One Step Ahead: 8/6

What the Angels couldn’t accomplish in Canada, they pulled off upon their return to Anaheim as they swept the lowly Phillies in a three game set. The Phillies got off to a lead in the first inning of the first game. From that point, they didn’t score for eighteen consecutive innings as the Angels scored seven runs in game one, and seven more in game 2. If the number 7 brought us bad luck in the Mid-West and in Ontario, it became our friend again in Orange County, California. On Monday, the “good” Ricky Nolasco showed up and gave up one run in six innings. The hitting star was none other than The Machine, Albert Pujols who had been slumping of late. On this night, Pujols went 3-4, scored a run and knocked in 5 with a single, double, and home run – a triple short of the cycle (Pujols has never hit for the cycle in his 17 year MLB career). The homer was # 608 all-time and the next one he hits will tie him with Sammy Sosa for eighth all-time. The RBI’s were numbers 64 thru 68 of the season and Pujols now needs only 18 more to pull even with the great Willie Mays, who is tenth on the all-time RBI list with 1,903. On the following night, Mike Trout had a jack, and Simmons and Cron went back to back with their own. The Angels wrapped up the second game of the set with yet another 7 spot, all coming in the third inning when 11 men came to the plate for the home team.

To sweep the series and win their fifth in the last sixth games, the Angels got off to a great start when Mike Trout hit a two run shot in the bottom of the first, his 21st blast of the season. The Phillies though came right back with four of their own runs in the top of the second. A sacrifice fly in the fourth and groundout in the eighth tied the game at 4. The winning run scored on a wild pitch which allowed Andrelton Simmons to scamper home and send the Phillies packing. Parker Bridwell struggled in the start but the relief corps which included Parker, Bedrosian, and Norris sealed the win. Simmons went 4-11 against Philadelphia and has now upped his batting average to a season high .303. His great season continues to get even better!

Next, the Angels welcomed Western Division rival Oakland to the Big A, and stole a game where victory seemed doubtful, by scoring six runs in the sixth and seventh inning after they had fallen behind, 6-2. Escobar, Calhoun, and Revere had two hits apiece and Mike Trout registered three. The biggest hit of the night though was a bases loaded pinch single for Luis Valbuena, batting for Martin Maldonado which scored Calhoun and Simmons. The win gave the Angels a four game winning streak, their longest since May and brought them back to the .500 mark.

The week ended with two disappointing losses. The first came on a 5-0 shutout, where the Angels were held to but five hits. Tyler Skaggs was a bit disappointing in his first outing since April when he suffered an oblique strain. Of concern is that Skaggs did not impress in four rehab outings. He last pitched in Salt Lake on July 31 where he struggled in pitching just under five innings. Still, if the Skaggs start was not what was hoped for, the relief pitching on Sunday which allowed the A’s to come back from a 10-5 deficit and grab an 11-10 win was a source of significant concern. This is the second consecutive Sunday where the Halo’s lost by identical 11-10 scores after blowing seemingly insurmountable leads. It was painful to watch and then painful to listen to after I turned off the TV. Now 2 games under .500 again, the Angels may have some help on the way.

On the immediate radar screen is Andrew Heaney, a highly touted starter, obtained from the Dodgers a few years back for Howie Kendrick. A little over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Heaney threw five innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday, giving up three runs on five hits and no walks while striking out seven. Heaney might be back as early as mid-August. In case you were wondering about Nick Tropeano, who like Heaney is recovering from Tommy John, it appears that Tropeano will not pitch this season for the Halos but will be ready to pitch in the Arizona Instructional League this fall. As for Garrett Richards, who has been rehabbing from an injury to the nerves in his biceps, the OC Register quotes him as saying that he is “certain” that he will pitch for the Angels this season…though he is uncertain as to when exactly that will be.

One pitcher who will apparently not return to the Halos is Huston Street who has experienced a mild rotator cuff strain after coming back to pitch four games and then being forced out with a groin injury. In the last year of his contract with the Angels, you’d have to believe that Street is a longshot to ever wear the Halo on his cap again.

Another who is unlikely to return this season is Matt Shoemaker who is expected to soon undergo surgery on the radial nerve in his right forearm. The good news with Shoemaker is that if he opts for that surgery, the recovery time is short enough to guarantee that he will not miss any spring training in 2018. Last, Andrew Bailey has pitched in some rehab assignments, performed poorly, and it appears uncertain at this time as to what progress may be expected in regards to his shoulder issues. We will continue to monitor all injuries and report on all hoped for progress.

At week’s end, the Angels record stands at 55-57. They are 3 games behind the second wild card slot. Given the trials and tribulations they’ve suffered this year, August feels a little like April; hope springs eternal. Let’s hope the last 50 games brings the kind of excitement and surprises that makes baseball the most wonderful sport on earth.

The July Player of the Month award goes to Andrelton Simmons who hit .378 in 22 games last month. Simmons hit 3 home runs, had a team leading 13 RBI’s, and had an OBP of .409 in June. Amazingly, his WAR numbers placed him roughly in a flat-footed first place tie among all major leaguers in the position player category, and first in defensive WAR. He’s not a magician with his glove or his arm, he just seems like one. The pitcher of the month award belongs to Parker Bridwell who won 3 games, struck out 20. and had an ERA of 1.69. Bridwell also compiled a WHIP of .90, and established himself as a mainstay on the starting staff.