ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like every team in the American League West, the Los Angeles Angels are staring up at the Houston Astros with envy and concern. The Astros have the best record in baseball at 24-11 and hold the biggest lead of any team, seven games over Seattle and eight on the Angels.
May is way too soon for any team to start worrying whether they can catch a division leader, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia isn’t thinking about the Astros at all.
As he said Thursday before the first game of a four-game series with Detroit, “We have enough on our own plate. We’re trying to become a proficient team that can compete, and I’m confident that’s the type of team we have. We just need to get some guys playing to their capabilities, playing to their potential.”
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The Angels have been playing like a yo-yo in 2017. They won six of seven early to lead the AL West, then dropped nine of 10 amid a slew of injuries to the pitching staff. They bounced back with six wins in seven games, but have now dropped seven of their last nine and are eight games behind the Astros.
Mike Trout returned to the starting lineup Thursday after missing six of the last seven games with tightness in his left hamstring. Second baseman Danny Espinosa is mired in a massive 0-for-34 slump. Cameron Maybin, acquired from the Tigers in the offseason to solve an almost 10-year drought in left field, has had his moments but is hitting just .206.
Friday’s starter, Matt Shoemaker, is 1-2 with a 5.21 ERA in seven starts — far off his success rate in his first three seasons. He has struggled to pitch deep into games and has allowed eight home runs in 33-plus innings, including two in his last start. “He’s pitching well at times, but he’s made some mistakes and they’ve hurt him,” Scioscia said.
Shoemaker hopes to revive things against the Tigers. In four career starts against Detroit, he’s 2-1 with a 1.01 ERA, his best marks against any AL team. He has struck out 23 and issued just five walks in those four games.
The Tigers are straddling .500, mostly because of a few players struggling and a few others injured. Second baseman Ian Kinsler returned to the lineup Thursday after missing five games with a strained hamstring. Miguel Cabrera missed 10 games with a groin strain. J.D. Martinez will make his season debut this weekend after missing the first part of the season with a foot strain.
Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit’s starting pitcher Friday, is 3-1 but has a 6.21 ERA and opponents are hitting .311 against him.
Meanwhile, Francisco Rodriguez lost his job as closer after suffering four blown saves and posting an 8.49 ERA.
“It wasn’t an easy decision in the sense that Frankie’s got a long track record (as) one of the best closers in the history of the game,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s not easy to tell a guy (who has) been so good for so long that you’re taking him out of that role for the time being.
“He couldn’t have been more professional. He’s very accountable. He understands that he hasn’t pitched the way he’s accustomed to, so he took it as well as can be expected. He’s a stand-up guy. He’s an old-school, blue-collar-type pitcher. He handled it extremely well.”
Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth Thursday.
Zimmermann has faced the Angels once, allowing four hits and an unearned run in a loss in 2011.