As a rabid fan of both teams, I've been anticipating this series since I saw the 2007 schedule and learned that the two teams would NOT be facing each other in Interleague play until 2010. And today it's here! Woo!
In the interest of helping my fellow Brewer fans truly appreciate the series, I thought I'd post a guide to the Angels, seen through the eyes of someone who also appreciates the Crew.
You'll have to forgive me if this is somewhat rambling and stream-of-conciousness. I had planned to do a more thorough job, but my Father's Day present arrived early (PS3 + MLB The Show 10 bundle), so I'm a little preoccupied. I'm sure you understand.
Both teams have had their roster issues. (I'll see your Gary Matthews Jr. and I raise you a Jeff Suppan and Bill Hall!) Both teams have bullpen issues. (Brian FUentes? Try the 2010 flavor of Trevor Hoffman!) Both teams have had injury issues. (I'll see your Greg Zaun and I raise you a Kendry Morales!)
The Angels are coming into this series off an 11-3 roadtrip, including a Freeway Series sweep of the Dodgers this weekend in Chavez Ravine. They're currently 36-30, 1/2 game back of the Rangers in the AL West (Thanks for beating Texas on Friday, Brewers. Wish you could have pulled off that 9th-inning rally Saturday night.). They struggled early this season, but seem to have rounded back into form, despite the loss of Kendry Morales to a bizarre season-ending injury. (Walk-off Grand Slam! Woo! Broken leg. Boo!)
In what should be no shock to anyone who has watched the Brewers this year, pitching matchups favor the opponent. The Angels may not have a true #1 starter (Jered Weaver is pretty close, though), but they've got a great collection of #2 - #3 guys that they'll put out there 5 nights in a row. Tonight features Randy Wolf vs. former All-Star Joe Saunders. Tuesday should see Dave Bush vs. former All-Star Ervin Santana. And Wednesday afternoon's game will have Chris Narveson vs. former Cardinal Joel Piniero.
Saunders (5-6, 4.35 ERA) is a lefty and ground-ball specialist, who pitches best when his sinker is working and his defense helps him. His last outing was a 9 inning, 1-run complete game victory vs. the A's. He started the season 1-5, but he's been pitching much better lately. In his last 7 starts he's given up a total of 14 runs, and if you factor out a 7-run game vs. Seattle (ND), the numbers look even better. He gave up only 1 run in his start on June 4, and he's 4-1 (and the Angels are 5-1) in his last 6 starts coming into tonight.
Santana (6-4, 3.52 ERA) is a righty and probably has the best pure "stuff" in the Angels' rotation. He features a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider. Just what Corey Hart needs. Santana lost his last start on June 10 vs. the A's (5.0 IP, 4 ER) but he won 5 straight starts before that, throwing 35 innings and giving up only 7 ER in those games. So, yeah, he's been pitching pretty well of late.
Brewer fans should be pretty familiar with Piniero. He's 5-6, 4.77 ERA this year, but he's coming off a 1 run complete game vs. the Dodgers on Friday. If his "1-seam" sinker is working, the defense will pick him up. If it's not, and he leaves the ball elevated, the Brewers may be able to tee off on him (especially in a day game!).
The Angels have been hitting well of late, despite the aforementioned loss of Kendry Morales. Here's a quick-and-dirty guide to most members of the Halo lineup:
SS Erick Aybar, aka Admiral Akbar, is the normal leadoff man. He only has a .339 OBP right now, but he's coming off a good series vs. the Dodgers. He's a switch-hitter, and has good speed. He'll make some spectacular plays in the field, then doink something completely routine. Think Escobar, not as good a glove, but a bit more pop in the bat.
3B Maicer Izturis (or "Zizturziz" as my son used to call him. Yes, he somehow managed to add 3 extra Zs to the name.), aka Mice-tits or Mighty Mouse, may bat 2nd. (Scioscia will switch up his lineups a bit. Abreu, Izturis, or Kendrick can all bat 2nd). Izturis is another switch hitter, and also has good speed. (In fact, with the exceptions of Juan Rivera, Hideki Matsui, Mike Napoli, and Robb Quinlan, most of the Angels have good speed). He returned from injury recently, but with Brandon Wood's struggles, Izturis is currently the Angels' best option at 3B.
RF Bobby Abreu (aka Chupa or Chupacabreu) will likely bat 3rd. He came to Angels as a FA last year, and they re-signed him for 2010 and 2011. His offensive numbers are down a bit this year, but he's still very good at working counts, getting on base and situational hitting. His glove, however, remains mediocre. Think Corey plus some AVG and plate discipline. (And yes, I know Corey has been hitting HR of late. I'm talking his career numbers.)
CF Torii Hunter (aka Torii) leads the Angels' starters in OPS (.833) and RBI (45). With the loss of Morales, the Angels will go about as far as Hunter can take them this year. Glove? Nine straight gold gloves (and counting).
DH Hideki Matsui (aka Godzilla) was signed in the offseason when the Angels were unwilling to re-sign Vladdy to a multi-year deal. Given the relative numbers, I suspect the front office wishes they had given Vlad the extra year or two. Matsui had an awful month of May (.184/.258/.557), but is OPS-ing 1.127 so far in June. His knees keep him out of the field all but once or twice a week, but he can still hit.
LF Juan Rivera (aka Juancho or Johnny Rivers) is the Braunophile's favorite Angel. Something about left fielders, I guess. Rivera started slow this year, but is OPS-ing 0.998 with 3 HR so far in June. He doesn't have great speed, and his glove is mediocre, but he's got a cannon for an arm and some definite hitting power. If Rick Peterson is reading this, I advise you to throw him low 90s fastballs, middle-in. Trust me, there's a huge hole in his swing right there. Challenge him to pull the ball. Especially on Wednesday, when I'll be sitting out towards left field. (For the record, I'm going to advise the Angels to pitch Corey Hart the same way. Chicks, and kids, dig the long ball.)
2B Howie Kendrick (aka Howard) is OPS-ing only 0.697 this season, but again a bad May has dragged down his overall numbers. He's a guy with a career .296 average, and some gap power. Think Rickie plus some BA, minus a bit of power, and with a roughly-equivalent (i.e. mediocre) glove.
C/1B Mike Napoli (aka Naps, Nipples) has started playing some 1B of late with the loss of Morales. I suspect he may start at 1B or DH one game during this series, most likely on Wednesday to give him a rest from catching. Naps has 20 HR each of the last two seasons, and was one of the few Angels to actually have a good month of May this season (1.098 OPS for the month, with 8 HR). His numbers have dropped so far in June, but he still mashes lefties, so he'll be in there vs. Wolf and Narveson.
1B/3B/OF Robb Quinlan (aka Q) can hit lefties. That's about it. He clearly has blackmail material on Mike Scioscia, because there's almost no other explanation for why he remains with the team. He'll probably start at least one of the games against Wolf or Narveson. Enjoy watching his goofy swing. Since he's a utility guy, with a goofy swing, from the upper midwest, think of a right-handed Counsell. Only less hitting ability and speed.
OF Reggie Willits has speed and can work a count. He has a 0.377 OBP, but almost no power. He's also an excellent bunter. He's like the Bizarro Gomez. If Scioscia needs someone to pinch run or lay down a bunt, Willits is usually the first guy off the bench.
The Angels' bullpen, long one of their best assets, has been mediocre the past two years. Long-time setup man Scot Shields (named the "Setup man of the Decade" for 2000 - 2009) hasn't been right since a knee injury last year, and is about as reliable as your typical mop-up guy now. Fernando Rodney is the current 8th inning guy, with Brian FUentes closing. It's always an adventure with those two. Kevin Jepsen features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, but his control has been lacking lately. Trevor Bell, the Mexican Francisco Rodriguez (that's what he calls himself to prevent any confusion with K-Rod), and Rafael Rodriguez round out the 'pen. To summarize, the Brewers need to endure the starting pitching and hope they can break through vs. the bullpen, without falling too far behind in the meantime.
Mike Scioscia is everything Ned Yost and Ken Macha are not. By which, I mean a good manager. You won't find too many "Fire Mike Scioscia" websites. If there's one place (besides starting pitching) where the Crew is clearly outclassed in this series, it's pudgy older guy on the bench.
I'll admit that I'm a bit torn, since I'd really like both teams to win, but I know that can't happen. I'd just like to see 3 good games, then we can all get back to areas of agreement -- things like a shared loathing of Jason Kendall, dislike of Scott Boras, and the knowledge that Ken Macha is just no good.
So that's my not-so-quick but dirty guide to the Angels for you, my fellow Brewer fans. The Brewers' best chance to win is to catch Saunders or Piniero on a bad day, when the sinker isn't working and the pitches stay elevated. Or else somehow keep it close and jump all over Rodney and Fuentes. Just remember to pitch Juan Rivera fastballs, middle-in.