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Shohei Ohtani Might Lead These Angels To The Playoffs Yet

12:35 PM EDT on June 13, 2023

Shohei Ohtani celebrates his home run
Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The clock is ticking on this glorious waste of an Angels roster. Mike Trout will turn 32 this season, and his body is starting to wear down. Shohei Ohtani can look forward to a skyscraper filled with cash when he hits free agency this winter. If the Angels extend their playoff drought to nine seasons (and their playoff win drought to 14 years), Arte Moreno may have to live with the eternal ignominy of happening upon two of the greatest baseball players ever and achieving jack squat with them, even during the easiest time to make the postseason in MLB history.

The early part of this season didn't appear to signal any changes in fortune. The Angels, following up on a 73-89 year, consistently hovered a game or two over .500 for the first two months. The team's biggest new contract, Tyler Anderson, has a 5.80 ERA through his first 12 games. At the beginning of June, they sat a drab four games back of the third and final wild card spot, even as Ohtani posted a .882 OPS and a 2.91 ERA.

But nobody can raise hopes better than a once-in-a-lifetime player, and as Shohei's bat has heated up to scalding this month, so have the Angels. Since dropping three straight to the Astros at the start of June, the other Los Angeles team has won seven of their last eight, with Ohtani notching at least a hit and often more in every game. Plus, he keeps smashing humongous homers, like this one, which he hit in an Angels win where he also pitched five innings.

Anderson, Monday's starter against the soaring Texas Rangers, didn't fare well, dropping his hitters into an early 5-1 hole. But a bevy of productive at-bats in the fifth, including an Ohtani sac fly, brought the game back within reach. In the seventh, Shohei tied it up by taking a low and inside pitch and sending it on a long, long journey to a part of the center field seats that baseballs usually neglect.

Nobody scored for a while after that, and thanks in large part to a barely avoided disaster in the L.A. infield in the bottom of the 10th, these teams made it all the way to the 12th, where Ohtani led off. The first pitch he saw was a high cutter, and as soon as it touched his bat Cole Ragans was bouncing nervously on the mound watching this opposite-field beauty leave the yard. The Angels would go on to a 9-6 win on the back of Ohtani's two home runs and four RBIs. Yes, Ohtani did something cool, and the Angels won. It's been happening more and more.

"I think you could see on the home runs—especially the second one—the emotion that he’s showing," Angels manager Phil Nevin said afterward, perhaps subtly looking to quell thoughts of free agency. "He cares about this group quite a bit and [his emotion] is feeding into all the players.”

I'm not telling you the Angels are good. There's no starter that you can put your faith in besides Ohtani, and the other hitters still haven't produced that elusive third man who can make things happen when its not the big guns' turn at the plate. (Matt Thaiss, who's mostly playing catcher, has been surprisingly helpful at least.) The Angels are 37-31 now, and they're still not in a playoff spot. Even with this hot streak, they'll still have to play better to avoid futility while fending off tough competition like Houston and Toronto. But if the past week is any indication, there's a chance, at least, that this year is the one when Ohtani and Trout play meaningful games down the stretch, and perhaps beyond. Though it's easy to be cynical about the Angels after all these seasons of disappointment, there's no one guy I'd rather stake my playoff hopes on than Ohtani. They sure as hell won't be able to do it without him.

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