The Angels’ schedule in the opening month is an exercise in extremes, getting a healthy dose of the reining pennant winners and baseball’s current villain, but also playing the worst teams in baseball from a year ago.
All eyes will be on the Angels from the start, as they open up against the Astros. It’s a home series for Houston so the boos won’t rain down just yet; that will wait for the next weekend, when the Angels’ home opening series is also against the Astros. But what will be watched in that opening series is just how Angels pitchers attack the Astros batters, and whether that phrase is interpreted literally.
Several players around baseball have expressed anger at Houston’s relatively light punishment and the bumbling, insincere nature of Astros’ apologies. Mike Clevinger of the Indians said, “I don’t think it’s going to be a comfortable few at-bats for a lot of those boys, and it shouldn’t be.”
Ross Stripling, nearly an Angel until a trade with the Dodgers fell through, said he would consider throwing at Astros hitters. “I would lean toward yes,” he told reporters in February. “In the right time and in the right place. Maybe I give up two runs the inning before and I got some anger going. Who knows? But yeah, it would certainly be on my mind.”
Nick Markakis isn’t a pitcher, which is probably a good thing because he said of the Astros, “I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating.”
Joe Maddon told reporters over the weekend he plans to discourage his pitchers to intentionally throw at Astros batters, saying, “If we can set the right example out of the chute, I think it’d be very impactful,” per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.
Astros batters were hit 66 times in 2019, right at the MLB average. This year figures to rise, at least if bookmakers are to be believed. BetOnline set the over/under for Astros HBP in 2020 at 80½, while William Hill set it at 83½.
All this vitriol was enough for commissioner Rob Manfred, who met with all 30 teams during spring training to discuss the response to the Astros’ scandal.
“The back and forth that has gone on is not healthy,” Manfred said in February. “I hope that I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated, whether it’s Houston or anybody else.”
We have a situation now in which a pitcher who hits an Astros batter might receive more punishment from MLB than any Houston players got for electronically stealing signs. It will be something to watch for with the Angels in those opening four games, as well as two more weekends in April. The Halos play the Astros 10 times in their first 21 games.
Angels early 2020 schedule
|March 26-29||at Astros||107-55|
|Mar. 31-Apr. 2||at Rangers||78-84|
|April 10-12||at Tigers||47-114|
|April 14-15||at Marlins||57-105|
|April 17-19||at Astros||107-55|
|April 23-26||White Sox||72-89|
|April 28-29||at Mariners||68-94|
It’s not just that Angels pitchers might have to be careful, lest an errant inside pitch might get misconstrued. But playing an extremely talented team, coming off three straight 100-win seasons, including 107 victories last year, is as tough of a challenge out of the gate the Angels could have envisioned. For good measure, the Angels also host the A’s (April 6-8), merely a 97-game winner the last two seasons.
But it gets easier. Those are the Halos’ only games through April against teams with winning records last year.
The Angels on the road in May play three games against the Tigers, two vs. the Marlins, and two against the Mariners. At home they host the Orioles for three. That’s three of the four 100-loss teams from 2019, plus Seattle coming off a 94-loss season.
There’s also a 4-game series against the White Sox (April 23-26) that kind of ties it all together. It’s a battle of two 72-win teams from last year who added an All-Star to their lineup and acquired at least two starting pitchers. This will be a battle to see which team improved the most from year to year.
By the end of April the Angels will have played 30 games. It won’t make or break them, but a good start could help. Maybe just avoiding last year’s 13-17 beginning (they were 5 games back in the division by May 1, and hadn’t even played Houston yet) will go a long way in turning the tide.