Angels’ playoff hopes are fading, just days after adding big at trade deadline


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ANAHEIM — After each of the past two Angels losses, manager Phil Nevin has repeated the same line about his team’s circumstances.

“Everything’s still in front of us.”

A message both of optimism, but one that wouldn’t be said unless the circumstances required a manufactured brighter outlook. Perhaps it’s just a cliché. Perhaps it’s a reference to his old boss, Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who famously slammed his podium last August while stating that line amid a stretch of defeats.

Nevin is technically correct. The Angels have a pulse. But there’s no denying that right now it’s incredibly faint. The team that went all-in at the deadline, against conventional wisdom, is now staring down the possibility that they will fall out of contention.

“There’s no time to sit here after a game and think about positives,” Nevin said following the Angels’ fourth straight loss on Saturday. “Positives is winning games, and we’re not right now.”

The Angels enter Saturday with a 5.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. Baseball Reference rates their odds at 4.1 percent. It’s the lowest they’ve been all season.

The team is technically five games back of the Blue Jays for the third wild card. But that number does not tell the whole story. They have already lost the tiebreaker to the Blue Jays, so that puts them effectively six games back. Three teams are ahead of them and behind Toronto. They’d have to jump four teams to get into that spot.

Their chances of winning the division are almost non-existent. The Angels are 8 1/2 games behind the surging Rangers and seven games back of the Astros.

Shohei Ohtani strikes out in the ninth inning of the Angels’ 9-7 loss to the Mariners on Friday. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

The difference between today and one week ago: Not only do the Angels need to play really well down the stretch to secure a spot. They need all these other teams to falter.

There were legitimate reasons for the Angels to go all-in at the deadline: Shohei Ohtani’s pending free agency, combined with the franchise’s best shot at a playoff berth in nine years. Even if the odds weren’t great, going for it felt justified.

“We were able to make the team better,” Minasian said on Tuesday, an hour after the deadline passed. “That was the goal from Day 1.”

The Angels’ playoff odds that day were a hair under 20 percent, per FanGraphs. Trading away 12 prospects, including eight since late June, was always going to be a gamble. Maybe they’ll turn into big leaguers. Some will. Most won’t. That’s the nature of prospects. But it still shredded an already poorly-ranked system. Potential future assets gone. And they have fewer players and less depth to aid a franchise that has often struck out on free-agent signings.

That’s why it was risky. It put the Angels’ future in a murkier position. But it was worth it, in the eyes of Angels leadership, to give this team the best shot possible at a run.

“Yeah, I think so,” Minasian said on July 27 when asked if he felt there was a window to win beyond this season. “I mean, we’ll see how things play out and what moves are made. … I don’t believe the farm system’s been given up. I think we have other players. We didn’t trade our whole farm system.”

Maybe not literally. But winning in 2024 and beyond might be more difficult because of the decisions in 2023. It’s possible that a 2023 run will come. There is still time. But it has taken all of four days since the deadline to put the strategy under scrutiny.

The Angels lost the final two games in Atlanta, getting outscored 17-6. Then they came home, blew a two-run lead in the ninth on Thursday to the Mariners — a team that traded away their closer at the deadline but still sits 2 1/2 games ahead of the Angels. Reid Detmers allowed seven runs in four innings in another loss one night later.

“It’s tough,” Detmers said. “We get a bunch of new guys, super excited about getting them. We’re in a good spot. We just haven’t really played to our potential so far. … That’s baseball. We’ll get out of it. I’ll get out of it.”

But, as Nevin correctly pointed out, there isn’t really time for the Angels to be working through things. 51 games remain. There are times over the course of 162 games when you can afford to lose four in a row.

The players are excited about the moves and for good reason. It’s not fair to a guy like Mike Trout, 31, to punt on another season. That has to factor into the calculation.

“You see what the front office did at the deadline, went out and got guys,” Trout said. “Made the team better.”

But it’s also not fair to him to set the Angels up for more losing seasons when he’s under contract through 2030. At this point, they’ll need to go 34-17 to finish with 90 wins. They need to play nothing short of excellent baseball.

The pitching staff is a question mark. The belief was that Detmers had mechanical issues which led to a velocity dip. But Nevin said after the game he didn’t yet know what led to it. The two most reliable bullpen arms — Carlos Estévez and Reynaldo Lopez — recorded losses each of the last two days.

Patrick Sandoval has had a down year — his FIP is up from 3.09 last year to 4.07 this year. He’d probably be the first to acknowledge his struggles.

Shohei Ohtani’s right middle finger has left his immediate pitching future in question. Lucas Giolito has a 12.00 ERA in two starts as an Angel. Tyler Anderson has a career-worst 1.53 WHIP on the season. Griffin Canning is on the injured list and Chase Silseth’s solid performances are often combined with a velocity dip relatively early in starts.

The Angels haven’t pitched well enough to win two-thirds of their games the rest of the way.

The 2023 season has always felt like an inflection point. Spurred by Ohtani’s impending free agency, yes. But there are other factors. It’s the season that owner Arte Moreno pulled the Angels off the market to go for it. He’s even paying the luxury tax. Nevin is on a one-year contract. The future is tied to the present in a massive way. The present isn’t going so hot.

By not prioritizing 2024 and beyond, 2023 became the one and only focus.

And now, the math is simple. Those 2023 hopes are fading quickly.

(Top photo of Randal Grichuk: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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