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Preview: Angels (72-71) at Mariners (70-75)
Venue: Safeco Field
Date: September 15, 2015 10:10 PM EDT
The Los Angeles Angels just lost by nine against maybe Seattle’s worst starter. Now facing its best, it could be a few days before they can make up any ground in either of their playoff pursuits.
Felix Hernandez has dominated the Angels for a few years and can help the Mariners win consecutive games against their division foe for the first time this season Tuesday night.
Taijuan Walker’s 4.56 ERA is the highest for Seattle’s rotation even after Monday’s 10-1 win, as well as higher than the next eight pitchers Los Angeles is projected to face.
The Angels (72-71), winners of eight of 14 in the season series, remained 4 1/2 games behind Houston for the AL West lead but dipped four back of Texas for second place and the second wild card. They also trail Minnesota by three.
Once 14 games over .500, they’re 18-31 dating to July 23 with an MLB-low .228 batting average after managing five hits Monday. What’s worse is their .243 season mark and .304 on-base percentage are on pace to become the franchise’s worst since 1992 (.243 and .301).
“The losses don’t feel any different now than any other time of the year, but we don’t have our heads buried in the sand,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “We know what we need to do, but it’s there for us.”
It’s hard to see that improving against Hernandez (17-8, 3.49 ERA), who can extend a 4-2 stretch on which Seattle (70-75) has posted a 1.17 ERA and .157 opponent average.
He’s inching toward a career-high win total despite his highest ERA since 2007. The right-hander won 19 in 2009, and this season is the only other in which he’s topped 15.
The ERA has been in decline over three straight victories and most drastically after Hernandez gave up three hits in eight innings of Thursday’s 5-0 home win over Texas for his first scoreless outing since his last start before the All-Star break.
“I had good mechanics today,” Hernandez said. “My fastball was good, my sinker was down. My changeup was down. Before it was not moving at all. Now it’s down.”
His ERA has taken a hit because of four starts with seven earned runs or more, but the Angels haven’t contributed to any such inconsistency.
Hernandez is 6-0 with a 0.83 ERA in his last 10 starts in the series. He’s held Los Angeles scoreless in five of the last seven for a 4-0 record and 0.39 ERA. He hasn’t given up more than two runs to the Angels in Seattle since 2012, going 6-1 with a 0.90 ERA.
The list of individual struggles is lengthy and sustained: David Freese (0 for 16 with eight strikeouts), Chris Iannetta (2 for 26 with 10 Ks), Kole Calhoun (2 for 26 with nine Ks), Efren Navarro (1 for 12), C.J. Cron (1 for 11 with six Ks), Matt Joyce (2 for 27) and Albert Pujols (10 for 48).
Mike Trout, however, is batting .344 with three homers, two triples and three doubles in 61 at-bats for the top average among 18 players with at least 50 against Seattle’s ace.
Nick Tropeano is making consecutive major league starts for the first time this season. He was called up for one in April, another in July and one in August before returning Sept. 1.
Tropeano (1-2, 5.66) has been limited to 4 1-3 innings in each of his last two and gave up three runs and eight hits without being stuck with the decision in a 7-5 home loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 7.
The right-hander earned a win in his only start against Seattle on Sept. 10, 2014, while with Houston, surrendering two runs and four hits in five innings on the road.