Friday night, the Los Angeles Angels were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Some fans from the East or Central regions might not have noticed, given that the Angels were one of the worst teams in baseball for two months, but they had actually won 14 of 20 before the elimination loss on Friday.
Still, it was too little, too late and the curtains have closed on the Angels before October in yet another prime year of one of the best baseball players we've ever seen. Now 29 years old and with 10 seasons under his belt, Mike Trout has only been to the playoffs one time. That was back in 2014, and the Angels were swept in three games in the ALDS.
Heading into Saturday, Trout is a career .304/.418/.582 (176 OPS+) hitter. He's nearing 1,400 hits, has over 300 home runs and more than 200 stolen bases. By JAWS, he trails only Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle all-time among center fielders. By WAR, he's seventh, adding Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe DiMaggio to the above group of those in Trout's way.
Knowing that Trout is only heading toward his age-29 season in 2021, it's definitely not a stretch to call him an all-time great already.
And yet, we've never seen him play deep into October. Those ignorant to how baseball works might try to somehow pin this on Trout and claim he's "not a winner" or some other nonsense, but the simple reality is this isn't football or basketball or hockey. Trout can only bat once every nine times and sometimes that means only three plate appearances per game. There's only so much one man can do in this sport.
It all boils down to help. Trout has long needed better teammates.
On that front, there were things to build on from this season.
- Anthony Rendon signed a huge deal this past offseason and lived up to it in 2020. He still has several prime years left.
- Rookie Jared Walsh has been a very pleasant surprise at the plate, especially with his power.
- Catcher Max Stassi and utility man David Fletcher have had very good offensive seasons.
- Overall, Shohei Ohtani and rookie outfielder Jo Adell have struggled, but we know there's upside there and we have reason to believe they'll be better in 2021.
- The fickle Justin Upton has an ugly line, but he's hit .300/.391/.625 in his last 23 games. Maybe in a full season he just had a slow start and would have played well the rest of the way? He's still 32 and could have a big 2021 left in him.
- The pitching side has been a problem all year, but Dylan Bundy has thrown like an All-Star and he'll be back next year. Youngster Griffin Canning has been a bit inconsistent, but he's been more good than bad and there's legitimate hope of another step forward in 2021. Jaime Barria and Patrick Sandoval have shown positive signs of late as well.
The bullpen needs to be solidified, but so many teams say that going into every single offseason and there is no shortage of live arms to fill out bullpens these days, even on the cheap.
The Angels certainly have a foundation in place that could reach the postseason in 2021. Now it's a matter of filling out around that foundation in order to put this team in the playoffs. The general public deserves to see a deep Mike Trout playoff run, but he can't do it on his own. He had some help in September this year, in 2021 he'll need six months worth or it'll be another postseason without the best player in a generation.