Three left-handed pitchers in a row might have been an issue for the Angels last season. They were 18-26 against left-handers, and their .258 batting average against them was ninth in the American League in 2013.
So far, 2014 is a different story. After going 1-1 against two left-handers on Wednesday and Thursday, the Angels faced Houston Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel on the mound Friday, he of the 8-5 record and 2.78 earned-run average.
No problem, even after starter C.J. Wilson gave up six runs and was chased out before finishing the fifth inning. The Angels had 13 hits against Keuchel, getting at least two in each of the starter's five innings, and finished with 16 en route to a 7-6 win in front of a sellout crowd at Angel Stadium.
The winning run was scored on a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning from Mike Trout against Astros left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, who had a 1.54 ERA going into the game.
The Angels have now won 19 of their last 22 games at home.
"No doubt, we are doing better statistically against lefties," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But Keuchel, he's always been tough on us. This is the one of the first nights I think we've ever got to him in the handful of times we've seen him He's always pitched tough against us, and we got to him tonight."
This season, the Angels are hitting .278 against left-handers, which is tied for best in the American League. But save for third baseman David Freese, who is hitting .323 against left-handers after arriving in an off-season trade, there wasn't a sudden influx of players who hit left-handers well. The stats from incumbent players have just improved.
Consider: Left fielder Josh Hamilton hit .201 with a dreadful .233 on-base percentage against left-handers last season. It's a smaller sample size this season, due to Hamilton's missing almost two months with injuries, but he's hitting .388 with a .424 on-base percentage against them in 2014.
On Friday, he had two hits and scored a run against Keuchel.
Albert Pujols hit just .213 last year against left-handers. This season, he's up to .257, and went three for four with a home run and three runs scored Friday.
Chris Iannetta platoons with Hank Conger at catcher and sees the majority of left-handers. He's hitting .293 against them, up from .266 last year. Batting ninth Friday, Iannetta blasted a double in the second inning, one of his two hits against Keuchel.
"Some of it is cyclical, the sample size smaller because we don't face as many left-handers," Scioscia said. "I think it's gonna vacillate a little bit, but in the big picture, our lineup, even with guys out, has had a certain depth to it that has helped us and it's showed up versus left-handed pitchers."
But the biggest difference this season might be from the usual leadoff batters, right fielders Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun.
Calhoun has been on one of the hottest streaks in baseball recently, hitting .351 in his last 29 games. Since June 17, he leads the majors with 16 runs scored. He's been solid against left-handers (hitting .256), but he hasn't started in the Angels' last three games.
The reason? The Angels have another right fielder, Colin Cowgill, who has been better than solid.
Cowgill is hitting .308 against left-handers, and because of pitching matchups, has been rewarded with three starts in the last three days despite Calhoun's hot streak. After Keuchel was removed for a right-handed reliever after five innings on Friday, Cowgill also left the game in favor of Calhoun, making it clear that he would continue to be the go-to leadoff batter against left-handers for the time being.
"We're putting lineups out there that we think are going to pressure the opposing pitcher," Scioscia said. "I think Collin, against left-handed pitching especially, has a stronger on-base and has a little bit of pop in his bat and has shown the ability to be a table-setter in the past few games."
Last season, it would have been a luxury to have an outfielder other than Trout hit well against left-handers. This year, with Hamilton picking up and Cowgill playing well, one outfielder doing fine against lefties is getting squeezed out of playing time.
Could be worse.
"Would I like to play every day?" Calhoun said. "Yeah. Would he like to play every day? Yeah. But we have a really good team. What a problem to have, right?"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times