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Series preview: Cleveland at Angels

As if you needed another reason to watch Shohei Ohtani

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

As far as narratives and the imaginary force of momentum go, these two teams could not be coming into this three-game series from more different places.

Cleveland is the hotter, better team overall. They’ve won nine of their last 13 games overall, still have a great pitching staff, and they have José Ramírez. But they enter this series on a three-game skid where nobody has looked quite right. Their ace wasn’t an ace, and the offense couldn’t seem to get anything going beyond the opening game. Maybe it can be attributed to jet lag and playing their first series on the West Coast since 2019. If that’s the case, they need to figure it out quickly, because they will remain on the wrong side of the Rocky Mountains for another three days.

The Los Angeles Angels, meanwhile, sit at 17-22 and are looking at an uphill battle if they plan to ever let Mike Trout see another playoff series before he retires. Prior to Sunday’s win over the Red Sox, the Angels had lost four in a row and lost 10 of their last 13 overall. That win last night was the kind that can provide a spark, though — if such a thing actually exists between games. They won with a pair of hits from two of their offensive superstars in the top of the ninth inning, including a go-ahead two-run homer from Shohei Ohtani.

Mercifully, the Baseball Scheduling Gods have decided to start these games a few minutes earlier — the first two contests will begin at 9:38 p.m. ET, and the final will start at 8:07 p.m. ET. After that, Cleveland will take a day off before hopping a plane back to Cleveland to face the spirling Twins.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 17-22
  • Runs Scored: 173
  • Run Differential: -47
  • Last 10: 4-6
  • Slash: .250/.331/.411
  • wOBA: .314
  • wRC+: 103
  • ERA: 5.32
  • SIERA: 3.87
  • K-BB%: 15.6%

Projected starters

Monday, May 17, 9:38 p.m. ET: LHP Patrick Sandoval vs. Sam Hentges
Monday night will be the battle of lefty arms who are still finding out whether they will stick in the rotation or the bullpen. Patrick Sandoval will make his first start for the Angels this season after pitching 7.1 innings of relief since being recalled to the major-league roster on May 3. Sam Hentges will make his second start of the season (third if you count “starting” after an opener).

Much like Sam Hentges’ first few relief outings before landing in the rotation, Sandoval put in some big innings out of the Angels ‘pen. He’s thrown at least two in each of his appearances, including a 3.1-inning effort against the Dodgers. He held the potent Dodgers lineup to just one earned run off two hits, with three strikeouts and two walks in those 3.1 innings.

Sandoval has relied heavily on his changeup so far this season, but with just 7.1 innings under his belt that could be reliant on his opponents more than a real shift in usage. Still, so far he’s used the change 45.8% of the time, up from 22.9% in his 36.2 innings last year and 31% in a similar time period in 2019. He’s got good separation between it and a four-seam fastball that has reached 93.5 mph out of the bullpen.

He also features a slider and curveball that have very little side-to-side break.

Tuesday, May 18, 9:38 p.m. ET: LHP Andrew Heaney vs. Zach Plesac
The key to beating Andrew Heaney is making contact, simple as that. He has one of the best strikeout rates in baseball, but when opponents make contact they tend to hit it hard — and far — more often than not. That’s why, despite a 33.6% strikeout rate, he has a 4.75 ERA and a 3.85 FIP.

Heaney has given up seven home runs in 36 innings, though most of his damage has come in three trainwreck outings surrounded by a few gems. For example, he struck out 10 Rays batters on May 6 and 10 Astros batters on April 23. Between those two games, the Mariners tapped him for four runs off six hits in 3.1 innings.

While his fastball sees the most action (55.6% of the time in 2021), he also throws a curveball and a changeup. His fastball and changeup both feature a lot of horizontal movement — 6.7 inches and 2.9 inches more than the league average, respectively.

Heaney is also one of those pitchers that mirrors the spin on his fastball and curveball extremely well. His four-seamer spins at the 11 o’clock axis, while his curveball mostly sits at five o’clock. It’s still early, but it appears to be a conscious change that he made, based on his axis measurements from last year, and it might be part of the reason he’s already struck out 49 batters through 36 innings.

Wednesday, May 19, 8:07 p.m. ET: RHP Shohei Ohtani vs. Aaron Civale
What else is there to say about Shohei Ohtani? As one of the best hitters in baseball, the Angels have made an effort to use him at designated hitter pretty much every day, so Cleveland can expect to see him at the plate in at least two of the games in this series. On the third, he’ll be on the mound, where he is also one of the best pitchers in baseball.

As a pitcher, Ohtani has either walked or struck out 54.6% of the batters he has faced so far this year, and he has allowed just two home runs in 25.2 innings of work.

Ohtani’s last outing was his best: a seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance against the Astros on May 11. He has struck out at least seven batters in each of his five starts but has struggled to stay in games past the sixth inning due to his plentiful walks. His domination of the Astros was the first time he walked fewer than two batters in a single outing, and only the second time he’s walked fewer than five.

Ohtani brings a full stable of pitches that range from good to exceptional. His devastating split-finger — which looks almost identical to his 96.6 mph four-seamer before it drops an extra 18 inches at the last second — has a run value of -6, according to Baseball Savant. His big looping curveball isn’t used often (just 5.3% of the time), but when it is, it’s usually for a third strike.

Lineup highlights

DH, Shohei Ohtani - This Shoehi Ohtani guy, have you heard of him? When he’s not twirling splitters and fooling batters, he’s a batter himself. And he’s one of the best. Finally healthy and raking, Ohtani is hitting the ball better than ever. His 148 wRC+ would be just a tick under his outstanding rookie season, and he’s slashing .262/.304/.597 with an AL-leading 12 home runs. Angels manager Joe Maddon has taken the training wheels off the two-way experiment, and as a result, Ohtani is getting plenty of at-bats. That’s good for everyone, unless your team is playing against him.

1B/OF, Jared Walsh - Jared Walsh hits dingers. Sometimes. Actually, probably not as much as he could. The 27-year-old has shown the ability to absolutely tattoo baseballs, but he’s also been very impatient at the plate, swinging at everything and making more weak contact than he would be if he waited for balls in his wheelhouse.

Oh, did I mention he also has a 174 wRC+? I guess my point here is there is still a lot of room for Walsh to grow and that is scary. He’s great at getting his bat to everything (ala peak Eddie Rosario), as evidenced by the fact that he swings on pitches out of the zone 32.3% of the time, yet only has a 22.5% strikeout rate. Right now he’s a slap hitter with occasional power, and the time will come when he turns into a raking machine that also happens to hit balls the other way.

Angels roster

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