Monday 4/3: L 2-4 @ Oakland
The Angels kicked off their season in Oakland and were handed an Opening Day loss as they fell to the Athletics. Ricky Nolasco, who got the surprising Opening Day nod, battled for 5 2/3 innings against A’s starter Kendall Graveman. Nolasco was probably given too much leeway, as he generally isn’t a guy you want going through the order a 3rd time. Tied at 2 entering the 6th inning, Nolasco was beaten by the home run ball for the 2nd time, as A’s outfielder Khris Davis hit a go ahead home run, jacking a 408 foot home run to left field. Stephen Vogt also homered earlier in the game, hitting a 382 foot home run to right field that just barely cleared the fence. Khris Davis homered a 2nd time in the 8th inning, hitting a 391 foot home run to left center field. After homering 42 times in 2016, Davis carried over some of that same power to start his 2017 season.
The Angels offense revolved mainly around Mike Trout, who hit an absolute laser of a 2 run home run to give the Angels a 2-1 lead in the 3rd inning. Trout’s home run left his bat at an exit velocity of 113.4 mph at a 18.9 degree launch angle, just narrowly clearing the fence in left field. Trout also doubled later in the game and even his double play he hit into his 1st at bate was squared up. Yunel Escobar was the only other Angel to have a multi hit game and C.J. Cron and Kole Calhoun both singled and walked.
Tuesday 4/4: W 7-6 @ Oakland
Danny Espinosa was acquired this past offseason mainly because of his stellar defense. He was also acquired because hit hits a lot of home runs and he did just that on Tuesday. Trailing 6-4 in the 9th inning with 2 runners on, Danny Espinosa drilled a hanging 0-2 slider from A’s reliever Ryan Dull out for a 3 run home run. Espinosa’s 400 foot home run was his first hit as an Angel and he couldn’t have picked a better time to come through.
Ryon Healy’s 1st inning home run off of Matt Shoemaker, who made his emotional return after the fractured skull he endured last year, gave Oakland a quick lead but it didn’t last long. Shoemaker had a pretty tough outing, allowing 4 hits and 2 runs in 5 innings while posting a poor 4:3 K/BB ratio and posted a decent 62.6% strike rate. His stuff looked good, with his fastball sitting 91-94 and his splitter showing serious depth, so there’s not much worry. In the top of the 2nd inning, Martin Maldonado singled home 2 runs off of Sean Manaea and Yunel Escobar singled home another run right after. Jed Lowrie’s solo home run cut the lead to 1 in the bottom of the inning, however. Mike Trout continued his hot start with a RBI triple in the 5th inning, giving the Angels a 4-2 lead. Things unraveled for the Angels in the 7th inning, when Blake Parker and Bud Norris, both newcomers to the team, allowed 5 combined hits and 4 runs. Through 2 games, the Angels bullpen allowed 7 hits and 5 runs in 6.1 innings while striking out 7 hitters and walking 3.
Wednesday 4/5: W 5-0 @ Oakland
The Angels won their 2nd game of 2017 on Wednesday, putting them over the .500 mark for the first time since the 9th game of 2016(5-4 record through 9 games). The offense had a hit parade, cranking out 13 hits, while every single player reached base for the Angels. Mike Trout had 2 hits including a double. Kole Calhoun had a 3 hit night. Andrelton Simmons and C.J. Cron also had 2 hit nights. It was a great night for the team, except for the fact that Garrett Richards left the game early with a tight right biceps, which ended up putting him on the 10 Day DL for precautionary reasons. Considering the uncertainty surrounding Richards, this was a scary moment but all signs point to Richards being out for a short period of time. Richards pitched very well, however, striking out 4 batters and walking 1 in 4.2 innings of scoreless baseball. He generated 8 groundball outs, good for a 83.3% groundball rate(sick!) and averaged 96.5 mph on his fastball. The bullpen stifled the A’s offense after Richards was pulled, throwing 4.1 innings of scoreless ball, striking out 3 batters while walking none. Jose Alvarez, J.C. Ramirez and Yusmeiro Petit combined for a solid outing for the bullpen.
Thursday 4/6: L 5-1 @ Oakland
Tyler Skaggs made his first start of 2017 and hit outing was sunk by a poor 3rd inning where his poor command led to 4 runs being scored by the A’s. Ryon Healy’s 2 run home run was the big blow in the inning and even though Skaggs calmed down after that, his total line wasn’t too pretty. He did punch out 5 batters in his 5.1 innings of work and his 63% strike rate was fine but he allowed 5 hits and an uncharacteristic 3 walks and only generated 2 ground ball outs. Blake Parker and Yusmeiro Petit and Blake Parker followed Skaggs with 6 combined punchouts, 1 walk and zero hits in 2.2 innings pitched but the Angels offense never woke up. The Angels offense had a combined 5 hits and 3 walks against the A’s pitching, who were led by Andrew Triggs(5.2 innings and 1 run). Liam Hendriks, Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle combined for 3.1 innings to allow only one hit and struck out 6 batters and walked none. The Angels split their first series in Oakland and both teams scored 15 runs in the series, making for a competitive opening series.
Friday 4/7: W 5-1 vs Seattle
The Angels had their most impressive win of the season on Friday night and treated the fans to an entertaining home opener. Jesse Chavez shoved in 5.2 innings of work, allowing only 4 hits and a 1 run while striking out 6 batters and walking 1. Chavez allowed a 73.9% contact% on Friday night, utilizing his 3 different fastballs(4 seam, 2 seam, cutter) to get ahead in the count and finish guys off. The Angels bullpen built on Chavez’s success, tossing 3.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out 4 batters and walking none. Jose Alvarez, Bud Norris, Andrew Bailey and Blake Parker all pitcher very well to finish off the night. Cameron Maybin welcomed himself to Anaheim with a 101.2 mph bullet over the right center field wall and Kole Calhoun later hit a run moonshot that reached an apex of 109 feet. Mike Trout had a sac fly, walk and base knock and Martin Maldonado had a 2 hit night. Over 43,000 fans flocked to the Big A Friday night and ended up leaving as happy campers.
Saturday 4/8: W 5-4 vs Seattle
The Angels followed up a great win in their home opener with a dramatic win against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners on Saturday night. Mike Trout’s go ahead 417 foot 2 run home run in the 7th inning was the big moment the Angels needed to secure the victory. Cam Bedrosian was used in a progressive manner, throwing an inning and two thirds of scoreless baseball, securing the save and victory after punching out 4 batters. Angels starter Ricky Nolasco danced with fire the whole night, allowing 3 batted balls above 100 mph and 5 above 96+ mph, but managed to only allow 2 runs in 6 innings. Angels manager Mike Scioscia caught onto this quickly and went to J.C. Ramirez for 1 1/3 innings and made a bold and surprising move to bring Cam Bedrosian in to face the meat of the Angels order. If Mike Scioscia manages his bullpen with a purpose in 2017, the team could hypothetically sneak out a few extra victories this year. The Angels offense has a stellar night, barreling up plenty of baseballs and cranking out 13 hits and 5 runs. All 9 Angels hitters had hits on the night and Albert Pujols and Yunel Escobar each had 3 hit games, with Escobar also hitting a 411 foot home run.
Sunday 4/9: W 10-9 vs Seattle
The Angels pulled off an all time epic comeback win on Sunday afternoon, riding a 7 run 9th inning to stun the Mariners and pull off the sweep. Trailing 9-3 entering the 9th, the Angels offense absolutely exploded, seeing a home run and game tying single from Albert Pujols and a walk off double from utility man Cliff Pennington. Entering this game, teams had won 346 games while leading by 6+ runs entering the 9th inning. That all changed when the Angels pulled off a comeback of epic proportions. This outcome looked completely unlikely earlier in the game after Matt Shoemaker blew up, allowing 5 hits and 7 runs in 4.1 innings of work. The Angels bullpen managed to keep it close despite the monster day from Robinson Cano, who homered and doubles while driving in 5 runs. The Angels finished off the first week of the season in the best way possible, completing the sweep of Seattle and starting off the season 5-2.
Runs Scored: 35
Runs Against: 29
Week MVP: Yunel Escobar
Mike Trout and Escobar were neck and neck this week but Escobar gets the slight nod over Trout. Escobar slashed .414/.452/.586 on the week and racked up 0.5 fWAR, placing him in the top 10 for position players in the opening week. It helps that he had a monstrous weekend in clutch situations, blasting a big home run Saturday night vs King Felix and having the 2 run double in the 9th inning Sunday to bring the deficit to 2 runs.
Coming into the offseason following the 2016 season, the Angels had plenty of needs. A starter or 2, a reliever or 2, a new left fielder, a 2nd baseman and arguably a catcher were all dire needs for the team. The team addressed all of those needs to an extent but they also made more one move that surprised many: they signed infielder Luis Valbuena, inking him to a 2 year deal with a club option.
When the move was first made, many speculated that Valbuena, who has played a competent third base in recent years, would be utilized at the corner infield positions in some utility role. Shortly after the signing, Angels general manager Billy Eppler announced that Valbuena would mainly play 1st base in 2017, a spot 3 other above average/good Angels hitters could potentially play. With C.J. Cron, Jefry Marte and Albert Pujols all in the fold, Valbuena just didn’t seem like a natural fit. It’s worth noting that Billy Eppler also conceded the possibility of Valbuena sliding over to third base if Yunel Escobar isn’t brought back after the season. That seems unlikely, however, as Valbuena is coming off hamstring surgery that ended his 2016 season early, he’ll be a year older in 2018 and it’s rare to see someone play 1st base for a season then move to a tougher position. For the time being, Valbuena is a 1st baseman and it creates an interesting situation for 2017 and beyond.
Looking at 2017 alone, Luis Valbuena should find plenty of time to play. Albert Pujols, coming off yet another surgery, will likely DH 75% or more of the Angels games. C.J. Cron will get the bulk of the time at 1st base, assuming he continues his trend upward that he showed in 2016, when he displayed power while walking more and striking out less. Jefry Marte, who surprised many with a 1.5 WAR season and 114 wRC+ in 2016, likely starts in AAA as he has minor league options . Even in this scenario, things are tricky. C.J. Cron owns reverse platoon splits so far in his career, owning a 119 wRC+ vs right handed pitching and 91 wRC+ vs left handed pitching. Small sample size applies but Cron has shown he can handle righties just fine and should improve vs lefties. Valbuena is strictly a platoon guy, as he has hit righties better in his career and had a 129 wRC+ vs righties in 2016.This rules out a strict platoon at 1st base, at least in the traditional sense. Steamer Projections at Fangraphs project Cron for 0.8 WAR and a 107 wRC+ and Valbuena for 0.8 WAR and a 97 wRC+, which sells them both a bit short in my opinion. Regardless, both players are probably viewed as equal value guys, which makes playing time for both guys a tough, albeit good, problem to have. On the flip side, depth is always good. Maybe Billy Eppler is just doing lip service and Valbuena ends up playing 50 games at 1st base, 50 games at 3rd base and has some days at DH.
The next question to ask: Are C.J. Cron’s days as an Angel numbered after 2017? Cron will enter arbitration after 2017, meaning he’ll be more expensive after this year, which makes this logjam at 1st base even more interesting. Going into 2018, you could see a scenario where Cron was shipped out for MLB or MiLB help and Luis Valbuena and Jefry Marte formed a platoon at 1st base. Hypothetically, those 2 could form a platoon at 3rd base as well but that might be stretching both of them on the defensive spectrum in 2018. This doesn’t even account for the fact that Matt Thaiss, the Angels 2016 1st round pick who likely plays 1st base in the majors, could very well be in AA to end the 2017 season and may be close to MLB ready at some point in 2018. It’s premature to think anything is a given but from the outside looking in, the writing may be on the wall for C.J. Cron, especially if he has a big year and can bring back a hefty package in return.
This is a nice luxury for the Angels to have, something the Angels haven’t quite seen in the last few years. Billy Eppler created depth at 1st base/DH, he added 2 legitimate MLB left fielders and hoarded a giant collection of AAA arms with upside to add depth to a subpar pitching staff. It’s still early in Eppler’s tenure but he’s shown he has a good idea of how to maintain payroll flexibility while also boosting the depth across the entire roster. A perfect situation for the Angels, regarding 1st base, would be to see C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena both mashed in 2017, with Jefry Marte showing growth and Matt Thaiss scorching minor league pitching. This is a good problem to have and it’ll be very interesting to see how the 2017 season plays out at 1st base.
The Angels 2016 regular season kicks off tomorrow. After a long and much discussed offseason, the Halos begin their quest for the playoffs and a World Series title as they take on a juggernaut in the Chicago Cubs. While many are skeptical of what the Angels will do in 2016, this is still a team that is very much interested in competing and may very well make the playoffs with a few lucky breaks. Here are my realistic predictions for the 2016 Angels ball club. Continue reading
Opening Day is near and that means the baseball experts everywhere, as well as the diehard fans, are predicting what will happen in the 2016 MLB season. The fun part about doing these projections is none of us really have a clue what will transpire. While it’s not easy to project other sports either, there’s some aspect of baseball that is just impossible to predict. Players improve or decline without any warning, injuries occur and the entire playoff format is a complete crapshoot. Still, the idea of guessing what will occur in the upcoming baseball season is always fun. Without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2016 MLB season in the National League. Continue reading
The Angels made a huge splash Thursday afternoon as they acquired the best defensive player in baseball, shortstop Andrelton Simmons. The Angels send a huge return to Atlanta in the process, sending longtime Angels shortstop Erick Aybar along with top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. The Angels also received a decent prospect, Jose Briceno, who looks like a future AAAA catcher but could become a MLB backup. Continue reading
The 2015 season was a disappointing one for the Angels. Pundits everywhere thought the Angels would be a near lock for 90 wins in what seemed like would be a subpar AL West. As we all know by now, the Angels fell short, winning 85 games and missing out on a playoff spot by 1 game, as they were officially eliminated in Game 162. On the surface, 85 wins hardly seems like a disappointment but when you dig deeper, you see the Angels were very fortunate to win that many games, especially considering their expected 79 win total. Continue reading