Los Angeles Angels have shown resiliency.

The Los Angeles Angels little big man Johnny Giavotella continues to show he is strong in the clutch: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Angels little big man Johnny Giavotella continues to show he is strong in the clutch: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Los Angeles Angels went into the four-game series hoping to compete despite their rash of injuries.  After taking three of four games from their neighbors to the North, the Los Angeles Dodgers, they are once again Kings of SOCAL.

The Los Angeles Angels seem to be at their best when their backs have been pushed against the wall.  On paper the Dodgers looked like an overwhelming favorite to take the annual Freeway Series.  In the first two games in Los Angeles the pitching match-ups favored the Dodgers heavily with the Angels Matt Shoemaker and his 9.14 ERA facing Dodgers Japanese rookie sensation Kenta Maeda and his minuscule 2.30 ERA. This was followed by the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw and his 1.74 ERA vs. Angels Jered Weaver and his 6.10 ERA.

In the first game Shoemaker got in trouble early giving up two runs in the second inning and it looked like he and the Los Angeles Angels would be in for a long night.  However the Angels bounced right back in support of Shoemaker touching Maeda for four runs led by some unlikely sources.  Carlos Perez batting .155 led off with a double and scored on an RBI-single by Gregorio Petit who was called up due to Cliff Pennington going on the DL over the weekend.  Yunel Escobar singled and Kole Calhoun walked to load the bases. 

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Then what would be a tone-setter for the series the once anemic Angels offense started coming through with runners in scoring position which had been an Achilles Heel all season.  First Mike Trout singles to plate two runs giving the Angels a 3-2 lead, Albert Pujols would continue his clutch hitting driving in Calhoun with a line-drive single up the middle to extend the lead to two.

The Angels continue to hit building a 7-4 lead, but then they had to withstand a Dodgers rally that cut the final margin of victory to one at 7-6.

Game two went as expected with Kershaw continuing his brilliant season, by holding the Angels to one run and four hits in eight innings striking out 11 Angels in the process en route to a 5-1 Dodgers victory.  The lone bight spot was that Jered Weaver had a solid outing, despite taking the loss.  Weaver allowed four runs (three earned) in seven innings of work to keep the Angels close, but it wouldn’t matter as Kershaw was just too good earning his 6th win of the season while lowering his ERA to 1.67.

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On Wednesday night Los Angeles Angels starter Nick Tropeano put together the longest outing of his career going seven innings giving up only one run on seven hits while lowering his ERA to 3.30 and evening his record at 2-2. The big moment of the game was when Tropeano escaped a second and third one out situation in the fourth inning only allowing one run.  He also got out of a bases loaded no-out situation by getting by striking out Enrique Hernandez and then getting Justin Turner to ground into a double play to end the threat.

The Angels got plenty of offense from a plethora of players en route to a five-run 5th inning to take a 6-1 lead.  C.J. Cron had an RBI single to give the Angels a 2-1 lead later in the inning Rafael Ortega had a two-run bloop double and then Carlos Perez added a sac fly to cap the five-run outburst. This continued the Los Angeles Angels recent trend of clutch-hitting with runners in scoring position.  It also continued a season-long trend of Dodgers bullpen failures as the pen gave up ten runs in 13 innings of work during the four-game series including five runs in 3.2 innings in game three of the series.

The final game of the series may have been the most stirring victory for the Angels, as they found themselves trailing 3-2 in the top of the 5th and Jhoulys Chacin struggling, Mike Scioscia made a bold move replacing Chacin with left-hander Jose Alvarez.  Alvarez got Joc Pederson to ground out (although one run scored), then Trayce Thompson grounded out to Gregorio Petit to end the threat.  This would prove key as the Angels would start a comeback in the bottom of the fifth.

Petit would lead-off with a single and then Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout would walk to load the bases with only one out.  However Albert Pujols struck out leaving it up to C.J. Cron and the bottom of the order to get the job done. Cron got hit by a Stripling pitch to force in a run making the score 4-3.  That brought Dodgers manager Dave Roberts out to the mound and he replaced Stripling with Chris Hatcher.

Mr. Clutch, Johnny G. comes through again.

When Johnny Giavotella stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning of the final game of the 2016 Freeway Series, the crowd was at a crescendo with everyone of the record crowd of 45,007 at Angel Stadium on their feet.  Giavotella known for clutch hits, came through with one of the biggest of the young season lacing a Hatcher pitch into left field for a two-run single scoring Calhoun and Trout giving the Angels a 5-4 lead.

The Giavotella hit was a turning point in the contest and the Angels would add two more runs in the sixth on a Carlos Perez solo homer and a Mike Trout RBI-ground out and in contrast to the Dodgers bullpen, the Angels pen shut down the Dodgers to clinch the Angels first season-series victory over the Dodgers since 2013.

3 Keys to recent hot streak

More importantly for the Angels they kept their recent surge alive winning for the sixth time in seven games following a six-game losing streak.

Better starting pitching

The keys in the Los Angeles Angels recent better play is three-fold. First of all the starting pitching has been much-improved.  After having only one pitcher complete six innings in their past 14 games going into last Saturday’s game vs. Seattle.  Starting with Jhoulys Chacin’s going seven innings that night the Angels have had their starters go seven innings four times in seven games and they also got a solid performance from Matt Shoemaker who got his first victory since April 13th on Monday night giving up three runs in five innings.

Improved work from the bullpen

Despite blowing a four-run lead in last Saturday night’s 9-7 victory over Seattle, the bullpen despite missing closer Huston Street has been much more reliable over the past week. Joe Smith picked up three saves this past week and Fernando Salas added two saves to close out five of the six victories.  The most impressive bullpen performance was the final game of the Dodgers series when the pen held the Dodgers to no hits and no runs over the final 4.2 innings allowing the Angels offense to rally for the series-clinching victory. 

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Clutch Hitting by those not named Escobar, Calhoun, or Trout

The top three hitters in the Los Angeles Angels line up have been solid all season as Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun, and Mike Trout have all hit close to .300 or better throughout the season. However, once you got past them the Angels line-up had a major drop off as Johnny Giavotella, Albert Pujols, Carlos Perez, and C.J. Cron have all struggled to even hit their weight during the first 35 games of the season.

However, in the past seven games all have come up with clutch hits and with the exception of Perez have raised their batting averages well above .200.  Cron provided the decisive two-run single in last Friday’s 7-6 victory over Seattle that ended the Angels six-game slide.  The following night Pujols had the key blow, a dramatic 9th inning three-run blast to rally the Angels to a 9-7 win.

On Monday against the Dodgers Pujols went 3 for 4 with three RBI’s and Perez also went two for three scoring a run in the 7-6 win.  Pujols again stepped up two nights later with a 2 for 3 night driving in one run and scoring a run. Giavotella and Perez also drove in runs and rookie Rafael Ortega joined the party with a two for three night driving in two runs. Finally in the finale Giavotella came through with a two-run single and Perez and Cron also drove in runs in the come from behind 7-4 victory.

When manager Mike Scioscia was asked about the team’s issues after last Thursday’s sixth straight loss he alluded to all three areas of concern that he said injuries or no injuries had to get improve for the Angels could compete: Looks like the team took some notes and listened to their manager, hopefully it will continue even as the injuries keep mounting.

This last week’s performance shows a great sense of resiliency from this year’s 2016 Los Angeles Angels.  If they can stay close in the race until they get some of their injured players back from the DL in the next six weeks, the season could be interesting down the stretch.

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As the A-Team’s Hannibal Smith (George Peppard) used to say during the 1980’s hit show “I love it when a plan comes together”.  Let’s hope this is the case for the 2016 Los Angeles Angels.