Following a season-long 11-game homestand that saw the Angels win just four games, the team will head to Toronto to face off against a similarly struggling postseason hopeful. In the three-game series, the Angels will send Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Nick Tropeano to the mound, and the Blue Jays will counter with J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada.
Here’s a look at the series, by the numbers.
Head to Head
The Angels are currently 26-21 and in third place in the American League West while the Blue Jays have fallen to 22-25 and fourth place in the AL East, after losing four in a row and eight of their last 10. Last year, the Angels and Blue Jays played seven tightly-contested games, with the Angels winning four games and outscoring the Toronto by just two runs. Here’s how the two clubs stack up at the time of their first meeting of 2018:
Judging them solely on runs scored, these are two of the better offenses in baseball, as both rank in the top 10 in that metric. And, with just one home run separating the two, they score runs in a similar way, as they are both in the top six in homers. The difference in team success, however, stems from the pitching side of things. The Angels’ starting staff is the fourth-best in the AL by ERA thus far while the Blue Jays’ is second-worst, though Toronto’s reliable bullpen has kept them competitive.
Toronto’s Starting Pitchers
In game one, the Angels will see Happ, Toronto’s best starter. The left-hander owns a 4.15 ERA and a 30.7% strikeout rate on the season, the ninth-best mark in the majors. He also limits his walks, issuing a free pass to just 6.1% of the batters he faces. Happ throws his sinker about one out of every four pitches and thus generates an abundance of grounders, doing so at a 50% rate.
In his last start, he allowed just two hits across seven scoreless frames against the Mets. This is a tough matchup for the Angels offense, especially considering the team’s puzzling struggles against left-handed pitching. On the bright side, the current Angels roster has earned a .602 slugging percentage in previous meetings with Happ.
On Wednesday, Sanchez will take the mound for the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old led the AL in ERA in 2016, his first full season. He has dealt with a slew of injuries since, however, and struggled to regain his 2016 form. In 2018, his strikeouts are down and his walks are way up; only two starting pitchers have higher walk rates.
Sanchez’s velocity is also down a tick, but his fastball still averages over 94 mph. Like Happ, Sanchez utilizes a sinker and is a ground-ball machine, posting the eighth-highest ground-ball rate among starters. The results simply haven’t been there for the talented right-hander, though, and he has allowed four runs in three of his last four starts.
Lastly, the Angels will face righty Marco Estrada, who has struggled more than any Blue Jays pitcher; only twelve starting pitchers have a higher ERA this season. Opposing batters have an .871 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against Estrada. In other words, he has turned every hitter into Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
Estrada is the opposite of Happ and Sanchez in that he is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. He lives in the upper part of the strike zone with a fastball that averages less than 90 mph and contrasts it with a changeup low in the zone that is his most effective pitch. The right-hander has given up at least four runs in five of his nine starts this year.
Richards, Tuesday’s starter, threw his slider 41 times in his last start, the third start this year in which he’s thrown the pitch more than 40% of the time. He has a 3.00 ERA and 19 strikeouts in those three starts.
At 2906 rpm, Richards’ slider has the highest average spin rate among all big-league starters. At 89.9 mph, Richards also throws the fourth-hardest slider among starting pitchers. No wonder opposing batters are hitting just .136 against the pitch this year.
Toronto’s top three hitters–Curtis Granderson, Justin Smoak, and Teoscar Hernandez–are hitting .197 with 31 strikeouts–a 51% rate–against sliders this season. Josh Donaldson, who is traditionally the team’s best hitter, is batting .111 with 15 strikeouts against the pitch this year.
In his first 14 games this year, Zack Cozart hit .286/.328/.492 (123 wRC+, where 100 is average). He followed that up with a 13-game stretch in which he batted .133/.216/.244 (28 wRC+). In his next eight games, he slashed .297/.381/.595 (167 wRC+). Now he’s stuck in a 2-for-18 stretch.
It’s Not How You Start…
This month, Angels starting pitchers have dominated to the tune of a 2.08 ERA, second-best in the AL. However, it’s been a mediocre month for the team partly because their bullpen has a 5.49 ERA, second-worst in the AL.
Without a reliable reliever to lean on, the late innings have been a bit frenetic for manager Mike Scioscia lately. Blake Parker, who earned the save on Sunday and was outstanding last year, has strung together nine consecutive scoreless appearances and appears to be the closer at the moment, though that title seems to be passed around every week. Regardless of whether Parker can sustain this type of success, it has become increasingly clear that the Angels are going to need to look outside the organization for relief reinforcements this season.
The Blue Jays have had the opposite problem this year, as they have one of the five worst starting staffs and one of the ten best bullpens.
News & Notes
Keynan Middleton, who had a 2.04 ERA in 17 2/3 innings out of the bullpen this year, is going to have Tommy John surgery. He’ll miss the remainder of 2018 and at least part of next year. Middleton will become the second Angels pitcher to undergo the surgery this year, joining J.C. Ramirez.
Over the weekend, the Rays used reliever Sergio Romo as a starter two days in row against the Angels in an innovative attempt to mask their starting pitching issues. Cozart wasn’t a fan and thinks that it’s “bad for baseball,” which, um, doesn’t make much sense to say the least.
The Angels added backup catcher Rene Rivera to the disabled list due to “right knee inflammation” on Sunday. Catcher Jose Briceno, who was part of the Andrelton Simmons trade, took Rivera’s spot on the roster. The 25-year-old was hitting .261/.272/.500 with six home runs with Triple-A Salt Lake this year and has yet to make his major-league debut.
When & Where to Watch
Tuesday May 22, 2018 (Richards vs. Happ): 4:07 PM PT, FOX Sports West.
Wednesday May 23, 2018 (Skaggs vs. Sanchez): 4:07 PM PT, FOX Sports West.
Thursday May 24, 2018 (Tropeano vs. Estrada): 9:37 AM PT, Facebook Watch.
The Angels had a rough weekend, but at least it ended with a win. The Blue Jays were not so lucky. Instead, Toronto’s weekend ended with former Angels slugger Kendrys Morales pitching the ninth inning for them in a 9-2 loss against the Athletics that capped off a four-game sweep. The Blue Jays had one of those dreaded team meetings a couple of days ago, and they’re under .500 for the first time since the third day of the season. Suffice it to say that the Blue Jays are not in a good place right now.
The Angels are not playing particularly well at the moment either, but they have managed to keep their heads above water. Toronto is sinking quickly, and the Angels have a good opportunity to get back on track before facing the super-powered Yankees this weekend.
Featured image via Keith Allison/Flickr.