The Los Angeles Angels notoriously struggle with the top teams in their own division. Against the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics, they are a combined 8-20. They now return to Houston — where they are 2-5 — for a weekend series.
For the first time in what feels like a very long while, the Angels have some clarity with their starters heading into a series. They have a true starter in all three games, all of whom have been positive contributors for much of the season.
While that should be the case all the time, injuries and COVID have made it impossible to string together more than a couple games of solid starting pitching at a time.
A series against the Astros gives the Angels a chance to gauge their pieced together roster against the best team in their division as they evaluate for next season.
The Astros have 23 games left on their schedule, and with a 5.5-game advantage atop the AL West, it’s pretty safe to say they’ve all but locked in a playoff spot. While they deal with justified hatred from the other 29 fanbases for their 2017 World Series sign-stealing scandal, they’ve actually put together a top tier baseball team.
The Astros are a hitting machine. They have the best batting average in baseball, the second-ranked OPS, and have scored the second most runs in the Majors. Their pitching hasn’t been bad either, ranking in the top 10 in ERA, WHIP, and OBA.
What makes the Astros so dangerous offensively is their balanced attack. Seven of their nine regular starters have an OPS over .800, and of the 10 players who have taken the most at-bats for the Astros this season, nine have batting averages over .250.
Rightful criticisms of their past put aside, the Astros are as formidable a team as any other AL contender, and could reasonably be the favorites to get to the World Series.
The headliner of this series is that Shohei Ohtani is back on the mound for the series opener. However, his bat remains a big story. His struggles at the plate in recent weeks have been well-noted, but he has especially had a tough time against the Astros. He’s slashing just .245/.260/.449 in 12 games against them this season.
With 22 games left, Ohtani is running out of time to work on his swing, even if he has the MVP award already locked down.
As for the rest of the team, the game-to-game goals won’t change even if the opponent does. These games are all about developing young talent and getting a sense of who has earned a spot on the 2022 roster.
The Angels are not going to lose intentionally, but wins are not the final goal of every individual game. For this series, look for Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh to continue their strong play as Joe Maddon tries to figure out a shortstop solution.
Angels (69-71) vs. Astros (81-58)
Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
Game 1: Friday, September 10, 5:10 p.m. PT, Bally Sports West
Game 2: Saturday, September 11, 4:10 p.m. PT, Bally Sports West
Game 3: Sunday, September 12, 11:10 a.m. PT, Bally Sports West
Probable Pitching Matchups:
Shohei Ohtani (9-1, 2.97 ERA) vs. Framber Valdez (9-5, 3.08 ERA)
Jose Suarez (6-7, 3.74 ERA) vs. Luis Garcia (10-6, 3.29 ERA)
Jaime Barria (2-3, 5.16 ERA) vs. Lance McCullers Jr. (11-4, 3.19 ERA)