That’s What The Angels Get For Trying
10:35 AM EDT on August 8, 2023
It hasn't even been two weeks since the Los Angeles Angels made a bold, possibly franchise-defining choice. Rather than bring an early end to the thus-far fruitless Shohei Ohtani era by trading him away for a set of replenishing assets, the Angels decided to not only hang onto Ohtani, but use their last few months as his employer to make one final push for the postseason. The Angels decided to try. Out went a few of their own prospects, in came Lucas Giolito, C.J. Cron, Randal Grichuk, and Reynaldo López, and thus began one last attempt to bring some dignity to this franchise.
The day after trading for Giolito and López, the Angels were rewarded for their bravery. In a July 27 doubleheader against the Tigers, Ohtani spent a day playing baseball better than it's ever been played. He pitched a complete game shutout in the first game, which the Angels won 6-0, and then hit two dingers in the second game, an 11-4 victory for the Angels that gave them a three-game sweep over Detroit. Those two games felt like a blessing visited upon the Angels as a reward for their refusal to fold—not from any traditional god, but from the deity on their roster. These offerings of a mid-rotation starter and mediocre bullpen arm are sufficient, Ohtani seemed to say. You may now take my hand as we walk together into the light.
Now, 11 games later, it's clear that the Angels are more tormented than ever by various devils. They are 2-9 since that sweep of the Tigers, and have packed a full season's worth of heartbreak into a few of those losses. Last Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Mariners sticks out. Ohtani started that game and was lights-out for four innings, but had to cede the mound after experiencing some cramping in his pitching hand. No matter: He stayed in the game as a DH and all but singlehandedly built up a 3-1 lead for his team. After being intentionally walked to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning, Ohtani stole second and came around to score on a Cron single. The Angels scored another run that inning, and then in the bottom of the eight Ohtani padded their lead with his 40th homer of the season.
Carlos Estevez was called upon to close the game out in the ninth, and his attempt to do so went like this: walk, walk, single, strikeout, grand slam. The Angels struck out in order in the bottom of the ninth, and lost 5-3.
The Angels lost their next three games to the Mariners by a combined four runs, and kicked off a three-game set with the Giants on Monday night. They got 6.2 sparkling innings from Patrick Sandoval, two hits and a run scored from Ohtani, and carried a 3-2 lead into the top of the ninth. Estevez was once again handed the ball to close things out, and once again suffered an immediate meltdown. After giving up a single and a walk to start off the inning, he got Patrick Bailey to hit a fly ball into left field that turned into a two-run double thanks to a stumblin' and bumblin' Grichuk:
Estevez stayed in to give up two more runs before giving way to Aaron Loup, who surrendered two himself. The Angels once again struck out in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the Giants won, 8-3.
"You're going walk in that room and you're going to see some down dudes," said manager Phil Nevin to reporters after the game. "We're upset."
As Angels beat writer Sam Blum pointed out after the game, FanGraphs gave the Angels a 19.5 percent chance to make the playoffs at the trade deadline. They have now lost seven games in a row, are eight games out of the wild card, and 11.5 games out of the division. Their playoff odds have dropped to 1.4 percent. These dudes are, indeed, quite down.
Take your pick of potential lessons from this mess, with varying degrees of wisdom: trying is overrated; trade away your star players while you still can; the world is a cruel place; don't keep giving the ball to your struggling closer in high-leverage situations, etc. But the biggest lesson might be this: Don't ever take a three-game sweep of the Tigers as a sign that things are going well.