Short Distance on A Long Road: 9/10

The road ahead was paved with uncertainty when pitchers and catchers reported to Tempe on the fifteenth of February. It still is. But, after nearly seven months, what has come into clear focus is that the 2017 Angels persevere–despite adversity, and in spite of the fact that nothing comes their way with ease.

The Angels labored hard on Labor Day and emerged with a scrappy 11-9 triumph that more resembled a boxing match than a baseball game. All season long, the Halos have shown determination, tenacity, and an ability to endure and go the distance. Though there are ample illustrations of these attributes, Monday’s game against the A’s in Oakland typifies these gritty traits better than most. Battered by four runs in the first round, the Angels counterpunched with their own four-score in the second, only to fall behind again in the third. Subsequently, each time the Angels pulled ahead, the A’s seemed to rebound, and, when the match reached its “rounds” limit, the two clubs were tied up in a clench. Of course though, there are no draws in baseball, so the game played on. In the eleventh frame, the Angels took full advantage of a walk and hit by pitch when Kole Calhoun tripled to score the battle’s decisive runs. Still, the Halos needed to fight off a final A’s rally to take the match after more than 4 ½ hours had elapsed. In sending twelve pitchers to the mound during the course of the contest, the Angels set an American League record. While the win was most welcome, the pitching performance of Parker Bridwell who pitched but three innings for the second consecutive time while giving up six runs or more, has to concern the California club. With JC Ramirez out for the season, the Angels will need the unheralded Bridwell to perform as brilliantly as he has since he was first inserted into the rotation in late May. No doubt that the Angels would not be where they are without the early April acquisition from the O’s, but there simply is no formula to reach the playoff’s without continued significant contributions from Bridwell in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday’s four plus hour slugfest was a virtual repeat of Monday’s and fortunately, brought with it the same extra inning triumph. Once again, the Angels needed a plethora of pitchers to gain the victory. And once again, the win was accompanied by a touch of the dramatic. Whereas on Monday, the game ended with two Athletics on Board, Tuesday’s game concluded with all bases occupied by A’s. Two near fatal endings fortunately resulted in two unexpected wins… not how one wants to win ball games, but in a September pennant race, wins of any type are most welcome. CJ Cron could not have performed better in the clutch with both a key home run and a triple late in the game. Ben Revere’s pinch single in the tenth produced the game winner. But perhaps the best news to come out of this Halo victory was the return to the mound of Garrett Richards, the ace of the staff, who was injured in early April during his first, and only outing of the season. In 3 1/3 innings, Richards demonstrated that though his stamina was not yet in the place where he needs it to reach, his form and abilities are seemingly back. The return of Skaggs, Heaney, and now Richards may not bring about a full and complete October surprise but it just might deliver a September to remember. We shall soon see.

While a sweep of the A’s would have been welcome and sweet, the 3-1 loss on Wednesday brought with it a possible silver lining as Tyler Skaggs came through with an impressive pitching performance, striking out a career tying nine, in six innings of solid work.

The Angels capped off the week with a come from behind victory against the Mariners in Seattle after dropping the first two of a three game set in the Emerald City. Justin Upton, in his ninth game wearing red, produced the game winning RBI’s with a double that one-hopped the left centerfield wall. The hit followed a sacrifice bunt by Brandon Phillips, advancing Ben Revere to second, while taking a potential key at-bat from Mike Trout’s hands. Fortunately, since the acquisition of Upton, Mike Scioscia can now afford to make this type of strategic choice as Albert Pujols is now preceded by Upton in a lineup designed to better protect Trout. The win allowed the Halos to climb within a game of Minnesota who currently holds the second wild card position, and to avoid a four game losing streak, heading into the final three weeks of the season. Critically, Parker Bridwell bounced back with a strong outing following two beatings at the hands of the A’s that surely had all Halo fans more than a little concerned.

The Angels now return to the Big A for a nine game home stand which includes three games each against Division rivals Houston and Texas, as well as a trio of contests versus the AL leading Cleveland Indians who currently own an eighteen game win streak. Winners of 38 out of 69 games at home, the Angels will need to play better against these three teams who have consistently bested them throughout the season. The Angels are 5-8 against the Astros, 6-10 against the Rangers, and 0-3 against the Indians. The Astros’ recent acquisition of Justin Verlander from Detroit will only make things more difficult for the Angels.

Hopefully, the long journey from the late winter days in Arizona will have the happiest of endings. With nineteen games to go, the distance remaining is short and only through consistent winning can the Angels hope to play deep into October.