The Los Angeles Angels winning continues after their extra-inning victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night. Not surprisingly, Shohei Ohtani was in the middle of it all. The superlatives never end for the two-way star. Ohtani struck out eight over five innings on the mound. Then, he helped himself by hitting two doubles and driving in a run. Yet, the Angels’ return to relevance has been a collective effort. After superstar Mike Trout went down with a calf injury on May 17, the Angels unsurprisingly struggled to adapt to his absence–losing five of their next six games. The Angels record stood at 19 and 27 after losing to the Oakland Athletics on May 22. Since then, with impressive results from their starting rotation and a much-improved defense, the Angels have gone 12 and 5. And, the biggest surprise of all, the Angels offense has actually performed better in Trout’s absence.
Upton Sets the Tone on Offense
Manager Joe Maddon knew he needed to shake up the lineup when the Angels struggled after Trout’s trip to the 10-day injured list. His first attempt was to try Phil Gosselin and Jose Iglesias as leadoff hitters. For one reason or another, he didn’t give them many chances before he turned to Justin Upton, on May 23. Since then, Upton has been a revelation at the top of the order. In the 15 games he’s led off, the Angels have an 11-4 record. And Upton has set the world on fire with a .321/.418/.679/1.096 line, which includes five home runs, 16 runs, and 11 RBI. To say the Angels’ winning streak has coincided with Upton’s move to lead off wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Ohtani has continued to rewrite the idea of a complete baseball player, as he is second in the American League with 17 home runs, second in OPS at .961, tied for 6th with nine stolen bases, and fourth in total bases at 128. As important, his OBP is .448 over the last 17 games. The Max Stassi/Kurt Suzuki combo has been gangbusters behind the plate. While Suzuki’s defense continues to diminish, according to defensive metrics, his offense has greatly improved as of late. Stassi returned on June 1, and the Angels have gone 6-1 in games in which he recorded an at-bat. Combined, the Angels catching duo has slashed an incredible .381/.426/.673/1.099 over their last 18 starts.
The most incredible thing about the Angels’ explosion on offense has been the lack of production from their all-star third baseman, Anthony Rendon. The Angels 5.53 run per game average during this period, has happened despite Rendon struggling to hit upon his return from a knee injury that cost him ten games. In the 27 games since he came off of the injured list, Rendon has failed to hit a home run. In fact, Rendon has been one of the worst hitters in the league upon his return, with a .208 batting average and pedestrian .553 OPS. The Angels will need to get him going if they have any chance of making the postseason.
Starting Rotation Has Started Producing
After the Angels’ loss on May 22, they had a team ERA of 5.26. The rotation was awful, with everyone not named Ohtani struggling to keep runs off the board. The bullpen wasn’t much better with prized offseason acquisition Raisel Iglesias unable to find his footing. All told, the Angels were not able to stay in games because of the pitching staff. Since that day, things have completely changed. The rotation has averaged about five and a half innings per start and the bullpen has only blown two saves. The rotation’s 3.57 ERA would be good enough for fourth in the AL over the full season. The team ERA is down to 4.81 on the season.
While Ohtani has continued to pitch well, it has been the reemergence of Andrew Heaney that has set the tone. Heaney went 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA over his three starts, lowering his ERA nearly a full run from 5.31 to 4.37. Alex Cobb and Patrick Sandoval have both started two games, with each recording a scoreless outing. Griffin Canning might have had his best outing of the season on June 9 against the Kansas City Royals, allowing only one run over 6 2/3 innings. Nearly everyone is improving.
Yet, despite all the positives in the rotation, last year’s star, Dylan Bundy, has been unable to turn it around. At 1-6, with a 6.16 ERA, it is difficult to point to any positives in Bundy’s season. Yet, his last start was an improvement. Over 5 2/3 innings, he gave up only two runs on six hits and no walks. Much like Rendon on the offensive side, Bundy’s return to form would be a major boon for the Angels. The Angels winning without their production will not continue for long.
The Bullpen Has Bounced Back
In the bullpen, Raisel Iglesias has pitched like the guy the Angels traded for in the offseason and the Angels winning has resumed. Before his blown save yesterday, Iglesias hadn’t allowed a run in his previous six appearances. After seeing his ERA balloon to 7.20 on May 3, Iglesias has worked steadily to bring it back down to a more respectable 3.96. With four multi-inning appearances in his last six, it appears that manager Joe Maddon trusts him with more than just the ninth inning. Combined with the Mike Mayers, the Angels have found a formidable 1-2 punch to finish the game. Steve Cishek has continued to give the bullpen valuable innings as well. Lastly, Jose Suarez had two multi-inning appearances where he showed his capabilities out of the pen.
General manager Perry Minasian has continued to tweak the bullpen by demoting Aaron Slegers and Jose Quijada to Triple-A. While there aren’t necessarily any flashy options for the Angels in Triple-A, Packy Naughton has pitched well in the rotation and could be used as a lefty out of the pen. A.J. Ramos, who was an all-star with the Marlins in 2016, has also pitched well in the high-scoring environment that is Triple-A West (formerly the Pacific Coast League). If the Angels are looking for a bigger swing, however, #2 prospect Reid Detmers has continued to produce in Double-A. The 2020 1st-round pick has a decent 3.60 ERA, but his 14.4 K/9 could play up for the southpaw if he came out of the bullpen. Or, the team could wait for the trade market to develop. Either way, the Angels are one game from .500 and the postseason actually seems possible.
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Reid Detmers, Jose Quijada, Packy Naughton, Aaron Slegers, Jose Suarez, Steve Cishek, Mike Mayers, Raisel Iglesias, Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning, Patrick Sandoval0, Andrew Heaney, Alex Cobb, Anthony Rendon, Kurt Suzuki, Max Stassi, Jose Iglesias, Justin Upton, Shohei Ohtani, Phil Gosselin, Mike Trout,