Angels drop series to Astros with lopsided 9-1 defeat

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Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Andrew Heaney (28) reacts after Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel's two-run home run.
Angels starting pitcher Andrew Heaney reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Houston's Yuli Gurriel during the Angels' 9-1 loss Wednesday. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Follow our live updates throughout the Angels’ series in Houston against the Astros. You can expect news, notes and analysis in real-time before, during and after the game.

Final: Astros win 9-1

The Angels lose the series and fall to 16-20.

After they scored their lone run in the top of the eighth on a Drew Butera sac fly, the Astros piled it on in the bottom of the inning against reliever Patrick Sandoval.

Yordan Alvarez sent a solo shot deep to right. Chas McCormick launched a three-run home run to center. And the Astros finished with only one fewer home run (5) than the Angels had hits (6).

The Angels are off tomorrow before opening a three-game series in Boston against the Red Sox on Friday.

5-0 Astros, end 6th: Astros add on a couple

After a bumpy start, Angels starter Andrew Heaney had settled down – until he got to the sixth.

After four consecutive scoreless innings, the left-hander was tagged with two more runs when Kyle Tucker unloaded on a first-pitch curveball with one out, sending a two-run homer sailing into the second deck in right field.

It marked the end of Heaney's night. In 5 1/3 innings, he gave up five runs, nine hits and three homers. He didn't walk anybody and struck out five batters, but watched his season ERA rise to 4.75.

3-0 Astros, top 4th: Astros pitcher José Urquidy exits with trainer

After getting the second out in the fourth inning, Astros starter José Urquidy was removed from the game.

A trainer came out to check on the right-hander after he threw the pitch. Astros manager Dusty Baker joined them minutes later. He left after throwing only 44 pitches. The Astros later said he had posterior shoulder discomfort.

Urquidy retired 11 of the 13 batters he faced. Now the Astros will have to piece together five-plus innings with their bullpen.

3-0 Astros, end 2nd: Astros blast their way to early lead

It only took one pitch for the Astros to jump in front. Jose Altuve swung at a fastball over the inning half of the plate to begin the first inning, lifting a leadoff home run off the left field foul pole.

Heaney retired the next two batters, but then got in trouble again. First, Yordan Alvarez singled with two outs. The next at-bat lasted 10 pitches, Yuli Gurriel fouling four pitches before smacking a full-count fastball the other way over the wall in right field.

Heaney has retired his four batters since then, but for the third time this series the Angels fall behind first.

Ohtani bats leadoff; Trout, Fletcher, Upton get days off

Shohei Ohtani will bat in the leadoff spot for the first time this season on Wednesday night when the Angels play the Houston Astros in the finale of their three-game series.

It will come a day after Ohtani pitched seven innings in a start, took four at-bats as a hitter playing both ways, and moved to right field in the eighth inning in order to stay in the lineup offensively for the ninth. Ohtani has yet to miss a game for the Angels (16-19) this season, and has started either as a pitcher or hitter in all but one.

Wednesday's rubber match against the Astros (19-17) will see other changes in the Angels' lineup. Typical leadoff hitter David Fletcher, three-hole hitter Mike Trout and left fielder Justin Upton will get the day off (the Angels are off Thursday, enabling them to piggyback rest days with some of their regulars).

Shortstop José Iglesias will bat second in his return from a back issue that forced him to miss the previous three games. First baseman Jared Walsh will bat third in a start for the first time in his career. Right fielder Taylor Ward will serve as the cleanup hitter. Juan Lagares and Jon Jay also enter the lineup in center and left field, respectively.

Here is the full lineup:

Shohei Ohtani (DH), José Iglesias (SS), Jared Walsh (1B), Taylor Ward (RF), Jose Rojas (2B), Juan Lagares (CF), Phil Gosselin (3B), Jon Jay (LF), Drew Butera (C)

Ohtani has only started as a leadoff hitter once before in his MLB career, going 0-for-2 with two walks against the San Diego Padres last September. He hit first on occasion during spring training, but had been in the No. 2 spot for all 32 of his previous starts in the lineup in the regular season.

Ohtani enters Wednesday batting .265 with a .903 on-base-plus-slugging. His 10 home runs are tied for second most in the majors, but he has also cooled off at the plate in the last two weeks, going 11-for-52 (though that included four doubles and three home runs) in his past 13 games.

Andrew Heaney will start on the mound for the Angels. After a bumpy season debut, he has a 2.28 ERA in his past five starts with 40 strikeouts and only eight walks.

José Urquidy will start for the Astros. He has a 3.51 ERA in seven starts this season.

Shohei Ohtani a one-man highlight show in Angels’ loss to Astros

HOUSTON — Shohei Ohtani did everything he could Tuesday night.

He gave up one run in seven innings. He had 10 strikeouts with only one walk. He had a hit at the plate. And he even played in right field, a move that allowed him to get one more at-bat in the ninth inning.

It didn’t matter in the end.

The Angels’ offense was neutralized by Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. Their bullpen imploded in a four-run eighth. And what had been a close game for most of the night finished as a 5-1 defeat at Minute Maid Park.

But even on the winning side, Ohtani's latest all-around exploits left an impression.

“Ohtani is an incredible human being," Gurriel said through an interpreter postgame. "He’s really one in a million to be able to see how he can hit, run, throw. It’s something that’s never been seen before in the world. He’s an incredible human being and he’s a special one."

Angels manager Joe Maddon agreed: “He looked spectacular … I think his full complement of talents were on display tonight.”

Read more >>>

Final: Angels lose 5-1

The Angels went down in order in the ninth – including Shohei Othani, now playing right field, being called out on stikes – to drop the second game of this week's series.

The clubs will play a rubber match tomorrow.

Here's the full recap of everything that happened:

5-1 Astros, bottom 8th: Astros break it open against shorthanded Angels bullpen

The Angels didn't have set-up man Mike Mayers or closer Raisel Iglesias available Tuesday night after they had pitched the previous three days. Left-handed leverage arm Tony Watson had pitched the previous two.

The Angels missed them.

Following Ohtani's move to right field, the Astros exploded against the Angels bullpen. Aaron Slegers gave up a walk and a single. Alex Claudio surrendered a go-ahead single and back-breaking three-run home run.

Brantley had the single, a flare into center that allowed Jose Altuve to score ahead of a throw from Mike Trout. Gurriel's was a no doubter, a mighty swing that sent a 2-0 changeup deep in the left field Crawford Boxes.

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1-1 tie, bottom 8th: Angels tie it ... and Ohtani moves to right field

After Shohei Ohtani recorded his 10th strikeout of the night to finish off the seventh, the Angels tied the game in the top of the eighth on a Taylor Ward solo home run.

Ward was then removed in the bottom of the eighth – so that Ohtani could take over in right field. Ohtani is due up second in the ninth, which is likely why Angels manager Joe Maddon wanted him to remain in the game. It's only the second time in his MLB career he has played a defensive position that wasn't pitcher.

Aaron Slegers takes over the mound, trying to keep the game tied.

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1-0 Astros, mid 6th: Kyle Tucker homers; Angels still looking for offense

HOUSTON – In the bottom of the fifth, Kyle Tucker finally opened the scoring, driving an elevated 96.8 mph fastball from Shohei Ohtani the other way to the left field.

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Ohtani gave up no more damage in the inning, striking out the next two batters – including a whiff of Martín Maldonado on a 69.7 mph curveball – and getting a fly out to end the inning.

But he's still waiting on some run support. Over the last four innings, Lance McCullers Jr. has retired 11 in a row – including the last four via strikeout. Through six scoreless innings, the Astros' right-hander has nine strikeouts while yielding only one hit and one walk.

No score, end 4th: Ohtani off to strong start

Pitching on a normal turn in the rotation for only the second time this season, Shohei Ohtani has looked about as sharp as he has at any point this season.

After Jose Altuve led off the game with a first-pitch single, Ohtani retired the next three batters in the inning on just 11 pitches.

In the second, he stranded a two-out walks. And in the third, he needed just nine throws to retire the side in order.

He primarily leaned on his fastball in the first three frames, using it on 25 of 33 throws. His command has also been much more consistent than in past starts, finding the strike zone 23 times.

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Then in the fourth, he mixed more off-speed, bouncing back from a leadoff single by Michael Brantley to strike out the rest of the side.

Yordan Alvarez went down chasing a splitter. Yuli Gurriel did the same. The third out was also recording via splitter, with Carlos Correa staring at an elevated one that dropped into the top of the zone.

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At the plate Ohtani is 0-for-2 – the entire Angels lineup has been quiet early against Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., with only one hit in the first four innings. But he's matched zeros with his pitching counterpart so far.

The most notable early moment came in the second inning, when Angels outfielders Mike Trout and Taylor Ward collided while tracking down a fly ball.

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Rendon working toward return; Barreto to have surgery

At first, Anthony Rendon was worried he might have suffered a more serious injury.

After fouling a ball directly off his knee last Monday, the immediate pain and subsequent swelling left the Angels’ third baseman concerned.

“Wasn’t sure if it was dislocated or fractured,” Rendon said. “But thankfully it was not that.”

Indeed, Rendon only suffered a left knee contusion. The Angels hope he can return during this weekend’s series in Boston, if not sooner. In recent days, he’s felt good while fielding ground balls, taking full swings and doing light running.

The worst-case scenario was averted.

Still, it’s all made for a frustrating start to the season for Rendon.

This is already Rendon’s second time on the injured list, after he missed 11 games in April with a left groin strain. Both injuries shared irritating themes.

They occurred right when Rendon, who in 15 games is batting .276 with an .814 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and three home runs, was starting to seemingly heat up at the plate.

And “both the injuries,” he said, “it’s more frustrating when it’s something that’s not your fault.”

Rendon’s eventual return will be a welcome addition to a lineup that hasn’t been at full strength for most of the season. Mike Trout, Max Stassi and Justin Upton have all also missed time, while Dexter Fowler was lost for the season.

In other injury news Tuesday, the Angels announced infielder Franklin Barreto will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss 10-12 months. Acquired in a trade last season that sent Tommy La Stella to the Oakland A’s, Barreto had gotten hurt during spring training and was originally placed on the 60-day IL with elbow inflammation.

The Angels also made some bullpen moves ahead of Tuesday’s game. José Suarez was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake and Junior Guerra was played on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain. Right-handers Jaime Barria and Noé Ramirez were added to the active roster in their place.

Shohei Ohtani to pitch and hit against Astros

As they’ve done before each of his starts this season, Angels manager Joe Maddon sought out two-way star Shohei Ohtani this week to ask what he wanted to do.

Only pitch when he takes the mound Tuesday night against the Houston Astros? Or be in the batting order, as well?

Ohtani elected the latter, making Tuesday the third time this season he will play both ways in the same game.

Ohtani will bat second as the Angels (16-18) look to clinch a series win against the Astros (18-17). He enters Tuesday owning a 2.41 ERA as a pitcher, with 30 strikeouts in 18 ⅔ innings; and a .915 on-base-plus-slugging percentage as a hitter, tied for the major-league lead with 10 home runs.

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Ohtani has yet to miss a game this year, starting either as a pitcher or DH in 34 of the Angels’ 35 games and coming off the bench in the other.

“I do think as the season gets deeper and he might get more tired or fatigued, we have to be careful with that," Maddon said. "Right now, he feels fresh … I just think as we go, the important thing is to really stay on top of him in this, to permit him to get the most out of his abilities.”

Maddon said that, just like in the spring, the pitching components of Ohtani's two-way routine still take precedent between his starts.

“If he has a [pitching] workout or a side piece, any extra training work, that takes priority over anything he has to do as a DH,” Maddon said. “So nothing’s changed at all.”

The Angels are hoping that behind-the-scenes consistency can translate to the mound, where Ohtani’s command has fluctuated from one start, one inning, and sometimes even one batter to the next.

While Ohtani has only given up seven hits (six singles and a home run) in his first four starts, the right-hander has also issued 19 walks (he is averaging the third most walks-per-nine-innings among MLB pitchers with at least 10 innings).

Despite all that, he has pitched at least four innings in each of his appearances this season and has surrendered more than one earned run only once. Tuesday will also become only the second time he’s pitched on normal five days’ rest, after having previous starts delayed by a blister and a hit-by-pitch on his elbow.

“Right now, it’s just trying to keep him on a regular basis to perform,” Maddon said. “On the mound, as well as a DH.”

Maddon on Pujols departure: “I don’t mean this to sound cold”

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Had Albert Pujols been willing to at least consider retirement, his departure from the Angels last week might not have been so unceremonious: scratched from the lineup before a game, cut from the team afterward.

Instead, even after the Angels informed the 41-year-old first baseman that he would be released, Pujols insisted he wanted to keep playing – leading to an awkward divorce from the team last week that has drawn criticism from some former players.

“It could have been done differently, had it happened in spring training, or even in the last offseason,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said on the “Starkville” podcast this week. “There’s different ways to go about it.

“Had Albert decided that he did not want to play this year, then you could have possibly avoided this completely.”

Maddon added: “I don’t mean this to sound cold in any way. It’s just the way it is. It was a group decision, based on ascending players that needed opportunity and Albert wanting to play every day. We just didn’t see that as being a mix."

Here’s more from Bill Shaikin on the latest in the Pujols fallout>>>

From Monday night: Walsh leads comeback with four-hit performance

Days after Angels general manager Perry Minasian declared Jared Walsh the club’s first baseman of the present and the future, Walsh delivered his best game of the season on Monday night.

He went four-for-four with a walk – coming just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle – and sparked the Angels’ 5-4 comeback win with a sixth-inning home run that moved him into a tie for second on MLB’s RBI leaderboard with 29.

“Pretty spectacular,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Walsh. “You can’t win that game without him out there tonight.”

Read more from Monday night’s game>>>

Monday night final: Angels win 5-4

Pitching for the third-straight day, and facing the heart of the Astros order, Angels closer Raisel Igelsias shut the door in the ninth to secure the Angels’ 5-4 win.

It wasn’t anti-climatic, with a nearly four-hour long game building up to one last big at-bat.

With two outs, Yuli Gurriel doubled. Carlos Correa came to the plate representing the winning run.

But, Correa hit a grounder to third baseman Phil Gosselin, who scooped the hop and beat Gurriel in a race to third base bag, sliding into the path of the Astros baserunner to apply the tag and give the Angels the victory.

5-4 Angels, end 8th: Angels cling to one-run lead

The Angels have had chances to pad their lead the past two innings, but came up empty both times.

In the seventh, Mike Trout drew a leadoff walk and Jared Walsh singled into left – his fourth hit of the night; he is still a triple shy of the cycle – before the next three batters all struck out.

In the eighth, Phil Gosselin led the inning off with a double and advanced to third on a Drew Butera sacrifice bunt but was stranded there.

The Angels’ bullpen, however, has kept their one-run lead intact. Tony Watson pitched a scoreless seventh, finishing his night by retiring all five batters he faced. Then Mike Mayers – despite pitching each of the previous two days – took care of the Astros in the eighth.

Angels closer Raisel Iglesias also pitched on both Saturday and Sunday, but manager Joe Maddon said pregame that both Iglesias and Mayers would be available to pitch tonight.

5-4 Angels, mid 6th: Angels take lead on safety squeeze

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An inning that began with a soft Mike Trout pop up has suddenly turned into a massive Angels rally. After the back-to-back homers from Walsh and Upton, the Angels kept on rolling.

Jose Rojas drew a walk against newly inserted reliever Brandon Bielak. Taylor Ward followed with a double into left. Rojas scored the tying run in the next at-bat, when Phil Gosselin hit an infield single that was bobbled by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. Then, with runners on the corners, catcher Drew Butera dropped a safety squeeze in front of the mound.

Bielak charged and tried to flip the ball with his glove to catcher Jason Castro, but it sailed over Castro’s head, allowing Ward to score and everyone else to reach safely.

The Angels wouldn't tack on any more, but they now have a lead with right-handed reliever Steve Cishek entering the game for the bottom of the sixth.

4-3 Astros, top 6th: Walsh, Upton hit back-to-back home runs

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Suddenly, we have a game again.

After the Astros had re-established a three-run lead in the bottom of the fifth on Myles Straw’s RBI double, the Angels have powered their way back within one.

First, Jared Walsh lined a solo home run over the wall in right – his seventh of the season and 29th RBI of the campaign, moving him into a tie for second in MLB.

Then, Justin Upton launched a solo blast deep into the left field Crawford Boxes in the next at-bat, also his seventh of the season.

It was the third time this season the Angels have hit back-to-back home runs.

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That marked the end of Astros starter Luis Garcia’s night, exiting after giving up three runs, five hits and two walks in 5 ⅓ innings. He struck out seven.

3-1 Astros, mid 4th: Jared Walsh, RBI machine

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There are luxuries that come with batting behind David Fletcher, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. And Jared Walsh is taking advantage of them.

Entering Monday, Walsh led the majors with 53 RBIs since Sep. 4, 2020 – when the left-handed cleanup hitter began a hot streak that has yet to cease. He was already leading the Angels this season with 27 in his first 32 games.

Then, in the fourth inning, he added to those totals, gapping an RBI double deep to right-center that scored Trout all the way from first.

The Angels had a chance for more offense in the inning, getting runners to second and third with two outs, but came up empty.

Still, Walsh’s run-scoring double – which was aided by a well-above-league-average 29.3 foot-per-second sprint speed from Trout, who slid home ahead of a tag at the plate – moved him into a tie for fourth-most RBI in baseball this season with 28. Walsh is also halfway to the cycle tonight (he singled in his first at-bat) and has raised his season batting average to .336 and on-base-plus-slugging to .974.

3-0 Astros, end 2nd: Guerra out, Suarez in as Houston extends lead

Junior Guerra managed only three outs in his start tonight. After escaping the first-inning jam giving up only one run, the Astros quickly tacked on another in the second inning with a leadoff double from Kyle Tucker and RBI single from Myles Straw.

José Suarez almost got out of the inning without any more damage, thanks to a well-executed double-play between third baseman Phil Gosselin and first baseman Jared Walsh. But with two outs, Michael Brantley lined an RBI double into the left-field corner to make it 3-0 (all three runs were charged to Guerra).

Suarez is making his season debut and 22nd MLB appearance. A once highly-anticipated prospect, the left-hander has struggled in his previous big-league stints with a 7.99 ERA in 83 ⅓ career innings. Last season, Suarez gave up five runs in less than two innings in each of his two starts. He did show signs of improvement this spring, striking out 10 batters in 6 ⅓ innings.

1-0 Astros, end 1st: Guerra limits the damage

Junior Guerra walked his first two batters of the game and then gave up a ground-rule double to Alex Bregman that put the Astros on the board. José Suarez began getting loose in the bullpen, but then Guerra rallied with a strikeout against Yordan Alvarez, pop out against Yuli Gurriel and strikeout of Carlos Correa.

When the Angels give up the first run, they are 5-12 this season.

No score, mid 1st: Guerra takes the bump

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After the Angels went down in order in the top of the first against Astros starter Luis Garcia, Angels right-hander Junior Guerra trots out to the mound for his first MLB start since Sep 2, 2018.

In 12 appearances out of the bullpen this season, Guerra has a 4.95 ERA with 18 strikeouts (but also 10 walks and five wild pitches) in 20 innings.

“We’ll see how it goes for him,” manager Joe Maddon said before the game. “I know he’s into this. He’s excited about doing this. I’ve seen him do it before. It’s just a matter of expenditures. Early counts would really be helpful just by getting in the zone, good spots. But we’ll see.”

Angels riding high after Freeway Series win

HOUSTON — The Angels arrive in Houston for a three-game series with the Astros, riding some much-needed confidence thanks to a weekend series win over the Dodgers.

The Angels (15-18) had entered this past weekend’s Freeway Series on a four-game losing streak and with wins in only four of their previous 15. But, after winning 9-2 on Friday and mounting a wild but unsuccessful rally in a 14-11 loss Saturday, the Angels took Sunday’s rubber match against the defending World Series champions with a 2-1 victory — keyed by a scoreless five-inning effort from the bullpen.

“Emotional game [on Saturday], day game after a night game, very good [opponent] ... and we won,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s the kind of stuff you really appreciate about your group.”

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani, top, gives manager Joe Maddon a high-five
The Angels' Shohei Ohtani, top, gives manager Joe Maddon a high-five while celebrating a 9-2 win against the Dodgers. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Now, the Angels will try to carry that momentum into Minute Maid Park, where they went 1-3 in a four-game series last month against the Astros (18-16) and have lost 17 of their past 21 games overall.

“Momentum is tenuous,” Maddon said. “There’s times you can really grasp and hold onto it. But you have to pitch. You have to pitch to maintain momentum.”

Read more >>>

Junior Guerra to start for Angels

With Monday’s original starter, Alex Cobb, on the injured list with a blister, the Angels will use Junior Guerra as an opener in Monday’s game against the Astros.

Manager Joe Maddon said he didn’t have a target length for Guerra, who was a starter up until 2019 and has pitched three or more innings twice this year. Maddon did confirm that José Suarez, who was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake, will pitch after Guerra. Maddon said the Angels will try to stay away from Patrick Sandoval after he threw 52 pitches three days ago.

“It might be better classified as a bullpen game,” Maddon said. “But we’re going to find out.”

Shohei Ohtani will also serve as designated hitter Monday night, once again playing the day before a scheduled start on the mound. Maddon also said Ohtani wants to hit and pitch on Tuesday night, something he's done in two of his previous four pitching starts.

Shortstop José Iglesias, meanwhile, is out of the starting lineup for a second-straight day with a back issue. Maddon said pregame he wasn’t sure if Iglesias would be available off the bench.

Here’s the Angels’ full lineup against Astros right-hander Luis Garcia:

David Fletcher (SS), Shohei Ohtani (DH), Mike Trout (CF), Jared Walsh (1B), Justin Upton (LF), Jose Rojas (2B), Taylor Ward (RF), Phil Gosselin (3B), Drew Butera (C)

The Angels announced several other injury updates on Monday. Third baseman Anthony Rendon (left knee contusion) did light baseball activities. Maddon said Rendon is "optimistic" he can return during this weekend's series in Boston.

Reliever Chris Rodriguez (right shoulder inflammation) is doing gym work but hasn't started throwing yet.

Catcher Max Stassi (concussion) is "feeling a lot better today," Maddon said, but still doesn't have a return date yet. "With concussion protocol," Maddon said. "That’s a different standard, methodology regarding getting him back.”

Wait, the Angels can pitch?

The Angels’ season preview is the same, year in and year out: They can hit, but can they pitch?

With one-fifth of this season done, their earned-run average is over 5.00 and they have fallen into last place in the American League West. They can’t pitch, can they?

“I don’t see ‘awful’ by any means,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I know the numbers aren’t there. I get it. I can’t argue that.

“But when I watch how they’re throwing and I watch what’s happening on the field, I think if we can just keep them healthy and stay with them and show confidence in them, I believe we are going to see a much better result.”

The Angels have placed their faith in baseball’s new math.

Consider two statistics: fielding independent pitching (FIP) and expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP). The statistics evaluate pitchers by what they can control (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, home runs), independent of what they cannot control (defense). The typically small difference between FIP and xFIP involves how to account for home runs.

At the start of play Sunday, the Angels ranked 29th with a 5.25 ERA but ninth with a 3.81 xFIP. Angels starters had a 5.20 ERA, ranking 28th, but a 3.44 xFIP, the best in the AL.

Could it mean improvements are ahead?

Read more from Bill Shaikin here >>>

Angels at Astros betting lines and odds

The Angels start a three-game series with the Astros at 5:10 p.m. Monday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Angels (15-18) are in the AL West cellar, 4.5 games behind Oakland and 2.5 behind the Astros (18-16).

Oddsmakers installed the Astros as -160 home favorites.

Read more from VSiN betting analyst Dave Tuley here>>>

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.