Dodgers-Angels among MLB’s best rivalries? ‘Not even in the same stratosphere’

Angels and Dodgers players and managers: Freddie Freeman, Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, Phil Nevin, Dave Roberts, Mike Trout.
(Associated Press)
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The novelty of the Freeway Series has worn off over 25 years of interleague play, but that doesn’t mean the Dodgers and Angels are looking at this week’s two-game series in Anaheim as just another two days on baseball’s grueling six-month calendar.

“It’s still a thing in the sense of it’s [two teams from] Southern California, it’s local, but I think it’s more geography-driven,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the rivalry, which resumes Tuesday night when Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw opposes Angels left-hander Reid Detmers.

“But as far as a rivalry … I mean, we’re in different leagues, different divisions. I enjoy going down there and playing the Angels, certainly. There’s kind of a mixed support group of Angels fans and Dodgers fans making the trek south, so it’s always lively.”


Injuries to their starting rotation and an ineffective bullpen are threatening to derail the Dodgers’ season. What can the team do to turn things around?

June 19, 2023

Just don’t pretend Dodgers-Angels belongs with Yankees-Red Sox and Dodgers-Giants in a conversation about baseball’s great rivalries.

“It’s not even in the same stratosphere,” said Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, who spent the first six years of his career (2014-19) in Boston, which played 114 games against the Yankees during that span. “Sure, it’s a crosstown rivalry, but it’s more for the fans and for reporters to write about. It has nothing to do with the players.”

The Dodgers and Angels have provided some compelling theater over the years. The first regular-season game between them, on June 17, 1997, ended with the Dodgers’ Todd Zeile hitting a two-run, walk-off homer off Angels closer Troy Percival.

Pitchers Tim Belcher of the Angels and Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers sparked a benches-clearing incident in 1999 when Park took exception to Belcher’s tag on a sacrifice bunt and kicked Belcher in the thigh.

The Dodgers amassed 16 runs and 25 hits against the Angels in a 2006 game. Angels pitchers Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined on an eight-inning no-hitter in a 2008 game in Dodger Stadium … and lost 1-0, the Angels becoming the fifth team in the modern era to lose a game despite not giving up a hit.


Then-Dodgers left-hander Tyler Anderson no-hit the Angels through 8⅓ innings at Chavez Ravine before Shohei Ohtani’s ninth-inning triple on June 15, 2022. A month later in Anaheim, Kershaw threw seven perfect innings before Luis Rengifo led off the eighth with a double.

Dodgers' Tyler Anderson walks back to the mound after giving up a triple to Angels' Shohei Ohtani on June 15, 2022.
Dodgers pitcher Tyler Anderson walks back to the mound after giving up a ninth-inning triple to the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani on June 15, 2022, at Dodger Stadium. Anderson had no-hit the Angels for 8⅓ innings. Anderson and Ohtani are now teammates in Anaheim.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

There is some added intrigue to this week’s matchup in that it marks the first time since 2015 that both teams are in playoff contention entering a series between the clubs.

The Angels, who have endured seven consecutive losing seasons and eight without a playoff berth, have won 11 of 14 games since June 4 to move to within 4½ games of the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West — and into wild-card position — entering Monday.

The slumping Dodgers, winners of nine of the last 10 National League West titles, have lost 18 of 30 games since May 16 to fall four games behind Arizona in the division, but they are still in a wild-card spot.


Wednesday night will also mark the first time that Ohtani, the incomparable two-way star who appears to be steaming toward his second AL Most Valuable Player Award in three years, will pitch against the Dodgers.

The right-hander hasn’t been as dominant on the mound this season as he was in 2022 — Ohtani is 6-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 14 starts overall and 3-2 with a 4.67 ERA and 11 homers given up in nine starts since April 27.

But the left-handed-hitting slugger has been a beast at the plate, batting .300 with a 1.015 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and a major league-leading 24 homers and 58 RBIs this season. Since May 30, he is hitting .403 (29 for 72) with a 1.514 OPS, 12 homers and 25 RBIs in 19 games. Ohtani ranks eighth in the AL in batting.

“He’s super special and doing things nobody else has really done,” said Betts, a 2018 AL MVP winner with Boston. “He’s in contention for the Triple Crown right now, and he’s pitching too. Guys have won Triple Crowns, but nobody has won a Triple Crown and done what he’s doing.”

What’s more intimidating, facing Ohtani as a hitter or a pitcher?

“That’s a great question,” Roberts said. “Given the choice, I’d probably rather him just hit, because it’s only four at-bats, whereas if you’re looking at 110 pitches, that’s pretty daunting.”


Uh … has Roberts seen what Ohtani has done at the plate lately?

“I have,” he said. “It’s pick your poison with that one.”

It’s not as if an injury-ravaged Dodgers rotation that ranks 16th in baseball with a 4.38 ERA and an underachieving bullpen that ranks 29th with a 5.04 ERA can just pitch around Ohtani. The Angels have their most prolific offense in a decade, ranking among baseball’s top six teams in runs, homers, OPS and walks.

Three-time AL MVP Mike Trout appears to be emerging from a prolonged slump, going five for 11 with a homer in his last three games after hitting .111 with a .471 OPS, one homer and six RBIs in 13 games from June 1 to June 15.

Brandon Drury (12 homers, 37 RBIs, .811 OPS), Hunter Renfroe (12 homers, 33 RBIs, .730 OPS), Taylor Ward (nine homers, 27 RBIs, .711 OPS) and Mickey Moniak (six homers, 15 RBIs, .975 OPS) have added depth, though injuries to infielders Zach Neto, Gio Urshela and Anthony Rendon, who was put on the injured list Monday because of a left wrist contusion, have left significant voids.

The Angels aren’t giving up on keeping Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim. Owner Arte Moreno must be ready to back up the risky bet, Dylan Hernández writes.

June 10, 2023

The Dodgers can slug with the best of them — they rank among baseball’s top four teams in runs, homers, OPS and walks — but their pitching is a mess and they’re reeling from a three-game weekend sweep in which they were outscored 29-8 by the San Francisco Giants.

“It’s one of those trying points of the season where you’ve got to grind and keep coming every single day, show up and expect to win,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “Our team is way too good to keep going like this. We’re 12-18 in the last 30 games. We know we’re better than this. It’s hard to keep talking about it. We’ve got to start doing it Tuesday.”