Red Sox road trip takes them to LA to face slumping Angels

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Shohei Ohtani #17 shakes hands with Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels in the dugout prior to a game against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 09, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Shohei Ohtani #17 shakes hands with Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels in the dugout prior to a game against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 09, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /
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A Wild Card spot is on the line when the Red Sox face the Angels

The Boston Red Sox are off to a stellar start to their west coast road trip, sweeping the A’s in Oakland over the weekend. Now they head to Los Angeles where they seem to be catching a struggling Angels team at an opportune time.

The Angels have lost 11 straight games, a losing streak that is nearly twice as long as any other active streak in the majors. This team hardly resembles the one that took two out of three during their visit to Fenway Park at the beginning of May. Since then, the Angels have only won four series, two of which were against an A’s club fighting for the league’s worst record. It’s been almost a month since the Angels won a series that wasn’t against Oakland.

Three-time MVP Mike Trout is mired in the worst slump of his career, going 0-for-26 in his last seven games. He has nine strikeouts with only two walks during that stretch. The slump has caused his batting average to plummet to .274, putting him on pace for his lowest average since his abbreviated rookie season. His .378 OBP and .953 OPS would be his lowest since 2014. Granted, this would still be an excellent season by most standards but this production falls short of expectations for the future Hall of Famer.

Reigning MVP Shohei Ohtani is in a slump of his own, hitting .183 over his last six games. A pair of doubles are his only extra-base hits during that span, an unusual power outage for a player who had the second-most extra-base hits in the majors last season. Ohtani’s OPS has fallen from .965 last season (5th in MLB) to .773 this year.

Boston will also face the two-way star on the mound during this series, although he’s hit a rough patch in recent pitching performances. Ohtani allowed four runs, including three home runs, while lasting only three innings in his last start against the Yankees. He was shelled for five runs over six innings by the Blue Jays before that.

Taylor Ward‘s breakout campaign (.333/.433/.644) helped fuel the Angels to a strong start this season but he recently landed on the injured list with a strained hamstring and will miss this series with the Red Sox.

Noah Syndergaard will start the first game of the series on Monday but the prized free-agent acquisition is no longer the mighty Thor that we remember from his early days with the Mets. Syndergaard’s fastball, which averaged 98+mph at his peak, is down to 94 mph this season, per Baseball Savant. His 15.9 K% would be by far the lowest of his career and his 37.1% Hard Hit rate would be his highest, excluding last year when he only threw two innings after returning from Tommy John surgery.

While the Angels are spiraling, the Red Sox are surging. Their four-game winning streak has their record back at .500 for the season and vaulted them ahead of Los Angeles in the standings. Boston is now in sole possession of the third Wild Card spot, a position that will be on the line during this pivotal series with the Angels.

Are the Red Sox catching the Angels at the right time or should they be nervous that this team is overdue for a breakout? Obviously, players as talented as Trout and Ohtani aren’t going to struggle much longer. Boston doesn’t want to be the team that ends up being on the wrong side of their inevitable positive regression.

The Red Sox are in strong form entering this series though. They are tied for the best record in the majors (16-7) since May 16. Boston’s bats have recovered from their early-season woes and they now lead the AL in runs scored. Red Sox starting pitchers have allowed one earned run or fewer in each of their last five games. Boston own the third-best run differential (+38) in the AL.

The Angels are a shell of the team that raced out of the gates with a 24-13 start to the season. The Red Sox are no longer the team that sputtered through the first month. These are two clubs trending in opposite directions.

Boston can’t afford to overlook any opponent, especially in a series with potential playoff implications. A series win would put some distance between the Red Sox and their closest challenger for the final Wild Card spot while fending off other competitors.

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