Jered Weaver/Photo courtesy of Los Angels Angels
– The Angels have done a nice job of playing themselves back into the playoff picture as they enter their three-game series Monday at Houston 2 1/2 games behind the Astros for the second of two American League wild-card spots. But the Angels, who are four games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the AL West, will be on the outside looking in if they get swept in this series. That would put them 5 1/2 behind Houston with just 10
games to play. Also, keep in mind that the Angels have Minnesota and Cleveland to deal with in the wild-card race as the Twins are tied with the Angels and the Indians are just 1 1/2 games behind those two.
– The first game of this series would seem a pitching mismatch favoring the Astros. The Angels will send Jered Weaver (7-11, 4.74 ERA) against the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel (17-8, 2.56). Weaver was ejected in the fifth inning of his most recent start for plunking Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners after the two had exchanged words during the at-bat Wednesday in Seattle. Weaver is having his worst season in 10. Keuchel is a Cy Young
Award candidate, but he was hammered for nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 13-4 loss at Texas on Wednesday.
– This would be a great time for Albert Pujols to start hitting again. That could be a lot to ask because he is suffering from a sore right foot that has been causing him a lot of pain and discomfort. Not able to play his position at first base, Pujols has nevertheless been toughing it out as designated hitter. Unfortunately for the Angels, he has gone in the tank at the plate, batting just .152 this month with one home run and nine RBIs.
– Mike Trout is another one. After batting just .218 in August with one home run and seven RBIs, he has improved this month. In September he’s batting .258 with six home runs and 11 RBIs. But keep in mind that two of those home runs and five of the RBIs came in one game. In other words, Trout is still not doing what the reigning MVP should be doing for his team down the stretch of a playoff race. Trout’s other numbers this month are good – .385 on-base, .613 slugging and .998 OPS. But he has to drive in runs on a more consistent basis over these final 13 games, and he has to hit better than .258. Here’s the difference: Trout hit .320 in June with eight home runs and 16 RBIs and .367 in July with 12 home runs and 24 RBIs.
– Bottom line is, the Angels are going to need some clutch pitching performances in this series. Hector Santiago (8-9, 3.47) goes against Lance McCullers (5-6, 3.18) of the Astros on Tuesday and the Angels’ Nick Tropeano (2-2, 5.06) squares off with Mike Fiers (7-10, 3.64) on Wednesday. Santiago has had a poor second half. Santiago had an ERA of 2.30 on July 20 and was selected as a replacement on the All-Star team. He is
coming off an outing Thursday in Minnesota that saw him give up five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. He has one victory since July 20.
Hector Santiago/Photo courtesy of Los Angels Angels
– Hector Santiago had another solid outing. He tossed seven scorless innings to lower his ERA to 2.40 on the season, which is fourth-best among AL starters. Santiago, who struck out three and walked just one on 104 pitches, is now 5-4. The lack of victories could hurt him for consideration for the All-Star game, but his ERA and WHIP of 1.10 suggest he’d be a good pick.
– The day the Angels saw their GM – Jerry Dipoto – resign, they scored just one run in a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees at Angel Stadium this past Wednesday. But after a day off to absorb everything, they scored eight times in an 8-2 victory Friday at Texas. Then they scored 13 runs on 17 hits in this one. It makes one wonder just how much tension there was on this team because of the uneasy relationship manager Mike Scioscia and Dipoto apparently had. There is no better way to participate in sports than being free and easy.
– The Angels, who have had season-long issues with their offense, went to a season-high five games (43-38) over .500 with this win. But they won’t stay there if this offense doesn’t score more runs on a regular basis. Even with scoring 21 runs over the past two games, they were still 11th in the league in runs scored (with 324) before Sunday’s series finale at Texas. The Angels were first in the league in 2014.
– The Angels had to feel really good about C.J. Cron’s day. He drove in six runs – he had a three-run home run in the sixth inning – while going 3-for-4. Still, he’s hitting just .216. If the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Cron, who has been up and down from Triple-A a couple of times, can drive in runs consistently, that would be a huge shot in the arm for this team.
– Don’t look now, but after struggling most of the first half, shortstop Erick Aybar has found his groove at the plate. Aybar hit just .222 in April, but then he hit .308 in May to raise his average to .271. He went back in the tank and saw his average dip all the way down to .246 on June 17. He since has gone 22-for-48 (.458) to raise his average to .280. His career average over 9 1/2 seasons – all with the Angels – is .278.
Hector Santiago/Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Angels
– First and foremost, Hector Santiago had another fine outing. He pitched seven innings and for the most part matched “King” Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch. Santiago allowed just one run on three hits and struck out six while walking two. Hernandez allowed no runs and just one hit and struck out eight while walking three in six innings; he came out with cramps caused by the heat in the daytime game. Santiago’s ERA dropped to 2.58, lowest among Angels starting pitchers, fourth in the American League. He’s only 4-4, but Santiago is nevertheless making a case for being selected to the AL All-Star team.
– Rookie Trevor Gott, just 22, earned his first big-league victory with a perfect 10th inning. Gott has now pitched seven innings and has allowed just three hits and no runs; he has an ERA of 0.00 and has not walked a batter. He is regularly clocked at 98 miles-per-hour.
– It figured Albert Pujols would cool off, if for no other reason than he had been so hot for a long spell. Pujols went 0-for-5 in this one and has gone just 1-for-15 in his past four games with no home runs and no RBIs. Pujols’ most recent home run came June 22 in a 4-3 victory over Houston. He hit two that night. That was also the last time he drove in a run; he had three RBIs in that one.
– The Angels, who continue to struggle to score runs, hit into three double plays. The most notable came in the bottom of the 10th inning when Pujols hit the first pitch from Tom Wilhelmsen and grounded into a shortstop-to-home-to-first double play with the bases loaded. Fortunately for the Angels, Wilhelmsen then uncorked a wild pitch that scored Kole Calhoun with the winning run.
– Speaking of Calhoun, he has had two clutch at-bats the past two games. And since he’s been struggling at the plate, that’s huge for the Angels. He smacked a two-run home run in the first inning of Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Seattle. Then he had an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning in this one that gave the Angels a 2-1 lead. It could have been the winning run, but Huston Street gave up a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth. However, the Angels were glad to take the victory on Wilhelmsen’s wild pitch. Calhoun was hitting .314 on May 13. He’s now at .262 and is hitting just .232 this month.