Series Snapshot: LA Angels

LA Angels (16-12) @ Boston Red Sox (12-15)

Fenway Park

Boston, MA

Shootin’ for two, four game sweeps in a row……….

I don’t know if it’s ever been done in baseball before.  If a team has swept both 4 game series against the same team, but that’s what the Red Sox will try and accomplish as they kick off a four game set against the LA Angels at Fenway Park on Monday night. 

Revenge will no doubt be on the mind of the Angels as they were swept at home and they now have a chance at redemption, returning to Boston.  The four game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox that happened just over 10 days ago, knocked the Angels out of first place in the AL West.  They’ve since bounced back and now find themselves tied with the Texas Rangers once again for the division lead.

The Red Sox meanwhile find themselves continuing to fight to get out of the basement of the AL East. After losing two of the three to Baltimore and then Seattle this past weekend, the Red Sox find themselves find themselves 5 games back of the Yankees, with three other teams sandwiched in the middle. 

But this is a new month and with it comes renewed optimism.  And Carl Crawford reinforced that optimism on the first day of May with a walk off single on Sunday.  It appears this ballclub is starting to find their stride….finally.  The pitching has been good of late, Bobby Jenks aside, and the offense is showing signs of production right from the leadoff spot to the number nine hitter. 

This will be a tough series for the Red Sox, much more difficult than the one they swept in LA.  The Angels have their best two pitchers starting this series and the offense is producing of late, helping the Angels win four of their last six, prior to being swept by the Red Sox. 

Thanks to Kalup from Halo Hangout for providing insight on the Angel’s for this series.

 

Tale of the Starter’s Tape:

Monday, May 2

LA AngelsJered Weaver (6-0)  0.99 ERA

Jered Weaver is really good at throwing baseballs from the pitching mound. He has command of 5 pitches ( 2 and 4 seam fastballs, slider, curve and change) and when he is on he can throw any of the five at any time for a strike. Needless to say as evidence by his 0.99 ERA and silly 9.66 K/9 he has been on each time out to the hill in 2011. His last start was pushed back due to a stomach illness allowing him to take the hill for the series opener with the Sox. Weaver’s velocity is not what it was when he came up, so the one chink in his armor is if he leaves the ball up at times his pitches can be hit hard. However, when Weaver is commanding all of his pitches he is at times un hittable and among the best in the game. Hitters are generally so off balance that even location at times does not matter.

BostonClay Buchholz (1-3)  5.33 ERA 

To say Buchholz is struggling is an understatement.  So perhaps having his start pushed back one day because of a stomach illness will only help get Buchholz on track.  He hasn’t looked like he’s been completely on in one start this season.  He struck out 5 batters in his last start and that is a season high.  He also set a career high last game by giving up 12 hits in just 5.2 innings of work.  His cutter has been flat and that is a big reason for his struggles.  Many  thought that his contract extension discussions were a distraction at the start of the year.  He struggled with any kind of control in his first two starts and after he and the Red Sox agreed to a 4 year extension, it was thought that Buchholz would settle back in to the routine that saw him win 17 games last season.  That hasn’t been the case and now he has to face Jered Weaver in the opener of the series.

 

Tuesday, May 3

LA Angels – Dan Haren (4-1)  1.23

Haren has been brilliant, keeping hitters off balance with his plethora of deliveries and his outstanding control. Like Weaver, he works the corners with five pitches and can go to any of them in any count. Haren’s split finger is often his key pitch doubling as both a strikeout pitch and often his go to pitch when he needs a double play ball as his split has sharp bite and can be extremely hard to lift.

Boston – Jon Lester (3-1)  2.52 ERA

In his last start Lester went 8 solid innings for the first time this season against Baltimore en route to picking up his 3rd win of the season.  Over his last 20 innings of work, Letster has only allowed 3 runs while fanning 18 batters.  He’s continually proving he’s the ace of this staff and doing so with quality start after quality start.  His last start against the Angels on April 22, Lester threw 6 scoreless innings, allowing only 4 hits and striking out 8 before turning the game over to the bullpen.

 

Wednesday, May 4

LA Angels - Ervin Santana (1-3)   4.89 ERA

Santana earned his first win of the season with a four-hit, 98-pitch outing against the Rays last Friday in which he allowed four runs, one earned, in six innings while striking out five. He’s been inconsistent so far in 2011 and will need to work ahead of hitters in order to utilize his slider to put hitters away. For Santana fast ball command is key. Also look for him to mix in more of his curve ball and change up as both have been almost excluded form his repertoire so far this season.

Boston – Josh Beckett (2-1) 2.65 ERA

Due to the illness of Buchholz on Sunday, manager Terry Francona has the option of shuffling his starting rotation and perhaps tweaking it a bit to set it up in the Red Sox favor for the next few series.  Lester is starting Tuesday on his normal rest time, which means Beckett will go Wednesday on six days rest.  The Red Sox pitching coach, Curt Young, has said Beckett threw a side session on Monday and after throwing a season high 126 pitches in his win over the Angels on April 21, the Red Sox are cautiously monitoring Beckett and how is body is handling the workload.  His last outing agasinst the Orioles, Beckett gave up 4 runs on 7 hits through 6 innings.  He did strike out 4 batters and didn’t issue a free pass, the first time this year he’s done that.

  

Thursday, May 5

LA Angels -  Joel Pineiro (0-0)  1.29 ERA

After missing 25 games with right shoulder tightness, Pineiro shined in his first start of the season, allowing just one run on four hits over seven innings. Pineiro displayed his trademark low 90′s sinker but also did a great job of keeping hitters off balance with his curve and slider last time out. Pineiro is a groundball specialist and when his sinker is on infield dwelling insects are in for a long night. If he elevates at all he becomes hittable so as usual for Pineiro sinker command is key.

BostonJohn Lackey (2-3) 5.65 ERA

Lackey is pitching well of late, despite taking the loss in his last outing against Seattle.  Big John threw 6 innings of 7 hit ball while only giving up 2 earned runs.  For the season he is 2-3 with a 5.65 ERA.  He once again has the opportunity to burn his former club, as he looks to stay perfect against the Angels. 

  

Red HOT Sox:

-          Jacoby Ellsbury – a hot series against the Orioles and a mediocre one against Seattle, Ellsbury remains at the top of the lineup for a reason; he’s getting on base and making things happen.  He has a 10 game hitting streak going, a stretch that has him hitting .372 with 5 RBI. 

-          Adrian Gonzalez – Gonzo has an 8 game hitting streak going and the mysterious part is that he hasn’t hit a home run since the second series of the year in Cleveland.  None the less, the Red Sox are glad to see Gonzalez swinging the bat well and picking up run scoring doubles and singles. The long ball will come and it appears Gonzalez has found his rhythm and timing at the plate.  Over his last 10 games he’s batting .364 with 7 RBI. 

Cold as Ice:

-          Bobby Jenks – the big righty reliever who was brought to Boston to bolster a bullpen that struggled last season, Jenks has done anything but pitch effectively lately.   He’s had plenty of opportunity to win over Red Sox Nation lately, being thrown into ball games with either the Red Sox leading or tied and needing a clean inning from their reliever.  His last two outings were horrible which saw Jenks walk 3 batters in a row that resulted in the only 2 runs Seattle would score this past Sunday.  His ERA is 9.35 on the season and his WHIP is 2.54. These numbers are a far cry from where they need to be for a once effective game closer. 

-          Jason Varitek – the veteran catcher continues to struggle at the plate, despite getting plenty of playing time from Terry Francona.  He’s a rock behind the plate for the Sox pitchers, but in key spots when the Red Sox could use some runs, Tek has failed to deliver.  Over his last 10 games, the captain is batting a mere .103 and is only .111 on the season. 

 

  

Who’s HOT for the Angels:

Howie Kendrick has been the Angels best and most consistent hitter all season. He’s coming off a 5 – 10 series at Tampa and his totals for the year stand at .300/.384/.545. with a team leading 6 home runs. In light of the season long struggles of Wells and Hunter Scioscia moved Kendrick into the 3 hole in the teams final game in Tampa, It will be interesting to see if Kendrick sticks in the 3 spot for the time being.

Who’s Not for the Angels: 

Vernon Wells – He’s been cold all season long. Sporting an ” I could do that for 23 million” slash line of .170/.217/.241 . It’s gotten so bad that the media is now praising him for making smart base running plays  just to be nice.

  

The Walking Wounded:

 

Boston:

-          Junichi Tazawa – 60-day DL, torn ulnar collateral ligament – July return

-          Daisuke Matsuzaka (P) – Day-to-day – Injury undertemined.  Due back is TBD

  

 LA Angels

 - INF Maicer Izturis (sore left hamstring) did not start April 24-29, only appearing as a pinch hitter April 27. He returned to the starting lineup April 30 and will be nursed in and out of the lineup game to game.
 
- LHP Scott Kazmir (lower back stiffness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 4. He pitched in extended spring training April 19, and he was expected to make at least one more appearance there before starting a rehab assignment. With Tyler Chatwood pitching ok thus far the club is in no rush to bring Kazmir back.
 
- 1B Kendrys Morales (fractured left ankle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. Morales had been running on a treadmill in early April, and he began running on the field April 12. Morales (broken ankle) moved his rehab back to the Angels’ extended spring training camp in Arizona again, and It’s now unlikely he will return before June.
 

 

 

Three Questions From BoSox Injection to Halo Hangout:

Q: After getting swept at home by the Red Sox just over one week ago, what are the keys for the Angels to ensure they have a better series in Boston?

A: In a word its offense. The Halos pitched Ok in the four game set at the big A, but the Red Sox pitched lights out or the Angels bats stunk, take your pick. The middle of the order which had been comprised of Abreu, Hunter and Wells for most of the season has not performed to expectations. The Angels have been finding ways to win in spite of that all season long. In the last series against Boston that “luck” if you will ran out. The Angels throw their four best pitchers in this series, so if the offense steps up you have to like their chances for at least a split.

 

Q: One month into the season, who has been the most surprising player thus far? Who’s been the most disappointing player thus far?

A:  The Angels have a few surprise candidates between Hank Conger, Peter Bourjos and Jordan Walden, but I think most expected Bourjos’ bat to come around at some point and Walden was clearly the closer in waiting after his dominant call-up performance last year. So that leaves Conger as the most surprising player to date in my eyes. While no one doubted Hank’s talent, I think most figured he was another year away from being able to lock down the starting catcher’s role, largely in part to Scioscia silent man love for Jeff Mathis. Hank has surpassed expectations and has shown power and an ultra nice approach at the plate (.271/.327/.500) while placating the stringent defensive catching requirements of Scioscia. To the delight of Angel fans world wide, Conger has pried away the everyday catching job from Jeff Mathis (against righties) and appears ready to stick in the bigs.

Vernon Wells has been the biggest disappointment without a doubt. While no one expected Vernon to be Ryan Braun, for him to be hitting .170/.217/.241 into May goes beyond even the biggest Wells critic’s imagination. Wells has been absolutely terrible. You would have to think that eventually he will somewhat turn things around but at this point it remains to be seen. Maybe he is this bad.

 

Q: It wasn’t too long ago that Ervin Santana was pegged as the future ace of this Angel’s pitching staff.  Obviously his slow start is being overshadowed by what Haren and Weaver are doing on the mound, so in your opinion, what’s been the biggest struggle for Santana this year and when is it realistic to see him back to his old self?

A:  Baseball players are a superstitious bunch and for some reason ever since 2006 Ervin Santana has alternated good years with bad years. Last year he was solid not spectacular with a 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 6.90 K/9 to go along with 17 Wins. This year he’s been inconsistent, sandwiching two horrible starts against Texas as Boston between solid performances. Santana no longer has the ace expectations nor the same electric stuff he had after his dominant 2008 season, but what he is expected to be is a top tier # 3 starter capable of shutting down offenses on any given night. He has yet to find that consistency with his fast ball command to set up his at times deadly slider in the second and third times around the lineup. As with most pitchers, when Santana is ahead of counts he is at his best. His secondary pitches (changeup and curveball) have not developed enough to be used effectively in hitter friendly counts and his fastball is no longer the 95-96 MPH danger it once was so that  allows hitters to sit when they are up in the count and Ervin has at times been hit hard.

 

3 Questions From Halo Hangout to BoSox Injection:

Q: With the Red Sox appearing to somewhat right the ship (winners of 6 of 10) what is the sentiment from Sox fans?  Is the general felling that the club is out of the woods or is there still cause for concern?
 A: Overall, Red Sox fans are joyed to see the team playing better and picking up wins.  The pitching has rounded into form nicely and is doing what everyone thought they might, aside from Bobby Jenks.  The offense is concerning a little as the Sox continue to struggle to get those big hits when they need it most.  For example, the last series against the Mariner’s the Sox loaded the bases 3 or 4 times. Only once did they capitalize and put runs on the board.  Twice they had the bases loaded in the first inning with a chance to put the M’s behind early and grab a huge lead.  But strikeouts and double plays are killing this offense right now.  They have shown some signs of life lately, ie: Carl Crawford and everyone is waiting for hitters 1 through 9 to get rolling and put up the numbers they’ve been expected to. 

 Q:  The bridge to Papelbon has been somewhat shay for the Sox so far in 2011. What is the current pecking order to get the ball to the Sox closer and is Bobby Jenks still in key inning setup mix?

A:  You’re being far too polite towards Bobby Jenks. Lately he’s stunk.  His last two outings were atrocious and nearly cost the Sox the game on Sunday.  I have a hard time believing that Jenks will be used anytime soon to preserve a lead, no matter how large.  It’s been cited today that Tim Wakefield has watched some film on Jenks and noticed he’s moving his head towards the home dugout, causing him to miss the strike zone.  This is cause for concern on a whole other level. Where is the pitching coach Curt Young in all this?  Regardless of that, Jenks I have to believe has been demoted out of the key inning guy, prior to Bard and will likely be used when the game is out of reach, either way, giving him time to work on his mechanics and confidence.  Papelbon has the closer role and Bard is his set up man.  Don’t expect Jenks to precede Bard anytime soon.  Rather look for Matt Albers to fill in that role.  The young righty has been spotless in his last few outings.
 
Q: Fresh off his walk off hit Sunday Carl Crawford is finally in the good graces of Red Sox fans. Is Crawford still the biggest offensive concern or does someone else take that crown?

A:  For now Crawford is still a bit of a concern.  He’s shown flashes of his brilliance lately, but is still doing the same things that he was in early April; swinging at poor pitches and making weak outs with runners on base.  What’s so frustrating with Crawford is everyone knows how good he is and what he’s capable of. He’s just not quite comfortable yet and you know he’s feeling the heat.  It was a welcome sight on Sunday to see him come through in the clutch and win the game for the Red Sox. It was also encouraging to see his teammates maul him as he rounded first base. It proves he’s fitting in well with his teammates and they are all pulling for Crawford. 

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Topics: Adrian Gonzalez, AL East, AL West, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford, Clay Buchholz, Cleveland Indians, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dan Haren, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz, Detroit Tigers, Dustin Pedroia, Erick Aybar, Ervin Santana, Fenway Park, Injuries, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Jered Weaver, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels, Marco Scutaro, Mike Scioscia, MLB, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Terry Francona, Texas Rangers, Theo Epstein, Tim Wakefield, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells

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