When the New York Yankees come to Anaheim on Monday, they might wonder which version of the Angels will show up.
There are the Angels who have shown what they can do at their best, with their stars, role players and up-and-coming talent putting them in playoff position. They are the Angels who took a series against a strong Texas Rangers team despite losing three key starters on the last day of that series.
Then there are the Angels whose consistency faltered over the last three weeks while injuries, particularly to Mike Trout (hamate fracture surgery) and Anthony Rendon (left shin bruise) — and to a certain degree, Shohei Ohtani (pitching with a sensitive finger — continued to mount and players new to the team were finding their footing. That team lost 10 of 11 games.
Then there are the Angels (46-47 beginning play Sunday) who, like Saturday night, persevered despite their own mistakes and capitalized on miscues by the Houston Astros to win 13-12 in 10 innings. Those Angels — who have 15 players on the injured list — flashed glimpses of the one from that last game in Texas on June 15 and never waved a white flag.
Whether the Saturday win marked the beginning of the next good chapter in the Angels’ season or whether that win was a blip remains to be seen. It at least demonstrated that the Angels can find success without their star players, up against a team whose ace had shut them down for much of the game. Framber Valdez struck out a career-high-tying 13 batters. Luis Rengifo and Zach Neto did manage home runs off Valdez, who entered the bottom of the seventh inning with a 9-3 lead.
In that game, five players in the Angels’ starting lineup, including Ohtani, logged just one, albeit clutch, hit. And they recovered from a six-run deficit, then a three-run deficit, shutting out the Astros through the 10th inning.
“We found a way to come back and win as a team,” veteran first baseman Mike Moustakas said after Saturday’s win. Moustakas won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and has started to emerge as one of notable voices in the clubhouse after being traded to the Angels at the end of June. “I think that that proves to all of us in this clubhouse that we can do that.”
How much is baseball an even playing field regardless of which team has what stars?
“I think there’s somewhat to that and there’s also each given day you just don’t know what you’re gonna get,” left fielder Taylor Ward said Sunday. The night before, his grounder led to the game-deciding throwing error by Astros shortstop Grae Kessinger. “I think of course with players who do this more consistently and have success more consistently that they’re gonna [contribute consistently]. But for, like, the role players and stuff, I just think it’s kind of a flip of a coin every day.
“Probably in the end, it’ll come down to pitching. How good the pitching is, meaning if [the opposing team is] painting corners and doing what they’re supposed to do, it’d be a lot harder for us.”
The Yankees (50-44 and fourth in the AL East) have been experiencing their own kind of issues, with injuries to their own star and other key starters. Reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge, who is on their IL with a right big toe sprain, has played only 49 games this season because of injuries. The Yankees’ production has not been quite what it was since Judge went back to the IL on June 7.
But comparing teams is always hard because each has its own intricacies and its own problems. Teams can focus on just one game, one series at a time. Whether the Angels can continue to overcome their own adversity in the face of the challenges presented by their opponent is the difference in shaping an identity.
“We’ll see,” manager Phil Nevin said of his team’s identity. “We’ll see how we rebound today, how we respond today. Those wins can do a lot for a room, they certainly can. … The feeling in that room, the feeling in that dugout when we won [Saturday], it wasn’t like a normal win.
“In no way are we out of this whatever rut we’re in. We still have to play good baseball games and you gotta come out and do the same thing today. … Everything we need, everything we want is right in front of us.”