A look at this week’s three-game set at Fenway.
The opponent in one sentence
The Angels have some of the best top-end talent in all of baseball, and early on this year their depth finally seems up to par as well as they try to get this core into the postseason.
Downish. The Angels have gotten off to a very hot start, and they are only playing poorly if you are only looking at the last series. They are coming off a four-game set in Chicago against the White Sox, and they split it while dropping two of their last three. Before that series, however, they had won six in a row, so it’s probably not fair to say they’re really trending down in any significant way.
5/3: Michael Wacha vs. Noah Syndergaard, 7:10 PM ET
With the Red Sox desperately in need of a series win against a quality opponent coming off a brutal weekend series loss to the Orioles, they have the pitcher who has been their best performer early in the year. Just this morning Phil wrote about how much we should really be reading into this start from the veteran righty, so I’ll simply point you in that direction rather than just repeating all of his points.
Just like seemingly every offseason, the Angels headed into last winter mainly looking to beef up a pitching staff that has let them down time and time again. The big addition for L.A. on that front was Noah Syndergaard, a major risk/reward proposition for a former up-and-comer whose career had been derailed by injury. The early returns are good, at least in terms of results as the righty has pitched to a 2.12 ERA with a 2.85 FIP. He’s limiting his walks as he always has, but his strikeouts are down, with his success instead coming on the back of a lack of damage on contact. In a small sample like Syndergaard’s 17 innings this season that kind of success can often be looked at as a mirage — similarly to Wacha! — though he’s done a legitimately excellent job at limiting hard contact. Without a drastic change he won’t finish with results this good, but even without the strikeouts he is showing he can succeed. Syndergaard will feature a pair of fastballs that sit in the mid-90s to go with a changeup and a slider.
5/4: Garrett Whitlock vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)
For now, Whitlock remains in the rotation, though his leash continues to be a short one as the team is still stretching him out. The righty has now made two starts, and after dominating in the first he was a little more shaky in the second. Granted, it was not a bad start, but Whitlock struggled with efficiency and only made it through three innings on 61 pitches. Hopefully he’ll start to get a longer leash than that, but he also needs to get back to attacking the zone more confidently, which he struggled to do in that start against the Blue Jays.
Beyond the first game, the Angels have not yet announced their pitching plans for this series. That largely comes down to the status of Shohei Ohtani, who is dealing with a groin injury. He was originally supposed to start in the opener on Tuesday, but now they’re hoping he may be able to start later in the series. His 4.19 ERA to start this season looks mediocre, but he’s got a 2.10 FIP, striking out a whopping 37.5 percent strikeout rate and an impressive 6.3 percent walk rate. As a fan of baseball I would like to see him pitch. As a fan of the Red Sox, I would like to see him take some time for rest. If he doesn’t go in this series, I’d expect this game to be a bullpen game for the Angels, perhaps led by veteran Jamie Barría.
5/5: Rich Hill vs. TBD, 1:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)
The one win the Red Sox were able to get over the weekend against the Orioles was mostly thanks to the performance from Hill, who held Baltimore’s offense hitless through four innings. I wouldn’t expect that kind of performance from him against this Angels lineup but it is a nice reminder that he can still handle major-league lineups when he’s on. It’s just that he hasn’t always been on this season. The veteran has a solid 3.71 ERA this year, but his strikeout rate is as low as it’s ever been. For Hill, it’s going to be all about the curveball. His fastball, when paired with the slow breaking ball, can play up and get batters even sitting under 90 mph. But without it, the fastball is basically just BP.
Again, we are TBD here, presumably opening up the possibility of Ohtani making the start in this game instead of Wednesday. If he doesn’t make the start, things would line up for Reid Detmers to get the ball. The southpaw, who made his major-league debut last season, was one of the better pitching prospects in the game coming into the season, though his 2022 has started off a bit rocky. A 2020 first rounder, Detmers has a sick curveball and racked up strikeouts in the minors, but homers have proven to be an issue as a pro, as has hard contact just in general. The Red Sox can’t consistently fall behind in counts in this game or it’s going to be a long night. But if they are disciplined, watching bad pitches go by and jumping on mistakes, they can have a good afternoon. Detmers throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball along with that aforementioned curveball, a slider, and the occasional changeup.
Notable Position Players
Mike Trout has missed some time with injury the last couple of years, but he’s healthy again this season and is reminding people that he remains quite good at baseball. The superstar has a 240 wRC+ (reminder: 100 is average) to start the year, doing just about everything well. Ya know, just what you’d expect from Literally Mike Trout.
Shohei Ohtani is now the biggest star on the Angels, and as I’m sure anyone reading this knows both pitches and hits. That groin injury did keep him out of the lineup in Chicago on Monday, so we’ll see what his status is for this series. At the plate, he’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start just hitting at a league-average rate as he waits for his power to show up like it did a year ago.
Anthony Rendon is something of a forgotten star in this lineup, especially after an injury-riddled, underwhelming 2021. His plate discipline this year, though, has been phenomenal, and has kept his head safely above water early on as he waits for the power to come through.
Taylor Ward has been the talk of this lineup of late and is perhaps the hottest hitter in baseball. A former first round pick, he’s finally showing some of that potential with an early 261 wRC+.
Brandon Marsh is another former well-regarded prospect, and he’s off to a nice start this season as well. He will strike out plenty, but when he puts the ball in play good things (for the Angels, anyway) often follow.
Jared Walsh was probably the Angels’ second best player last season, but he’s off to a slow start in 2022.
Max Stassi probably doesn’t get enough credit for his all-around skillset, pairing very good defense behind the plate with a bat that has been above-average — overall, not just for catchers — for the last couple of years.
Tyler Wade is not going to hit for a whole lot of power, but he’ll put the ball in play and that has worked out relatively well for him this year.
David Fletcher is an old school kind of player who almost never strikes out, but the lack of power has caught up with him in recent years.
Raisel Iglesias anchors this Angels bullpen and has been his typical great self this season. If things get to the ninth inning with L.A. holding a lead, it’s going to be tough for the Red Sox. As a reminder, he was available for almost literally free — the player for whom he was traded was DFA’d not long after and picked back up by the Angels — a couple of years ago and the Red Sox passed. I’m still mad about it.
Ryan Tepera was the big bullpen addition by the Angels this winter, and while his ERA looks good early on this season the peripherals have all gone in the wrong direction. Given his track record the last couple of years, though, I wouldn’t assume his ERA will tank.
Aaron Loup has been a quietly consistent reliever for years now, with an ERA of 1.36 since the start of the 2020 season and a 2.81 FIP.
Griffin Canning was placed on the 60-day IL at the start of the season, but it looks like he could be back right around when he’s eligible next month.
Archie Bradley just went down with an abdomen injury over the weekend and is expected to miss about a month.
Matt Duffy is currently on the COVID list.
It’s not going to be great baseball weather for the opener, with overcast and temperatures in the 40s, but Wednesday is the day we really need to worry about. There is rain in the forecast all day, and while it looks like it might taper off by the evening, we’re still looking at a roughly 50 percent chance of rain while the game should be taking place. The good news is Thursday should be good, with temperatures in the 60s and the sun shining.