The Angels just split a short two-game series with the Diamondbacks, and they will now welcome the Blue Jays to town.
Here’s a look at the series, by the numbers.
Head to Head
The Angels have lost seven of their last nine games, and they are now 39-35 on the season and in third place in the American League West. Meanwhile, the Astros have won 13 of their last 14 games, opening up a 3.5-game lead on the second-place Mariners and a 10.5-game lead over the Angels, who are seven games behind Seattle in the race for the second Wild Card spot.
Like the Angels, the Blue Jays are also coming off of an interleague series split; they won one and lost one against the Braves. Toronto has won four of its last five games, but, at 34-39, it is 16 games back of first place in the AL East and 11.5 games back in the Wild Card race. The Angels and Blue Jays met in Toronto for the first time this year about a month ago, when the Angels won two out of three games.
Here’s how the two teams match up heading into their final meeting of the season:
Neither of these teams have changed much since the first time they faced off in 2018. At the beginning of that May series, the Angels were five games over .500, and the Blue Jays were three games below .500. At the time, Toronto was fading from the postseason picture and have now fallen all the way out of it. Now, the Angels are struggling to remain relevant in the postseason race and hoping not to be in the Blue Jays’ present position a month from now.
Demonstrated by the teams’ run differentials, the Angels have played significantly better than Toronto this year. They have similar offenses, both in terms of runs scored and home runs hit, but Toronto has failed to find consistent pitching. The Blue Jays’ starting staff’s 4.95 ERA ranks 25th in the majors while their bullpen’s 4.07 ERA places 19th.
To be fair, the Blue Jays’ poor defense has undoubtedly hurt their pitchers. By FIP, which minimizes the impact of defense, Angels and Blue Jays pitchers are much closer, and Toronto’s bullpen has actually performed better in that metric.
Toronto’s Starting Pitchers
The Angels will face Aaron Sanchez in the first game of the series. Sanchez has the highest walk rate among qualified starting pitchers, and his results have suffered accordingly, as he has posted a 4.35 ERA. He and his 94-mph sinker are still generating ground balls at the 11th-highest rate, however, and he has produced better results of late, earning a 2.95 ERA in his last three starts.
Sanchez was not sharp in his first start against the Angels this year. In five innings, he did not allow a run, but it took him 97 pitches (53 strikes). In that outing, he walked five Angels and only struck out two.
Marco Estrada will start the second game for the Blue Jays. Estrada was great in his first two seasons with the Blue Jays, 2015 and 2016, but he has the third-highest ERA in the majors since the start of last year. In 2018, he owns the second-highest fly-ball rate and has permitted 14 homers in 14 starts. He still possesses a deadly changeup, but his 90-mph fastball is getting crushed to the tune of a .284 batting average and a .589 slugging percentage.
Similar to Sanchez, Estrada’s last three starts have been much better, as he has allowed just three runs in 18 2/3 frames while punching out 19 and walking only three. Last month, the Angels knocked him out of his start after just 4 1/3 innings, tagging him for four runs on seven hits.
On Saturday, Toronto’s Marcus Stroman will make his first start since May 8, after being sidelined with a shoulder issue. The 27-year-old was off to a rocky start in 2018, but he was very good last year, earning a 3.09 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 201 innings.
Stroman throws mostly sinkers and sliders and is one of the sport’s best when it comes to inducing grounders, with his 61% ground-ball rate since 2016 ranking number one in baseball. In his only start against the Angels last year, he permitted two runs (one earned) in a complete-game effort, and he has a 3.86 ERA in three career starts at Angel Stadium.
In the series finale, the Blue Jays will send Jaime Garcia to the mound. In 13 starts, Garcia owns an ugly 6.16 ERA and 5.48 FIP. Garcia once generated grounders with a similar frequency to Stroman, but that has not been the case this year. From 2010 to 2017, Garcia’s 56.1% ground-ball rate was the 10th-lowest among qualified starters. This year, that number is all the way down to 42%, and he has served up 12 home runs, the same number that he surrendered in 2014 and 2015 combined.
His fastball velocity is at its lowest mark since 2015, and opposing batters are hitting .425 and slugging .781 against it. He has given up at least four runs in three of his last four starts and has only lasted more than five innings three times this year. The lefty did not pitch in Toronto’s first series against the Angels this year, but he did not allow an earned run in seven innings in one start against them last year.
For the Angels, Tyler Skaggs will start on Thursday, John Lamb will start on Friday, Andrew Heaney will start on Saturday, and Jaime Barria will start opposite a pitcher with the same first name on Sunday.
The Angels started the season on fire. On April 15, they had a 13-3 record and had scored more runs than any other team, averaging 6.4 per game. They had outscored their opponents by 48 runs. Since then, however, the Angels have put together a 26-32 record and have scored the fourth-fewest runs in the AL, averaging about four per game. They have been outscored by 20 runs in that span. To make matters worse, Houston and Seattle have the second and third-best records, respectively, in that time.
The decline surely has a lot to do with the number of injuries that the team has sustained in that span, but it also has to do with the quality of their competition. In that opening 16-game stretch, the Angels played Oakland seven times and Cleveland, Texas, and Kansas City three times each. Those four teams currently have a combined .444 winning percentage.
News & Notes
On Tuesday, the Angels acquired Deck McGuire from Texas for cash considerations or a player to be named later and cleared a 40-man roster spot for him by designating catcher Juan Graterol for assignment. McGuire, who was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake, owns a 4.09 ERA in 22 career big-league innings, and he had a 4.05 ERA in 46 1/3 Triple-A innings split between the Blue Jays and Rangers’ affiliates in 2018.
Later that night, the Angels activated Kaleb Cowart from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A. They also sent right-handed pitcher Jake Jewell down to Triple-A, but, at the time of writing, a corresponding move had not yet been announced.
Kole Calhoun made his return to the field on Monday, after an oblique injury kept him out for a couple of weeks. Debuting a new batting stance, Calhoun promptly went 3-for-7 with a home run (his first since Opening Day) in his first two games back.
On Monday, the Nationals acquired Kelvin Herrera from the Royals in exchange for a couple of prospects, and the Angels were reportedly among the teams that were also in contact with Kansas City about the reliever.
Herrera, who has permitted just three runs and two walks in 26 2/3 innings this year, will be a free-agent at season’s end, so, considering how much ground they still have to make up in the standings, it probably would not have been worth it for the Angels to meet Kansas City’s asking price. The Angels need bullpen help, but there are other options that make more sense, such as San Diego’s Brad Hand, who is under contract through 2021.
When & Where to Watch
Thursday June 21, 2018 (Skaggs vs. Sanchez): 7:07 PM PT, FOX Sports West
Friday June 22, 2018 (Lamb vs. Estrada): 7:07 PM PT, FOX Sports West
Saturday June 23, 2018 (Heaney vs. Stroman): 6:07 PM PT, FOX Sports West
Sunday June 24, 2018 (Barria vs. Garcia): 1:07 PM PT, FOX Sports West
Last time the Angels played the Blue Jays, they were hoping to get back on track before facing the Yankees, and they did. This time, they’re hoping to get back on track before facing the Red Sox to start next week, a goal that is even more important to meet now than it was then. Furthermore, this series presents the Angels with a nice opportunity to reestablish themselves in the Wild Card race, especially since Seattle will be playing in Boston this weekend.
Featured image via MLB.com.