It would take some clever manipulations of numbers and dates to make the start of this Los Angeles Angels season look much less gloomy.
In the longest nine-inning game in Angel Stadium history, the Angels and the Houston Astros combined to walk 19 batters. The game lasted four hours and 21 minutes, and by the time the damage was added up, the Astros emerged with a 9-6 win.
A sloppy game by both teams’ standards left the Angels staring at the reality of a disappointing start to the COVID-19-shortened pandemic MLB season.
The Angels fell to 2-6 out of the gate in what will be a 60-game season, if all games can be played due to the pandemic.
The year 2002 had a similar gloomy feeling at the start. The Angels stumbled out of the gate with a 6-14 record in 2002, but went on to turn the season around and win the franchise’s only World Series title.
Flip some of the digits in the year around, and in 2020, the Angels are off to an even worse start.
Factoring a value of 2.7 for each win or loss in a 60-game season, the Angels’ pandemic adjusted record by 2020 standards would be 5.4 wins and 16.2 losses — and even worse start than in the 2002 season that was ultimately the Halos’ ultimate triumph.
“It feels like 2-6,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon, who was the bench coach on the 2002 world champion Anaheim team.
Said Maddon: “I want to believe it’s going to turn and come back to us. It was actually really good energy in the dugout. It was great right up until the last out.
“We’re constantly fighting from behind, and that makes it difficult. We have to grab a lead and hold onto it.”
The situation isn’t dire yet. The Angels lead the majors in losses with six, but in the AL West, no team is running away with things — Houston has only a 3-game lead in the standings on the Angels.
With 52 games remaining — most of which will be with superstar Mike Trout back in the lineup after his current paternity leave — there is still plenty of time. But there’s no doubt that this wasn’t the quick start Maddon fancied.
The main culprit in this loss, the Angels’ fifth in the last six games, was a lack of timely hitting with runners on base despite a valiant effort from an overtaxed bullpen.
With runners in scoring position 18 times (thanks mainly to the Astros issuing 11 walks), the Angels only managed three hits in those situations, and they only cashed in two of the free passes issued to them by Houston hurlers.
Matt Andriese, making his first start since 2018, walked three batters in 1 2/3 innings, and left the game trailing 4-0 in the second. The former swingman, added in the offseason to provide starting pitching depth, never found his mechanics.
“I didn’t have that one pitch that was really going to get me out of that second inning and allow me to go deeper into the game,” Andriese said.
Maddon and Andriese also said that the sloppy all-around play on July 31 — normally the date of the MLB trade deadline in a normal season — was due to the irregular schedules that teams have been adjusting to during the attempt to play during the pandemic.
Andriese said: “It’s definitely different. Being that it’s a short season, you can’t feel your way through outings. You’ve really just got to hit it hard from the get-go and treat it hard like it’s midseason. All of us are struggling just a bit command-wise.”
After Andriese’s early exit, Maddon kicked off a parade of Angels relievers.
Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, Ryan Buchter, Noe Ramirez, Mike Mayers, Hoby Milner, Kyle Keller and Jacob Barnes paved a path to the pitching rubber and held the Astros to only three more earned runs over 7 1/3 innings until the latest finish in stadium history.
“It’s hard to piece together that many guys and hold the other team in check,” Maddon said.
The Angel bullpen did, but the lack of hitting with RISP undid the Angels again.
The red-hot Brian Goodwin once again led the Angels’ offense in Trout’s absence. Goodwin blasted a two-run home run off Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. and drove in three runs, while leadoff man David Fletcher was 2 for 3 and doubled.
The Angels and Astros continue the series with a 4:07 pm PST start on Saturday and a 1:10 pm finale on Sunday, all again in front of zero fans.
It’s unknown when Trout will return to the team. Jessica Trout, wife of the three-time AL MVP, has a due date of Monday to deliver the couple’s first child. Trout has three days on the MLB paternity list and could be cleared to return to the team after passing an initial coronavirus screening test.