Shohei Ohtani Is In The Void
11:27 AM EDT on May 19, 2021
It appears to be happening again. The Los Angeles Angels, their roster blessed with the presence of a baseball talent the likes of which we've never seen before, are failing to win many baseball games. This is just who the Angels are, and there is nothing Mike Trout nor Shohei Ohtani nor probably even the reincarnation of Mickey Mantle can do about it.
By now you are used to reading sentences like this one: Despite Mike Trout leading the league in OPS and OBP, both of which currently sit above his previous career-high marks, the Angels are 18-23 and in fourth place in the AL West. It's something of an annual tradition for each new baseball season to bring a fresh crop of incredulous late-May headlines asking if, somehow, this could be Trout's best season yet. What follows those headlines is always the slow realization that the continuation of Trout's quest to become the greatest baseball player ever will not be enough to get the Angels into the playoffs. That awful realization came a little sooner this year, with the announcement that Trout will be headed to the IL with a calf tear that will likely keep him out of the lineup for 6–8 weeks.
But now there is another. Shohei Ohtani, whose own marvelous play, even when combined with Trout's astonishing performances, has not been enough to get the Angels above .500. With Trout sidelined for a few weeks, Ohtani now gets the honor of standing alone against the backdrop of the Angels' bone-deep mediocrity. And he is certainly standing! Ohtani currently leads the league in homers (14) and slugging percentage (.632), has a 2.10 ERA as a starting pitcher, and has struck out 40 batters in 25.2 innings of work.
The contrast between Ohtani's singular talents and the Angels' organizational ineptitude has been particularly sharp over the last few days. On May 11, Ohtani pitched seven innings against the Astros, allowing one run and one hit while striking 10. He left the mound with a 1-0 lead and went to play right field, a move necessitated by the fact that he is one of three functional hitters on the roster. The Angels lost that game 5-1. Since then, the Angels have lost four of their last six games, and in those games Ohtani has gone 7-for-23 with four home runs. Not just any home runs, mind you! On May 14 against the Red Sox, he caught a slow curve on the outside corner and somehow flicked over the Green Monster:
He followed that up, two days later, with a game-winning home run in the top of the ninth inning:
And then! And then! Against Cleveland on Monday he turned a fastball that was something like 35 feet above the strike zone into a home run to deep right:
And last night he did this!
Perhaps this is a blasphemous thing to say, given just how constantly and unassailably great Mike Trout has been every season, but it somehow feels worse to watch the Angels gasp and sputter while Ohtani is playing like this than it has been to see them waste so many years of Trout's prime. Ohtani has only been there for parts of four seasons and has yet to come all that close to Trout's level of steady, excellent production. But there is something visceral about Ohtani's abilities, which have the power to leave even his contemporaries babbling like awestruck schoolchildren, that makes seeing them applied in the service of a dead-end franchise that much more appalling. Here we have a guy who can strike out 10 batters without breaking a sweat, muscle pop-ups into homers, destroy eye-high fastballs, and we have to watch him lose games? All the time? Rob Manfred needs to investigate how this was allowed to happen, otherwise this is just going to keep happening for years to come: