The Los Angeles Angels head East to begin the second half of the season, and after five days away, they have a chance to reset against the reigning World Series champions, the Atlanta Braves.
Given where the Angels are in the standings after a complete downward spiral in the last two months, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this late-July three-game set. The Angels have spoken at length about the All-Star Break providing a mental boost, and losing this series would only further bury their hopes of making a run.
If the Halos were to lose or get swept by the Braves in Atlanta, it would almost certainly solidify their place as sellers for the upcoming trade deadline on Aug. 2. A series win or sweep could be the momentum-shifter the Angels have been desperately seeking.
Angels manager Phil Nevin has already revealed a change in approach for the second half of the season. Offensively, the Angels have been among the worst in baseball in nearly every category. So for Nevin, finding rhythm at the plate starts with increased aggression on fastballs. Taylor Ward and Jared Walsh recently echoed that sentiment as well.
And for the Angels to make that happen in this series, they’ll also have to get past the barrier of missing Mike Trout. The superstar center fielder is on the 10-day IL with left ribcage inflammation, and cannot be activated until Saturday at the earliest. This means a best-case scenario of one game missed.
Game 1: Friday, July 22, 4:20 p.m. PT
The Angels’ best opportunity to get off to a strong start comes Friday with Shohei Ohtani on the mound. Since June 3, the Angels are undefeated — 6-0 — when Ohtani is the starting pitcher. Much of this is due to Ohtani having his best season as a pitcher.
He holds a 2.38 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and 123 strikeouts compared to just 22 walks over 87.0 innings pitched. In every sense, he has been a dominant pitcher, and he even opted out of pitching at the All-Star Game to preserve himself for this ever-important start.
Meanwhile, the Braves trot out the steady Charlie Morton for the opener. Morton has taken a bit of a dive in his production compared to last season, but still has a solid 4.45 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He has been more prone to the home run ball than Ohtani, and the hope is that the Angels can use their new plate approach to take advantage of it.
Game 2: Saturday, July 23, 4:20 p.m. PT
After the reset of the break, the Angels come back with their two best starters in Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval, who takes the mound on Saturday night. Sandoval has done a remarkable job this year at avoiding hard contact and making life difficult for opposing sluggers.
His 3-5 record is not indicative of the type of pitcher he’s been, with a 3.00 ERA and a 9.7 K-per-9, he has been hugely effective for the Angels, even in losing efforts.
On the mound for the Braves is the surprising Kyle Wright. In his first season with over eight starts, Wright has been incredible for the Braves. His 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 107 strikeouts, and 3.1 K-to-BB ratio all represent career bests. After seeing Morton on Friday, the Angels should once again have their work cut out for them with the bats.
Game 3: Sunday, July 24, 10:35 a.m. PT
An early start time on Sunday represents another great opportunity for Reid Detmers to face one of the league’s best lineups. In juxtaposition to Sandoval, Detmers has done a great job keeping runners off base, but at the expense of the home run ball.
He has allowed just 50 hits in 70 innings, but with 11 home runs. Compare that with Braves Sunday starter Ian Anderson, who has allowed 94 hits in 92 innings with just 10 home runs. It looks to be a clash of styles on the mound Sunday morning.