Oh My God, the Angels Are Relevant
No jinxies, but we might see Mike Trout back in the playoffs after an eight-year absence!
I have been waiting to write this paragraph since I moved back to L.A. 11 years ago: The Angels are good. They are exciting. They are worth making the two-hour crawl south down the 5 freeway during rush-hour traffic to see them in person. Are they as good as the Dodgers? No. Are they as exciting? Well, if this week is any indication, the resounding answer is hell yes.
I want to thank you all for your support and encouragement during the most trying season of my life. No, I’m not talking about my recent cancer scare, or the lawsuit you can google if you want to make yourself sick to your stomach. I’m talking about the fact that I left Reid Detmers on my fantasy baseball bench on Tuesday night and then watched him throw a no-hitter. I am the only woman in two different fantasy leagues and I almost always win one league and challenge for first place in the other. I believe I’m currently in 7th and 8th place in those leagues, respectively. This is such an indicator that my life is a mess right now that one friend in our league who did not know about my health scare recently took note of how crappy my fantasy team was doing and reached out to make sure I was still alive. Reader, I am. Somehow. Some way. Things have been looking up lately. I just forgot to set my lineup that morning. Ouch.
Here’s the thing about Reid Detmers: Throwing a no-hitter is cool and all, but it symbolizes so much more about the Angels’ return to relevance. They wasted the first decade of Mike Trout’s career by opting to ignore starting pitching, and it really grinded my gears. Trout is the best player to hold a bat since Ted Williams or Willie Mays (take your pick), and he was absolutely withering away in Anaheim while no one watched. It sucked. Part of the problem is that he’s personally boring. I don’t say that to be dismissive—I would love to be boring! He’s so consistently good at what he does that there’s never a question of whether he’s going to fall flat on his face or say something stupid or, I don’t know, get into multiple motorcycle accidents in one off-season. He’s as reliable a human being who exists on this earth, and we have all taken his greatness for granted. But not anymore, because this Angels team is finally good enough to make the postseason, where Trout can shine on the national stage he deserves.
Here’s the thing about the Detmers’ no-hitter that matters most: after a decade of failing to develop starting pitching, the Angels drafted Detmers with their first-round pick in 2020, No. 10 overall. It was crucial that they not screw up that selection. It appears they did not. Then in 2021, they set a record by drafting nothing but pitchers (20!) in a 20-round draft. And guess what? It’s working out! They took Sam Bachman ninth overall that year, and some scouts said he had the best pure stuff of anyone in that draft. He’s only 22, and not expected to debut until at least next year at the earliest. Still! The Halos having their two top prospects be pitchers after a decade of dismal pickings feels like a miracle!
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It’s May 12 and the Angels are tied for first place with the Astros in the AL West. Houston has won nine in a row. At some point, I thought they Astros were going to experience a dip after losing Carlos Correa and George Springer to free agency, right? That decline may be delayed because Justin Verlander (my age) apparently drinks baby seal tears for breakfast to stave off Father Time. He almost threw the fourth no-hitter of his career on Tuesday. (Meanwhile, I rolled my ankle six months ago and it still hurts to take the stairs).
But the Angels don’t even need to overtake the Astros in the division this year to make the playoffs, because of the added postseason spots MLB implemented after the lockout. If they can’t catch Houston, all they have to do is finish as one of the three best teams to not win their division. Right now, at 21-12, they have the third-best record in all of the American League, just behind the Yankees (22-8) and Astros (20-11).
I wrote back in the fall when the Angels signed Noah Syndergaard that it was a brilliant move that represented the first step to overhauling their starting rotation and turning them into contenders. Syndergaard has made me look smarter than I am, posting a career-best 2.45 ERA through the first month of this season after two years largely lost to injury.
I’m 1,000 words into this piece and I haven’t even gotten to reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, who remains the best reason to buy a ticket to see any MLB game in person, period. The two-way player has been having a bit of a down year at the plate so far (.762 OPS), but he still has six home runs despite MLB constructing the new baseballs they’re using this year in such a way that it’s damn near impossible to hit dingers.
But while Ohtani has started slowly at the plate he has shined on the mound. His 2.78 ERA and 2.13 FIP are both career bests. If he and Syndergaard can keep this up, and Detmers can stitch together even a solid season as the team’s No. 3 starter, this is a playoff team even without MLB’s expansion of the postseason.
For the last decade, the only MLB team with Los Angeles in its name worth watching was the Dodgers. And while the city of Anaheim will never be Los Angeles (and frankly, doesn’t want to be!), the Angels are now must-see TV.
Trout and Ohtani playing relevant games all the way into October is not only a great thing for Southern California, it’s a vital scenario for a sport desperate for star power.
The Angels are good again. It’s weird, but it’s true. The best player of his generation finally has the supporting cast he deserves. Hallelujah.