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September Preview: What’s coming up as the regular season winds down

The Angels will get the chance to play “spoiler” as they take on division rivals and teams in the hunt for a postseason berth.

MLB: New York Yankees at Los Angeles Angels Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At 66-68 and 9.5 games back of a playoff spot, this isn’t where the Angels or their fans wanted to be on September 2. The injuries mounted, some pitchers fell through and the lineup couldn’t always handle the inconsistency. Attendance plummeted this season as the Angels may finish outside the top 10 in MLB attendance for the first time since 2002. It’s been rough.

All that factored in, the season has had several ups. Shohei Ohtani emerged as the face of baseball and an international superstar, Jared Walsh proved last season wasn’t a fluke, rookies Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell have demonstrated a bright future for the Angels’ outfield and RHP Raisel Iglesias has made his case as an elite closer.

If this truly is the final stretch of the 2021 Angels’ season, there are still plenty of noteworthy reasons to follow the team and go to the ballpark. Let’s start with what happened to begin the month:

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  • The Angels lost to the Yankees yesterday in a dominant pitching performance by New York ace Gerrit Cole, but still took the series two games to one. The Halos also took the season series, four games to three. David Fletcher exhibited why he is a Gold Glove candidate, Ohtani put on a show on the base paths and against former Angel LHP Andrew Heaney and Jack Mayfield and Juan Lagares made the most of their playing time opportunities. Overall, it was a very successful series and hurt the Yankees’ run at their division. This series could perhaps be another indicator of the type of spoiler-like games the Angels may be involved in for the rest of the month.

Notable Upcoming Series

  • Vs. Texas (9/3-9/6): Ohtani will pitch the first game of the four-game set.
  • At San Diego (9/7-9/8): The Angels split the two-game series against the Padres in Anaheim last week. The Padres are out of contention for the NL West title at 14 games back of the Dodgers, but are only a half a game back of the Cincinnati Reds for the second NL Wild Card spot. With the money and talent that has been thrown into that roster, there will be a ton of pressure on San Diego the rest of way and they’ll be approaching the series against the Angels with intensity and urgency.
  • Vs. Oakland (9/17-9/19): This three-game series against the Athletics will be crucial regarding the playoff picture. Oakland right now sits five games back of Houston in the division, but are two games back of Boston for the second AL Wild Card spot. They only hold a 1.5 game lead over Seattle and 2.5 game lead over Toronto. If the Angels want to help keep their rival from the Bay Area out of the playoffs, this is the final opportunity of the season to do so.
  • Vs. Houston (9/20-9/23): The Angels will play the Astros seven times this month (tied with Texas as the most games against for the Angels in Sept.) as Houston hopes to widen its AL West lead. If the Angels can find a way to steal the two series they play against the Astros, all of a sudden the already-open AL playoff race may get even more interesting.
  • Vs. Seattle (9/24-9/26): The three-game series against the Mariners will conclude 13 consecutive days of Angels baseball and a 10-game homestand. Seattle is essentially in the same spot as Oakland and will likely give the Angels everything they’ve got (barring universal collapses from the teams ahead of them in the standings). Depending on the situation, this series could have playoff-like intensity. The Angels have been bad against Seattle this season, going 5-8.

The Halos are Guaranteed to Play in October

  • The Angels finish off the regular season in Seattle on Oct. 1-3. Imagine if the Angels keep the the Mariners out of the playoffs to extend their drought to 20 consecutive playoff-less years...That fanbase already dislikes the Halos. Denying them postseason entry would only heighten the rivalry.

*** It’s worth noting that the A’s and Mariners still have seven games left against each other so there is a chance the results of their respective matchups against the Angels may not matter as much. However, it’s still fun to speculate. ***

Narratives to Watch

  • Ohtani’s brilliant season. Obviously. The two-way Japanese superstar is breaking all kinds of records this season and is surely a lock for AL MVP. There has been a national debate of whether or not this is the greatest season by a Major League player ever, and with a month left of baseball, Ohtani has a lot of time to continue making his case. Also worth watching: Ohtani is five home runs from tying the franchise record for most single-season home runs. He currently has 42 and the record is held by Troy Glaus, who had 47 in 2000.
  • Jack Mayfield at shortstop. The 30-year-old has found some success in Anaheim after bouncing around Houston and Seattle earlier this year. Though he has mostly played third base, Joe Maddon is trying out Mayfield at shortstop to test his use as a future utility player. Mayfield has responded with solid defense and his first career grand slam. Since the All-Star Break, Mayfield is putting up numbers comparable to top free agent shortstops:
  • David Fletcher and Max Stassi’s defense. Both players should be in the conversation for the AL second base and catcher Gold Glove awards respectively at the end of the season. Fletcher, especially, should be one of the finalists to take home the award for his spectacular defense at second.
  • Raisel Iglesias; future ex-Angel? Second in saves in the American League with 29 (Liam Hendricks of CWS has 31), Iglesias has developed into one of the best closers in baseball. Angels fans have been clamoring for an extension for over a month now and, with the need to shore up the bullpen in the offseason, it makes a ton of sense to bring back the impending free agent. Recently, Maddon said that the Angels will limit Iglesias’ use to three-out saves in the ninth to preserve his arm as he enters free agency. Iglesias this season has been no stranger to four-plus out saves.
  • Jared Walsh’s hot streak. The first-time All-Star was a bit sluggish right after coming off his IL stint on Aug. 11, but has really turned it on as of late. In his last seven games, he has seven hits, three home runs, seven RBIs and is hitting .280. If the Angels are going to play the role of spoiler, he will need to be a big factor on offense.
  • Mike Trout, Chris Rodriguez and Alex Cobb are coming back, shutdown for the season...? Will they play again this year? Cobb recently threw a bullpen and Trout ran the bases, but with each passing day their opportunity to return becomes incredibly limited. C-Rod isn’t throwing yet.

Expanded Rosters

  • The Angels added RHP Oliver Ortega and 2B Luis Rengifo to the 28-man roster. With the injury themes of the team this season, there are likely to be more roster moves in the future. Stay tuned.