Series Preview: Angels vs Blue Jays
With a miserable April behind them, the Angels (10-15) look to continue their hot start to May as they host the visiting Toronto Blue Jays (14-11) in yet another matchup for the Angels with the AL East.
Angels vs Twins (W 4-3, W 4-0, W 9-0)
The Angels got their first sweep of the season and look to turn around their sluggish start behind some phenomenal starting pitching. In the series opener, C.J. Wilson pitched into the eighth inning, scattering five hits, and striking out four. He got into some trouble late, giving up three runs in the top of the eighth before Scott Downs shut the door by inducing an inning-ending grounder from Ryan Doumit, stranding two Twins on base. Downs would stay on and pitch the ninth for his second save of the season. The offense was paced by home runs from Torii Hunter and Chris Iannetta as the Angels held on to close April out with a win.
In the second game of the series, Jerome Williams went to the hill to try and continue his strong resurgence from his disastrous first start. He dominated the Twins lineup, throwing a complete game three-hit shutout, marking his second career shutout and third career complete game. He controlled the action throughout, facing only one batter over the minimum before walking Denard Span with two outs in the ninth. He didn’t allow a Twins hitter to advance to second, and retired 18 of the last 19 Twins he faced. The Angels offense was once again led by Hunter, who hit his fourth home run in five games, who was joined by Howie Kendrick, who also took Twins starter Francisco Liriano deep. Albert Pujols broke his RBI drought on a groundout to third, which proved more than enough support for Williams in the 4-0 win.
In the series finale, Jered Weaver took to the hill and upstaged Williams’ impressive performance from the night before. Weaver struck out nine hitters while going the distance for the first no-hitter of his career. He allowed just two base-runners, one on a passed ball third strike to Chris Parmelee and the other on a walk to Josh Willingham in the seventh. He dominated the Twins lineup top to bottom, and enjoyed an offensive explosion in support. Kendrys Morales homered along with Kendrick’s second blast in as many days and Mark Trumbo knocked in a pair of runs as well to lead the Angels offense in a showing of what this lineup was supposed to do this year. The strong showing all around capped off the sweep and could spark a turnaround for this club in May.
Blue Jays vs Rangers (L 1-4, W 8-7, W 11-5)
Toronto welcomed the hottest team in baseball to town when they took on the Rangers in the Rogers Centre. The series opener was a pitcher’s duel between Yu Davrish for Texas and Kyle Drabek for the Jays. Drabek looked strong, allowing just two runs in six innings, walking a pair and striking out a career-high eight, but he couldn’t match Darvish who gave up just one run on four hits over seven innings, striking out nine. Edwin Encarnacion was the only Jay to generate any offense when he hit a solo shot in the fourth inning, the first home run hit off Darvish this season, but it wasn’t enough as Texas won 4-1.
Drew Hutchison took the mound in the second game of the series and put the Jays in a hole early, with five earned runs in the first two innings. However, Toronto was able to rally from the 5-0 deficit with home runs by Kelly Johnson and Jose Bautista, and rallied to take the lead in the seventh with the help of a pair of Ranger errors. Francisco Cordero came on to close it out, but couldn’t as Michael Young knocked in the game-tying run in the top of the ninth. The Jays were saved, however, when Brett Lawrie hit a lead-off walk-off home run to deep left-center, giving Toronto the 8-7 win.
In the series finale, Ricky Romero took to the hill to try and get the Jays a series win. He was far from sharp, giving up five runs on six hits through eight innings, striking out a season-high six and walking three, but his offense picked up the slack big time. Rangers starter Matt Harrison got shelled early, giving up eight runs on eight hits in just 3.1 innings, including six runs in the fourth before he got chased. Kelly Johnson homered for the second straight day and Encarnacion put the exclamation point on the day with a three-run blast in the 6th that ended the scoring for the day. The big offensive output sealed the series for Toronto, who has not lost a series to Texas in Canada since April 2008.
May 3: Dan Haren (1-1, 3.34 ERA) vs Brandon Morrow (2-1, 3.03 ERA)
Haren had a rough start to 2012, not getting first win until his last start April 28 against Cleveland. In his first two starts, he gave up eight runs on 20 hits, including three home runs, in just 10.1 innings of work. Since then, he’s given up just four runs and 15 hits with just one home run allowed over his last 22.0 innings of work. He was hurt in starts three and four by the bullpen who blew back-to-back leads for him, so against the Indians, he took the game all the way to the closer, going 8.0 innings, allowing one run on four hits, striking out seven and walking just two. Haren seems to have put that sluggish start behind him and now is looking to continue the winning trend. He’s got an impressive 30:5 K:BB ratio this season, so he’s had good stuff, but fallen victim to some bad luck (or a bad bullpen) a couple of times, but should post another strong showing against the Jays.
Morrow seems to have been able to get himself right as well. After giving up 10 runs in 13.0 innings over two consecutive starts with five home runs allowed, Morrow has given up just one run on a solo shot over his last 12.2 innings. He was untouchable in his last outing, when he went 6.0 shutout innings against Seattle, scattering five hits and striking out nine with no walks. He’s posting a 21:8 K:BB ratio, which is good, but that ratio has been helped by his strong outing against the Mariners. Prior to his last start, Morrow had just 12 strikeouts to eight walks, which is much less impressive, and has already given up seven home runs on the year. There’s also some concern over how economical he’s being with his pitches as he’s averaging 102 pitches per start, but lasts on average just about 6.1 innings. The Jays hope that Morrow’s gem against Seattle was a sign of things starting to click and not just a product of a soft Mariners lineup.
May 4: Ervin Santana (0-5, 6.16 ERA) vs Henderson Alvarez (1-2, 3.62 ERA)
Santana remains the lone ugly duckling in a starting rotation that leads the American League in ERA. Every other starter for the Angels has an ERA of 3.55 or lower and he’s given up as many home runs as he has walks (10). On the bright side, he is coming off his best start of the season, where he gave up only two runs on eight hits against Cleveland, and didn’t give up a home run for the first time this season. A bigger issue for the Angels has been the lack of run support Santana has gotten this season. After putting three runs in his first start, the Halos offense has gone dark getting shut out in four straight Santana starts. Santana has a lot of things to fix if he’s going to turn around this season opening slump, but getting some help from his friends on offense will be the best place to start.
Alvarez has struggled a bit this season, despite respectable numbers for his ERA and WHIP (1.11). He’s coming off his first win of the season against the Mariners, where he went 6.0 innings and gave up just one run on six hits. However, he did walk three and only strike out one, giving him a 9:9 K:BB ratio for the season, and is averaging less than two strikeouts per start. He likely benefited from the weak M’s lineup, as six hits and three walks won’t usually result in just one run. He’ll need to figure out his conrol issues and hope that teams keep hitting it at his defense for him to have much of a chance to get his second win of the season.
May 5: C.J. Wilson (3-2, 2.70) vs Kyle Drabek (2-2, 2.40)
Wilson has been very good so far this season, falling victim to a lack of run support more than anything resulting in his less than stellar win-loss record. He’s put forth a quality start every time he’s taken the hill and is second on the team in strikeouts with 30. He’s posting the ninth best WHIP in the AL at 1.02 and hitters are struggling mightily, hitting just .177 against him. In his last start, he pitched strong into the eighth against the Twins, going 7.1 and giving up three runs (all in the eighth) on five hits, striking out four and walking just one. He hasn’t been quite as sharp as he was in his first two starts where he gave up just two runs over 13.0 innings, but he remains a consistently strong option on the mound for the Angels.
Drabek is a young hurler for Toronto that has been strong so far in his sophomore season, but is coming off his second straight loss. His last start came against the Rangers where he just happened to get out-dueled by Yu Darvish. Drabek went 6.0 innings, giving up just two runs on five hits, striking out eight and walking two. There is concern about Drabek’s control, as he’s walked 15 batters in five starts, and he has seen his pitch counts climb into triple digits while only making it through seven innings once. He’s shown marked improvement over last season, when he posted a 51:55 K:BB ratio in 78.2 innings in 2011, but he’ll need to get even better if he hopes to find some consistent success this season.
May 6: Jerome Williams (2-1, 3.55 ERA) vs Drew Hutchison (1-0, 6.61 ERA)
Williams has come all the way back from a terrible opening start to become a strength of this rotation. In his last three starts, Williams has struck out 18 and walked just 5 while giving up just five earned runs in 22.2 innings. He gave up that many runs in 2.2 innings to start the season. His last start was one of the best of his career, as he threw a three-hit shutout against Minnesota, striking out six and walking just one. The journeyman righty does not have a track record of sustaining success, so it may be a short lived run of , but for now he’s dealing strong and making this rotation one of the best in the AL despite getting no help from Santana.
Hutchison is a 21-year old righty that is learning to start on the fly for Toronto. He’s been taking his lumps early this year, getting hit for five runs in two of his three starts, and has yet to pitch more than 6.0 innings in a start this season. He’s given up 12 earned runs in just 16.1 innings of work, and has walked more than the Jays would like, averaging two free passes a start. Still, he’s young and still working on figuring out how to pitch in the big leagues, so some growing pains are to be expected. If he can harness his raw talent, he could be a phenomenal pitcher to watch, but for now he’s a young, inexperienced kid piecing it together as he goes.
Storylines to Watch
April is finally over, and that joyous sound you hear is Angels fans everywhere rejoicing. Things could not have gone much worse for Los Angeles over the first month of the season, but it seems like things are starting to click into place. The starting pitching is hot right now, with back-to-back complete game shutouts to start the month of May. The bullpen has been shuffled and the answer to the closer role seems to have been answered by Scott Downs (at least for now). Most importantly, the offense is starting to score some runs and nobody can seem to get Torii Hunter out. In fact, the only real question left is THE question: When is Albert Pujols going to hit a home run?
For Toronto, the story is all about their offense. They’re mashing in runs, ranked 6th in baseball in runs scored, but they’ve gotten almost no production from where they thought they would. Jose Bautista is hiting just .180/.321/.337 with four home runs and 12 RBI. He’s driving in some runs, but Bautista has become one of the most feared hitters in baseball, so his struggles are surprising. Also surprising, but in a good way, has been the unbelievably hot start of Edwin Encarnacion, who’s off to a .320/.376/.680 start, leading the team in batting average, home runs (9), RBI (24), and hits (31). If the Jays can get both of these sluggers hot at the same time, they may be an unstoppable beast out of the East.
The Angels have their first bona fide winning streak of the season, and picked up a couple of games in the division, thanks to Toronto taking two of three from Texas. They’re now tied for last in the West with Seattle, but are still 2.5 back from catching Oakland. The Halos were able to get things going against a severely limited Twins club, but the momentum from that series could help push the team back up the standings. This will be a tough test, but will go a long way in determining if this team has finally turned the corner towards being who they were expected to be.
The Blue Jays are sitting in the middle of the pack in the AL East, two games back of Baltimore and 3.5 behind the red-hot Rays. They’ve been able to maintain their powerful offense despite a struggling Bautista thanks to the combined efforts of Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson. Their pitching has been middling at best, though Drabek and Romero are flashing moments of dominance. Taking two of three from the hottest team in baseball (at the time with Texas) is a huge boost for this club who will need to keep hot streaks going and break some key members of the team out of early season funks if they want to be factors in the AL East come August and September.
The Hangout View
Both of these clubs are coming off some impressive series, though the competition for Toronto’s was much stiffer. The Angels finally got some good mojo flowing off a soft early season schedule and they have the recipe to keep it going: hot starting pitching. The Jays have gotten through some games by out-mashing their opponents and winning in a slug fest. If this series becomes that, the Angels will likely lose. However, the strength of this club is their starting pitching, and they have three quality guys taking the hill for them, so I think they have a shot at winning three of four, but will likely come away with a split, winning two of four against the visiting Jays.