Every game in Sunday’s potential regular-season finale will start at 2 p.m. CT, which means every score from from around the Majors will be displayed on Globe Life Park’s left-field fence. That includes the Astros game in Arizona. The Angels need the Astros to lose to force a Monday tiebreaker at Minute Maid Park, and if they jump to a big early lead, Angels players will notice.
Whether they want it to or not, it could affect how they approach their own game.
“It may be hard to keep up the same intensity,” Angels shortstop Erick Aybar said in Spanish on Sunday morning.
“Everybody in this dugout, on this field, coaches included, are going to be human,” Mike Scioscia added. “We know the situation. I don’t believe it’ll be any distraction. We’re going to go out there and try to win this game, so it’s not going to affect any game management. And it’s not going to affect what these guys do. We know what we need to do.”
The Angels will approach the finale of a four-game series — and the potential finale of their season — with a very shorthanded pitching staff.
Garrett Richards will be starting on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, and the Angels’ bullpen has had to account for 27 1/3 innings over the last eight games.
Interim closer Joe Smith will be available for a full inning, Scioscia said, but few others will be. Trevor Gott, a rookie who has already made 73 appearances in the Majors and Minors, may only be available for a batter or two. Lefty Jose Alvarez, who has appeared in five of the last six games, may not be available at all. Fernando Salas, who has appeared in three of the last four, may not be able to go a full inning, either. Closer Huston Street, of course, has a left groin injury and is doubtful to even be available for the American League Division Series, Scioscia said.
Scioscia would ideally go with Nick Tropeano if his team has to play a tiebreaker on Monday, but that may evolve into a bullpen game. Tropeano will have his spikes on and will be available out of the bullpen, if needed on Sunday. Today would’ve been his turn to start, so he’s available to go as long as needed.
“I’ll be ready,” Tropeano said pregame.
“The only thing that’s going to stop us from doing it is not putting guys at risk,” Scioscia said. “But as far as what we do to try to win a ballgame, you’re going to try to use everything you have just because of the nature of where we are.”
If the Angels advance to play the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Tuesday — which, for them, would only be possible from Yankee Stadium — Andrew Heaney will get the ball.
The rookie left-hander will not be available before then.
“I don’t’ think it’s right,” Scioscia said, “for that kid or for us.”
The 2016 schedule was unveiled Tuesday, with the Angels and the rest of the American League West facing off against the National League Central in Interleague Play.
Opening Day is April 4 and the regular-season finales are scheduled for Oct. 2. Major League Baseball has yet to announce which two teams will open for ESPN during Opening Night on Sunday, April 3. The First-Year Player Draft will take place June 9 and the All-Star Game, from Petco Park in San Diego, is being held July 12.
Below is a categorical look at the Angels’ slate.
Out of the gate: The Angels open a day later, on Tuesday, April 5, at home against Joe Maddon and the Cubs. They’ll start with a two-game set, then host the Rangers for a four-game weekend series – April 7-10 – and hit the road for a 10-game, 11-day road trip.
Against the Dodgers: They’ll play four games, not six, against their crosstown rivals this season. And they’ll all come in the middle of May. The Angels will play at Dodger Stadium May 16-17, and the Dodgers come to Angel Stadium May 18-19.
More Interleague: The Angels will travel to face the Brewers (May 2-4), Pirates (June 3-5) and Cubs (Aug. 9-10), while hosting the Cardinals (May 10-12) and Reds (Aug. 29-31). The Angels once again will not be going to St. Louis, which means Albert Pujols won’t return to Busch Stadium until 2019 at the earliest – unless the Cardinals and Angels meet in the World Series.
Logistics: The Angels have three three-city trips. They go Oakland-Minnesota-Chicago April 11-21, Boston-Tampa-Baltimore July 1-10 (right before the All-Star break) and Seattle-Chicago-Cleveland Aug. 5-14. Two of their 16 off days will come in the middle of a road trip – players hate those – and they’ll have one trip, in September, that pairs Arlington with Houston.
Down the stretch: In September, the Angels will play 25 of 29 games within their division. The season will end with a six-game homestand, against the A’s and Astros from Sept. 26 to Oct. 2. It’ll mark the first time since 2011 that the Angels have finished their season at home.
Sean Newcomb impressed at the Futures Game, Albert Pujols put on a show at the Derby, Mike Trout proved once again that he’s the best all-around player in the game and Hector Santiago soaked up every minute of it. Below are links to our All-Star Game coverage from Cincinnati, in case you missed anything …
Trout & Frazier on a jet, Santiago’s mementos, Yadi on Albert, tuning out noise
Castrovince, on Trout’s growing legend after his second straight All-Star Game MVP
A look at the leadoff home run that propelled the AL and gave Trout another trophy
Cut4, with a look at Trout’s All-Star Game cycle
Trout’s bat is headed for the Hall of Fame
Cut4, on Pujols booing his former Cardinals teammates
A look at Pujols’ eventful return to the Home Run Derby
How Santiago “snuck in the middle” with Trout and Pujols
Sean Newcomb, unnoticed out of high school, excelled at the Futures Game
The prevailing sentiment in the Angels’ clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after a FoxSports.com report detailed friction between the front office and coaching staff, wasn’t so much anger at what took place.
It was disappointment in the fact that it was made public.
“Whoever leaked that story, it’s really embarrassing,” Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said. “We’re supposed to be a family here.”
The report stated that “emotions simmered” amid a series of meetings revolving around the front office’s belief that the coaching staff was doing an inadequate job of relaying scouting information to players. In those meetings, occurring this past weekend, at least one coach “responded heatedly” to general manager Jerry Dipoto and Pujols issued “a pointed rebuttal” to the fourth-year GM.
A source said the report’s portrayal of the meetings was “verbatim,” though what it all means moving forward is still very much open for interpretation.
“I’m not going to comment on what happened or didn’t happen,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “but I can only tell you it will not be a distraction to these guys.”
Angels setup man Joe Smith believes it was no different from what goes on throughout the course of any season with any team.
“You have a bunch of men filled with testosterone in one little room, and we’re with each other every day and we’re all trying to do something,” Smith said. “Stuff happens, and I think it’s better when it’s kept in-house. Because it does happen; it happens every year in every clubhouse. You keep your mouth shut, you keep it in here, and you move on, with everybody performing in the right direction.”
But the report could also be yet another sign that Dipoto and Scioscia, baseball’s longest-tenured manager, aren’t on the same page. And it’s even more prevalent when considering that Scioscia can opt out of his 10-year contract at the end of this season, rather than staying through 2018.
Dipoto, who had his 2016 club option picked up earlier this season, didn’t respond to several requests seeking comment. The two bumped heads through Dipoto’s first two years, 2012-13, but Scioscia said he and Dipoto are “a good team,” adding that “the only real issue” was when they let hitting coach Mickey Hatcher go in May 2012.
We’ve moved past that,” Scioscia added. “We’ve moved way past that.”
Dipoto, according to the report, believes the coaches rely too heavily on “feel” and the coaches “seemingly do not trust the information they are given,” making them “not willing or able to translate it for the players.”
None of the roles in the Angels’ coaching staff or in-game scouting department will change, Scioscia said. A source added that the players will simply be receiving scouting information directly to their iPads from the front office, rather than have a coach filter through it first. The players can then choose to do what they want with it.
“The only difference is getting the scouting reports to players and then bringing it back to coaches,” Scioscia said. “It’s just a slight adjustment.”
The FoxSports.com report said Pujols “challenged” Dipoto on Sunday, by “saying that the coaches are working as hard to prepare the players as they did last season, but that the roster is not as strong as it was a year ago.”
Asked about having words with Dipoto, Pujols said: “That’s none of your business. Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.”
The report comes at a time when the Angels are still trying to find their footing. They won a Major League-best 98 games last year, but they’ve had a .500 record on 18 separate occasions this season. And despite winning four of their previous five games, they entered Tuesday four games back of the first-place Astros in the American League West.
On the mound, the Angels sport the fifth-lowest ERA in the AL. On defense, a department where the Angels began incorporating a lot more defensive shifting at the start of 2014, they rank third in efficiency, according to Baseball Prospectus. Their offense, however, has scored the fourth-fewest runs per game in the AL.
“It’s been a tough year so far,” Pujols said, “but we’re only four games out with still  games before [the All-Star] break.”
Angels starter C.J. Wilson considered the heated discussions “a positive thing.”
“That’s the way I took it,” he said. “Like, ‘Hey, we’re going to work harder as a team overall, have more communication overall.’ I didn’t see anything wrong with it. The whole goal is not about ego; it’s all about winning.”
Angels reliever Mike Morin returned to the team on Monday, one month and five days after going on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. The 24-year-old right-hander is done with his rehab assignment and is expected to be activated by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Morin made one appearance in Arizona, then three for Triple-A Salt Lake, notching two scoreless outings before giving up four runs on six hits in two-thirds of an inning on Sunday – Morin’s first time pitching in back-to-back days and his final test before rejoining the Major League club.
Recent results aside, he feels good.
“I don’t think about it at all,” Morin said of his oblique, which he tweaked while pitching in Fenway Park on May 23. “It has not crossed my mind one bit. That is nice to know that it’s healed up. Now it’s about getting people out.”
Morin did a lot of that during his rookie season last year, while posting a 2.90 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 60 appearances. With Kevin Jepsen gone, Morin entered the 2015 season eyeing an opportunity to be the Angels’ seventh-inning reliever, but he’s been charged with 11 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits and five walks in 15 innings thus far.
Morin’s walk rate is about the same – 2.9 walks per nine innings last year, 3.0 walks per nine innings this year – but he believes he’s been focusing too much on his mechanics instead of just going right after hitters.
“That’s why I was successful last year – because I was aggressive,” Morin said. “I think that’s really the main thing – attacking the strike zone and not worrying about results. Just committing to a pitch and just throwing it. It’s a small sample size, but my first three [rehab] outings, very minimal pitches, plenty of strikes. It’s been good.”
- The Angels called up right-handed-hitting slugger C.J. Cron from Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday, after optioning left-handed-hitting third baseman Kyle Kubitza on Sunday. Cron started against lefty CC Sabathia, but the Angels aren’t expected to see another lefty until Saturday (Wandy Rodriguez of the Rangers).
- Collin Cowgill (sprained right wrist) took batting practice on the field before Monday’s game and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he’s “getting close” to going on a rehab assignment. The Angels could face a tough roster decision between Cowgill and Daniel Robertson, another right-handed-hitting outfielder with similar skillsets.
- Lefty reliever Edgar Ibarra was outrighted Sunday, putting the Angels’ 40-man roster at 39. That potentially creates a spot for Cory Rasmus, who has pitched in six innings in four rehab appearances in Triple-A. The Angels want Rasmus – on the 60-day DL after undergoing surgery for a core injury – to get more stretched out before getting activated.
- Angels starter Jered Weaver (inflammation in his left hip) got off the mound for the first time on Monday, throwing a 20-pitch, all-fastball bullpen session. Weaver said he felt good and will throw a more extended bullpen session Wednesday, incorporating all his pitches. The 32-year-old right-hander probably won’t need to go on a rehab assignment before coming back. … Asked if Weaver could return before the All-Star break, Scioscia said: “It’s tough to handicap it right now, but there’s anything from making sure he physically feels good to getting back into his delivery and finding it, and getting some stamina in there in terms of up-down bullpens. So there’s a little bit of work to go.”
The Angels called up top prospect Andrew Heaney to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Astros, pushing previously scheduled starter Matt Shoemaker back a couple days to iron out some of his mechanics.
Heaney, who was acquired from the Dodgers for second baseman Howie Kendrick, was 6-2 with a 4.71 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Salt Lake, posting a 1.53 WHIP while walking 2.9 batters and striking out 8.5 per nine innings.
The 24-year-old left-hander posted a 3.02 ERA in his first nine starts, but has given up 27 runs (24 earned) in his past 27 2/3 innings.
“There’s a statistical part of the [Pacific Coast League] you have to take into consideration, so we obviously rely very heavily on what our coaches see,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “And I think that Andrew’s ready for the challenge. He’s pitched well. I think he’s made a lot of progress through Spring Training, and I think he can come up here and pitch like he can.”
The Angels are off on Thursday, then Shoemaker will start Friday’s series opener against the Mariners, with Garrett Richards going Saturday and Hector Santiago on Sunday.
The Angels wanted to give Shoemaker a couple of extra days to work with pitching coach Mike Butcher on commanding and locating his fastball. The 28-year-old right-hander has a 5.20 ERA in 13 starts, giving up 15 homers in 72 2/3 innings.
“It definitely doesn’t hurt right now, I’ll put it that way,” Shoemaker said of the extra rest. “It definitely doesn’t hurt.”
Heaney — ranked first in the Angels’ system and 20th overall by MLBPipeline.com — essentially takes the rotation spot of Jered Weaver, who was placed on the disabled list Sunday with a inflammation in his left hip. The Angels sent down outfielder Alfredo Marte after Tuesday’s 13-3 loss to eventually get back to a five-man rotation.
With off days factored in, the Angels also need a fifth starter on Tuesday and July 11. Weaver, who will start throwing again at the end of the week, could return as late as July 21 and miss only two starts.
Heaney entered Spring Training with a chance to win a spot in the rotation, but gave up 19 runs in 24 1/3 innings.
They believe he’s a different guy now.
“The reports are that Andrew is ready for the challenge in the Major Leagues,” Scioscia said. “It’s been brewing for a while. He’s been knocking on our door and he’s ready to take this opportunity.”
Tests revealed no structural damage on Jered Weaver‘s left hip, an ailment that forced the Angels’ starter to be placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday.
Weaver won’t pick up a ball for five days, then get re-evaluated, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Monday.
The Angels hope Weaver can return shortly after the All-Star break, though Scioscia didn’t want to put a timetable on his return. Because of off days, and the four-day All-Star break, Weaver could miss just two starts — the Angels next need a fifth starter on June 30 and July 11 — and return as late as July 21.
Scioscia said Cory Rasmus, currently in a rehab assignment for Triple-A Salt Lake, is an option to start in Weaver’s place. Rasmus would only be able to throw three or four innings, though, prompting the Angels to have a bullpen game similar to what happened every time Garrett Richards‘ turn came up in September last year. Jose Alvarez also has some length and can piggy-back Rasmus on those days.
Triple-A starters Andrew Heaney, Adam Wilk, Drew Rucinki, Alex Sanabia and Nick Tropeano — close to returning from a shoulder injury — are also options.
The All-Star Game and Albert Pujols were as much a summer tradition as beach balls and sunburns. Through his first 10 years, he went to nine of them, starting seven times for the National League while competing in the Home Run Derby on three separate occasions.
It’s now been five years since Pujols’ last invite to the Midsummer Classic, though. He’s been denied each of his first three years with the Angels, while starting 2012 on a miserable slump, battling injuries throughout 2013 and falling off the radar by 2014.
Now, he’s making his push.
Pujols’ sixth-inning two-run homer in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the D-backs gave him sole possession of the American League lead with 19. Eleven of them have come over his last 18 games, a stretch that has seen Pujols bat .368 with three strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. His slash line is up to .273/.326/.550. His OPS, .876, now ranks third among AL first basemen.
“If I get the call, great,” Pujols said of the All-Star Game. “If I don’t, then I guess I don’t. There are so many people in the past that deserve to be there. You can only have so many guys on the roster. It’s not like you get a hundred players on the roster. But I don’t think about that, to tell you the truth.”
It won’t be easy.
The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera (1.043) and the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira (.942) lead in OPS among first basemen, but they aren’t even in line to start. That distinction belongs to Eric Hosmer, one of eight Royals players currently being voted in to make up the AL lineup. Pujols ranked fifth in fan votes at his position when the latest results were revealed, nearly five million shy of Hosmer.
His only real hope is to get voted in by his peers, who select a backup at each position, or the managers, who select eight additional players.
“I think first base is one of the toughest positions to grab a spot in the All-Star Game,” Pujols’ longtime teammate, David Freese, said. “It’s a position where guys are expected to bang. You can have 15, 20 at the break with a lot of damage and not make it. … But the guy is just unbelievable. I get front-row seats on deck a good portion of the time, just watching him hit. He looks healthy, man. His legs are powerful. He’s getting down on his stance and he’s ready to go every pitch.”
Pujols was batting .228 with eight homers and 17 RBIs through the Angels’ first 45 games, but he remained confident, because he was batting an unseemly .210 on balls in play and he was hardly striking out. He’s now on pace for 47 home runs, a number he hasn’t reached since 2009.
The year after that, he made his last All-Star Game.
“Would I like to be there? Of course,” Pujols said. “Everybody wants to be at the All-Star Game. But I can’t control that. All I can control is doing the best I can, hopefully helping this ballclub be in first place before the All-Star break.”
Desperate for continuity from his offense and looking to maximize opportunities for his two best hitters, Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a significant, highly anticipated change to his lineup Tuesday, batting Mike Trout in the prominent No. 3 spot and making Albert Pujols his new cleanup hitter.
Scioscia hopes “this is a lineup we can ride out for a long time.”
In his mind, it became a necessity.
“We’ve got five holes in our wall and enough spackle for three holes,” is how Scioscia described it. “Which ones do you want to fill? Right now we want to go solid one through five and look at it that way.”
Translation: The Angels’ offense hasn’t proven to be very deep this year, so Scioscia would prefer to bunch all of his best hitters up top.
That involved keeping Erick Aybar at leadoff and moving Kole Calhoun to the No. 2 spot to bat him directly in front of Trout and Pujols, as was the case when Calhoun batted leadoff all of last season.
The Angels entered Tuesday ranked 22nd in the Majors in runs per game, while Trout and Pujols were tied with Nelson Cruz for the American League lead in homers with 18 apiece.
Pujols had started in the cleanup spot just five times since 2003 and not once since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels. Trout batted leadoff as a rookie in 2012, moved into the No. 2 spot a couple weeks into the 2013 season and batted third only on days when Pujols wasn’t in the lineup, which was especially the case when Pujols missed the last two months of 2013 because of a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.
Trout has a .323/.473/.511 slash line in 245 career plate appearances as a No. 3 hitter.
“I’m not going to change my approach,” said Trout, who entered Tuesday batting .297/.381/.577 for the season. “You can’t change your approach. That’s when you get in trouble.”
Since 1914, Pujols – riding a hot stretch that has his slash line up to .272/.323/.540 – ranks eighth in starts in the No. 3 spot with 1,851. The 35-year-old first baseman didn’t want to talk about the subject when approached by the media on Tuesday afternoon, but indications are that he really likes the move.
There’s a delicate balance here, a tradeoff between potentially giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities with runners in scoring position while ensuring that they will come up to bat less frequently over the course of the season.
“That was weighed very heavily,” Scioscia said. “But the bottom line is everybody in the room when we were talking about it was unanimous about the need to try to readjust some things.”
There was a 16-plate-appearance gap between the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the AL last year, which would add up to about 10 fewer plate appearances for both Trout and Pujols this season. Scioscia hopes Aybar and Calhoun can help make up for that by giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities to drive in runs.
Aybar’s slash line is down to .255/.301/.301 after a recent 0-for-19 slump, while Calhoun – the cleanup hitter for the better part of the last month – entered Tuesday batting .273/.328/.398.
“Right now we all feel that we need to try something that’s going to get a little more action, especially early in games,” Scioscia said. “It’s not just the first inning. But if we get a little action and move the lineup, these guys are coming back up in the third inning and in the fifth inning, the same group. If you just do a statistical analysis of it, the chances of these guys hitting with a couple of guys on base is very real within the first five or six innings, either Mike or Albert, if this works out. We’ll see.”
The Angels have picked up the 2016 option on general manager Jerry Dipoto’s contract, a source told MLB.com on Friday.
Dipoto took over after the 2011 season, as a rookie GM, and signed a three-year deal with club options for 2015 and ’16. Dipoto’s 2015 option was exercised early in the 2014 season – though the media wasn’t made aware until September – and a source said his 2016 option was exercised two or three months ago.
An extension beyond 2016 hasn’t been discussed.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has his own opt out, which allows him to either walk away from his deal after this season or stay until 2018. Scioscia can’t officially make that decision until after the season, though.
Scioscia declined to comment when asked about his contract situation recently, saying only: “There’s always change that comes with time. I’ve gone through them already through 16 years, with just growing as a person, growing as an individual. I love what I do, I love where I am. That’s it.”