Now that the Tigers have finished their 19 season games against Cleveland, it’s time to turn their attention towards another team that has always been something of a thorn in their side: the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels aren’t having their strongest season, in spite of an incredible performance both on the mound and in the batter’s box from Shohei Ohtani. With Mike Trout still on the bench, and a tough division around them, the Angels are under the .500 mark this year, not doing too differently from the Tigers.
We wanted to know what’s going right and what’s going wrong for the team, so we enlisted the expert insights of Cole Bailey from Halos Heaven to chat with us about Trout, Ohtani, and what Tigers fans can expect this series.
BYB: Just how exciting is it to get to witness Ohtani have the season he’s having, and do you think he’s a shoo-in for AL MVP?
HH: Watching Ohtani do his thing both at the plate and on the mound has been nothing short of amazing, and the fact that we had to wait so long to see him at full force has made it even sweeter. We got a taste of his two-way prowess for a couple of months at the start of his rookie season, but for the last two-and-a-half years before this one aside from two disastrous starts in 2020, his excellence had been solely confined to the batter’s box. This long amount of time away from pitching had understandably raised some questions as to whether he could still play both ways full time, but I think it’s safe to say he’s answered those questions and then some this year.
As for the AL MVP race, I don’t think I could say Ohtani is a shoo-in just out of respect for the absolutely incredible season that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having, but I do think that Ohtani is without a doubt the clear frontrunner. He’s posted offensive numbers that are pretty comparable (and some that are even better in certain categories) to Vlad Jr’s while also moonlighting as an ace-level pitcher on the mound once a week, and I think the combination of these things will be too much to overlook at the end of the day. No matter what happens, though, it’s been an absolute blast watching Ohtani perform at this high of a level for the whole season, and hopefully he can put on a show for Tigers fans this series.
BYB: The Angels have two of baseball’s best players, yet are consistently struggling to compete, what do you think holds them back?
HH: There are two main culprits behind the Angels’ aggressively average play this year in my view. We’ll start with the injury bug, which over the last few months has decimated what was a really good lineup to start the year. The obvious one is Mike Trout, who has missed 70 percent of the team’s games and still doesn’t have a return to play mapped out yet. Anthony Rendon also battled through an injury-plagued season before deciding to undergo season-ending hip surgery for an ailment that he said bothered him all season and was a big factor in his uncharacteristically poor performance this year. Those two missing so much time would be killers on their own (they combine to make $70 million in 2021, after all), but the Halos have also seen other pretty important contributors miss a good amount of time, including Jared Walsh, Justin Upton and Max Stassi. All of these injuries have left the lineup outside of Ohtani and David Fletcher pretty barren at times, and the group that was supposed to be the team’s strong suit has turned into one that has struggled with consistency issues as a result.
The second issue is one that Angels fans have become all too familiar with in the last half-decade plus, which is the lack of a reliable pitching staff. This year’s version of the starting rotation has undergone a lot of turnover as the year has progressed, with two members of the Opening Day rotation in Dylan Bundy and Jose Quintana both being sent to the bullpen after struggling mightily out of the gates and a third in Griffin Canning being demoted to AAA before being shut down for the rest of the year with a lower back stress fracture. This has left the Halos to rely on a lot of younger guys to fill these spots in the rotation, who to their credit have actually pitched pretty well over the last month and a half. As Tigers fans have probably learned over the last year or so, though, there are some growing pains that come with young arms, and their overall effectiveness has varied from start to start.
The bullpen, on the other hand, has been a mess throughout the whole year. The group’s 4.66 ERA ranks 8th worst in the whole league (coincidentally one spot ahead of the Tigers), and it could be even worse if not for the fact that they employ one of the best closers in all of baseball this year in Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias has been superb since the start of May, but the Angels just haven’t had a consistent way to bridge games from their starters to him, and a lot of winnable games have been dropped because of this.
BYB: Any idea when or if we’ll see Trout again this season?
HH: Trout’s status since suffering his calf injury three months ago today has been somewhat of a mystery, and as of now there isn’t a firm indication as to when he’ll return to action. He was running the bases and taking on-field batting practice with the team about a month ago, which were thought to be the last steps in his recovery before going on a rehab assignment, but a couple days later, he reportedly “felt something” in his injured calf and was sent in for an evaluation with the team doctor. This reportedly didn’t turn up anything serious, but Trout hasn’t begun ramping up baseball activities to the level he was at since then, and there haven’t really been any new updates on him, either. He is traveling with the team for this 10-game road trip and the plan is still for him to return at some point this season when healthy, but the amount of time his recovery has taken (we’re at week 13 without a rehab assignment when the original timeline was 6-8 weeks) and the lack of recent updates regarding his status has been discouraging to say the least.
BYB: The Angels are usually strong competition for the Tigers, what should Tigers fans be on the lookout for this series that the Angels are doing especially well?
HH: As I briefly mentioned earlier, the Angels rotation has actually been pretty solid as of late. Their 3.80 ERA since July 1 ranks 8th in the entire league, and the two guys that are perhaps the most responsible for this in Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval are both lined up to start in this series. Ohtani has been stellar on the mound all year, but he has reached a new gear over his last five starts, pitching to a 1.69 ERA with 29 strikeouts and just four walks. Sandoval, on the other hand, wasn’t even on the Halos’ Opening Day roster, but since joining the rotation in mid-May, he’s emerged as an important piece of the team’s future. He’s pitched to a 3.39 ERA in 14 starts, including a game against the Twins where he struck out 13 batters and came within two outs of a no-hitter. These two are the best parts of what is probably the group performing the best on the Angels at the moment, and having them both starting back-to-back games in this series gives them a good chance to pick up wins in both of them.
BYB: What do you think the chances are the Angels extend Ohtani?
HH: It’s hard to speculate on Ohtani’s future this far out, but I would be very surprised if the Angels didn’t get an extension worked out with him eventually. By all indications, he really enjoys playing in Anaheim, and the Angels have notably never been afraid to hand out big-money contracts. Their payroll situation gets a lot more favorable over the next few seasons as well, with Albert Pujols’s 10-year mega-contract finally coming off the books after this season and Justin Upton’s $21 million-per-year deal ending after next year. A lot of things could happen between now and when Ohtani is scheduled to hit free agency, but I would expect owner Arte Moreno and GM Perry Minasian to make extending him their top priority before then.
BYB: Who are you most nervous about the Angels facing in this upcoming series?
HH: If we’re just going off of how the previous series went between these teams, the guy that scares me the most would probably be Jonathan Schoop. Over the four games that they played in June, Schoop went 6-16 with two home runs and a double and was just generally a thorn in the side of Angels pitchers the whole time. The other Tiger that I might be worried about is Casey Mize, who probably pitched better than his final line would indicate in his start against the Angels during that series. When you consider that with how badly the shorthanded Halos lineup is struggling right now, you have the potential for a very good start from Mize on Tuesday.
Thanks so much to Cole for taking the time to talk to us. If you’d like to read more of Cole’s work, please head over to our sister site Halos Heaven to catch up on all things Angels