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Series Preview: Rays vs Angels

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks largely to an Austin Meadows three-run homer the Rays were able to salvage the third game of the series versus the Houston Astros.

Now the Rays get to take a week long trip to the west coast that will have them face off in a four game set against the Los Angeles Angels.

The Angels have gotten off to a .500 start sitting at 13-13. They have lost 8 of their last 13.

Matchups:

Monday 9:38 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Shohei Ohtani
Tuesday 9:38 PM: Shane McClanahan vs Jose Quintana
Wednesday 9:38 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs Alex Cobb
Thursday 9:38 PM: Josh Fleming vs Andrew Heaney

The Angels come into the series with a 4.96 ERA that ranks in the bottom five of Major League Baseball. However their 3.82 FIP ranks ninth best and their 3.66 xFIP comes in sixth. One cause for some of the difference between their ERA and FIP could be attributed to a -9 DRS and -5.1 UZR that both come in the bottom five in the league.

Though Mike Trout is the unquestioned best position player in baseball, his teammate Shohei Ohtani has a case for being the most talented baseball player on the planet. In three starts he has posted a 3.29 ERA/3.99 FIP/3.68 xFIP while being one of the better hitters in the league. As he continues to work back from Tommy John surgery performed in 2018, his command is still at times a little shaky. He has posted a 21.0% walk rate but is also striking out batters at a 37.1% rate. His last start was his best in terms of control with two walks in 5.0 innings. He primarily throws a 97.0 mph four-seam fastball with a 89.9 mph split finger changeup and a 81.4 mph slider as his secondary pitches of choice. He will sprinkle in a 87.1 mph cutter and 74.7 mph curveball. Yesterday afternoon Ohtani was hit by a pitch just above the elbow of his pitching arm, so it’s possible his start could be skipped or pushed back. He stayed in the game after being struck, so even if he doesn’t pitch he is expected to hit.

Jose Quintana hasn’t gotten off to a good start this year. He’s put up a 10.13 ERA/5.14 FIP/4.64 xFIP and hasn’t gotten out of the fourth inning in three of his four starts while allowing four plus runs in each of those three starts. His command has been off, leading to a 18.3% walk rate compared to his career 6.9% rate. His 26.8% strikeout rate would be one of the best in his career. So far this season Quintana has redistributed his pitch breakdown. He used to throw his 91.4 mph four-seam fastball as his primary pitch, but now he adds a 78.8 mph curveball, and 91.4 mph sinker nearly 30% of the time each. He will throw a 86.9 mph changeup almost exclusively to right handed batters.

Former Ray Alex Cobb was acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles this winter. The 7.16 ERA is ugly but the 2.38 FIP and 2.44 xFIP suggest that his pitching is not the problem here. The biggest improvement has come from a 28.7% strikeout that is almost twice the rate it has been in recent seasons. He hasn’t posted a rate over 18% since 2014. He continues to avoid unnecessary damage by limiting walks. He has ramped up the use of his split finger changeup to almost 45%. The ball is getting the whiffs it used to and is the primary reason his strikeout rate has surged. He dropped his four-seam fastball and now only throws a 92.4 mph sinker as his fastball. He will throw an occasional 82.6 mph curveball mostly to try to steal strikes.

Andrew Heaney has posted a 5.25 ERA/3.69 FIP/3.00 xFIP. His strikeout rate is up to 35.1% at the cost of a slightly elevated 9.3% walk rate. Heaney’s four-seam fastball is up a tick to 92.4 mph in 2021 and is thrown almost 60% of the time. His 79.8 mph curveball is his secondary weapon of choice and has seen a big jump in whiff rate. He will mix in a 84.2 mph changeup to right handed batters, but very rarely throws it to left handed batters.

The Angels have been one of the most productive offenses.

The Angels are tied for the league lead with a 114 wRC+. They have hit .262/.318/.431. The offense is very top heavy.

Mike Trout continues to make his case as best baseball player on the planet hitting .413/.515/.775 and putting up a 257 wRC+. Trout is always great but this is a scorching hot start even for his standards.

Jared Walsh was drafted as a two-way player out of the University of Georgia in the 39th round of the 2015 draft. In 2019 he made it to the majors and was used as both a pitcher and a hitter. In 2020 he converted to full time position player where the results took off. In 2021 he is hitting .356/.422/.622 and putting up a 194 wRC+.

Ohtani isn’t only a guy who can throw 100 but he’s also a really good hitter. He’s hitting .263/.311/.606 and putting up a 157 wRC+. He has rarely walked this year with a 3.8%, the only real criticism you could have on the offensive side of the ball. In all three of his starts the Angels have chosen to give up the designated hitter to have him in the lineup.

After a slow and late start to the season Anthony Rendon has gotten hot hitting .273/.349/.418 and putting up a 122 wRC+.

Justin Upton (106 wRC+) and has been a solid contributor.

David Fletcher (67 wRC+) has struggled out of the gate along with Jose Iglesias (79 wRC+) and Albert Pujols (78 wRC+).

Old friend. New place.

After spending 2015-19 with the Chicago Cubs and winning the Cubs’ only World Series in over 100 years, Joe Maddon has gone back to his baseball home in Los Angeles. From 1981-2005 Maddon coached in the Angels organization. He was the LA bench coach before heading to Tampa Bay to get his first full time managing gig.

It’s unfortunate as a fan of a team on the east coast we don’t get to see the extremely talented Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani as often as we should. In a decade the Angels have only made the playoffs once despite having the best position player in the game. Fans of great baseball will hope that Ohtani is able to pitch tonight so we can see baseball’s best all around player on both sides of the ball.