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Series Preview: Mike Trout makes his return

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Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays get their second half started with a trip to Los Angeles. The Rays sit at 47-43 tied with the New York Yankees for the first wild card as well as second place the American League East.

The Los Angeles Angels enter the series at 45-47. Mike Trout returns to their lineup after missing 39 games with a fractured thumb. The Angels withstood the loss of the best player in the game by going 19-20.

The Matchups:

Friday 10:07 PM: Jacob Faria vs Ricky Nolasco
Saturday 9:07 PM: Alex Cobb vs JC Ramirez
Sunday 3:37 PM: Chris Archer vs Jesse Chavez

The Angels starting rotation is their weak link

The Angels starting rotation has combined for a 4.44 ERA and 4.97 FIP. They don’t strike out a lot of batters (20.1%) and have one of the highest walk rates (8.5%). They also allow more homers (1.60 per 9 innings) than all but four teams.

The former Miami Marlin Ricky Nolasco takes the ball in game one. This year he has a 5.06 ERA and 5.62 FIP. His strikeouts and walks are up slightly, but his big problem has been the long ball. He has allowed his highest fly ball rate since the 2010 season, and unfortunately for him 19.8% of those fly balls are leaving the park. In his last start he allowed eight runs in 1.2 innings against the Texas Rangers. Earlier this year he allowed five runs in six innings to the Rays while allowing three homers.

JC Ramirez has a 4.46 ERA and 4.74 FIP. His strikeout and walk numbers are very similar to Nolasco’s. Ramirez has given up a ton of homers with a 17.2% homer per fly ball rate. The thing that has saved him from worse results is he doesn’t allow contact in the air all that often. In his last start he held the Rangers scoreless through six innings. Earlier this year he held the Rays to two runs in 6.2 innings, but did allow two solo shots.

Jesse Chavez possesses a 4.99 ERA and 5.25 FIP. Chavez strikes out fewer than other Angels pitchers and walks more. He also owns a high homer per fly ball rate at 17.1%. He allows a fair share of fly balls, but a few less than Nolasco. In his last start he allowed three runs in five innings to the Rangers.

The Angels bullpen has been a pleasant surprise

This year the Angel’s bullpen has a 3.79 ERA, seventh in MLB, and 3.67 FIP, sixth in the majors. They get a lot of strikeouts (25.7%). They limit walks to 7.4% which is the lowest of any bullpen in the majors.

Cam Bedrosian spent a lot of the season on the disabled list, but in 16.0 innings he has a 1.69 ERA and 1.90 FIP.

The biggest surprise has been Bud Norris’s results in the bullpen. After bouncing around mostly as a starter the last two years with an ERAs over 5.00, this year he has been dominant as a reliever. He has a 2.23 ERA and 2.95 FIP. His strikeouts are up to 32.0%. He still walks his fair share at 9.5%.

Blake Parker, Yusmeiro Petit, and David Hernandez has been huge helps to the team holding ERAs below 2.84 and FIPs below 3.11.

The Rays will take advantage of a weak starting rotation. Once the ball gets to the bullpen scoring becomes much more difficult. With the team coming off a four day break the bullpen is at full strength.

Mike Trout returns

The Angels bats have been weak. Their 4.10 runs per game is the lowest in the American League. They have combined for a .241/.312/.382 and 89 wRC+. Angels fans will be happy to have Mike Trout back in the lineup.

Before his injury Mike Trout was having the best offensive season of his career, which is scary. In 206 plate appearances he hit .337/.461/.742 and put up a 208 wRC+. He hit 16 homers and stole 10 bases.

Andrelton Simmons has been the second best bat for the Angles. The defensive wizard has hit .290/.341/.438 and put up a 112 wRC+.

Cameron Maybin (103 wRC+) and Yunel Escobar (108 wRC+) have been the only other bats above 100 wRC+.

Kole Calhoun has had a disappointing season hitting .242/.317/.381 and putting up a 90 wRC+.

Luis Valbuena, CJ Cron, Jefry Marte, Danny Espinoza, Albert Pujols, and Ben Revere have all been worth -0.5 fWAR or worse.

Rays look to keep their momentum going in the second half

The Rays are currently in possession of a playoff spot, although hardly in secure possession. They have 72 games to play. They sit at 3.5 games behind the division leading Red Sox, the closest they’ve been to a division lead in a while.

The Rays start their second half on a six game West Coast road trip before getting back to Tropicana Field.

The next two and a half weeks will determine how the Rays treat the trade deadline. As of now they are real contenders.