Hernández: Brutal early schedule will let Angels know if they can contend for playoffs

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Tyler Anderson throws against the Oakland Athletics.
Tyler Anderson pitches against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning Sunday. Anderson threw six shutout innings in his Angels debut. (Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

For the Angels, this was a season-opening series from which few conclusions could be drawn. Their opponents were that awful.

The Oakland Athletics are a major league team in name only, their talent level a reflection of how little money cheapskate owner John Fisher invests in his product.

With Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani homering in consecutive at-bats, the Angels claimed a 6-0 victory over this collection of cannon fodder Sunday, giving them their second win in the three-game series at the Oakland Coliseum.

The Angels might not have said it aloud, but they departed for their next series in Seattle knowing they at least won’t finish last in their division. As for what kind of team they actually are, the answer will come soon.

They take on the Mariners for three games, after which they will host the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals. The series against the Nationals will be followed by a day off, which will lead into a seven-plus-week period that can’t make their season but can certainly break it.

Starting April 14, the Angels will play 49 games in 52 days.

“It’s a rough stretch,” Trout said.

The particularly heavy portion of the schedule will open with a seven-game trip that includes visits to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and finish with another in which they will face the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros.

Speaking of the Astros, the defending World Series champions and AL West favorites will have six days off over the same 52-day interval.

To navigate this stretch, the Angels will have to answer questions about their roster.

About their position-player depth.

About their rotation depth.

About their bullpen.

And perhaps most important, about their ability to manage Trout and Anthony Rendon, who have missed significant parts of the previous two seasons.

Angels center fielder Mike Trout rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. (Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

“Obviously, when you see the schedule come out and you look at that, especially early in the year, you gotta keep your body healthy,” Trout said. “My mindset's play every day and see where it goes. If [manager Phil Nevin] and the front office say that you should sit down, I'm gonna listen to them. Obviously, if I'm feeling good and I wanna get in there, I'm gonna fight it.”

The Angels scored 13 runs in their second game in Oakland, a game in which Ohtani, Trout and Rendon were all in their lineup. Figuring Rendon would play the entire three-game series in Seattle this week, the Angels didn’t play him in the series finale Sunday.

The Angels still scored six runs, the first three on rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe’s first career homer.

“We added some guys that can play and you’re seeing it,” Trout said, referring to general manager Perry Minasian’s offseason acquisitions such as Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury.

The additional firepower is a necessary luxury, as Trout and Rendon figure to be rested every now and then. As it is, Rendon faces a likely suspension for grabbing a fan by his shirt on opening night.

Tyler Anderson, a breakout performer last year with the Dodgers, pitched six scoreless innings in his Angels debut Sunday. The Angels signed Anderson to a three-year, $39-million deal with hopes he could stabilize their rotation.

The plan to start Ohtani as a pitcher once every six days requires the Angels to have six starters. Whether they can do so effectively will depend on the progress made by 23-year-old Reid Detmers and 25-year-old Jose Suarez. The team was encouraged by the four scoreless innings pitched by No. 6 starter Tucker Davidson on Saturday in relief of Patrick Sandoval.

The bullpen remains the greatest source of concern. After Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera combined to give up two runs that cost the Angels the season opener, the group registered six scoreless innings, but it’s still anyone’s guess how much of that was because of the quality of the Angels' arms and how much was because of the lack of quality in the Bad News A’s lineup.

Results aside, the absence of high-velocity pitchers in the bullpen is noticeable.

The moment of truth is approaching for the Angels, and it’s approaching faster than usual.

By the time they leave Houston in the first week of June, they’ll know whether they’re actual contenders.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.