The Angels Have To Make It Happen
2:02 PM EDT on April 8, 2022
There is perhaps no team in baseball that will be under more scrutiny this year than the Los Angeles Angels. That tends to happen when a team possesses two of the most incredible baseball players the game has ever seen and an annoying habit of not making the playoffs.
The focus of this past offseason was, rightfully, on improving the team enough that Shohei Ohtani and (a finally healthy) Mike Trout would not have to see their efforts wasted on an non-competitive team. Trout's return to the lineup, along with the reappearance of Anthony Rendon and some shrewd offseason signings, has raised the possibility that this season does not need to unfold the same as the last one did, when the Angels finished 77-85 and inspired one of the great tweets in baseball history:
The new-look Angels took on the dreaded Houston Astros on Opening Day Thursday, with Ohtani on the mound and hitting lead off, the first time that's ever been done in MLB history. (Take that, Tungsten Arm!) On the mound, Ohtani brought his filthiest stuff with him, consistently making Astros hitters look foolish, with one notable exception in Michael Brantley, who singled in his first at-bat, then doubled in the third inning and later scored on an Alex Bregman bloop single that featured one of the worst throws I've ever seen from new Angels left fielder Jo Adell:
Otherwise, Ohtani pitched as clean an outing as he ever has, striking out nine hitters in 4.2 innings.
In other words, he did as well as he could have to set up the Angels for a potential Opening Day win. Alas, that is not what happened. The new members of the Angels bullpen had wildly varied results after Ohtani was removed: Aaron Loup pitched a sterling inning immediately after, but Ryan Tepera was less successful, relinquishing back-to-back homers to Bregman and Yordan Alvarez in the top of the eighth.
Meanwhile, the Angels lineup fell prey to Astros starter Framber Valdez, who retired 15 batters in a row at one point. Ohtani wasn't blameless here, going 0-for-3 in a tough lefty-lefty match up, while Rendon went 0-for-3 as well and grounded into two double plays that screwed over Trout ahead of him.
The Angels woke up a bit once Valdez was removed, but it was too little too late. They got a run in the eighth inning, and even had Ohtani up to the plate as the tying run in that same frame. I won't lie, the motion of his swing and the crack of the bat made me think that baseball had gotten its first Ohtani Moment of the season; it fell just shy on a cool Los Angeles night:
So, it's another Ohtani performance worth noting, this time on the mound, and another Angels loss worth forgetting. There were plenty of those last season, but this one is supposed to be different. It's just Opening Day, against the reigning AL champions, so there's not much to worry about just yet. There's still the Noah Syndergaard Redemption Tour coming, and he looked great in spring. As long as everyone stays relatively healthy—a tough proposition for this Angels team, but not an impossible one—they should be markedly better than last year.
I am begging the Angels, though: please don't do this again. As depressing as it was to watch Ohtani craft one of the most incredible campaigns in the history of the sport while his team kept losing games last season, it would be much worse to watch the same thing happen this time around. Nobody really knew for sure that Ohtani was a legitimate baseball deity until last year, but now that we've all seen what he can do, it's impossible not to expect more than 77 wins. Maybe it's crazy to say this, but it feels like we are owed healthy and productive seasons from Trout, Rendon, Syndergaard, and the rest of the Angels roster. Because who knows how long Ohtani will be able to perform at the level he is right now? It will be such a shame if a player like him never gets to see the postseason while his powers are at their peak.