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Los Angeles Angels Series Preview: Mike Trout returns to the scene of his only postseason hit

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The Angels are better, but are they good enough?

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly two years since the Los Angeles Angels came to Kansas City, and they’re returning a much better team than the last one the Royals saw. They, of course, have the best player on the planet in Mike Trout, but they have added some balance around him in the lineup and look like they have a chance to actually compete for their first postseason spot since the 2014 season that ended on the field they’re about to take in this series.

Offensively, they do a lot well. You can see below that while some guys do strike out, they do a very good job of limiting strikeouts, finishing last year with the fifth lowest strikeout rate in baseball. They make enough contact and work enough walks to be really annoying to face on top of having legitimate star power. I haven’t even mentioned Shohei Ohtani yet and he’s as electric with the bat as anyone, and that includes his teammate in center field. David Fletcher has developed into something way more than I expected, and even with the season-ending injury for Dexter Fowler, this is a deep lineup that features a lot of power, some patience and, like I said, the ability to put the bat on the ball. The good news for the Royals is that Anthony Rendon, even though he’s still listed in the lineup, may miss the series with a groin issue. We’ll update if he ends up going on the IL, but he’s almost certainly at least out for the series opener.

The pitching staff isn’t quite as impressive, but they have a chance to be pretty solid. It all kind of depends on if Griffin Canning can take the next step in 2021 along with if Ohtani can stay healthy and Dylan Bundy can repeat his 2020 season in a full year. In the bullpen, of the nine pitchers likely in the bullpen for this series, only two of them threw a pitch for the team last year when their bullpen was tied for the ninth worst ERA in baseball. Raisel Iglesias is their new closer, but he’s joined by a lot of new arms. Chris Rodriguez is one worth noting as he’s absolutely appointment watching, but he’s a 22-year old who had never pitched above high-A prior to 2021, so there are growing pains that come with that.

Note: As with the previous series previews, all stats are from 2020. I think we’re close to 2021 stats coming in, but I haven’t decided yet, so keep an eye out.

Royals vs. Angels Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Angels
Category Royals Angels
Winning % .433 .433
Team wRC+ 91 109
Team xFIP 4.47 4.60
Run Differential -24 -27
Highest Returning fWAR Salvador Perez, 1.9 Anthony Rendon, 2.7

Angels Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
David Fletcher 2B 230 .319 .376 .425 8.7% 10.9% 123 1.5
Shohei Ohtani DH 175 .190 .291 .366 12.6% 28.6% 82 0.0
Mike Trout CF 241 .281 .390 .603 14.5% 23.2% 162 2.5
Anthony Rendon 3B 232 .286 .418 .497 16.5% 13.4% 154 2.7
Jared Walsh 1B 108 .293 .325 .646 4.6% 13.9% 152 0.9
Justin Upton LF 166 .204 .289 .422 6.6% 25.9% 94 0.0
Jose Igleseias SS 150 .373 .400 .556 2.0% 11.3% 162 1.6
Max Stassi C 105 .278 .352 .533 10.5% 20.0% 137 0.7
Juan Lagares RF 2 .000 .000 .000 0.0% 0.0% -100 0.1

Angels Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Kurt Suzuki C 129 .270 .349 .396 8.5% 14.7% 101 0.0
Albert Pujols 1B 163 .224 .270 .395 5.5% 15.3% 77 -0.2
Jose Rojas (2019 AAA) INF/OF 578 .293 .362 .577 10.0% 22.7% 120 ---

Angels Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Raisel Iglesias 22 23.0 4 3 34.1% 5.5% 2.74 2.87 1.1
Mike Mayers 29 30.0 2 0 35.5% 7.4% 2.10 3.38 1.0
Aaron Slegers 11 26.0 0 0 18.8% 5.0% 3.46 3.95 0.5

Probable Pitchers

April 12 - Alex Cobb vs. Brady Singer, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Alex Cobb 10 52.1 2 5 16.8% 8.0% 4.30 4.21 0.6
Brady Singer 12 64.1 4 5 23.2% 8.7% 4.06 4.05 1.0

Alex Cobb is another newcomer to the Angels after spending the last three seasons in Baltimore on a pretty big contract that really didn’t work out too well. Since missing the 2015 season after getting Tommy John, he really hasn’t been quite the same pitcher with the strikeout rate just never bouncing back. He has very good control, so he can get by and be effective, but he isn’t the type of impact starter in a rotation the Rays had before the injury. He’s only made one start in 2021, but it’s definitely one that’ interesting because he got 19 swings and misses in 97 pitches against the White Sox lineup that we just saw for a couple games. His splitter was nasty in that start, but he was getting tons of whiffs with his curve as well. If he has that working, the Royals lineup just isn’t timing things very well so he could have a really nice game in this one.

Brady Singer was supposed to pitch the series finale against the White Sox, but got pushed back due to the rainout and probably has a tougher assignment against this Angels team, but has the benefit added of a night game in some chilly temperatures. As I said in the White Sox series preview, Singer just didn’t have very good command in his first start against the Rangers. He’s had some issues with the long ball, and the Angels have hitters who will punish a mistake, so if his slider isn’t doing what he wants, he could get hit pretty hard from this group. But if he has that pitch working, he might get some rare strikeouts of a few Angels hitters who have never seen him before.

April 13 - Dylan Bundy vs. Danny Duffy, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Dylan Bundy 11 65.2 6 3 27.0% 6.4% 3.29 3.75 2.0
Danny Duffy 12 56.1 4 4 23.6% 9.1% 4.95 4.94 0.6

It feels like Bundy should be entering his 28th year in the majors with how much we’ve talked about him over the years. He was a high first round pick of the Orioles and then just couldn’t stay healthy. He had a couple solid but nothing special years before the struggles really started and ultimately got traded to the Angels. He had a really nice year in 2020, even with his fastball velocity dropping to just an average of 90 MPH. He used that fastball less and his slider and changeup more last year with the slider being especially effective. He got whiffs on 50 percent of swings on that pitch, so it’s something he will likely go to a lot against guys like Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler, who are in swing mode right now. Last season, Bundy was a pitcher to get to early in games as he allowed an OPS of .812 the first time through with four of the five home runs he allowed. The Royals haven’t been coming out of the gates quickly the last few games, so that’ll have to change if they want to get to him.

The start Danny Duffy made on Monday against the Indians was just so important because the starting pitching has been so bad for them to start the season. He was really good with all four of his pitches working really well. It’s just one start and maybe it’s because of the opponent, but he actually used his fastball nearly half the time on Monday after really backing off it last season. And as I mentioned here, he did a much better job of holding velocity deeper into his start, which is something he’s struggled with in the last couple seasons and a big reason why I thought he was destined for the bullpen. The Angels lineup has some lefty bashers in there with all their right-handed power, so this’ll be a tough one for him, but like Singer, he has the benefit of a colder night game to hopefully help him keep their bats in check.

April 14 - Griffin Canning vs. Brad Keller, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Griffin Canning 11 56.1 2 3 23.5% 9.7% 3.99 4.81 0.8
Brad Keller 9 54.2 5 3 16.3% 7.9% 2.47 4.33 1.3

Griffin Canning is another Angels starter with an excellent slider that got whiffs on 46.6 percent of swings last season. He really leaned into it in his first start this year against the Blue Jays, throwing it almost half the time with an even better whiff rate. The issue with a slider is that it can be fantastic almost every pitch, but a hanging slider can really get crushed and that’s what happened on one of the home runs he allowed in his first start. Canning had reverse splits in 2020, but they were mostly BABIP related. But he, more than most, really needs to get ahead in the count to be able to get to his slider to use as an out pitch. Last year, he allowed a .953 OPS when behind in the count, but .521 when ahead. The Royals will need to show some of the patience they’ve flashed here and there throughout the first seven games of the season to get ahead and have a chance to get to Canning or else it could be another big strikeout game.

Woo boy. Here we go again with Keller. I’m still not convinced he’s healthy, but it sure looks like he’s going to make another start. His command has just been atrocious in his first two starts of the year and it’s led to him being hit harder than ever in his career. Forget the ERA because it’s horrifying, but he’s allowed a 12.5 percent barrel rate. That’s more than double his career. His xSLG is .800. That’s insane. He’s throwing his sinker way more than last season and still using his slider way less. It’s not entirely about him getting knocked around as he’s had some bad luck, but at some point he’s going to have to produce or else I’m going to continue to worry about him and his arm.

Prediction

I’m not actually completely sure if I think the Angels are good or just another version of the team they’ve been for the past few seasons when they’ve been kind of meh. I’m worried about their offense against a struggling Royals rotation, but I’m still going to say they take two of three from LA because I’m apparently riding the high of an extra innings win.

Poll

What’s the end result of this Royals/Angels series?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Royals Sweep
    (15 votes)
  • 50%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (103 votes)
  • 35%
    Angels Win Two of Three
    (73 votes)
  • 5%
    Angels Sweep
    (12 votes)
203 votes total Vote Now