With the first weekend of the 2020 season in the books, the stark reality of attempting to play during a global pandemic was clearly seen. I’ll let Joon Lee sum it up:
Recap of the first week of ⚾️:— joon (@joonlee) July 27, 2020
- Eduardo Rodriguez, 27 years old, announces he's developed a COVID-related heart condition
- Juan Soto tests positive for COVID, misses Opening Day
- Marlins have 12 players and two coaches test positive for COVID, cancel their home opener
In less than a week of regular season play, Major League Baseball has a full blown crisis on their hands. The health and safety protocols were designed to handle isolated or a small number of cases of COVID, but there’s no recourse when nearly half the active roster of the Marlins has tested positive. The prudent thing to do would be to isolate the entire team for two weeks to ensure that any new cases are quarantined and dealt with properly. If that means the Marlins and the teams they came into contact with end up playing just 50 games (or less), so be it. A small price to pay for the wellbeing of the players.
In the meantime, the rest of baseball continues to play on. The modified schedule this season benefits the teams in the Central and West divisions since they don’t have to worry about playing any teams in the East. If you were able to look past the emerging crisis over the weekend, you were treated to some really exciting baseball. The first extra innings game with the new rule ended with a walk off grand slam. Yoenis Cespedes homered in his first game since 2018. The Mariners predictably lost their series against the Astros but there were some hopeful signs from Kyle Lewis, Evan White, and Yusei Kikuchi.
At a Glance
|Game 1||Tuesday, July 28 | 6:40 pm|
|LHP Justus Sheffield||LHP Patrick Sandoval|
|Game 2||Wednesday, July 29 | 7:10 pm|
|RHP Justin Dunn||LHP Andrew Heaney|
|Game 3||Thursday, July 30 | 6:40 pm|
|LHP Marco Gonzales||RHP Dylan Bundy|
|Batting (wRC+)||99 (7th in AL)||99 (9th in AL)||Angels|
|Fielding (DRS)||9 (5th)||-88 (14th)||Angels|
|Starting Pitching (FIP-)||118 (14th)||114 (12th)||Mariners|
|Bullpen (FIP-)||103 (12th)||108 (13th)||Angels|
The Angels certainly have elements of competence on their roster (n.b. Elements of Competence a good name for a Bon Iver cover band) but that didn’t pay off for them last year, as they managed just 72 wins in a season where they were theoretically trying to compete. Unsurprisingly, it was the pitching that did them in, as the organization’s penchant for having pitchers go down with injuries of one variety or another struck repeatedly and hard. Their bets on bounceback candidates Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey exploded ferociously, washing away a 20.5 million dollar investment, leaving them badly in need of a turnaround in what almost certainly must be a make or break season for GM Billy Eppler, who has not produced a playoff season for Anaheim in 4 years on the job—indeed, over that span and despite no apparent rebuild efforts, they’ve won even fewer games than Seattle, who explicitly rebuilt (can we use that word now?) in 2019.
Prized new acquisition Anthony Rendon slots into the order and gives the Angels some much-needed oomph behind Mike Trout this year, allowing them to bump Shohei Ohtani down one more spot and lengthen their lineup just a little bit. Willie Bloomquist’s Long Lost Son David Fletcher takes the leadoff spot, where the bat may not look terribly impressive, but he at least gets on base a little bit. This Angels lineup looks to be very feast or famine, and with the shortened season meaning, like Seattle, a prized outfield prospect is significantly less likely to debut (Jo Adell/Jarred Kelenic), there may not be much help on the way. Fortunately, the Angels have a gigantic advantage sitting in the 2 hole, as Mike Trout will, again, provide power, speed, contact, walks, and everything else you want from a hitter other than a well-defined neck. The shortened season may also prove a boon to Trout, who has had a variety of bumps and bruises keep him off the field for a full season in each of the last three years. Also worth noting: Andrelton Simmons rolled his ankle on first base in a nasty fashion yesterday. The Angels have been mum, only saying they expect to have more information today, but he may be limited or out for this series.
LHP Patrick Sandoval
Patrick Sandoval made his major league debut last year as the Angels injury issues forced them to reach deep into their pitching depth for innings. Sandoval had tweaked his release point early last year causing him to lose command of his arsenal. The adjustment was made to benefit the shape of his pitches, particularly his changeup, but he was thrown into the majors before he had grown comfortable with the new arm angle. With an offseason to continue working on his mechanics, Sandoval should be ready to show what he can do at the highest level. His fastball doesn’t possess the high spin you’d expect from a four-seamer but it’s incredibly spin efficient so he’s able to generate a similar amount of ride as a high spin heater. The new tailing action on his changeup that came with his arm angle adjustment paid off with an elite whiff rate, the ninth highest for a changeup thrown at least 50 times last year.
LHP Andrew Heaney
Last year, Andrew Heaney posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio right in line with his outstanding 2018 season, right around four K’s per walk. Despite that consistency, his FIP rose by more than half a run in 2019. As a heavy fly ball pitcher, Heaney was hit exceptionally hard by the dragless ball last year, allowing almost two home runs per nine innings. All three of his pitches generate plenty of swings and misses but they’re all prone to getting walloped if they’re located poorly. His “sinker” is one of the more interesting pitches in baseball. It’s shape is more like a four-seam fastball but he throws it with just one finger on the seams. The result is a pitch with both ride and tail, a hybrid fastball that batters have trouble picking up.
RHP Dylan Bundy
Dylan Bundy was the poster child for a change of scenery after five frustrating seasons in Baltimore. He had always possessed good stuff but continued to see poor results that didn’t reflect the underlying quality of his pitches. Traded to the Angels in the offseason, he was in the middle of an eye opening spring training before everything shut down. In his first start of the year in Oakland, he threw six and two-thirds innings, allowing just one run on three hits with seven strikeouts. He relied heavily on his slider and changeup while reducing the use of his fastball. His slider was absolutely untouchable, generating eight whiffs on fourteen swings.
The Big Picture:
AL West standings
|Team||W-L||W%||Games Behind||Recent Form|
|Team||W-L||W%||Games Behind||Recent Form|
Can you have “chalk” just four games into a season? Because this is chalk. With minimal separation to date, things are playing out exactly as expected in the AL West: Astros and A’s on top, Rangers in the middle, Angels and Mariners at the bottom. (You could quibble over the order of Rangers and Angels, but let’s go with it.) The Astros stay home for their first strong test of the year from the Dodgers, while the A’s do not have such a test and play host to the Rockies. The Rangers will welcome Arizona, and you hopefully know who the Angels are playing because seriously, you just read an entire preview about them and this is a Mariners site, it’s weird that I have to explain this.