what little offense the Angels could muster with a two run home run in the third, but the Halos couldn’t muster a rally from the 7-0 deficit they found themselves in after two innings.

Wilson got a chance for a re-do on Saturday as he took the hill in Game 2 in place of Williams. He became the first Angels pitcher to start consecutive games and the first pitcher to do so in baseball since 2002. He fared much better in his second try, pitching into the sixth inning, striking out four and walking three, giving up just two runs on five hits. Mark Trumbo led the offense in this game with a two-run blast in the fourth off the second deck of seats, and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh off a Kendrys Morales sacrifice fly. Wilson left the game with a tie score, so he was stuck with the no-decision as David Carpenter came on in relief for the win and Scott Downs returned from a knee contusion to earn his third save of the season.

For the series finale, Jered Weaver took to the hill and ran into trouble with the dangerous Texas lineup. Weaver matched his worst outing ever, giving up eight runs on ten hits over just 3.1 innings. It was his shortest outing since 2009 and his first loss of the season after starting 5-0. Weaver entered the game with an AL leading .174 average against, but couldn’t seem to get these Rangers out, giving up a third inning grand slam to Nelson Cruz on a change up that Weaver thought he had thrown well and gotten Cruz to get out in front of. However, the hitter-friendly confines of Arlington allowed him to muscle it out for a 6-2 Rangers lead. The Angels attempted a rally behind home runs from Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales, but couldn’t match the torrid pace Texas set early, and dropped the game in a footballian 13-6 slugfest and lost just their second series over the last five.

Athletics vs Tigers (L 6-10, W 11-4, W 3-1, L 1-3)

The A’s welcomed the Detroit Tigers to Oakland and played them tough throughout the four game series. In the series opener, Bartolo Colon took the hill and continued his up and down performances on the hill. He lasted just 2.1 innings, giving up seven runs on nine hits as the Tigers exploded for eight runs in the third inning where they chased Colon from the game. Former Tiger Brandon Inge made the final score look closer than it was with a late grand slam in the eighth inning, but the A’s were out of this one early.

In Game 2, Oakland turned the tables on Detroit, scoring 11 runs on 13 hits in support of Tommy Milone. Milone looked strong for Oakland, pitching seven innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits and striking out six. Inge once again led the way for the Athletics as he stuck it to his former club with four RBI, including a three-run home run in the sixth to put the game out of reach. The offense erupted even without the services of Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes, who missed his fourth straight game with a strain of the top of his left hand. It was the most runs scored by Oakland since they won 15-5 in Boston last August.

For Game 3, Brandon McCarthy took to the mound and went toe-to-toe with Tigers starter Doug Fister in a pitcher’s duel and came out on top. McCarthy, who had been nursing a sore shoulder, looked to be in fine shape on Saturday as he went seven innings of shutout ball, scattering four hits and striking out 10. He got one run in support in the bottom of the first from Jonny Gomes, who singled in a run, and McCarthy made it stand up. The pitching gem was much needed as the A’s placed the slugging Cespedes on the disabled list before the game started and took pressure off a lineup that managed just one run on five hits against Fister.

For the series finale, the A’s sent Jarrod Parker to the mound with a chance to take three of four from the Tigers. He had a very strong performance, but had the misfortune of having to duel defending AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who turned in another dominant outing. Parker went 5.2 innings, giving up just two runs on six hits and struck out five, but came away with the loss as the A’s bats were able to only muster two hits on Verlander including a solo home run by Seth Smith in the fifth for the only offense of the day. The A’s wouldn’t get another hit for the rest of the game.

Pitching Matchups

May 14: Dan Haren (1-3, 4.19 ERA) vs Tyson Ross (1-3 7.71 ERA)

Haren is coming one of the worst starts of his career. Against the Twins, Haren couldn’t finish the fourth inning, giving up five runs on eight hits with two walks, and failing to strike out a single batter for just the third time in his career and for the first time in almost eight years. After the game, Haren complained of lower back stiffness which could have contributed to the rough outing, and put this start in jeopardy. He feels good enough to go, however, and continues his impressive streak of never missing a turn in the rotation for his entire career, but there has to be some worry about his health moving forward. If soreness in the back caused him to give up eight hits to a Twins team that had just 20 hits over their previous five games, then there may not be much hope that he can shut down any lineup.

Tyson Ross is on thin ice for keeping his spot in the rotation. After a pair of solid starts to open the season (including a 6.0 inning, two runs on seven hits, three strikeouts no walks performance against the Angels), Ross has been ineffective over his last three outings. After giving up just two runs on 11 hits through his first two starts, teams have been teeing off on the young righty, scoring 19 runs on 25 hits over his last three starts. In his last outing against Toronot, Ross went 5.2 innings, giving up three runs on five hits with three strikeouts and three walks, which was actually a marked improvement over his previous couple of outings. Ross will need to find something to get hitters out (maybe like a still slumping Angels lineup) or face demotion out of his starter’s role.

May 15: Ervin Santana (1-6, 5.09 ERA) vs Bartolo Colon (3-3, 3.96 ERA)

Santana finally won his first game of the season when the Angels bats finally woke up for him. After six straight losses, five of which the Angels scored zero runs in support, Ervin Santana was able to control the Minnesota Twins and get some help from his offense to end one of the worst stretches of futility in his career. Santana went 7.1 innings, giving up just two runs on six hits, striking out just one and walking three. It wasn’t his sharpest performance, but it was good enough to keep the Twins lineup off balance. It was Santana’s third straight quality start after giving up 20 runs through his first four starts of the season. Santana will look to take advantage of another offensively challenged club and see if he can start a little winning streak.

Bartolo Colon has been an up and down pitcher for most of this season, but lately has been more down than up. After starting the season strong, going 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA through his first four starts, including the infamous 8.0 inning, four hit shutout of the Angels when he threw 36 straight strikes, Colon has been sliding since, going 0-2 over his next four starts and seen his ERA jump up to nearly four. He’s coming off his worst start of the season against Detroit, where he gave up eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits through just 2.1 innings of work. In Colon’s three wins this season, he’s been dominant, going deep into games and giving up just a single run combined on just 10 total hits. In the rest of his starts, he’s been less than stellar, surrendering 21 runs on 41 hits in 27.0 innings over five starts. Depending on which Colon shows up, the A’s could be asked to ramp up the offense to stay in the game.

Storylines to Watch

The Angels continue to wallow in mediocrity, seemingly incapable of putting together a string of strong performances. The offense is unreliable without nearly enough people contributing big on any given night, and the pitching has been infuriatingly up and down and the bullpen is still a mess. For a team that was picked by many to represent the AL in the World Series, things really couldn’t be going much worse. Can the Angels finally wake up and start to make up some ground in the division race? Can someone in their lineup strike some fear into an opposing pitcher? Speaking of disappointing hitters, Albert Pujols is still stuck at one home run on the year and is still swinging with a sub-.200 batting average.

For the A’s, they’re biggest storyline is their health, or lack thereof. With Cespedes on the DL, they have a bit of a hole in the heart of their lineup which hasn’t been helped by Brandon Inge, arguably Oakland’s hottest hitter, missing time with a tight groin, Kurt Suzuki nursing a sore thumb, Kila Ka’aihue missing back-to-back games with a strained hamstring, and Jemile Weeks missing a game after leaving Saturday’s contest with a sprained ankle. At this rate, they’ll be having drawings for fans to come out of the stands and take a few hacks. But they’re over .500 and sitting in second place in the division despite scoring the fewest runs of any team in the AL West, so they have something going right for them. Can they withstand half their lineup missing time with injury and continue to find ways to win?

Season Implications

For the Angels, it’s all about making up ground in the division. After dropping two of three to Texas, they’re now eight games back, and still a half game behind Seattle in the cellar. They need to start to climb up the standings by snapping out of this funk they’re in before it gets to be too late. They need to start winning games against division opponent, especially the A’s (who they’re just 1-3 against this season) and the Mariners (who they haven’t played yet) to make up some ground on Texas if/when they drop a couple of games here and there. While they’d like to start making their move on Texas, they need to focus on baby steps at this point and overcome Seattle to get out of the cellar.

The A’s are going to try and hold onto the second spot in the division for as long as possible. They’re sitting three games ahead of Los Angeles and five games back of Texas, so this series could really help them take control of second place…or it could bring them back down to the pack at the bottom of the division. They can’t lose second place in this series, but they can lose momentum pretty easily.

The Hangout View

This short series is going to feature two teams that are much more similar than anyone thought they would be. Both teams have some solid starters, with others that are frustratingly inconsistent, with bullpens that have let them down and offenses that have gone missing for stretches. The difference is that the A’s have found ways to win a couple extra games. However, the talent is stacked in the Angels’ favor and injuries to everybody will undercut the momentum that Oakland has been able to build. Halos take both games, sweeping the short series and evening up the season series in the process.

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