The Los Angeles Angels played their best baseball since 2015. Blessed by the talents of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani but cursed to never showcase them in October, the Angels have spent years desperately searching for enough supporting talent to take over the Hump to come and make it to the playoffs.
This spring, it finally looked like they’d nailed it. Enriched with fresh blood and many surprise contributions, the Angels started 27-17. It was her best 44-game stretch since the summer of 2015, the year after her last postseason appearance.
On the morning of May 25, they were a game behind the Houston Astros in the AL West and firmly at the forefront of the AL wildcard hunt – which will see three teams instead of two in the deciding tournament this season. Since then it has suddenly gone bad. They lost to the Texas Rangers that night and have yet to return to the winning column.
The Angels’ losing streak is now 12 games. They lost four more games to the Toronto Blue Jays to close their homestand. They lost every game of a six-day swing through New York and Philadelphia. They lost to the Boston Red Sox on their homecoming Monday night.
Red Sox starter Michael Wacha turned a three-hit shutout to give them their latest loss, and it’s arguably not the best pitching performance they’ve enabled during the run of futility (Jameson Taillon pulled off a perfect play in eighth place in New York).
Now 27-29, the Angels — and Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — would miss the playoffs if the season ended today. Their deepest lows once again overwhelm the highs.
Mike Trout hits the runners
It almost feels unfair that Trout’s most powerful fights have a 1:1 correlation with a 0-12 Angels breakdown while his consistent excellence seems to have no bearing whatsoever on the win, but here we are. Trout has a .409 OPS during the streak, the worst 12-game stretch of his career since his rocky cup of coffee in 2011. He’s batting .114 (5 for 44), with 17 strikeouts and just three walks.
Under the hood, it looks like he might be pushing something. He hasn’t given up his eye for the hitting zone, but he swings a lot more than usual and has less contact. Remarkably, pitchers regularly feed him fastballs, particularly up and in, mirroring a swing hole he hit earlier in his career.
Amidst all this, he has been dubbed “the worst commissioner in fantasy sports”. Hard times.
Most likely, this is a case where a mid-season adjustment needs to be made. Even with that dip, Trout ranks as…the sixth-best hitter in baseball to date by park-adjusted standards.
As usual, he’ll probably be fine.
Stars and scrub without the stars
The rest of the angels’ malaise can well be described as old troubles rearing their ugly heads. A team that normally relies too much on their headlining acts find themselves once again in trouble with depth.
Overall, the bottom-bottomed Angels (sixth-ninth in batting order) is bottom in MLB in offensive production this season as measured by park-adjusted wRC+.
As has been proven time and time again, trotting a Stars and Scrubs team in baseball is a particularly bad idea for the very simple reason that you can’t just send Trout or Shohei Ohtani to the plate with two ons and two outs. Often it will be Andrew Velazquez or Tyler Wade. They have their merits as a defender, but as a starter for a putative competitor, they are severely overwhelmed. The Angels are only squeezing out a .214/.269/.291 batting line from their middle infielders this year.
The losing streak unsurprisingly coincided with the return of the top of the order to Earth. Early season star Taylor Ward was hampered by a series of punches and finally faced the IL on Sunday with a thigh strain. An ongoing wrist problem turned into an IL stint for Anthony Rendon after the second game of the series. Trout is in his slump.
First baseman Jared Walsh is the only everyday starter to score during the losing streak, with Ohtani making an above-average line (for 2022) by continuing to reach base via walks. Hot streaks from Matt Duffy and Max Stassi — which still only include a homer between them — aren’t enough to carry a major-league team.
Then there’s pitching, Orange County’s eternal problem.
There’s never a good time to stall your starting rotation, but this is a particularly bad stretch for the Angels. You’re in the middle of 13 games in 13 days against some of MLB’s best offense.
Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen did what the angels called them to do. Syndergaard in particular suffered a heavy loss on Monday night when his line-up couldn’t even scrape a run against Wacha. The two additions to the offseason rotation have a matching 3.69 ERAs so far, with low strikeout rates but high groundball rates. It’s a tough road, but it’s working quite well so far.
But every hard excursion quickly snowballs. Shohei Ohtani hit a roadblock against the Yankees. Patrick Sandoval is in a difficult phase. And every sixth day, they trotted out Chase Silseth, an 11th-round pick less than a year ago who simply shouldn’t be expected to finish the Phillies lineup yet. It says nothing about him (even making the majors at 22 bodes well for a promising career) and much about the lack of reliable weapons in the Angels organization.
The Angels used 20 pitchers in those 12 losses, and not many of them looked strong enough to give you confidence that they’ll see through the next 12 games.
Strengthening the pitching team will certainly be a focus for GM Perry Minasian at close. But this team needs help now.
According to FanGraphs, seven American League teams now have a better chance of making the six-team field. That includes the Red Sox, who have galloped past them this series and could quickly extend that lead. The Angels have three more games against Boston, followed by series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. The Seattle Mariners, who have started clicking, appear on the schedule shortly thereafter, and their playoff odds are creeping into view.
The .500 mark was the purgatory the angels had finally escaped from. But that’s how a long, tough season works. It blasts every facet of a team looking for leaks. Now the angels find themselves underwater again, only struggling to get back to the surface.