Friday’s 8-5 victory over the Pirates extended the Angels’ winning streak to four games, and improved Anaheim’s record to 50-48. The Angels sit eight games back of the first-place Rangers in the AL West, but more importantly four games back of the Blue Jays for the final AL wild card slot. The Red Sox and Yankees sit between the Jays and Angels in the standings, and the Mariners and Guardians aren’t far behind Anaheim, but there’s no doubt that the Halos are at least in the mix to end their playoff drought.
If Los Angeles can retain this general position in the standings until the August 1 trade deadline, it would in all likelihood close the door on the possibility of a Shohei Ohtani trade. Reports last week (when the Angels were still mired in a brutal slump) indicated that the club was at least open to hearing what other teams might offer for Ohtani, yet a trade was still considered improbable even if the Angels did fall out of the race. Getting on track and getting back over the .500 mark only makes it more likely that the Angels will still have Ohtani in their clubhouse by August 2.
As for the man himself, Ohtani told ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez and other reporters yesterday that “I’m just trying to focus on the season and sort of block everything else out. Like I said earlier, I feel like we’re in a decent spot to make a playoff run, and that’s all I’m really focused on at the moment.”
This focus extends to both the constant trade speculation and the broader concept over Ohtani’s future in Anaheim, as he said that “I’ve never really had a sit-down talk like that” in regards to discussing a contract extension beyond the 2023 season. Ohtani also noted that he has “never really” heard from the Angels whether or not they definitively won’t trade him, saying “I see [GM Perry Minasian] maybe once a week in the clubhouse, and we’ve never really had any conversations.”
Mid-year extension talks are relatively rare for any major free agent — most players don’t want any distractions during the season, and by this close proximity to the offseason, players are generally eager to at least test the open market. In Ohtani’s particular case, it makes sense that he would want to hear what other teams have to offer, given how it is widely assumed that the two-way star’s next deal will be the largest contract in baseball history. The Angels’ apparent lack of private clarity on Ohtani’s trade status also isn’t really unusual, if the club is still gauging the trade market and waiting on the next week’s worth of games before deciding whether or not an Ohtani trade is even something they’d be interested in pursuing.
Ohtani allowed five runs over 6 1/3 innings Friday, as four of Pittsburgh’s six hits left the park for home runs. Despite the uninspiring numbers, Ohtani still earned the win thanks to a strong game from Anaheim’s lineup, and he contributed to the offense by going 0-for-1 with three walks and two runs scored.
Ohtani is now hitting .305/.400/.676 with 35 homers over 432 plate appearances, while also contributing a 3.71 ERA, 32.2% strikeout rate, and 10.2% walk rate over 111 2/3 innings on the mound. Health is another wrinkle in any possible trade talks, as Ohtani has been recently bothered by a blister and cracked nail on his right middle finger. This injury seems to be impacting his work on the mound, as Ohtani has a 7.71 ERA over his last 16 1/3 innings and three starts.
Sticking with some other Angels health news, Mike Trout’s status is also a huge factor for the Halos’ chances of reaching the postseason, as the star outfielder hasn’t played since July 3 due to a left hamate fracture. Trout underwent surgery and was given a recovery timeline of 4-8 weeks, but Trout told reporters (including Luca Evans of the Los Angeles Times) that he had his stitches removed. Trout is starting to engage in such baseball activities as throwing and mobility-related exercises, but it isn’t yet known when his hand will feel good enough to start swinging a bat.