Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels @ Cleveland Indians

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The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 40 Miles from the Actual City of LA And I’d Probably Recommend Taking the 91 to the 57 Because I-5 Is Often a Mess are coming to town to visit with the Indians, riding high with a 7-3 record their last 10 games. If not for the black magic being crafted in the Bay Area they’d likely be hanging around first place in the AL West, but as it is they’re playing more like people expected with that lineup. Though somewhat top heavy with the Fishlord Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and a returned and rejuvenated Josh Hamiliton alongside some pseud-scrubs elsewhere on the field, they pack a punch. The last time the Tribe saw the Angels it was out in Cali with the Red Hats sweeping the Indians over three games. Nothing went well for Cleveland. The starters – Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister – gave up a combined 15 runs in 16 innings pitched, the offense produced eight runs over three games, only two homers were hit, both by Carlos Santana, and as whole the Tribe hit .191. They walked another eight times too, so basically they just lost in every phase of the game. This was during that miserable 0-6 west coast swing that preceded a stupendous outburst and Kluber deciding he was an ace. It’d be nice to give the Angels a dose of the ol’ Cleveland Home Cooking, but It won’t be easy.   When the Tribe got to Anaheim back in April they dodged a bullet as Josh Hamilton had been on the disabled list since the 8th with a torn thumb ligament. He was beating the tar out of the ball up to that point, giving Angel fans and execs hope that $125 million wasn’t going to be a waste. He’s a streaky player and all of 2013 seemed to be the bad kind, but with a player of his prodigious talent there’s always hope. Since returning to the team he’s been solid if unspectacular as he rounds back into shape hitting .273/.350/.483, compared to his .342/.415/.534 season line. He’s never been a big walker so the OBP is going to rely heavily on what he’s hitting. His career high is .411 and he had to hit .359 that year to do that. If that’d been Miguel Cabrera his on-base rate would have been upwards of .460. He’ll be back in it sooner rather than later (as long as his lovely blue eyes don’t do him in again) and it’ll be terrible. In the good way. I for one love it when Hambone is on a hot streak – he hits everything a mile, on a line too, mashing about a dozen homers in a week or two. If he ever got to the postseason on one of those streaks and somehow sustained it, the Angels would win games about 15-5. He’s a marvel.   The one-two punch of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout is tremendous sounding, huh. After all, one is the best player of the 2000’s and the other is well on his way to being the best of this decade. They’re so different, yet produce similar power. Trout’s swing in particular is just so tight, quick, it doesn’t make sense he’s able to bomb like he does. He swings like he’s a line-drive hitting doubles man, not one of the best power threats in the business. And that slambino he hit off Chris Sale last week was just perfect. Away, a few inches below the zone, off-speed, yet he deposits it in deep left-center and Sale went that creepy kind of calm-crazy that leads to murders. Sale could be a scary dude if you mess with him.   Pujols’ production has taken a decided dip since coming to the Angels but even now it’s hard to sleep on the guy. One of his MVP years there was a stretch where he looked like he was going to have more homers than strikeouts. Those days are gone, his K rate is 11.6, up from his career 9.8% and his walk rate is only 8.4, compared to 12.3 for his career. Maybe he’s slowing down, can’t get the bat around as well, maybe pitching in the AL is tougher to hit, maybe someone finally figured out how to beat the Machine, but he’s still got 16 homers to this point in the season and he can still break opposing fans’ hearts. That last is a rare and wonderful skill to have in one of your players. Really, to break a man as Pujols broke Brad Lidge, mentally disabling him for years. it’s tremendous. Some of his greatest work.   I know I said this team is a bunch of scrubs other than the three big boys, but even if he’s already peaked in public perception, I like David Freese. He had that tremendous 2011 postseason (has to be some weird vibes between him and Hambone, by the way) and since then he’s been injured or underwhelming. Over his last 365 days he’s hitting .236/.317/.333. Maybe I’m nice saying underwhelming. Still, he looks so baseball-y. I’m a sucker for a good chin.   On the other side, Howard Kendrick, or maybe Howie, is woefully underrated. Nobody talks about the guy, but he’s the type of player you’d want Freese to be. He hits for slightly above average with a 103 OPS+ this year and is a net positive defensively. He’s the kind of guy who’s a “heart and soul” of a team, if you will. He’s not the best player in the world, but if you have Pujols, Trout and Hamilton, a few Kendricks turns you into a contender. He’s good, Kole Calhoun (great name, strong 119 OPS+) can spot start sometimes and won’t hurt you too badly in the field, and their bench is full of decent role players. Starting catche Chris Iannetta is having a career year with a .373 OBP along with his best power numbers since he was in Colorado. Impressive considering he’s come to a very hitter-unfriendly park.   The Angels are going to be in the playoffs. The East isn’t going to take both the Wild Cards, maybe not either of them if they keep screwing around, and while the A’s are running away with the division nobody else out there is any good. Injuries or poor roster construction or just being bad at baseball, all these things taint the AL West. It’d be cool for the Indians to do work on them, a little payback for last time and more proof to the public they don’t stink. I’m not sure they need to do that anymore, but a reminder is always nice.

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