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Tigers vs. Angels Preview: The Mike Trout Show arrives in Detroit

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and his supporting cast is more talented than ever. So why are the Angels in third place?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Given all of the headlines we’ve read about Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani this season, one would think the Angels would be... I don’t know, better than this? Their 29-24 record would look good to anyone in the AL Central right now, but it has them in third place in their division, behind the Astros and Mariners.

While trailing a juggernaut like Houston is nothing to be ashamed of, these Angels have a relatively mundane .547 win percentage, putting them on pace for an 88-win season. FanGraphs projects they might not even do that, and gives them a 34.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s numbers are nearly identical.

I can’t figure out why they’re so average. Even though they have several hitters scuffling — Andrelton Simmons is the only other regular with an OPS above .800 — they are fifth in the American League in runs scored per game. Their pitching staff has been fine, too; their 114 ERA+ ranks third among MLB teams. They haven’t had any serious bullpen issues, and are above .500 in one-run games. They haven’t suffered any serious injuries, though their bullpen depth will be tested after losing Kenyan Middleton, J.C. Ramirez, and possibly Blake Wood to the operating table.

Long story short, the Angels are a good team, and possibly one better than the numbers suggest right now. Here’s hoping they continue to struggle this week in Detroit.

Los Angeles Angels (29-24) at Detroit Tigers (23-29)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tyler Skaggs (3-3, 3.11 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (2-4, 3.29 ERA)

Game 53 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Skaggs 55.0 25.4 6.9 3.66 0.9
Boyd 52.0 19.6 8.1 3.44 1.1

Tyler Skaggs has always shown a fair amount of potential, but has struggled to stay healthy enough to turn that potential into production. He put up a 4.30 ERA in 113 innings for the Angels as a 22-year-old back in 2014, but underwent Tommy John surgery that August. He didn’t get back to the majors until late July 2016, but was then able to work 49 23 solid innings to close out the year. The 2017 season was supposed to be a breakout year, but he fell victim to a nasty oblique strain in late April that sidelined him until August. He struggled a bit in his brief return, allowing a 4.85 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch.

Could this be the year Skaggs stays healthy? He has so far, limiting opponents to a 3.11 ERA in 10 starts. That ERA would look even better if not for a rough outing against the Boston Red Sox back in mid-April; he has limited opponents to three runs or fewer in each of his other nine starts. His strikeout and walk rates have also improved, and he has upped his ground ball rate to north of 48 percent, his highest rate since 2014.

The reason for that uptick in ground balls is an increased reliance on his two-seamer, a pitch he did not throw as often following his Tommy John surgery. According to Brooks Baseball, he didn’t use the two-seamer at all in 2016, and threw it just five percent of the time last year. In 2018, he’s up to almost 17 percent, and was at an even split with his two- and four-seam fastball in his last start. The two-seamer is important for Skaggs especially, as he uses it and his changeup to help ward off right-handed hitters. Righties have a .750 OPS against Skaggs in his career, and are hitting over 100 points better off him than left-handed batters this season.

Key matchup: Boyd vs. the third time through the order penalty

Last weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays used reliever Sergio Romo as an “opener” to great success. Romo started two weekend games against the Angels and was asked to work one inning; specifically, he was tasked with retiring right-handed hitters Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, and Justin Upton before giving way to lefthander Ryan Yarbrough. By doing this, the Rays were hoping to limit Yarbrough’s exposure to Trout and... well, pretty much just Trout a third time in the game.

One would think this could be a great strategy for the Tigers to use in this game. Boyd has historically struggled against right-handed hitters, and still has a significant platoon split this year (though he has significantly improved against everyone). By getting through the top of the order once, the Tigers could then let Boyd throw innings two through whatever, and hopefully preventing him from seeing Trout a third time.

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done, mostly because there might not be a reliever on the Tigers roster capable of shutting down the top of the Angels’ order like Romo did so efficiently last weekend.


The Tigers bullpen lets another one slip away.

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