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Series preview: Trout visits St. Pete

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Angels Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have won their last three series, all against teams with winning records, putting them at 23-23. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, coming off a series loss to the New York Mets, are also at 23-23.

The Angels match the Rays and San Diego Padres for the most games played at 46. (In contrast, for example, the Minnesota Twins have only played 40.) This has been tough on both teams and they should receive the benefit in the last 100 days of the season.

The Matchups:

Monday 7:10 PM: JC Ramirez vs. Jake Odorizzi

Tuesday 7:10 PM: Matt Shoemaker vs. Alex Cobb

Wednesday 7:10 PM: Ricky Nolasco vs. Erasmo Ramirez

Thursday 1:10: Alex Meyer vs. Matt Andriese

The Angels rotation has had injury problems

Coming into the season the Angels rotation wasn’t seen as one of its strengths. Last year their season was derailed by injuries to Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney. This year the Angels rotation hasn’t fared much better. Richards has only made one start and Heaney finally gave up trying to avoid Tommy John surgery. The Angels have used eight starting pitchers this season.

JC Ramirez has been the Angels’ most effective starter. He has a 3.80 ERA and 3.65 FIP. He does a good job limiting walks, 6.0%, and gets his fair share of strikeouts, 21.4%. He has transitioned to the rotation after making his first 111 major league appearances out of the bullpen. In his last start he went seven innings and only allowed two runs to the Chicago White Sox.

Matt Shoemaker has been bitten by the home run bug and by control issues. His 9.4% walk rate is outrageous, but the last few years he has typically run in the 4-6% range. His strikeouts are up to 23.6%. The fly ball pitcher has a 4.47 ERA and 5.00 FIP. In his last start he lasted 6.1 innings and allowed four runs, three earned. His only previous appearance against the Rays was in May 2014.

Ricky Nolasco’s 4.01 ERA isn’t awful, but his 5.38 FIP suggest he has been rather fortunate. He has allowed 13 homers and has a 18.8% HR/FB rate this year. Nolasco does a good job limiting walks, and has put up the results typical of a middle to back end of the rotation starter. In his last start against the Mets he lasted six innings and allowed two runs, one earned. Last year he made one start against the Rays while with the Twins. He threw 6.2 innings and allowed three runs, two earned.

Alex Meyer has very little MLB experience. The 27-year-old starter has made five starts for the Angels in 2017. He’s racked up the strikeouts at a 26.2% rate, but has also piled up the walks with a 16.8% rate. He has a 5.79 ERA, but his FIP is only at 4.32 thanks to a 9.5% HR/FB rate. In his last outing he struck out seven and walked four in four innings. He allowed four runs of which only three were earned.

The Angels bullpen has been adequate

16 pitchers have made a relief appearance for the Angels. Overall the results don’t look terrible as they have a 4.17 ERA and 3.79 FIP.

Cam Bedrosian entered the season as the closer. However he has missed the last month with a strained groin. He is still on the disabled list.

Bud Norris has stepped into the closer role. This is the same Bud Norris who started for the Astros and Orioles. He’s gotten good results. He has picked up eight saves while posting a 2.82 ERA, a 2.42 FIP, and striking out 31.8%.

Yusmeiro Petit has also been effective, mostly in multiple inning situations. He’s posted a 2.54 ERA and 3.46 FIP. His 26.1% strikeout rate is up over 7% from his 2015 and 2016 rates.

Despite not having many off days the bullpen is well rested entering the series. Petit threw 43 pitches in a 2.2 inning outing on Saturday and is likely the only guy who will be limited in the first couple games of the series.

Mike Trout is really good at hitting baseballs

As a team the Angels are hitting .242/.317/.379 and 95 wRC+; they strikeout slightly below average at 20.2% and they earn a slightly above average 8.8% walk rate. However they are tied with the Royals for lowest ISO in the American League at .137. Only the Giants have a worse ISO.

Mike Trout is the Angels offense. He is batting an obscene .350/.466/.757 and putting up a 222 wRC+. It’s possible that Trout has taken another step from the levels that have him among the best starts of a career in MLB history. He has 14 homers and 9 stolen bases. Note to Rays pitchers: Don’t let Mike Trout beat you.

Only catcher Martin Maldonado (108 wRC+) and former Ray Yunel Escobar (106 wRC+) have a wRC+ above 100. Escobar was placed on the disabled list last week with a strained hamstring which puts even more pressure on the rest of their lineup.

Veterans Albert Pujols (81 wRC+) and Kole Calhoun (73 wRC+) have really struggled in the first quarter of the season.

The Rays continue to make progress in the AL East race

The Rays have won three straight series. They have closed the gap in the AL East. They will need to continue to rack up series wins as we get deeper into the season.

The next 20 games are against teams outside of the AL East. The Rays need to pick up wins as the schedule softens. The games don’t have the added benefit of putting a loss on the competition in the AL East, but they are still important.

Mike Trout is a joy to watch baseball on the baseball field, but hopefully we will be spared some of that joy over the next four games.