Angels are baseball’s most interesting team, play Yankees soon

They have one player who led the league in triples, hit 46 homers and currently is striking out the third-highest percentage of hitters among major league starters.

They have a Thor, a Trout and a Squid.

They have released veteran stars in each of the past two seasons, eaten more than $50 million to do so and are much better for it.

They just might bet the Most Interesting Team in the World — and the Angels will be in The Bronx from Tuesday through Thursday.

“It’s a talented group,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said. “And the makeup is really good. It’s a deep group with depth. We have gotten off to a decent start. But there are four months to go.”

Yes, there is a long way to go until October. So take the following sentence with the necessary grain or 10 of salt: If the season ended today, the Angels would be in the playoffs. Nevertheless, that is not inconsequential. Because among the qualities that make the Angels the Most Interesting Team in the World is that they are on the grandest quest in the game: to get Mike Trout back to the postseason.

The greatest player of his generation has been to the playoffs once. In 2014. Three games. Three losses. If you would like to know how long ago Trout appeared in a playoff game, it was nestled in the four-week span between Derek Jeter’s last game with the Yankees and LeBron James’ first game back with the Cavaliers.

Minasian insists that everyone is aware of that, but that no one around the Angels is emphasizing winning for Trout — notably Trout.

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani
Getty Images

“I’m telling you that I have been around a lot of great players, and not all of them are happy if they go 0-for-4 and the team wins, but he is,” Minasian said. “This guy is dying for the team to win.”

But the sport needs Trout in the playoffs. Jeter is Jeter and LeBron is LeBron because they showed off their genius for national audiences on the large postseason stage. MLB sure can use its best player in October to do the same. Of course, who is the best player? As Minasian said, “Trout is Trout” after he missed most of last season with a calf injury. In 2022, Trout has the best OPS of his brilliant career while arguably playing center field better than he ever has.

Yet, he plays alongside the defending AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, who had those league-leading triples and 46 homers last year. Ohtani is not hitting as well as he did last season, yet he still had a 126 OPS-plus (the same as Trea Turner) while striking out 35 percent of those he has faced while pitching (better than every starter except Shane McClanahan and Dylan Cease). The value in having that in one player is stunning. That it is one person remains staggering. And at 27, Ohtani has had the tethers removed. He played in 46 of the Angels’ first 47 games and — throwing more strikes than ever — was working deeper into starts while in the protection of a six-man rotation.

Jared Walsh is congratulated by Mike Trout and Max Stassi after scoring against the Rangers on May 24.
Jared Walsh is congratulated by Mike Trout and Max Stassi after scoring against the Rangers on May 24.
Getty Images

About the rotation: Ohtani is scheduled to pitch the finale of the three-game series against the Yankees. Noah “Thor” Syndergaard is due for the opener. And Reid Detmers, Billy Eppler’s final first-round draft pick (2020) as Angels GM, is set for the middle game three weeks after throwing a no-hitter.

That makes the Angels pretty interesting, as does:

Let’s go deeper on Syndergaard. Minasian was part of the group in Toronto that drafted Syndergaard with the 38th-overall pick in 2010. He has always liked the righty and saw a chance — with the Angels’ desperate rotation needs — to bring him in on a one-year, $22 million pact and allow him to rebuild his value after hardly pitching in 2020-21.

Syndergaard (3.08 ERA) is not throwing as hard as in his Mets heyday, but Minaisin praised his conditioning and craftiness for early season success. That included his first start since May 2019 of at least eight innings last Tuesday, in which the righty never reached even a three-ball count. One rival personnel man said, “[The Angels] are going to really have something if [Syndergaard] gets his old velocity back as the season goes along.”

Besides Ohtani, Syndergaard and Detmers, the Angels also have converted reliever Michael Lorenzen (3.05 ERA), Patrick Sandoval (who, with a 2.85 ERA, has pitched like an ace for a calendar year) and Chase Silseth, an 11th-round pick, but the only player so far from the 2021 draft to make the majors. He had led the Angels’ rotation to a 3.29 ERA, which would be their lowest since 1971.

The Angels released Albert Pujols a month into last season with about $25 million left on the final season of his 10-year, $240 million deal. Jared Walsh benefited with more playing time and made the All-Star team. The Angels released Justin Upton before this season began, with $29 million left in the final season of his five-year, $102 million pact. The beneficiary this time is Taylor Ward (.354 batting average, 1.145 OPS), who had 2.1 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference) — the same as Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez.

“They had great careers, especially Pujols, so I want to try to be diplomatic,” another personnel executive said. “But they were challenges [to the Angels] to put out there.”

The lineup with Ohtani, Trout, Walsh, Ward, Anthony Rendon (better, though not peak) and Brad Marsh is so strong that the Angels could accentuate defense at shortstop. Believing they needed to open a 40-man roster spot in the offseason, the Yankees thought they could sneak Andrew “Squid” Velazquez through waivers. But Minasian wanted to get more athletic and defensive and grabbed Velazquez (and Tyler Wade).

Though struggling on offense, Velazquez, the 2021 instant cult Yankees hero, has arguably been the majors’ best defensive shortstop — central to that low rotation ERA.

“Love might be an understatement for how the players, especially the pitchers, feel about [Velazquez],” Minasian said.

The affection is such for the Bronx-born Velazquez that when the Angels fly to New York, Minasian said, they are having a “dress like Andrew day. … He has his own unique style. Think really cool.”

Unique. Cool. Sounds like the right fit for the Most Interesting Team in the World.