A season sweep of the Dodgers was not on the Angels’ minds.
But as the possibility of one developed after victories in the Angel Stadium games of the Freeway Series last month and another at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, the chance of four victories over their local rivals became tantalizing.
Unlike the Dodgers, the Angels are on the outskirts of the postseason chase. They still trail the American League West-leading Houston Astros by 11 1/2 games. Yet, they have managed to stay alive in the wild-card race despite the devastating loss of Tyler Skaggs and the 5.57 ERA posted by their starting pitchers in July.
So when the Angels bullpen gave up only one run through four innings in front of a rowdy sellout crowd of 53,371, a 3-2 defeat of the Dodgers on Wednesday meant more to a club trying to establish its identity as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
It was the Angels’ 12th victory in their last 18 games. It pushed them to five games above .500 for the first time.
The fortitude they demonstrated through four games against the toughest team to beat in baseball could make them bonafide contenders for their first playoff berth since 2014.
“I’d say so,” said Kole Calhoun, who led the Angels’ charge for a second night in a row, this time with two doubles and a solo home run.
His manager agreed.
“Baseball is a strange sport,” Brad Ausmus said. “But I think at the very least it shows we can beat the best team in baseball. We still have some work to do, some ground to make up, but it’s nice to be able to take these two games.”
One night after calling the series opener the Angels’ biggest victory of the year, center fielder Mike Trout burst out of the batter’s box on a grounder to shortstop with a runner on first base in the first inning. As he barreled down the line, the Dodgers settled for a forceout at second base. Trout had sprinted at a rate of 30.7 feet per second, nearly four feet per second better than the average base-running speed.
When Calhoun hit a two-out double into the right-field corner, Trout scored easily as second baseman Enrique Hernandez bobbled a relay throw. Trout hit a ball deep enough to left field in the sixth inning to drive in the Angels’ third run on a sacrifice fly, which provided the difference in the game.
For a Dodgers squad that has the best record in the National League, this interleague matchup provided little intrigue. Asked whether avoiding a sweep and falling to 40-14 at home seemed like a necessity, manager Dave Roberts said “definitely not.”
“I think that’s a little too strong,” he said. “I think that we expect to, we want to. I think that we played a good game yesterday and got beat. So today I think is just more looking at Ross [Stripling] giving us a good outing and guys taking good at-bats. We’ll see what happens.”
The Dodgers pulled ahead in counts against starter Jaime Barria (4-3) so often that his pitch count surpassed 50 after three innings. But Barria, trying to rebound from a 3 2/3-inning outing in which he gave up 10 earned runs to the Seattle Mariners, performed favorably otherwise. Not counting Justin Turner’s leadoff home run in the fourth inning that halved what was a 2-0 Angels lead, Barria kept the Dodgers from advancing past first base in his five innings.
The Dodgers were threatening in the eighth inning when Cody Bellinger struck out looking and his frustration with plate umpire Dan Iassogna, who according to Pitch F/X data missed several calls on both sides, boiled over. Bellinger headed to the Dodgers video room to check the tape on two pitches he thought were off the plate. He emerged angry. After Cam Bedrosian induced an inning-ending double play, Bellinger communicated his thoughts from the dugout’s top step. He was ejected and ran out to confront Iassogna.
“I was just telling him how far that it was off the plate,” Bellinger said. “That’s going to happen, to be honest. He had a bad night. It’s going to happen. But bottom of the eighth inning, one-run game, you gotta lock it in.”
Stripling (4-4) held up his end for Roberts. He turned in his fourth consecutive start without walking a batter. Over five innings, most of the hard contact made against him went for outs. He threw an efficient 62 pitches. Only Calhoun’s double and fourth-inning home run damaged his final line of two runs and three hits.
Yet, Roberts had to be cautious with Stripling. After batting for himself in the fifth inning, Stripling was replaced by JT Chargois, who promptly gave up a hit, stolen base and run. At that point, Stripling was nowhere to be seen in the dugout. It was later announced that he had a stiff neck. Stripling, whose fastball velocity dipped slightly under his season average of 90.6 mph, deemed his chances of making his next start “50-50.”
Hernandez departed the game, too, after receiving a visit from Roberts and a trainer during his fourth-inning at-bat. The Dodgers described the infielder’s ailment as left hand soreness, nothing too serious.
The Dodgers are cruising, their 67 victories the most in the major leagues. They have a 14 1/2-game lead in the National League West, so far ahead that not even the surging San Francisco Giants present an serious threat.
Injuries might be the only things that can trouble the Dodgers now. The Angels must play with more urgency than that.
In two games against a team that has been a hallmark of winning baseball, the Angels proved they could.
“We’ve got to take it one day at a time,” Calhoun said. “You can’t look too far ahead in the future. We’ve got to go out and play well today and put one foot in front of the other tomorrow and just keep going. It’s probably pretty cliche but as you start looking further and further into the future you lose sight of today. Today is all we got, so we just look to get a win today.”