It has been another disappointing season for the Los Angeles Angels, who never seemed to have their full complement of incredibly high-end players healthy at the same time. Mike Trout has been out for months, Anthony Rendon has been out for months (and didn’t play well when he was healthy), the rotation other than Shohei Ohtani has been beset by various injuries, and Justin Upton has missed significant time. More frustration for a team that hasn’t had trouble developing and attracting top talent, but can’t figure out how to surround that top talent.
That’s why Los Angeles seems to hover around .500. The Angels have finished 80-82 twice in the last four years and, in the other two seasons in that span, finished well below .500. This season, they seem to be on a crash course with an 81-81 record. Remarkably, since June 6, the Angels have never been more than four games above or below .500; they don’t go on long winning or losing streaks and somehow stay right on the line that separates a passable team from a mediocre one.
With their 4-2 win over the Houston Astros Saturday night, the Angels improved to 70-72 and they’ll try to get closer to .500 Sunday with Jaime Barría on the mound for them against Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. First pitch from Minute Maid Park is at 2:10 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Astros as -285 moneyline favorites and -145 favorites on the runline. MLB lines have the over/under at 9 runs.
Barría Can Get By
Barría — with his 5.16 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and low strikeout rate — doesn’t seem to, on paper, match up particularly well with Houston yet almost no pitcher does. It’s been a tough season for Barría overall, one plagued by ineffectiveness and a long stint with Triple-A Salt Lake, but he is coming off a solid seven-inning, three-run start against the Texas Rangers that could help him turn the corner down the stretch.
What Barría does well is limiting his walks and preventing home runs, which both play well against the Astros. Houston is in the top-10 in MLB in walks drawn and is around the same ranking in home runs as well. Both are big parts of the Astros’ offense — get on base and get driven in by one of their power bats — that Barría could limit, even if it’s only for five innings or so.
Also, it’s not like the Astros are playing with a huge sense of urgency right now. They’re 5½ games up on the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners in the American League West, which is a more-than-comfortable cushion with three weeks left in the regular season. If you’re betting online, take the value and back Barría and the Angels.
Back-End of Angels’ Bullpen is Solid
With so much going wrong for Los Angeles, the bullpen has been pretty good. The overall numbers are a little bit worse than league-average — due to all the rotation issues that have bled over into bullpen games and mop-up long relief outings — but when the Angels are able to have a lead late in the game, there’s a good chance that lead will be held.
A big reason for that is the offseason pickup of Raisel Iglesias from the Reds. Iglesias, coming off a great season for Cincinnati, has been just as good for Los Angeles. He has 31 saves, a 2.71 ERA, a sub-0.90 WHIP, and an eye-popping 94 strikeouts in 63 innings. He doesn’t give up many home runs, hits, or walks, which is a perfect combination for any pitcher, let alone a closer who strikes out over 13 batters per nine innings. Iglesias has been a wonderful addition for the Angels.
Steve Cishek has been great, pitching to a 3.08 ERA in 66 appearances. For some reason, he was a free agent until March 29 — right on the eve of the 2021 season — but has been crucially good. Former Cardinal Mike Mayers has been solid in a swing-type role as the bridge to Cishek and Iglesias. The MLB odds don’t reflect how good the back-end of Los Angeles’ bullpen has been, and you can take advantage of that.
LA’s Lefties Can Hurt McCullers
McCullers is having a great season, posting a 3.19 ERA and striking out 161 batters in 138 innings. He has also been pitching well lately, with back-to-back impressive starts against the Mariners. But, he has two notable weaknesses: walks and left-handed batters. He has issued the most walks (67) in the AL and has pretty extreme platoon splits, as he has held righties to a .580 OPS this season and lefties to a .700 OPS. Both are impressive, but it’s clear that lefties hit him much harder.
The Angels as a team have fared slightly worse against righties than lefties, but Los Angeles’ left-handed batters have a .816 OPS against opposing right-handed pitchers. This makes sense, since the Angels’ two best healthy bats are Shohei Ohtani and Jared Walsh, both left-handed swingers. Brandon Marsh and Luis Rengifo (switch-hitter) are other guys who can hurt McCullers from that side of the plate.
It’s rare for an underdog to be plus money on the runline, but that’s the case with the Angels in today’s slate of MLB picks. With Los Angeles’ bullpen and the platoon advantage the Angels have against McCullers, that value is too good not to take.