The Angels just took out of three games from a Houston Astros team that owns the best record in baseball. In their two victories in Houston, the Angels won by a combined 11 runs while they were outscored by just two runs in the lone game they lost.
With that series win, the Angels are now 33-33 on the season and 7-6 since Mike Trout’s trip to the disabled list was supposed to derail the team’s season. Before Trout’s injury, the Angels already had very little margin for error because of the slew of injuries to key pieces of their pitching staff, and Trout’s injury only compounded the matter.
To survive in the wake of such an impactful injury with no room for error meant excelling at the little things and receiving contributions from unexpected places, and the Angels have done both so far.
Eric Young Jr., who signed a minor-league deal with the Angels in January, was called up to take Trout’s spot on the roster, and he has thrived in an Angels uniform. Yesterday, he hit a go-ahead three-run home run with two outs in the fifth inning, putting the Angels on top for good, and later added an RBI single.
That brought Young’s season line to an impressive .318/.412/.523 with a pair of home runs. This type of offensive performance from a 32-year-old with a career .650 OPS is unsustainable, but one part of Young’s game that is not unfair to expect to continue is his prowess on the bases.
Young has swiped four bags in his time with the Angels, which is tied for the fourth-most in the American League in that span. And one of the players he is tied with is Andrelton Simmons, whose eight stolen bases on the season are just two shy of a career-best. The stolen-base leader since Trout went to the DL is also an Angel: Cameron Maybin.
Maybin has racked up seven stolen bases since May 29—a stretch in which he has only played three games—to bring his season total up to a league-leading 19. The stolen base has been the Angels’ most noticeable improvement this year. Last year, the Angels stole 73 bases, eighth-most in the AL. In 2015, they stole 52, the second-fewest in the AL. This year? 56, the most in the AL.
But Maybin has done much more than steal bases. He has yet to cool down from his hot streak that coincided with his move to the leadoff spot a few weeks ago and has continued steadily improving his season line which is now up to .261/.384/.388 (119 wRC+, where 100 is league average). And in 67 plate appearances since becoming the Angels’ leadoff hitter, Maybin is getting on base at a .537 clip and has a 1.222 OPS, the best in the majors during that span.
And Young and Maybin aren’t the only hot-hitting Angels outfielders. Kole Calhoun got off to a terribly cold start, but June has been a different story for the 29-year-old. Through the end of May, Calhoun was lost at the plate, hitting a paltry .207/.289/.315 (66 wRC+). But on the first of June, Calhoun went deep twice and has hit .429 with a 1.283 OPS this month, driving in 13 runs in 10 games.
In June, the Angels’ lineup has produced from top to bottom. In addition to the three outfielders, Yunel Escobar has been fantastic, hitting .333 with an .830 OPS since his return from the DL, as has Simmons, posting a 123 wRC+ this month. These contributions have led to a slight improvement in the Angels offense, as they have scored the sixth-most runs in the AL since Trout began his DL stint while they ranked ninth in the 53 games prior.
Another area of the Angels that has shined recently is the bullpen. The bullpen has been a strength all year, but it has been especially so over the last couple of weeks. Since May 29, the group’s 2.11 ERA is second-best in the AL, and their FIP, an ERA estimator based only on the outcomes a pitcher has the most control of (strikeouts, walks, and home runs), ranks number one in the AL at 1.97.
Angels relievers have allowed just one home run in that span, the fewest in the majors, and have the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the AL. This dominance can be attributed to a few improbable success stories like Bud Norris and Blake Parker, who have been among the top relievers in the sport, as well as the emergence of the 23-year-old Keynan Middleton, who has allowed just one run in his last 10 1⁄3 innings and has begun pitching in more high-leverage situations recently. Veterans Yusmeiro Petit and David Hernandez have also provided value in the late innings.
The Angels are currently a game back of the second Wild Card spot in a crowded American League race with no clear favorite to claim that spot. The longer the Angels can remain around .500 with the help of unlikely contributors while continuing to put pressure on opposing teams by stealing bases and deploying a shutdown bullpen, the closer Trout’s return gets, as does the possible return of Garrett Richards; two players who could propel the Angels toward a postseason spot.
At the time, Trout’s injury seemed like a crushing blow to a team with longshot postseason odds as it was. And maybe it will ultimately prove to be the difference between a potential late-season run and another October at home. But right now, Trout’s absence has proved to be far from the final nail in the coffin for this Angels team.