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If you’ve been following Major League Baseball for the last couple of months, perhaps one of the most baffling trends you’ve seen is the Los Angeles Angels’ nose-dive through the American League standings since late May.
The Angels started the season 27-17. They were just a game behind the Astros in the AL West. The Angels’ rebuilt pitching staff, bolstered by Noah Syndergaard, signed to a one-year/ $21 million contract this offseason, was finally holding up its end of the bargain. The Angels finally weren’t wasting the superstar tandem of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.
To say the Angels’ season has derailed is putting it delicately. We can’t call it a Hindenburg or Titanic-level disaster just yet, there’s still time to turn this around. Their quarter-season collapse is nothing short of historic, though. On May 25th, the Los Angeles Angels embarked on a nightmare journey to a franchise-record 14-game losing streak with a 7-2 loss to the Rangers.
From there, the Angels were swept by the Blue Jays, Yankees and Phillies, before finally taking the last of a four-game series with the Red Sox. Over that span, the Angels lost seven games by one run, and one more on a walk-off homer. The offense was abysmal, producing two or fewer runs eight times and being shut out three times.
Mike Trout went down for a short stretch with a groin injury. Third baseman Anthony Rendon hit the 60-day injured list (only for it to be later revealed he’d need wrist surgery and was done for the season).
Baseball players are often a superstitious bunch, and the Angels were no exception. They didn’t take the rough patch lightly. The Angels’ 68-year-old, World Series champion manager, Joe Maddon, went out and got his hair shaved into a mohawk after their twelfth consecutive loss in an effort to “awaken” them. Fittingly, general manager Perry Minasian fired Maddon before he could even show the team. Angels fans are left to wonder what might have been if the clubhouse had seen his radical new haircut, and tragically for the rest of us, no photos of Maddon even with a half-grown-in mohawk have surfaced.
With the situation becoming increasingly desperate, a still-unnamed member of the organization decided that playing only Nickelback as the walkup songs for every batter was the way to shake things up.
This desperate act only seems to have angered the rock gods, and their wrath upon the Los Angeles Angels only continues. The Halos played .500 ball for a stretch in June, but are back in the midst of another swoon in which they are 1-9. Their record since the season was flipped on its head is a mind-boggling 11-33, tied for worst in baseball with lowly Oakland over that period of time. For some context, the Angels’ payroll might not compare with the cross-town Dodgers (after all, outside of New York City, whose does?), but at $190.2 million, it is eighth-highest in MLB, and dwarfs the Athletics’ $48.5 million.
That spending along with the optimism that comes with having superstars like Ohtani and Trout had expectations fairly high coming into the season. Most Vegas experts set the Angels’ over/under regular season wins at 83.5 or 84.5 and knocking on the door of a playoff spot now that three wild card teams qualify. Instead, they’re on pace for 70 wins, which would be a significant regression from last year’s 77.
As has been the case for the past year and a half, the blame for the Angels’ woes surely does not fall at Ohtani’s feet. His production at the plate is not quite at the level it was last season, but his .258 average/ 19 homers/ 56 RBIs line is still incredible from a player who is also a starting pitcher- where Ohtani has done his real damage.
Ohtani is 9-4 this year in 15 starts. He has an ERA of just 2.38 and has struck out 123 in 87 innings. He was just selected to the AL All-Star team as both a designated hitter and starting pitcher for the second year in a row, which had never been done before. He’s been unbelievable.
Ohtani has been dominant on the mound all year, but he had a particularly nasty six-game stretch which included a 5-2 win over the Marlins on July 6 in which he pitched seven innings for the win and drove in the winning runs at the dish.
“It continues to amaze me. Sometimes I have to take a step back and be like, this is special…” catcher Max Stassi said. “…This is unique and this will not be done at that level. It will not be done again.”
So what is killing the Angels and wasting this other-worldly performance from Ohtani? Well, Trout hasn’t quite been himself. He’s still hitting for power (24 homers), but is hitting just .270 and has an OPS of .303, both 33 points below his career average. With 97 strikeouts this year, he is on pace for the second-highest total of his career (184 in 2014), and that’s while missing ten games.
Strikeouts and inability to make contact are a problem for the Angels in general, who lead the big leagues in team strikeouts, and it’s not even really close (they’re 29 ahead of the Braves with 870). Even Ohtani is averaging exactly one per game. They’re hitting .232 (26th), getting on base at a .303 clip (24th), and have scored 4.03 runs per game (25th). Even with the pop from Ohtani and Trout’s bats, they’re still just 17th in baseball in slugging.
Compare all those offensive woes with a pitching staff that is more “middle of the pack” in most categories. Their staff has an ERA of 3.91 (16th), 31 quality starts (14th), on-base average allowed of .239 (9th), and walks/hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of 1.24 (13th).
A representative pitching staff, but dismal production from the lineup, particularly the 6-9 spots, gives Minasian a pretty clear target if he decides to invest in this year’s team at the trade deadline. Minasian was non-committal on whether he would do so.
“I don’t believe in terms like that,” the GM said when asked if they’d be “buyers or sellers” Tuesday. “I think we’re going to look for opportunities to make the club better.”
Minasian seems to think his Los Angeles Angels still have time to surround their franchise centerpieces with enough depth to win while Trout is in his prime and Ohtani is still in an Angels uniform (he remains under team control through next season).
“There’s definitely a formula to win around them… I definitely see a road map to putting a competitive team on the field with those guys.”
With the expanded playoff format, the Angels are just 8.5 games out of a spot in the postseason as we approach the All-Star Break. It will be interesting to see which path they take.
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Feature image: Sandboxx News composite. Photos from Wikimedia Commons and Erik Drost via Flickr
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Tj Pandolfino says
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