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Los Angeles Angels Series Preview: How to lose a playoff spot in 30 days

MLB: Game Two-Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Angels went from 10 games over .500 to three games under .500 in less than a month. That’s 2021 Royals-esque.

There was a time, not long ago, that it seemed the playoff drought was set to end this season for the Angels. The last time they played in the postseason, they were dispatched quickly by your Kansas City Royals, but they were sitting at 27-17 and a game out of first with strong pitching and strong hitting. Then it all fell apart. They lost 14 games in a row and fired Joe Maddon during that streak, replacing him with Phil Nevin on an interim basis. Honestly, it hasn’t gotten a lot better since the end of that losing streak. Their record keeps dropping, but they’ve also now lost Anthony Rendon for the season. Ultimately, this team looks like they should be good on paper. They’ve got a couple superstars in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani while Taylor Ward has broken out and Jared Walsh has continued to be solid at first. In the rotation, they have Ohtani there too along with Noah Syndergaard and Patrick Sandoval pitching pretty well. And their bullpen should be better with a very good closer in Raisel Iglesias and what seems like should be a good group of setup men in Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup and others. It just isn’t working.

Royals vs. Angels Projected Pitching Matchups

Kris Bubic may be pitching for his rotation life in this one with Zack Greinke on the road back to Kansas City likely for his next start. He’s been better since his return. That doesn’t mean good, but it does mean better. He’s walked 10.6 percent of batters, which is still high, but an improvement. And he’s struck out 21.2 percent, which is probably fine. Since he’s come back, he’s cut his fastball rate by about eight percent and his curveball rate by about seven percent and added it all back to his changeup. I actually kind of like his curve even though he hasn’t had a ton of success with it since he’s been back in the big leagues. I might even consider throwing a few more and backing off the fastball even more. I still wonder what happened to the slider that we were so excited to see, but I guess that’s off the table for now. The Angels have been pretty well stymied by lefty curves and changeups, so either one should be featured.

Career vs. LAA: 1 GS, 4.0 IP, 0-1, 13.50 ERA

It was a bit surprising when Syndergaard turned down the qualifying offer from the Mets and ultimately signed with the Angels, but the move sort of made sense for both sides. The Angels needed to gamble on upside and Syndergaard was coming off Tommy John surgery and was pretty much all upside if he could get back to what he was before the surgery. And he’s been pretty good, but the velocity just isn’t there. It’s impacted his ability to get strikeouts, but he’s still limiting walks very well. It’s interesting to see how he adapts as he moves into this phase of his career. He’s used his sinker a lot, but his changeup has been his best swing and miss pitch other than his curve that he doesn’t use a ton. Maybe becomes a guy who relies on getting grounders and using that changeup for whiffs. To this point, he hasn’t had much of a platoon split, but he has been way better at home than on the road. This game will be at home for him, of course. Pretty much all the numbers support his good start, but without that velocity, it does make him a bit more vulnerable.

Career vs. KC: 3 GS, 18.0 IP, 2-1, 2.50 ERA

Jonathan Heasley only made it through four innings in his last start against the Giants, but I thought he looked good and against a lesser lineup would have had a start we’d be really excited about. You have to get the good teams out too, so it’s not an excuse, but he’s a guy who is still learning. Even with the short start, he’s averaging just a touch below six innings per start in his last four and has a 3.13 ERA. But maybe more importantly after all those walks after he was called up, Heasley has struck out 19 and walked seven in those games. He’s likely a candidate to go back to AAA in place of Greinke as well, but I think he’s only slightly safer ground than Bubic. The success for him has not come on his fastball, but I think even though it’s been hit hard, it’s a key to success. If he can throw it for strikes, it allows him to work with his changeup, slider and curve. All three of those pitches have been very effective for him in this four-start stretch.

Career vs. LAA: First Appearance

The Angels drafted Reid Detmers in the first round of the 2018 draft, but before anyone laments the Royals passing on him, they took him eight picks ahead of KC’s first pick, so they never had that chance. He made his debut last year and struggled, but he’s definitely had some moments this year, including a no-hitter on May 10 against the Rays. That start has made his season to this point, and what’s kind of interesting is that he was in big danger of getting sent down right before the no-hitter. Since then, he’s averaging just a bit more than four innings per start with a 4.91 ERA and 18 strikeouts with 11 walks in 22 innings, so it’s kind of the same up and down we’ve seen with some of the Royals guys from that same draft. Detmers works with a fastball, curve, slider and changeup. The fastball isn’t a hard one, but it’s worked, holding opponents to a .195 average. He’s actually held opponents below .200 on his curve and slider as well. His times through the order numbers are interesting. He’s great to start, but struggles quite a bit his second time through. If he survives that, he’s back to effective, which is probably because he has a nice four-pitch mix, but the time to get him is when the lineup turns over for the second time through.

Career vs. KC: First Appearance

I feel the most encouraged by Daniel Lynch after that last start that I have since before Dayton Moore tried to make his success Cal Eldred’s success. And it almost didn’t happen. Yes, the A’s offense is a disaster, but Lynch’s swing and miss stuff was very impressive. As I noted on Twitter, his 23 whiffs were tied for the third-most in a game by any Royals pitcher since 2015. He had 10 strikeouts in just five innings. And what’s craziest is he mentioned after the game that he didn’t feel like he had it going. I thought his slider was about as good as it’s been and the A’s inability to put bat on ball helped his fastball to play up. This is a much better lineup than what he saw in Oakland and they generally bundle lefty sliders and fastballs pretty well, so I’m not so sure I’m optimistic about this start, but his slider can do work against lineups that generally do well against sliders because it can be so nasty.

Career vs. LAA: First Appearance

I think we all know that Ohtani is just ridiculous. He broke out on the mound last season and was great at the plate. I don’t see how anyone else can ever win an MVP when he’s putting up the numbers he is on the mound and at the plate. On the mound, he’s got some nasty stuff. His fastball averages a touch over 97 MPH. He has whiff rates of 40 percent or higher on his slider, splitter and curve. He also adds in the occasional cutter that also gets swings and misses. He will occasionally hang his curve, but not often enough to count on that. Where he can be beaten is by lefties, who have a .710 OPS against him compared to .588 for righties. He’s also likely to be done after six innings, so even if he’s good, the Royals will at least likely get a shot against the Angels bullpen. But the time to get him is early. He gets stronger as he goes, so a fast start will be important.

Career vs. KC: 1 GS, 4.0 IP, 0-0, 2.25 ERA

Royals vs. Angels Prediction

The Royals are coming off a series that should make them feel a little better about themselves while the Angels might just be in free fall. I don’t love the pitching matchups for the Royals, though so I think it’s one win for KC.

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