LA Angels Series Preview: Angels @ Mariners (4/1/19)

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 12: Dee Gordon #9 slides safely at home scoring on an RBI single hit by Kyle Seager #15 of the Seattle Mariners as Martin Maldonado #12 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim awaits the throw during the first inning of a game at Angel Stadium on July 12, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 12: Dee Gordon #9 slides safely at home scoring on an RBI single hit by Kyle Seager #15 of the Seattle Mariners as Martin Maldonado #12 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim awaits the throw during the first inning of a game at Angel Stadium on July 12, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The LA Angels are coming out of the gates hot, playing like one of the best teams in baseball. Mike Trout is back to being Trout after the Angels showed exactly why they can take this team through a competitive season with undeniable strong play against Oakland. The supporting cast has never been stronger. Our faith has never been more concrete.

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The LA Angels aren’t looking very good after that first series of the season which saw them drop a 4 game set to the Oakland A’s 3-1. While most question marks about the Angels coming into the season regarded their pitching most people didn’t really expect the hitting to be this critical a problem.

Justin Upton is hurt for 2-3 months with what initially seemed to be an “inconsequential” injury, Albert Pujols is swinging the bat like he hasn’t been on a baseball field in years (the story as usual), and most hitters generally look unready and uncompetitive.

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That can all change within a week of play however. The bullpen may not be as shut down a week from now, the hitting can be totally turned around and the starters might be more serviceable than shown, things are always liable to change in baseball.

All of these factors can criss-cross each other and come into play at different times of the season but if the Angels can operate as a team and perform like a singular, grooved unit, with a hitting/pitching tandem there won’t be nearly as much trouble going forward.

It’s a long season, 1-3 can turn into 10-3 real quick. Although I’d rather have the Angels start the season 3-13 and compete for the rest of the season than see a repeat of 2018 where they compete heavily and go 13-3 to open the season before trotting mediocrely through most of the year.

Angels @ Mariners

Probable Pitchers

(4/1) – 7:10 PM PT @ FS-W:  Chris Stratton (0-0, -.– ERA) vs Felix Hernandez (0-0, -.– ERA)

(4/2) – 7:10 PM PT @ FS-W: Trevor Cahill (0-1, 6.00 ERA) vs Marco Gonzales (2-0, 4.76 ERA)

After the Angels limped through a rough Opening Series there seems to be even more left unsure. Questions about the starting staff have only gone deeper as most starters, aside from Matt Harvey, did not look up to par in the series. Now we have Chris Stratton, who came into the Angels organization at the very end of Spring Training in a swap of rookie Williams Jerez to the Giants for Stratton. Even though the bullpen is lacking lefty power there was still plenty of sense behind this last-minute trade.

The Angels need versatility within their pitching, they need someone who can provide emergency innings wherever need be. As a starter or from the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever, really anywhere the Angels need innings.

It just so happens that he is starting in the 5th spot because of (surprise surprise) injuries to the starting rotation. Chris Stratton is another “reclamation project” by the Angels that could very well turn out to be a diamond in the rough with enough elbow grease and lucky horseshoes.

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The Angels have tons of flyers on “reclamation projects” this year so it’s only logical at some point one of them pans out in a big way, right? If the Angels need it to be anyone that would be Chris Stratton, who threw 145 IP in 2018 with the Giants, although to a 5.09 ERA.

That was his age 27 season, the year before in 2017 we saw Stratton pitch to a 58.2 IP with a 3.68 ERA and 52 Ks. In total Stratton went from facing 256 hitters in 2017 to 625 batters faced in 2018. It’s not so much about how much he did in 2018, but the jump in facing almost 400 extra batters in just one season.

One has to wonder if Stratton can come through with a more “2017” form that sees him maintain a sub 4 ERA while offering up a handful of much-needed innings without being overstretched. We don’t want to have to rely on Stratton all season long (unless he has a career year), so if he is able to come through in the spots that he needs to by putting up 4-5 quality innings so the dominant bullpen (so far) can handle the game we’ll see a rotation in far better shape than we saw in Oakland.

The bullpen went through 12.2 scoreless IP against the Oakland A’s and that will be a key to success more so than starting pitching. Even with the Angels starters putting up mediocre starts the bullpen still carried the Angels into winnable situations each game in that series. If Stratton steps up as a bleeding-stopper and shows he can work wins for the next days starter to build off then it seems we’d have, at the very least, a workable rotation.

The idea of a workable rotation goes deeply into the starters who flailed against the A’s step up soon. It looks like we’ll be seeing Trevor Cahill looking to step up in game 2 of this quick series. He wasn’t actually all that bad in his Opening Day start; aside from a few mistakes he still offered 6 IP of 4 runs allowed. It’s not the most attractive start, but it’s something that absolutely will keep a game winnable.

While it would be better to see Cahill put up a killer start against the Mariners it’s fair to say the another repeat of 6 IP and 4 runs would give the Angels another winnable game. Of course we want to see him improve and offer the Angels more stability, especially when he’s being paid $10 million, but if he can continue offers 5-6 innings of 3-4 run baseball the Angels will have no excuses for losses except their sputtering offense.

Even when King Felix was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball the Angels still knew how to work him on the mound. The Angels have the most HR’s (41) on him by any team whose seen at least 300 IP of Hernandez.

On top of that, King Felix has seen his career hit a down turn lately, he hasn’t won a game over his last 11 appearances and posted a 5+ ERA season in 2018 (155.2 IP). Even though the A’s starters presented plenty of opportunity for damage that the Angels missed there is great chance that they will be able to tag Hernandez and find themselves in a more competitive form. This would especially be huge not just for the fans, but for the ballclub as well, especially after such a deflating Opening Series.

The Angels had a pitching clinic run on them by the struggling A’s pitching Marco Estrada and now they face another mediocre-Marco, although Gonzales has been finding himself pretty well as of late. Last year, 2018, was his first year pitching over 34.2 IP in his 5 year career after going 166.2 IP season with a 4.00 ERA. Calling him mediocre may be a stretch, especially as he has pitched to a 3.34 ERA in six starts vs the Angels last year, but the reality is he’s a very hittable pitcher.

Next. More on the Trade for Chris Stratton

Should the Angels hitting fail to come up against Marco Gonzales with hitting then we should probably evaluate different offensive options while we’re still fresh out of the 2019 gates. The offense doesn’t need to flip into a group of sluggers overnight, they just need to present more competitive at-bats. If they can provide at-bats that provide more methodical pressure than what they did against the A’s we’ll get the pleasure of watching an actually competitive Angels squad.

The first game of this two-game set versus the Mariners, in which Chris Stratton will take the mound vs Felix Hernandez , can be viewed on Fox Sports West at 7:10 PM PT.