Walsh HRs as Halos split 'intense' A's series

Lefty Suarez 'the star of the game' with three hitless innings

May 31st, 2021

Angels first baseman is continuing to make his case as one of the more underrated players in the Majors, as he's been on an offensive tear ever since becoming a regular last September.

The 27-year-old smacked his 12th homer of the year on Sunday to help spark a four-run second inning in a 4-2 win over the A's in the series finale at the Coliseum. Dating back to Sept. 4, 2020, Walsh is tied for the Major League lead in homers with 21, while ranking tied for second in RBIs with 64, behind only José Abreu's 69.

Walsh is batting .308/.371/.571 with 10 doubles and 38 RBIs in 51 games. He's crushed right-handers, hitting .347 with nine homers against them, but entered the game batting .218 in 58 plate appearances against lefties. Walsh, though, notably connected on his homer off A's left-hander Cole Irvin, giving him his third homer off a lefty this year.

"Walsh can hit a lefty, there's no doubt in my mind,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “It's all about pitch selection and when he forces them to come to him, he will do that. That's exactly what you saw. It was a middle-low breaking ball and the ball came out hot like he can do.

"I know it's in there. He's gonna be able to hit lefties. That's not an issue. It's all about him keeping an organized strike zone but this guy, his work cannot be better and his eagerness before the game is contagious."

Walsh, who finished seventh in the balloting for American League Rookie of the Year last season, is making a strong case to be an All-Star for the first time this season, although he has tough competition among AL first basemen in Abreu of the White Sox, Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Oakland's Matt Olson and Houston's Yuli Gurriel.

Guerrero leads AL first basemen with 3.1 Wins Above Replacement, but Walsh is tied for second with Abreu with 1.6 WAR, per FanGraphs. He's also far outpacing the average first baseman's slash line of .241/.329/.417 this year.

"No question," Maddon said of Walsh being an All-Star candidate. "I don't even know what the first basemen look like around the league right now. They got Olson here [in Oakland], he's having a nice season. I'm a big fan, but I don't even know if any first baseman's numbers are better than [Walsh's]."

Walsh’s homer started a streak of three straight hits for the Angels and after a sacrifice bunt from Kean Wong, David Fletcher ripped a two-run double to left. Phil Gosselin followed with an RBI single to score Fletcher, giving the Angels five hits in the inning off Irvin.

"We did some nice things offensively in a small block," Maddon said. "We had other opportunities, too, but we couldn't get it done. But it was an intense game and an intense series and I loved it. We have to know we can win here. It's very important."

The early lead held up, especially with some help from reliever , who threw three hitless innings with four strikeouts to see his ERA improve to 2.00 in nine innings this season.

Suarez was forced into the game because lefty José Quintana exited after three innings due to shoulder discomfort. Quintana will undergo further testing on Monday. But Suarez helped bridge to the gap to setup reliever Mike Mayers and closer Raisel Iglesias, who recorded a four-out save and has a 1.64 ERA over his last 10 appearances.

"Suarez, to me, is the star of the game," Maddon said. "I know he had the lead at that point, but it was only a two-run lead with a lot of game left. And he settled the whole thing down, permitted us again to use the bullpen as we wanted to. So give him a lot of credit."