On a Friday afternoon when the wind whipped at almost 20 mph and the ball flew out of the ballpark with minimal effort, the Angels mustered little offense against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Angels were outslugged by three home runs and lost 5-1. The defeat snapped a six-game winning streak.
In their first game on the road without Mike Trout, who will miss this weekend series as he recovers from a right groin strain, the Angels logged only four hits. The Angels’ only bit of production came from Albert Pujols, who extended his bat down below the strike zone to barrel an 86 mph cutter and launch it 412 feet over the left-field bleachers for a solo homer in the fourth inning.
“I got lucky I got to it I guess,” said Pujols, who has hit 29 home runs here during his 19-year career, the most among active visiting players. “It was his pitch, but sometimes it happens. Hitters sometimes miss a pitch like I did [in my first at-bat], and then sometimes you get a tough pitch and get enough of the bat to get it out.”
No one else got lucky against Cubs starter Cole Hamels. Hamels, who pitched for the Angels’ American League West foe Texas Rangers from 2015 to 2018, had a 2.80 earned-run average in his 11 previous starts against the Angels. He carried that into Friday.
The 35-year-old filled the strike zone with fastballs and prevented sustained attacks.
Hamels scattered four hits across eight innings, preventing a team that had entered the game having scored 35 runs during a six-game winning streak to chip away at what seemed like a surmountable lead. He issued zero walks, struck out six and never allowed multiple runners in an inning.
The Angels hit some balls hard off Hamels. For instance, Kole Calhoun drove a pitch 328 feet to center field with an elite exit velocity of 108 mph, but he hit it directly at Albert Almora Jr. to end the fourth inning. Jonathan Lucroy, who has hit six for 14 in his last four games, shot a baseball into left field at 106 mph for a single. But Lucroy was stranded, one of only three Angels runners left on base.
The offensive futility left Angels starter Tyler Skaggs exposed. The few mistakes he made — among them a first-pitch, 90-mph fastball over the plate that Anthony Rizzo drove an astounding 472 feet for a two-run homer — gave the Cubs a 4-1 advantage after four innings. Skaggs didn’t last beyond those four, replaced in the fifth by reliever Noe Ramirez.
Skaggs gave up three home runs among seven hits. A few minutes after Rizzo launched his shot, Willson Contreras took Skaggs deep in the first inning on a curveball that was meant to bounce in the dirt but hung up inside. The 460-foot home run landed on Waveland Avenue, beyond the boundaries of left field. Contreras also turned a slider from Ramirez into an out-of-the-park homer in the sixth inning.
David Bote hit one to straight-away center field in the fourth on a 90 mph fastball that Skaggs thought was a good pitch.
“I think those home runs are gone in any ballpark,” Skaggs said. “Like I always say, if you’re going to give up a home run, you might as well give it up way deep, no wall scrapers. They did that today. My hat is off to them.”
Said Angels manager Brad Ausmus: “I think the Cubs took advantage of a handful of mistakes and made him pay. Outside of those swings of the bat, I thought he was actually good.
Skaggs could draw some other positives from the start: He didn’t allow any walks, nor did he labor to get strikes with his breaking ball. He struck out three batters, got two swings-and-misses and drew six called strikes with his curveball. In all, he struck out seven, his season high.
Skaggs, whom the Angels are counting on to set a tone for their rotation, just wished he’d been able to last longer than he did.
“You wouldn’t want to throw those pitches in the first place, but knowing you got touched up on a few mistake pitches is good,” said Skaggs, adding, “But if you want to be the guy who goes deep in games, you can’t have that.”
Ramirez, who has only yielded one run in 6 2/3 innings over four games this season, pitched efficiently. He allowed one run and two hits in 2 2/3 innings to keep the Angels within reach, but their bats never woke up.
“He’s a veteran pitcher [and] he pitched that way,” Ausmus said of Hamels, who pitched his 18th career game with at least eight innings and no walks. “We didn’t get a lot of hits but we hit some balls hard. I tip my cap to him.”