While driving on the 57 freeway through Anaheim, California, it’s hard to miss the “Big A Sign” that signifies Angels Stadium, topped off with a halo that lights up every time the Angels win. However, thanks to seven consecutive seasons of sub-.500 records, the halo has been lit far less than fans would have hoped for.
This year could be different, though — with the Angels being above .500 a third of the way into the season, the halo has been seeing more action. Their 32-30 record is in large part thanks to the two generational talents that grace this team: Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.
There are not many words that can describe the talent that Ohtani has, but simply spectacular is close. Ohtani has exploded over the last two years with monstrous top-15 batting stats and blazing top-15 pitching stats, good for the AL MVP in 2021 and second place in 2022, falling just short of Aaron Judge’s record-breaking campaign.
It does not seem like Ohtani will be denied the MVP this year, though. His 3.30 ERA and 1.014 walks and hits per inning pitched, or WHIP, are comparable to his 2021 MVP campaign, and his .904 OPS and 16 home runs are on pace to meet, or eclipse, marks from the past two seasons. With no other players on record-breaking paces in the AL, Ohtani is already the betting favorite to win the MVP at -155, per FanDuel.
The other MVP talent on the Angels isn’t doing too shabby himself. Despite his slump over the last month, Trout is still hitting well above league average with a .855 OPS and 13 home runs. The fact that Trout’s OPS is currently the lowest it’s been since his first 40 games in the MLB is a testament to how excellent Trout has been throughout his career. Coupled with advanced analytics indicating he isn’t doing too much worse than in previous seasons, it would not be wise to say Trout is truly declining just yet.
The Angels’ batch of rookies has been surprisingly solid, too. Catcher Logan O’Hoppe, drafted in 2018, started the season as the Angels’ primary backstop. Before tearing his labrum in late April, O’Hoppe maintained a .886 OPS and was at the forefront of the AL Rookie of the Year race. 2021 draftee Sam Bachman has pitched five innings in relief this year, all in the past couple of weeks, currently holding a solid 1.80 ERA.
The biggest surprise has been the two rookies from the Angels’ 2022 draft class. Shortstop Zach Neto was called up just a couple of weeks into the season, a mere nine months after getting drafted in 2022, with just 201 plate appearances in the minors. Neto has since started nearly every game as the Angels’ everyday shortstop and looks to be their answer at that position for the foreseeable future.
The other 2022 draftee quickly called up was flamethrowing reliever Ben Joyce. Joyce, who went viral for throwing the fastest pitch in college baseball history last year at Tennessee, is now putting on a show in the show, consistently pumping 100+ MPH fastballs in his outings.
As a whole, the Angels have been performing as expected. Their hitting has been extremely good, as their .757 team OPS, along with all other hitting stats, makes them the fourth-best offense in the AL and sixth-best in the MLB; sixth in both home runs and RBIs, which indicates an excellent offense that could earn wins as the summer goes on.
However, their pitching is holding them back, as it has in many years prior. The Angels are in the bottom half of the league in ERA at 4.31 and are bottom 10 for WHIP with a 1.34.
If the Angels are to contend for the playoffs and claw their way out of a nine-game deficit for the AL West lead, their pitching will need to improve sooner rather than later. As long as Ohtani and Trout are on the team, though, anything is possible.