Dodgers at Angels Series Preview

Dodgers at Angels Series Preview
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The formula for this year’s regionally isolated 60-game schedule is for teams to play 40 games against the teams in their own division and 20 games against the teams in the corresponding division in the other league. For the Dodgers, that means 20 games against the American League West. Thus far, they have played just two, a pair of wins against the Astros in Houston in late July.

Tonight, however, they begin a stretch of seven straight games against AL West opponents, and 10 of their remaining 16 games this month will come against AL West teams. One would think that 20 games against five teams would work out as four games against each, two at home and two on the road. That is what the Dodgers are doing with the Astros, whom they will host in mid-September to complete the season series, and the Mariners, with all four games—two home, two road—coming next week.

That is not how the schedule makers distributed their games against the other three AL West teams, however. The Dodgers will play just three games against the Rangers, all in Texas on the final weekend of August, and three against the first-place A’s, all at home on the final week of the season. That allows them to play six games—three home, three road—against their “natural rivals,” the Angels. That’s a weird and, frankly, unfair way to do things, but nothing about the 2020 season is as it should be, so we continue to roll with things as they come, starting with this weekend’s three-game set in Anaheim.

[Related: Dodgers Fleece Red Sox for Mookie Betts, Lose to Angels in Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling Trade]

Despite the continued excellence of Mike Trout, the additions of Anthony Rendon at third base, Jason Castro behind the plate, righties Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran to the rotation, manager Joe Maddon, and the recent call-up of top prospect Jo Adell, the Angels continue to be a thoroughly mediocre team. They are 7-12 on the season, but their -5 run differential reveals that they’re closer to a .500 team in practice.

Indeed, their lineup has been slightly above average thus far, with most of their hitters producing nicely, but that production undermined significantly by brutal performances from veterans Justin Upton and Albert Pujols and the rookie Adell. Pujols is in his early 40s and should have retired years ago. He has hit .241/.291/.406 (87 OPS+) since the start of the 2017 season, a sub-replacement-level performance given his immobility in the field. It is an unfortunate end to a great career, a prolonged collapse necessitated by a contract which has yet another year remaining after this one.

Upton has more inexplicably seen his bat wither in his early 30s. This year, his strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and he is popping the ball up at twice the league-average rate. It’s no wonder Maddon made him the short side of a left-field platoon with Brian Goodwin upon Adell’s promotion. The trick is that the 21-year-old Adell, the third-best prospect in baseball coming into the season per Baseball America, has thus far been worse, going 4-for-22 (.182) without a walk or extra-base hit while striking out in a full half of his plate appearances. Adell has played in just six major-league games, so one assumes he’ll get some more time to adjust, but given the shortened season and the expanded playing field, the latter of which is keeping the Angels’ playoff hopes alive despite their poor start, that leash may quite a bit shorter than it would have been in a 162-game season.

Here’s the Angels’ typical lineup against right-handed pitching. Again, everyone other than Pujols and Adell has been quite productive thus far:

R – David Fletcher (SS)

L – Tommy La Stella (2B)

R – Mike Trout (CF)

R – Anthony Rendon (3B)

L – Shohei Ohtani (DH)

R – Albert Pujols (1B)

L – Jason Castro (C)

R – Jo Adell (RF)

L – Brian Goodwin (LF)

Against lefties, such as Friday night starter Clayton Kershaw, Max Stassi will replace Castro, Upton will replace Goodwin, and Luis Rengifo will replace La Stella and hit ninth, moving everyone else up in the order and increasing the number of struggling hitters from two to four (sophomore Rengifo hasn’t hit much yet, either).

Joining Pujols and company in undermining the performance of bulk of the Angles’ offense is the Angels pitching staff, which has allowed 5.11 runs per game this year against a major-league average of 4.64. Some of that can be blamed on poor fielding. Andrelton Simmons has been out with a sprained ankle (though he could return this weekend). Pujols and La Stella make for a lousy right side of the infield. Mike Trout is no longer a superlative centerfielder and even grades out as slightly below average according to multiple metrics, and Adell, despite his five-tool talent, has struggled on both sides of the ball thus far.

To be even more fair, the pitching hasn’t been universally awful. The no-name bullpen, headed by closer Ty Buttrey, has been closer to average, and Bundy has taken a page from Jake Arrieta’s biography by suddenly living up to his former hype and pitching like an ace after leaving the Orioles at the age of 27. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they won’t face Bundy in this series.

Here are the projected pitching matchups and game times:

Fri. 8/14, 6:40 p.m. LHP Clayton Kershaw (3.60 ERA, 10 IP) @ LHP Patrick Sandoval (2.70 ERA, 10 IP)

Sat. 8/15, 6:40 p.m. RHP Walker Buehler (4.40 ERA, 14 1/3 IP) @ LHP Andrew Heaney (4.26 ERA, 19 IP)

Sun. 8/16, 1:10 p.m. RHP Dustin May (2.75 ERA, 19 2/3 IP) @ RHP Julio Teheran (13.50 ERA, 4 2/3 IP)

[Follow Sports Illustrated’s Inside the Dodgers on Twitter.]

Sandoval, acquired from the Astros for catcher Martín Maldonado a the 2018 non-waiver deadline, debuted in the majors last year, making nine starts with middling results. The 23-year-old lefty has done better in two starts thus far this year, but he projects as more of a back-end starter. He throws in the low-90s with an over-the-top delivery and a slider/change/curve mix of which the curve is the best of the bunch. If he’s going well, Sandoval will generate an above-average number of ground balls. This will be his first start against the Dodgers.

Andrew Heaney had a 2.35 ERA after three starts, but the Rangers smacked him around in his last outing. Still, he has allowed just one home run through four starts, which is a big deal given that he allowed 59 home runs in 53 starts over the previous three seasons. Despite that, Heaney has held current Dodgers to a .250/.321/.354 line in 53 career plate appearances, the only home run in that sample coming off the bat of Chris Taylor back in July 2018. Heaney relies heavily on a low-90s sinker, which he compliments with a curve and changeup.

Julio Teheran had to recover from COVID-19 before he could start his 2020 campaign, and he has been lousy since returning, failing to make it out of the third inning in either of his starts, allowing seven runs in 4 2/3 innings with four walks and two home runs allowed against three strikeouts. The average velocity of both his four-seamer and sinker is sitting around 90 miles per hour. His pitches (add a change, slider and curve) aren’t missing bats. There hasn’t been anything to like about his performances thus other than his ability to make them. I wouldn’t be shocked if Maddon decides to skip Teheran and start Bundy, who would be on regular rest, on Sunday, but Teheran has been officially announced as Sunday’s starter.

As for the Dodgers’ starters, if you hear anyone quote Pujols’ great career numbers against Kershaw, ignore them. The two haven’t faced off since 2017, and from 2015 to ’17 Pujols went 2-for-11 (.182) against Kershaw. The Albert Pujols we’ll see in this series simply isn’t the same hitter as the one who put up those numbers against Clayton. Only slightly more relevantly, Anthony Rendon is 3-for-6 with two doubles and a walk against Walker Buehler, while Dustin May is as unfamiliar to Angels hitters as Sandoval is to Dodgers hitters.

Meanwhile, in tiny samples, Mike Trout has owned Ross Stripling and Alex Wood, but against the Dodgers pitchers he might actually face in this series, he has hit just .167/.352/.333 in 54 plate appearances. Note the nearly 200-point gap between that batting average and on-base percentage. Eleven of those 54 plate appearances, nearly one in five, ended in walks. Only two were intentional, but clearly the Dodgers’ game plan is to not give Trout anything to hit. We’ll see if that strategy changes now that Rendon his hitting behind him. Rendon has also walked in roughly one fifth of his previous regular-season plate appearances (9 of 51) against the Dodgers likely to pitch in this series. 

Cliff Corcoran covers baseball for The Athletic and is a former lead baseball writer for SI.com. The co-author or editor of 13 baseball books, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he has also written for USA Today, SB Nation, Baseball Prospectus, Sports on Earth, The Hardball Times, and Boston.com, among others. He has been a semi-regular guest analyst on the MLB Network and can be heard more regularly on The Infinite Inning podcast with Steven Goldman. Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffCorcoran.