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Angels Series Preview: The last big test against a fellow contender

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After this series, its pretty much smooth sailing

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City has cruised out to a league-best mark of 68-45, and would you believe the toughest part of their schedule is well past them? The Royals have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, allowing them to coast into October. They have just 21 of their remaining 50 games against teams with winning records. Of those, 16 come against teams no more than two games over .500. The only remaining games against teams that have a serious shot at the post-season are their one-game makeup in Wrigley Field in late September, and their four games against the Angels this weekend.

The Angels have slumped since the All-Star break, and have lost 13 of their last 18 games to fall to 59-54, two games back of Houston. They've been shutout four times over that time, and have suffered three walk-off losses, including last night's 13-inning affair against the White Sox. The Angels have been a lousy road team, with a 23-31 record away from Anaheim, including a 3-13 road record against teams that are currently in a playoff spot.

The Angels offense hasn't been as good as anticipated, despite strong seasons from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Los Angeles is eleventh in the league in runs scored, despite being sixth in home runs hit. They are last in the league in BABIP at .281, suggesting they might be unlucky. Left-fielder Matt Joyce, acquired last winter from Tampa Bay, has been disastrous and is now on the disabled list. Third baseman David Freese will also miss this series with a finger injury.

The Angels added a trio of veteran outfielders before the trade deadline - Shane Victorino, David Murphy, and former Royals outfielder David DeJesus. They also picked up third baseman Conor Gillaspie from the White Sox for cash considrations. The club has gotten subpar performance from a number of other positions including designated hitter, catcher, and shortstop. Even a surprisingly capable performance by former Royals infielder Johnny Giavotella has been below league average.

The Angels are a pretty average baserunning and defensive team. Part-timers like Taylor Featherston and Kole Calhoun have been quite good, while only Johnny Giavotella and his -13 Defensive Runs Saved serve as the only major liability on the field. The Angels are second-to-last in stolen bases with only Mike Trout and Erick Aybar serving as any kind of threat on the bases. The Halos have a dreadful 61% success rate when attempting a steal.

Garrett Richards has bounced back from a knee injury that ended his outstanding 2014 season prematurely. Richards is one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball with a fastball that averages 95 mph. Despite the velocity, he doesn't strike out a ton of hitters, and he has a rather large split with a 4.84 ERA on the road with opponents hitting .288/.340/.429. At the other end of the spectrum is Jered Weaver, whose 83 mph fastball is the third-slowest among all pitchers. Weaver tied for the league lead in wins last year with 18, but has struggled this year, dropping his last four decisions.

Matt Shoemaker was a late bloomer who came on to win 16 games last year as a 27-year old rookie. He has maintained a terrific strikeout-to-walk ratio, but has seen his home runs skyrocket and he is fifth in the league in home run rate. Shoemaker had a streak of three straight starts without allowing a run snapped last time out when he allowed seven runs to the White Sox. Hector Santiago was a near All-Star selection this year, but has given up 16 runs in 26 1/3 innings since the break and has benefited from a low BABIP. In 35 1/3 career innings against the Royals, the lefty has a 1.53 ERA.

The Angels bullpen has been middle-of-the-road, although they are the third-stingiest in giving up home runs. Closer Huston Street has converted 26-of-29 save opportunities and has a streak of five outings in a row without allowing a run. Lefty Cesar Ramos has a 1.98 ERA but a 3.24 ERA and just 6.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings. Righty Fernando Salas has an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.5, and the ratio would 13.0 if you took out the intentional walks. Righty submariner Joe Smith and 22-year old rookie Trevor Gott also serve as effective middle relievers.

The Angels have had a tumultuous season, and I'm not even talking about their dustup with the Royals back in April after getting swept at home. A power struggle in the front office that led to the ouster of General Manager Jerry DiPoto, the embarrassing way the team threw Josh Hamilton under the bus upon trading him, and second-half swoon have made for an uncomfortable season for the Angels. The Royals could end up facing the Angels in October as they did last year, sweeping them in the ALDS. This will likely be the last decent team the Royals play in quite some time, so if it is to be a tune up, they better make the most of it.