Opposite dugout: Angels flying low after quick takeoff

angelslogo.jpgManager: Mike Scioscia (19th season)

Record: 16-12

Last 10 games: 3-7

Who to watch: CF Mike Trout (10 HR, 18 RBIs, 5 steals), 1B Albert Pujols (5 HR, 14 RBIs), SS Andrelton Simmons (15 RBIs), DH Shohei Ohtani (4 HR, .341 average), RHP Garrett Richards (3-1, 4.88 ERA), RHP Kenyan Middleton (six saves, 2.40 ERA)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (4-2 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

May 1: RHP Alex Cobb (0-3) vs. RHP Nick Tropeano (1-2), 10:07 p.m., MASN2
May 2: RHP Dylan Bundy (1-3) vs. LHP Andrew Heaney (0-1), 10:07 p.m., MASN2
May 3: RHP Chris Tillman (1-4) vs. RHP Garrett Richards (3-1), 10:07 p.m., MASN

Inside the Angels:

It sounds like the premise of a Hollywood movie (or a Disney production, seeing as how we're in Anaheim): A team with a savvy veteran manager and two of baseball's brightest stars hasn't tasted a championship in 16 years. From across the sea comes a phenom with a Ruthian throwback aura and matinee-idol looks. At the plate, the kid wields a ready-for-prime-time left-handed power stroke, Then he takes the mound every fifth day to get opposing hitters out with his right arm. But the plot has thickened. The Angels won 13 of their first 16 games, but have dropped nine of their last 12. Things started looking up again at the beginning of last week, when the Halos took two out of three from the world champs in Houston to pick up ground in the American League West. But tonight they begin the second half of their current homestand with a bloody nose, having been swept by the Yankees. To add injury to that insult, the Angels' new young star, Shohei Ohtani, turned an ankle in that series and will miss his turn on the mound tonight, if not the entire three-game set with the O's. Skipper Mike Scioscia said yesterday that Ohtani would next pitch when the Angels go to Seattle for the weekend, but will be available for designated hitter duty during the Orioles series.

The Angels have plenty of star power left, however, including a sure-fire Hall of Famer with a very good chance of getting his 3,000th career hit in this series. On days when Ohtani has pitched, Albert Pujols has batted for him as designated hitter. When Ohtani has played the DH role, Pujols has played first base. The three-time National League MVP and 2001 NL Rookie of the Year, Pujols is this season on pace to nearly match the 40 home runs he hit in 2015, his last All-Star season, and to reach his best RBI total since 2009, his last MVP year. The brightest star in the Anaheim firmament, however, has got to be center fielder Mike Trout. It's just May 1, and the 2012 Rookie of the Year and two-time MVP has already tagged 10 homers. He leads the Angels in RBIs, stolen bases and walks, and is tied with Pujols for the club lead in doubles at five. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has gotten off to a promising start in 2018. He's hit three homers and 15 RBIs so far, and his current slash line of .312/.385/.473 would be his best since he came up with the Braves in 2012. After he represented Detroit in the 2017 American League All-Star game, the Tigers traded left fielder Justin Upton to the Angels for a player to be named. In his first full season in Anaheim, Upton is contributing his share of RBIs (13), but his current batting average sits well below his career mark of .268, and he leads Angels batters in strikeouts with 31. The stats of right fielder Kole Calhoun tell a similar story. He has knocked in 10 runs, but is currently batting .172 and has gone down on strikes 30 times. In his first season with the Angels, four-time All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler is off to a slow start, slashing .224/.292/.293 with just two RBIs.

Nick Tropeano pitches in Ohtani's place for the series opener tonight. He went 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his April 12 debut in Kansas City, but has scuffled since, allowing a total of 11 runs in two starts. Lefty Andrew Heaney has struggled, too, giving up 13 runs on 18 hits in three starts. His worst outing happened at home against the Giants on April 20, when he gave up seven runs on six hits, including three homers. Heaney, who starts Wednesday, clearly has swing-and-miss stuff, however. He's struck out 22 batters in just 14 1/3 innings of work. Garrett Richards starts Thursday's finale. Though he's already notched three wins in 2018, he'll be looking to bounce back from a disastrous outing in his most recent start. The Yankees sent him to the showers April 28 after just 1 2/3 innings, over which Richards surrendered nine runs on five hits and three walks.

Injuries have depleted the Angels relief corps, with Blake Wood, JC Ramírez and Matt Shoemaker are currently on the 10-day disabled list. Former Orioles closer Jim Johnson (3.45 ERA) has two wins in relief for the Angels this year, and Cam Bedrosian (3.29) and Noé Ramirez (3.52) have done well in the late innings. The bullpen's lone lefty, José Álvarez, has stood out, giving up just 10 hits over 13 innings. The only run he has allowed came on a solo homer, which accounts for his 0.69 ERA. Closer Kenyan Middleton's only blown save came in his last appearance, April 27 against the Yankees.

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