The Los Angeles Angels are riding high, winners of their last two series and taking five of six games from two playoff teams. But the onslaught of a schedule didn’t end there, as they face their American League West rivals, the Houston Astros.
The Astros machine keeps churning along, as Houston is once again at the top of the division and league standings. At 84-47, they have an 11-game lead atop the AL West (the second largest gap in the Majors), as well as a five-game lead over the New York Yankees for the AL’s best record.
At this point, they project to run away with the AL and earn themselves a bye in the first iteration of the Wild Card round.
While the Angels are at the complete opposite end of the standings — 57-74, fourth in AL West, 12th in the AL — they look to continue their recent winning ways. Since Aug. 8, they have had two separate stretches of 5-1 baseball.
They approach this series with two young starters — Reid Detmers and Tucker Davidson — but also their ace in Shohei Ohtani. The Astros, as per usual, send three quality starters to the mound in the three-game set.
Game 1: Friday, Sep. 2, 6:38 p.m. PT
Detmers takes the mound for the series opener, facing off against the recently activated Lance McCullers Jr. Detmers has been a strong presence for the Angels throughout the season, despite facing the usuals trials and tribulations of a young starting pitcher.
His 3.47 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 103.2 innings tell the story of a reliable starter, and he has continued to show improvement with each outing.
McCullers, meanwhile, has been one of the Astros best pitchers for several years now. After missing much of the 2022 season due to injury, he has recently returned and is making his fourth start of the year.
He has allowed three runs in 16.0 innings thus far, but has been wild, walking 10 batters compared with 13 strikeouts. The Angels must display patience and force McCullers to throw strikes in the early innings.
Game 2: Saturday, Sep. 3, 6:07 p.m. PT
Easily the best pitching matchup of the series comes in the Saturday night affair, when Ohtani faces off against Luis Garcia. And while Ohtani has been the better pitcher this season, he and Garcia have extremely similar statistics on the year.
Both have identical 11-8 records and have pitched a scarily similar number of innings (128.1 for Garcia and 128.0 for Ohtani). They have similar WHIPs — 1.18 for Garcia compared to 1.06 for Ohtani — but where Ohtani pulls away from Garcia is his ability to pitch with traffic on the bases.
Garcia has allowed 59 runs on 111 hits this season, while Ohtani has only allowed 38 runs on 103 hits. Efficiency with traffic has always been one of Ohtani’s biggest strong suits, and his splits against Garcia reflect that perfectly.
Game 3: Sunday, Sep. 4, 1:07 p.m. PT
The series finale sees Davidson on the mound for the Angels and the steady Jose Urquidy for the Astros. Since Davidson was acquired by the Angels at the trade deadline, he has pitched 19.0 innings with an ERA of 5.21.
Although he has shown improvements in some areas, he remains far too prone to the free pass. He has 14 walks compared to just 11 strikeouts with the Halos, and has a WHIP of 1.74. Against a patient Astros lineup, he’ll need to heavuly focus on throwing strikes.
Urquidy has arguably been the Astros second-best starter this season behind the injured Cy Young hopeful Justin Verlander. He holds a 3.69 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 139.0 innings. While his strikeout numbers are relatively low, he still does a solid job limiting traffic for himself.
It won’t be easy, but the Halos do have an opportunity to keep their winning ways alive against superior opponents. However, it’s going to take a complete effort from every phase of the roster to do so.