Preview: Angels Host Dodgers In Freeway Series Without Fans
Mike Trout homers against the Dodgers on June 10, 2019. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The red and blue uniforms will be the same Friday night, and the players will mostly be the same.

The star power in both dugouts will still be tantalizing — and most likely, the games, like most years, should be entertaining as ever.

But perhaps the best thing about the annual Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers — the fans — will be missing this year.

Freeway Series games are usually sellouts as fans travel up or town the 5 Freeway or the Amtrak or Metrolink, and are usually colorful, festive affairs.

Families, friends and even marriages are often split briefly by allegiance to either the red side or the blue side of the Southland. And while fans will still be watching from their sofas, their presence and real noise will be missed most of all.

The Dodgers have traveled south to play the first three of six games against the Angels this year, with left-handers Clayton Kershaw and Patrick Sandoval matching up on the mound.

Last year, on June 10, long before anyone other than scientists had even thought about anything like the coronavirus, the Angels beat the Dodgers 5-3 in front of the largest crowd in Angels Stadium history.

In that Monday night game, Angels superstar Mike Trout hit a game-tying two-run homer as the Angels came from behind to beat the Dodgers 5-3.

Trout had been in other Freeway Series games before, but even he marveled at the roar produced by the overflow crowd that night.

Said Trout: “The atmosphere was unbelievable. It’s the best the crowd has been all year. The atmosphere is great every time we play the Dodgers, here or in LA. The competition is great to be a part of.”

Instead, Friday night, other than the players, there will be just the hundred or so club, security and television personnel on hand to watch the Freeway Series opener.

Expect all six of the games between the Angels and Dodgers this season to be highly competitive, however, despite the disparity in the clubs’ records.

The Angels won all four of the matchups against the Dodgers in 2019 — all games decided by less than two runs — and aren’t scared of their “glitzier” rivals up north, having won 12 of their past 18 interleague regular-season games.

“They’re a tough, tough team,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “But we’ve shown we can play with anybody, and we will.”

This 2020 version of Angels are a better team than their 7-12 record might indicate. Despite that record, the Angels are only minus-5 runs in overall run differential so far in this COVID-shortened season.

That said, the Dodgers might be even better than their 13-7 mark would show. That might play into the way Maddon has selected his starting pitchers for this series.

With Thursday’s day off, Maddon could have bypassed the start of the lefty Sandoval, who has only made 11 major-league starts. But the Angels manager could be trying to attack the Dodgers’ perceived weakness — the underwhelming starts of the Dodgers’ left-handed hitters.

Cody Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, is hitting .091 (2 for 22) against southpaws and just .165/.244/.266 with two homers and seven RBI in struggling out of the gate.

Fellow left-handed batters Max Muncy (.169), Joc Pedersen (.167) and Matt Beaty (.100) are all below the Mendoza Line for the Dodgers — although Dodgers manager Dave Roberts attributed some of the struggles to expanded bullpens due to this season’s expanded 28-man rosters.

“There’s a lot of big power arms in pens across the league,” Roberts said. “Managers have 10, 11 guys in the pen these days. I think that’s probably a big part of it.”

Kershaw (1-1, 3.60 ERA) is trying to bounce back after a rough start against the San Francisco Giants last Saturday. He’s 6-2 with a 2.56 ERA against the Angels in his career and has held Trout to just two hits in 13 at-bats with four strikeouts.

The Dodgers have never seen Sandoval (0-1, 2.70), who has pitched well in both of his starts. Opposing batters are hitting just .211 against Sandoval.

Maddon is a big admirer of Sandoval.

“I think he (Sandoval) has this kind of potential,” Maddon said. “I don’t think that’s an outlier. Better fastball command, really good slider and changeup when he has needed it.”

On Saturday, Maddon will sent left-hander Andrew Heaney (1-1, 4.26) to the mound against the Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler (0-0, 4.40).

In Sunday’s series finale, slow-starting Julio Teheran (0-1, 13.50) is scheduled to start for the Angels against the Dodgers’ Dustin May (1-1, 2.75).

Teheran’s start could be skipped, however, in favor of a rejuvenated Dylan Bundy, who is one of the American League’s toughest starting pitchers so far this season.

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