The Angels are all about offense, not the incredible pitching they put on display on Monday in their season opener at Cincinnati.
When a lineup has Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the top half of the order, one expects to win games by scoring six or seven runs, not three.
And you don’t expect Chris Iannetta, a career .236 hitter, to deliver the decisive blows.
But almost unbelievably, the Angels’ relievers pitched seven innings of one-hit shutout ball, and Iannetta drove in all the runs in a 3-1, 13-inning Opening Day win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark.
The natural reaction is to say, “Huh?” Great pitching, and only a smattering of offense? That’s not what the Angels figured to deliver this season, not with a starting rotation and bullpen that are unsettled and an offense that’s virtually certain to score in bunches.
Baseball is a long, sometimes tedious season, but over the course of six months, things tend to even out. The Angels may eventually get consistent performances out of their pitching staff, but that’s still to be determined. Their calling card is going to be their offense, particularly with Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, who last season combined for 103 home runs and 314 RBIs.
In Monday’s opener, those three were a collective 1 for 14. But Iannetta, the Angels’ No. 8 batter, crushed a third-inning homer off Reds starter Johnny Cueto and then drove in the go-ahead runs with a single through the left side in the 13th off tiring Reds reliever J.J. Hoover.
Seven Angels pitchers, beginning with starter Jered Weaver, gave up just three hits and one run to the Reds over 13 innings. The Angels can be thankful they have a day off on Tuesday; one game into the season, their bullpen already must be weary.
But give them credit. After Weaver struggled to find his form and then pitched six impressive innings, relievers Garrett Richards, Sean Burnett, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs, Mark Lowe and Ernesto Frieri yielded just one base hit – and none over the final five innings.
Lowe, the winning pitcher, wasn’t even on the roster until last week when he was signed after being released by the Dodgers. He inked a minor league deal and made the team because expected closer Ryan Madson isn’t quite ready for action.
The Angels struck out 17 times, matching a team record for a season opener. For now, they can overlook that unhappy statistic. They won, and nothing is more important than getting off to a productive start.
Last season, they beat the Kansas City Royals in their first game but proceeded to go 18-28 in April and May. The rest of their season was spent chasing the Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s in the American League West. They missed the playoffs for the third season in a row.
They don’t want that to happen again. If they get the kind of pitching they got Monday, maybe it won’t.