Same Old Story For
The Angels were supposed to contend for the AL West title in 2012, after the big-money signing of Albert Pujols, and last year, following the big-money signing of Josh Hamilton. The Halos got off to slow starts each year and flopped, largely because of the pitching staff. So embattled General Manager Jerry Dipoto addressed the rotation this offseason in trading for lefties Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.
Dipoto figured he had a pretty good Nos. 1-3 in Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Santiago, with Garrett Richards and Skaggs filling out the back end. That's what had to make the season-opening home sweep to the Seattle Mariners so concerning. The Mariners, not exactly a powerhouse offense even with Robinson Cano, outscored the Angels 26-8 (all three over the total at sportsbooks). Weaver pitched OK, but the bullpen imploded in the opener. Wilson was rocked for six runs and eight hits in 5.2 innings in Game 2, and Santiago allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings of Game 3. Closer Ernesto Frieri allowed two home runs in his one inning pitched.
If the Top 3 pitches like that, this team is going to finish under .500 again even with a potentially excellent offense. That lineup didn't do much against the Mariners, either. Mike Trout was 4-for-10 with a homer and three RBIs, but Hamilton struck out five times in 10 at-bats with an RBI. Pujols was 2-for-12 without an RBI. David Freese, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick were a combined 2-for-30 with eight strikeouts. The opening series was such a disaster that hitting coach Don Baylor broke his leg in a fluke accident while catching the ceremonial first pitch from ex-Angel Vladimir Guerrero on Monday.
The AL West looked there for the taking with the A's (Jarrod Parker) and Rangers (Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Jurickson Profar), suffering key spring injuries, so that last thing L.A. needed was another slow start. That makes this weekend's series potentially very important even this early in the season.
The Astros didn't look like the pushovers they have been the past three years in their opening series against New York, or perhaps the Yankees are simply not a very good team. Despite losing a franchise-record 111 games in 2013, Houston was 10-9 against the Angels.
Richards gets the call for Los Angeles. He was in and out of the rotation to start last season but locked down a spot in the second half with a 3.72 ERA in his final 13 starts. Overall he was 7-8 with a 4.16 ERA. HIs road ERA of 4.06 was a bit better than at home (4.26). Richards faced Houston five times last year with one start. That was Aug. 17 in Anaheim. Richards allowed 12 hits and five runs over six innings, striking out seven in a no-decision. That was the most hits he allowed in a game all season, but his strikeout total also was a season high.
No Astros have faced Richards a lot. Chris Carter is 5-for-9 with a home run and three RBIs against him. Jose Altuve, who will hit cleanup some days despite being only 5-foot-5, is 1-for-5 with two walks off Richards. All-Star catcher Jason Castro is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Houston starts right-hander Lucas Harrell. He won the No. 4 spot in the rotation in camp, with lefty Dallas Keuchel taking the No. 5. Harrell and Keuchel were battling it out with Jerome Williams, a former Angel, and Brad Peacock. Harrell got the nod despite a 7.50 ERA and 24 hits allowed in 15 spring innings. He was 6-17 with a 5.86 ERA a year ago as a reliever and starter. His ERA was 5.98 in 22 starts. Harrell had success against the Angels. In three starts he didn't get a decision but had a 1.53 ERA with 16 hits allowed in 17.2 innings.
Freese, the former National Leaguer, has seen Harrell more than any other Angel, going 5-for-12 with a home run and three walks. Hamilton is 3-for-8 off him with two homers and four walks. Trout is 1-for-6 and Pujols 2-for-9.
MLB free picks: Angels -134 and the over eight runs. If there's such a thing as a must-win game on the first weekend of the season, this is it for Los Angeles. The Angels have won six of their past seven in Houston. The over is 9-1 in the Halos' past 10 series openers.