After a promising start to the season, injuries continue to decimate a Los Angeles Angels team just trying to make it through the final month of the MLB season with a patchwork rotation and lineup. The Angels, of course, don’t have it easy this weekend, facing the Houston Astros in a series that finishes off in a
primetime matchup on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. The pitching matchup for the game encapsulates everything as Gerrit Cole continues a strong season against whoever is still healthy enough to pitch for the Angels.
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ESPN Sunday Night Baseball– Los Angeles Angels vs. Houston Astros
Date and Time: Sunday, September 2, 2018, 8:05 p.m. ET
Location: Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
2018 MLB Betting Odds at BETCRIS: Check Back Later
Angels vs. Astros 2018 MLB TV Coverage: ESPN
Gerrit Cole gets the start for the Astros in this primetime showdown on Sunday night.
While the Astros’ rotation is hindered a bit with injures, the Angels won’t benefit from that, at least not in this ESPN Sunday Night showdown as Cole’s had a great year and has struck out 234 batters, the most by any Astro since Nolan Ryan notched 270 in 1987. That’s impressive.
Overall, Cole is 12-5 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.008 WHIP in 170.2 innings of work over 27 starts. The 27-year old right-hander came in fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2015 and this year he’s putting up similar—and in some cases better—numbers.
That said, Cole has regressed some here in August with a 2-2 record and 4.30 ERA. His walk, strikeout and home run numbers are all in line with previous months, but he has allowed a few more hits in the month. Fatigue may be playing a factor as he’s also not eclipsed 99 pitches this month while throwing 100 or more in his eight previous starts.
In two starts this year against the Angels, Cole is winless, going 0-1, but in 12 innings he’s allowed just nine hits and struck out 15.
On the other side of this primetime matchup, the Angels haven’t even announced their starter. The Los Angeles rotation is in shambles due to injuries as they’ve used 15 different starters this year and have a rotation and a half on the DL.
Andrew Heaney won’t be ready for this start and he’s the only remaining starter from the opening day rotation.
Odrisamer Despaigne would be on rotation, but the 31-year old journeyman has hardly made a great impression in his three starts, allowing 10 runs in 12 innings and giving up two base runners an inning. Sadly, at this point, the Angels don’t have many other options.
Last Men Standings
Injuries and trades have left few starters from the start of the year. Martin Maldonado is on the other side of the field in this series after the Angels dealt him to Houston over a month ago and Ian Kinsler is in Boston. Rene Rivera is gone now, too. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Zack Cozart are all on the disabled list.
Essentially, the Angels offense is down to Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons.
Trout is still the best player in baseball. He’s probably behind a couple players like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez for the AL MVP award, but in 110 games he’s put up what would be his best OPS yet at 1.085, leading the league. He’s getting on base 46-percent of the time, has 31 homers and 21 steals. He’s a beast and can do it all with the bat.
Around him, Ohtani is probably the only other feared hitter in the order. He’s been protected by the Angels and has only played in 78 games. If he’s in the lineup, he’s a threat with 15 home runs and a .898 OPS. Beyond those two, Calhoun has been good in the second half and Simmons is at least an above average hitter at a premier position. Those four make a fine top of the order, but the rest of the lineup I very beatable. After all, journeymen like Eric Young Jr. and Jefry Marte are getting plenty of looks despite not hitting well at all. Both have OBPs well south of .300.
Working out the Bullpen
The Angels’ bullpen has been strong all season with a 3.73 ERA as a unit, they rank in the top half of baseball, but the pen has been overworked and some fatigue is showing.
With so many rotation injures, the Angels have been forced to use a ton of starters, some of whom haven’t been able to go deep in games, particularly as they were transitioning from relief work to starting. That’s taxed the pen which has thrown 509.1 innings this year, the second most in the AL behind a Tampa Bay Rays team that has its numbers skewed by using an opener before going to the in-effect starter.
It’s reasonable to expect a regression with such a high workload, but for the most part, the pen is still chugging along. Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian, for instance, are still pitching quite well though Noe Ramirez has had the highest usage and it is starting to show.
Finally Healthy, mostly
It had been months since Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer were all in the same lineup together, but they all are back healthy and in the order and since their return, this team has looked different.
After cruising through most of August, the Astros had a statement series against Oakland and are seemingly set to get on a roll. The top of the order is now stacked with the three plus Alex Bregman who is having a break out season with a .928 OPS, 25 homers and 43 doubles.
Meanwhile, Tyler White and Tony Kemp have come up and stepped in admirably while others have been injured. Maldonado has even provided some quality at-bats since joining the Astros despite being a defense-first catcher. In fact, the entire active roster of position players right now offer at least a league average bat with Josh Reddick’s 99 OPS+ the lowest of the bunch.
This offense is stacked and, the sad part is, on the year, the pitching has trumped the offense. The rotation has some injury issues now with Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton on the DL, but the offense is back healthy.
Underrated Bullpen in Houston
It’s easy to miss, but the Astros’ bullpen has the best ERA in baseball at 3.01, ahead of bullpens lauded by the national media such as the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Athletics. Houston is better than all of them. Compared to the Angels, their ERA is nearly a third of a run lower.
Much of the storyline in the first half for the Astros was their issues in the ninth inning. Ken Giles was bad last postseason and struggled to get his footing this year. He’s since been shipped to Toronto in part of the package for controversial hurler Roberto Osuna. Osuna, however, has delivered since coming to Houston, helping set up for Hector Rondon who has thrived in the closer role.
Other arms doing well in new roles include Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh, the latter of which has a 1.65 ERA and 0.850 WHIP in 60 innings of work.
Chris Devenski is now healthy adding to Tony Sipp, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Ryan Pressly who all have good stuff and give A.J. Hinch plenty of options.
Los Angeles Angels vs. Houston Astros Free Picks
The Angels have the best player on the field in Mike Trout, but otherwise the Astros have the upper-hand in nearly every facet of the game.
Offensively, Houston’s bats have come alive with their lineup back intact. It’s hard to compete with a lineup that can start with Springer, Bregman, Altuve, and Correa. Unless the Angels can put a run on the board in the first, Houston’s almost guaranteed to score first and with great pitching—in the rotation and bullpen—that’s the game right there.
The Astros are playing great baseball again. We saw it in the Oakland series. Look for that to continue and count on them rallying around Cole who should deliver six strong against the Angels before the league leading bullpen for Houston comes into the game and closes this one out.
Los Angeles Angels vs. Houston Astros Pick: Don’t get too cute, bet the money line and take the Astros to roll past the Angels on Sunday Night Baseball.
Los Angeles Angels vs. Houston Astros Score Prediction: Astros 6, Angels 3
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