The Los Angeles Angels (and baseball in general) were dealt a devastating blow Monday when Mike Trout suffered a calf strain running the bases. On Tuesday, the Angels announced Trout would miss 6-8 weeks. He's having another MVP-caliber season and the Halos are on the fringes of the postseason picture. Getting back into the race with Trout sidelined 6-8 weeks will be a challenge.
"It's really unfortunate," Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters, including MLB.com's Daniel Guerrero. "Obviously, you never want to hear that about any of your players, especially a player the caliber of Michael. So the way I'm looking at it is this, that other guys are going to get the opportunity right now to help us ascend into this race properly, and by the time Mike gets back, you're ready to go and really be fresh into August, September into the playoffs."
At 18-23, the Angels come into Wednesday in fourth place in the AL West, seven games behind the first-place Oakland Athletics. They are 11-20 since their 7-3 start (only the Twins at 7-22 have a worst record during that time) and their postseason odds have taken a significant hit. Sportsline had their postseason odds at 17.6 percent on Opening Day. Now they're under 1.0 percent.
The Angels have sunk in the standings despite Trout's excellence and Shohei Ohtani's utter brilliance. Ohtani leads baseball with 14 home runs and 98 total bases, and he has a 2.10 ERA with 40 strikeouts in five starts and 25 2/3 innings. The numbers are truly out of this world:
- 92.0-mph average exit velocity as a hitter (top 13 percent in MLB)
- 29.0 feet per second sprint seed (top 5 percent)
- 96.6-mph average fastball velocity (top 17 percent)
- 3.31 expected ERA (top 30 percent)
- 2.7 WAR leads baseball (1.5 as a hitter and 1.2 as a pitcher)
Ohtani is as uniquely talented a player as we'll ever see, and he's on the same team as Trout, and the Angels are still having trouble contending for a postseason spot. It happens year after year too. Put a .500-ish roster around Trout and Ohtani and you'll win 90-plus games, and the Angels have been unable to do it.
Getting back into the race without Trout these next few weeks will be difficult, but it's not impossible. Here are five things that must happen for the Angels to hang around the race long enough until Trout returns later this summer.
1. Stay healthy
This goes without saying and I'm saying it anyway. Anthony Rendon missed time with a groin strain and a knee contusion earlier this year, and the Angels are currently without Alex Cobb (blister) and Chris Rodriguez (shoulder). Ohtani has had starts pushed back by a blister and a pitch to the elbow as well. With Trout sidelined and their margin for error pretty much exhausted, the Angels can not afford any more injuries. There is a lot of luck involved in avoiding injuries, but they'll need perfect health (or close to it) these next few weeks.
2. Get outfield help
Trout is hurt and Dexter Fowler is done for the season with a torn ACL. Justin Upton hasn't really hit (.205/.277/.427) and catcher turned third baseman turned outfielder Taylor Ward is now a full-time player. He's hitting .163/.245/.346. This is bleak:
All other Angels outfielders
Top outfield prospects Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh loom in Triple-A. Adell has been a bit uneven in the early going (.231/.298/.519) while Marsh has been excellent (.273/.448/.545), albeit in limited action seeing how the minor-league season is only two weeks old. Given their outfield production to date, I can't imagine it'll be too long before the Angels give Adell and/or Marsh a look.
One way or the other, the Angels need more production from the outfielders, and that was true even before Trout got hurt. If they can get it internally from Adell and/or Marsh, great. That would be ideal, really. The Angels may need to go outside the organization for outfield help though. They were essentially a league average offense with Trout. Now that he's hurt, they'll need others to pick up the slack, and the outfield stands out as an area that can be upgraded.
3. Rendon and Fletcher return to form
Rendon hasn't been bad by any means, but he's hitting .273/.345/.416 with three home runs in 20 games around the groin and knee injuries. That's below what we've come to expect from Rendon, who authored a .307/.399/.550 batting line in over 2,000 plate appearances from 2017-20. He's chasing more than usual and popping up a lot of hittable pitches for whatever reason. To me, it seems like a simple 87 plate appearance funk. It happens, but the Angels need Rendon to get back to being himself.
As for David Fletcher, he owns a .250/.271/.275 batting line after hitting .298/.356/.395 the last two seasons and earning a five-year extension worth $26 million earlier this year. Fletcher is an extreme contact guy who won't hit for power, but a sub-.300 on-base percentage? That can't continue. His plate discipline has been out of whack (Fletcher's walk rate is way down and his chase rate is up) and the result has been a few too many weak grounders and pop-ups.
Fletcher brings a different dynamic to the offense as an extreme contact guy and right now that contact is leading to easy outs. With Trout sidelined, the Angels need Fletcher and Rendon to pick up the slack. There are several spots in the lineup that have been deficient (again, I point you to the outfield), and Fletcher and Rendon are the two notable regulars you can point to and say "these guys should be better." It's time to be better.
4. Bundy and Heaney turn their seasons around
As is often the case, the Angels are underperforming because their pitching has been a weakness. Ohtani is the only starter with a sub-4.75 ERA and their top four relievers (Alex Claudio, Raisel Iglesias, Mike Mayers, Aaron Slegers) have combined to allow 39 runs (36 earned) in 66 1/3 innings. That's not going to cut it. The Angels are allowing 5.61 runs per game, the most in baseball, and there is basically no path to the postseason without that improving.
Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney, Anaheim's top two starters, have pitched to a combined 5.68 ERA in 16 starts. Six times in those 16 starts they've allowed at least five runs, and only seven times have they allowed two runs or less. Maybe Bundy doesn't get back to the near ace-level performance he provided last year, but if he could be even league average, that's a significant improvement. Same with Heaney, who has a long track record of being average-ish.
The Angels could use another starter to replace the ineffective José Quintana (26 runs in 25 1/3 innings), but, even if they made a blockbuster trade for an ace, they'll still need Bundy and Heaney to get on track. Ohtani's great when he pitches and Griffin Canning has been much better of later, though there are still three other rotation spots and a lot of innings to cover. Expecting Bundy and Heaney to lead the rotation was maybe too much to ask, but they should be better than this.
5. Get a little help
Yeah, it's time for the Angels to hope they get help from other teams around the league. The Astros will play 17 of their next 20 games against the A's, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Padres, and Red Sox, for example. Could they stumble to, say, 7-13 in those 20 games? Sure, it's possible, and that would help keep the Angels in the AL West race. It would also help if the four non-Orioles AL East teams cannibalized themselves the next few weeks, and no one pulls away in the wild card race.
Counting on other teams to help you out so you can climb up the standings is never a good place to be, but the Angels have put themselves in that position less than two months into the regular season. You reap what you sow, and losing 20 times in the last 31 games means the Angels now need other teams around the league to do some of their dirty work for them. The Halos have to take care of their own business, first and foremost. Control what you can control. They'll need help from other teams as well.