Angelic start: Angels GM Billy Eppler said he did not pursue a veteran starting pitcher last winter because the team had a deep enough pool of arms. “Nine felt like a reasonable number,” he said. In their first 15 games, the Angels ran through all nine. The Dodgers, masters of roster manipulation, used 10 starters last season. The Rockies, in baseball’s most notorious pitchers’ park, used eight. No division champion used more than 11. It’s not as concerning as it might be if the rampaging Angels were not leading the majors in runs and home runs — they ranked 22nd and 24th, respectively, last year — but it’s why you’ll hear them linked to the Rays’ Chris Archer, who has thrown 200 innings three years running.
Return of El Titan: Adrian Gonzalez had no interest in returning to the Dodgers as a caddy for Cody Bellinger. He thought he still could play regularly at first base. The Mets, coming off a 92-loss season, gave him a shot. Two weeks into this season, the Mets have the best record in the majors. It’s too soon to say that Gonzalez’s troublesome back will hold up, or that the Mets will hold up. Still, for a 35-year-old who spent much of the last regular season on the disabled list and much of the postseason in Italy, this is a nice start: a grand slam last week against the Nationals, the division’s Goliath, and eight RBIs in a four-game span.
If in first: There are no surprises among last-place teams — Derek Jeter’s Marlins and other dead weight sinks quickly — but the Pirates are the most pleasant surprise among first-place teams. Their fans left them for dead after the trades of outfielder Andrew McCutchen and pitcher Gerrit Cole. Their bullpen is awful. But you can’t help rooting for starters Jameson Taillon (2-0, 1.26 ERA), in his first full season after beating testicular cancer, and Trevor Williams (2-0, 1.59 ERA), who changed his uniform number this year to 34 in honor of former Arizona State teammate Cory Hahn. Williams has remained close with Hahn, the former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star, since the 2011 game in which Hahn was paralyzed when his neck snapped on a head-first slide.
Red-faced: The Reds are off to a hideous start, one in which the offensively challenged Billy Hamilton has more extra-base hits than Joey Votto, the runner-up to Giancarlo Stanton for NL MVP. Hamilton has one extra-base hit, Votto none. The Reds have started the season 2-12, their worst start since 1931. Their pitchers have posted the worst ERA in the majors. This season would be their fourth consecutive last-place finish under general manager Dick Williams, the son of one of the Reds’ owners. In the meantime, the Reds’ Twitter account cheekily presented this as the highlight after a 13-4 loss Thursday: “RECAP: Pennington records first career strikeout.” That would be infielder Cliff Pennington.
Brawl game: The adoption of instant replay has rendered the classic manager tantrum extinct. We miss the days of managers kicking dirt, ripping off their caps and getting in the faces of umpires, with the mandated “jaw-to-jaw” cliché. But the “bench-clearing brawl” is alive and well, with Wednesday featuring the Rockies and Padres in round one and the Yankees and Red Sox in round two. When the Yankees’ Tyler Austin took a few steps toward Boston’s Joe Kelly, New York’s Aaron Judge (6-foot-7, 280 pounds) and Giancarlo Stanton (6-6, 245) rushed out to help. When the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado charged the mound, the vulnerable Padres pitcher Luis Perdomo (6-2, 185) threw his glove at Arenado. Perdomo missed.
Flipping out: Bat flip etiquette is in the eye of the beholder. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle ripped Cubs infielder Javier Baez for flipping his bat on a pop fly. “Where’s the respect for the game?” Hurdle said. “I would bet that men over there talked to him because I do believe they have a group over there that speaks truth to power.” The Cubs did talk to him, but manager Joe Maddon said that was none of Hurdle’s business. “The mistakes of youth are preferable to the wisdom of old age any day of the week,” Maddon said. With that, we’d like to welcome new Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who spoke to the newsroom in front of this slogan: “Speaking truth to power since 1881.” Power, that is, not power hitters.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
RED SOX AT ANGELS
Tuesday through Thursday
The Red Sox and the Ohtani Fighters — er, the Angels — own the top two records in the American League. Shohei Ohtani’s wondrous arrival from the Nippon Ham Fighters has made the Angels must-see baseball, and the Red Sox already have jumped 4 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East. Hanley Ramirez is batting .357, and he drove in 12 runs in his first 11 games. He already had three stolen bases, as many as all the Dodgers. And when Boston’s Joe Kelly triggered a brawl by hitting New York’s Tyler Austin with a pitch, Ramirez tweeted: “Remember I’m living witness to how hard @JosephKellyJr hits!” In the 2013 Dodgers-Cardinals NLCS, Kelly all but delivered the series to St. Louis when he hit Ramirez with a pitch in the first game, breaking his rib. Ramirez hit .133 in that NLCS after batting .345 during the regular season.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin