Rays series preview: Who are the Angels?
Finally, mercifully, baseball is back. The Rays are on the West Coast for seven days, starting with a three-game series against the Angels. Here's the information you need to know about L.A. before the action kicks off.
How's the team?
Record: 45-47, second in AL West
Under Mike Scioscia — the longest-tenured active manager in MLB — the Angels have made the playoffs just once since 2010, with a 635-591 record in that span. This year, despite injuries to star center fielder Mike Trout and seemingly every member of the rotation, the Halos have hung around, trailing the Rays by three games for the second AL Wild Card. Like Tampa Bay, Los Angeles of Anaheim (oy, what a mouthful) has been around .500 most of the season, and with Trout due to return tonight, the team could make a run down the stretch.
What's the media saying?
"The Angels could have collapsed without Trout and no one would have been surprised. He's their heart, their engine, their leader in every way. Throw in the fact that they have seven pitchers on the disabled list, and their season seemed doomed. Instead, the Angels have scraped and clawed, relying on a surprisingly effective bullpen and solid defense to stay competitive." (Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times)
"When I look at the Angels and their playoffs chances I see a team that has played decent despite missing Trout, who is not only their best player but the best player in baseball. And now he's back!" (Elijah Zabludoff, Fox Sports West)
"For a team that has been decidedly average – the Angels have been within four games of .500 all year – a tidy six- or seven-game winning streak suddenly would mean being among the top four clubs in the league." (Jeff Miller, Orange County Register)
For now, Nolasco and Ramirez are listed as the first two starters in this series, but the Sunday starter remains to be seen. We'll update this post once they announce who's taking the hill in the finale.
Friday: Ricky Nolasco (101-1/3 innings, 5.06 ERA) — In the final season of a four-year, $49 million contract, Nolasco has had trouble keeping the ball in the yard. No pitcher in baseball has allowed more round-trippers than Nolasco (25). By FIP, a metric that uses strikeouts, walks and home runs to gauge a pitcher's performance, Nolasco has never pitched this poorly. He'll receive considerably less than $49 million when he hits the free-agent market this offseason.
Saturday: JC Ramirez (103 innings, 4.46 ERA) — On Sept. 2, 2011, Ramirez started a game for Double A Reading (the Phillies affiliate). It would be his last start at any level until April of this year, when the Angels slotted the journeyman right-hander into their rotation. Ramirez's first nine trips through the rotation saw him put up a 3.20 ERA; he's been rocked for a 6.05 ERA in his most recent eight outings. A strike-thrower who gets ground balls yet has a home run problem, Ramirez has shown some potential this year, but at age 28 he's probably not much better than this.
Sunday: Parker Bridwell (33-1/3 innings, 3.24 ERA) — I know I just printed it, but ignore the ERA. Bridwell is nothing more than a depth piece, a starter the Angels have used because they have no one else. His career ERA in the minors is 4.74, and he hasn't done much better in MLB: Opponents have a .291 average and .500 slugging percentage against him this season. Thanks to some good luck, he's worked his way out of a few jams, but that won't continue for long.
Who's hot? Who's not?
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is known for his elite glove, but he's impressed with the bat this year — especially recently. Over his last 51 games and 212 plate appearances, he's hit .332 with a .373 on-base percentage and .526 slugging percentage. An interesting factlet: In that span, he has 18 doubles and 18 strikeouts, which is always a recipe for success. For the year as a whole, he has a batting line of .290/.341/.438, which along with his slick fielding has made him one of the best position players in the AL.
The Angels have second baseman Danny Espinosa in their lineup for his defense — he's started 64 of the club's 92 games at the keystone. With the way he's hit as of late, that might not last. In his last 23 games, Espinosa has come to the plate 71 times and posted a measly .156/.214/.219 slash line. He's struck out in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances, without much power to make up for it. And even before this cold stretch, he was hitting .165/.246/.299. As one half of the Los Angeles double-play combo has had a career year at the plate, the other half has bottomed out.
For a few years now, the Angels pitching staff has struggled to stay healthy. That's continued in 2017, as starters Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs are slated to miss this series. Veteran reliever Andrew Bailey is out, and Huston Street might be as well (he might need some more time to rehab). Trout, as noted, should make his return for this series, so he'll add some MVP-level pop to the Halos lineup.