The Los Angeles Angels are still technically alive for a postseason berth, but losses like Friday night highlight why, very likely, for the seventh straight season they will be watching October baseball from home.
Three home runs told the story of Friday’s 7-3 loss to the Mariners in Seattle.
It’s amazing for a franchise that has Mike Trout to have yet another player who is so very clearly the most awe-inspiring in baseball. Opposing players and managers marvel at what Shohei Ohtani can do, both off the mound with his 100-mph right arm, and at the plate where he can unload on a ball like this:
The 463-foot blast gave the Angels a 3-0 lead, and was Ohtani’s major-league-leading 33rd home run of the season. Before the All-Star break.
Ohtani has 16 home runs in his last 21 games, the most prolific stretch of that length in American League history. He’s about to have a personal national showcase in Colorado, where he is the No. 1 seed and the favorite in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, and will start at designated hitter and eventually pitch in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
It’s Shohei’s world, and we’re all along for the ride. Just like Justin Upton:
Angels infielder and spark plug extraordinaire David Fletcher got off to a horrific start to his 2021. Through the middle of June, after 60 games, the second baseman was hitting only .255/.287/.294. Among 143 qualified major league hitters at the time, Fletcher ranked 138th in OPS (.581), 139th in slugging percentage, and 138th in wRC+ (62).
Sure, you might say, but power isn’t really Fletcher’s game. Well, he also ranked 122nd in on-base percentage, so he wasn’t even doing that. A terrible trait for a leadoff hitter, though by then Fletcher had already been banished to the bottom of the lineup for four weeks.
But after June 12 — if you were wondering why I ever so conveniently picked that date — David Fletcher has been David Fletcher again. Even a heightened version of himself.
There hasn’t been a single game after June 12 in which Fletcher didn’t have at least one hit. His 22-game hit streak is the longest in MLB this season, during which he’s hitting .427/.446/.562 with nine doubles.
Fletcher also has multiple hits in his last four games, including three more on Friday. The first of those was a leadoff home run off Marco Gonzales in the first inning. About two weeks ago, Fletcher reclaimed his leadoff spot.
Between Ohtani’s ascendance and Fletcher looking like Fletcher again, the are reasons to believe in the Angels, but ...
The bridge year
The Angels’ plan for contention in 2021 was shaky from the start. They relied on a six-man rotation that included Ohtani after essentially two lost years to Tommy John surgery and four pitchers with only one year before free agency.
For all the question marks surrounding Ohtani on the mound heading into this season, he’s been the best pitcher on the staff. Did I mention he’s going to both pitch and hit in the All-Star Game?
Alex Cobb, one of those players about to be free agents in a few months, has been quite good, and on Friday allowed only a pair of unearned runs in 5⅓ innings.
But the rest of the rotation has been sketchy at best. Andrew Heaney has been passable, but a pitcher with a 5.38 ERA and 4.15 FIP shouldn’t be the clear third-best starter on the team.
Griffin Canning was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. Dylan Bundy, the Angels’ best pitcher last season, was banished to the bullpen. So was Jose Quintana, who on Friday night entered a tie game in the eighth inning with two runners on and two outs.
First came a walk to J.P. Crawford, the 28th for Quintana in 39⅓ innings this season. The left-hander’s 14.5-percent walk rate is the 12th-worst among major league pitchers with 30 innings.
Though the walk was the least of Quintana’s worries, considering Mitch Haniger did this just three pitches later:
Go-ahead slam and they are going crazy in Seattle! pic.twitter.com/C9J0iWay31— MLB (@MLB) July 10, 2021
The grand slam helped finish the transformation from 3-0 Angels lead into 7-3 Angels defeat.
Joe Maddon on Jose Quintana season: "He's throwing the ball really well. He had great carry on the ball again. I don't have a good answer for you. Early in the yr, he was giving up a lot of soft contact that turned into hits. He was walking a lot of people. It's all ovr the map."— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) July 10, 2021
So even though the Angels, now 44-43 and by definition a “winning” team, are only 4½ games out of a wild card berth, their path to the postseason is untenable. The Angels have been outscored this season, and nine American League teams have better records.
That’s too big of a hurdle for the Angels to clear. The pitching simply isn’t good enough.