Three Strikes: Day after Pujols's 600th HR, bleak reality returns for Angels
- Bryce Harper is back from suspension. Mike Trout, however, remains out for the Angels, offering a reminder of their grim situation, even in the afterglow of Albert Pujols's 600th home run.
1. Angel no more
It was like old times again Saturday night in Anaheim. Albert Pujols was dominating the national conversation, having hit his 600th career home run, and a tidy 7–2 win over the first-place Twins followed. It was even okay to forget for a moment that Mike Trout is on the DL.
And then reality hits: with Trout out and Pujols resting, the Angels' lineup Sunday against the Twins looked like a good Triple-A team.
Luis Valbuena (.161/.271/.269) at clean up feels like a mistake—but it’s not. Without Trout and Pujols, the Angels are a ragtag mix of seventh-place hitters who have suddenly found themselves a spot or three too high.
The fact that the Angels entered Sunday a game under .500 is a testament to the ever-brilliance of Trout, with an assist to Pujols’s ability to drive in runs (even if he can’t do much else), plus good seasons from Yunel Escobar (.282/.330/.418) and Andrelton Simmons (.272/.333/.401).
It’s a long ways away from what we thought was going to be the Angels’ time. They opened their 2013 season in Cincinnati with a 3–1, 13-inning victory. Trout batted first; their three-through-six was Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick. Jered Weaver pitched six innings and gave up a run. Looking back helps, but this was the end of the Angels' decade. That '13 team went 78–84. From 2002–'10, the Angels made the playoffs six times, with one World Series win and two ALCS losses. From ’11–'16, the Angels made the playoffs once and did not win a game in the 2014 ALDS against the Royals (that Angels team won 98 games). Since then, entering Sunday, the Angels have gone 188–195. That's three years of mediocrity with a top-heavy roster and a farm system ranked 29th by Baseball America entering the year, and no prospect in the top 100.
This is a turning point for the Angels. Besides Trout, there are few big-time trading pieces. You could probably get something nice for Simmons. Bud Norris hasn’t been bad as the closer. But a big-time rebuild via the deadline doesn’t seem viable.
So trade Trout? The return would be astronomical (who says no: Trout to the Yankees for Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres?) Of course, it’s a weird thing. Trading the best player in a generation is a clear throwing in of the towel. But wasting the best player in a generation, with no help on the way?
That’s another way of throwing in the towel.
2. Verlander hurt?
Justin Verlander left Sunday’s start after two-plus innings and six runs allowed against the White Sox. The Tigers announced that he left for “precautionary reasons” due to a tight right groin.
Justin Verlander was removed from today's game for precautionary reasons with a tight right groin.— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) June 4, 2017
No word yet on any potential DL stint, or if he’ll miss a start. But without Verlander, the Tigers would be in some serious trouble.
It hasn’t been the best year for Verlander, but it hasn’t been awful. He has a 4–4 record with a 4.50 ERA. His strikeouts are down from last year and his walks are up. But the rest of the Tigers' rotation isn’t doing too much better. Other than Michael Fulmer (6–3, 3.00 ERA, 1.107 WHIP), there’s Jordan Zimmerman (5.98 ERA) and the recently demoted duo of Daniel Norris (4.47) and Matt Boyd (5.69 ERA).
The Tigers are now sitting at .500 (28–28), one and a half games back of the second-place Indians and two and a half games back of the first-place Twins. Of playoff contenders, only Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto give up more runs then they score. The prospect of losing their most experienced pitcher is a dangerous one for Detroit.
3. Bryce is back
Bryce Harper is back, and we can imagine there won’t be any fisticuffs for awhile. He made his return to the lineup Sunday against Oakland, going 0 for 2 with three walks and two strikeouts in an 11–10 Washington win. Harper entered Sunday batting .156 in his previous 12 games, including three Ks in his last five at-bats before the suspension.
The Nationals, in first place in the NL East, head to Los Angeles on Tuesday to play the Dodgers, sit just a half-game behind the Rockies in the NL West. The Nats, Rockies and Dodgers have the three top records in the NL—while the NL East is probably locked up for the Nats, a focused and productive Harper (.328/.438/.655) could be the key to a long playoff run and their first appearances in an NLCS.