Sports

Schapiro ’19: The Angels will be a shocker playoff team

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, April 13, 2018

In center field, they have the greatest player of this generation. At designated hitter, they have the greatest player of the last generation. And on the mound, they’ve got the coolest player of either. If you’re not excited about the Los Angeles Angels by now, then you must not be paying attention.

Baseball season is young, and a lot can happen in the next few months. But so far, everything we’ve heard and hoped about the Angels has come true. Mike Trout has mashed the ball, and is walking more than 10 percent of the time. Once his average returns to where it’s always been, he’ll relatively easily regain his spot as the best all-around player in baseball. Albert Pujols, in his aged wisdom, is batting .288. Andrelton Simmons, defensive wizard, is batting .365, Tyler Skaggs has pitched 16 innings in two starts and only allowed three runs and 35-year-old Jim Johnson has shown signs of resurgence, pitching to a 2.45 ERA out of the bullpen.

The Angels, in short, have all the characteristics of a shocker playoff team. Do they have superstars? Yes. Dependable role-players and sage veterans? Absolutely. Charisma and fun of a winner? It’s hard not to think so. And what’s more, we haven’t even touched on the Angels’ newest sensation, and America’s newest sweetheart.

When Shohei Otani allowed a single to Oakland Athletics’ shortstop Marcus Semien in the seventh inning last Sunday, it meant that he wouldn’t make major league history and become the 24th pitcher to throw a perfect game. But it’s hard to say that Otani was anything but brilliant. In his seven scoreless innings, he struck out 12 batters, and allowed only that one hit, along with a walk. This was after a week during which, despite some previous doubts about his swing, he hit home runs in three consecutive games. So far on the mound, Otani is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. At the plate, he’s batting .364/.417/.773 with three home runs. After Otani’s start against the Athletics, Alex Putterman of The Comeback pointed out on Twitter that Otani — in that moment — had more strikeouts than Max Scherzer and more home runs than Aaron Judge.

He was certainly impressive to baseball writers, many of whom had been less than dazzled by his mediocre spring. “He is the most exciting story in baseball and has been since opening day,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond on Twitter. “This is utter domination.”

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote an entire column entitled, “Dear Shohei: I’m sorry. I was totally wrong about you.” Tim Brown, also of Yahoo Sports, wrote, “It’s becoming something. Maybe not a mania. … A spectacle. A curiosity. A hope.”

Put it all together and what do you have? To me, it seems pretty clear. The Angels are becoming America’s team.

“America’s team” certainly isn’t a technical term, so what exactly does it mean? To give some context, the last time I can remember anything like it was during the 2014 playoffs, when baseball fans outside of San Francisco fairly unanimously rooted for the Kansas City Royals. After several dramatic victories, the Royals ultimately came up short against the Giants in the World Series. But what’s happening with the Angels is different, and far bigger. It’s easy to fall in love with a team like the Royals once the field has been narrowed down to eight or 10 in the playoffs, and most of those are hated rivals. But the Angels, with Trout and Otani and company, are on another level entirely.

Since Trout’s ascension to the major leagues in 2012, the Angels have failed to live up to the hype: They’ve made the playoffs only once, in 2014, and have only finished above .500 half the time. But this year, they’re off to a hot start. They’re 10-3, and lead the American League West by one game over reigning champions Houston Astros.

Predicting baseball is a fool’s errand — anyone can get hurt or traded, or just have a bad year. But based on the excitement we’ve seen coming from Angel Stadium, I’d pick the Angels to make the playoffs. And when they do, I’d say that most of America will be rooting for them.

James Schapiro ’19 can be reached at james_schapiro@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.