ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Haven’t we seen this movie before?
Two frontrunners for the MVP and the Cy Young, playing on sun-kissed baseball fields in Southern California for underachieving teams, in front of thousands of empty seats?
If the original in Los Angeles starring Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw last year wasn’t depressing enough, this year’s sequel starring Mike Trout and Jered Weaver about an hour’s drive down south in Anaheim is just as tough to watch.
It’s not uncommon to see teams with high payrolls underachieve, but this was not supposed to be the Angels’ fate. Their offseason began with the high-profile (and high-priced) signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and then they went on to call up Trout and trade for Zack Greinke during the season.
They may be the most talented team in baseball on paper, which as we have seen this month means about as much as the crumpled paper cups that litter the Angels’ dugout.
Walk up to Angel Stadium and you’ll see oversized signs and flags displaying the images of the Angels’ big-name bats and arms. But one player who isn’t included in that display is the one player who has actually been worth the price of admission this season for the Angels.
Trout has been more than a breath of fresh air since being called up 20 games into the season; he has been a revelation to baseball fans and stat geeks everywhere. He is batting .340 with 21 home runs and 36 stolen bases. No player in MLB history has hit .340 with 20 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season.
As magical as this season has been for Trout, it could be legendary if he were given a chance to play well into October. But the way the Angels are playing in August (3-8) and since the All-Star break (12-17), his chances of making his postseason debut are beginning to slip away.
It would be a shame if Trout’s amazing rookie season didn’t include a postseason curtain call on a national stage. As bad as the Angels have played recently, he is the one player Angels manager Mike Scioscia and every player in the Angels’ clubhouse fawns over on a nightly basis, for good reason.
“If you just look at what Mike does in the batter’s box, you’re really excited about him. … Just in the batter’s box,” Scioscia said. “When you put together the whole package the way he can influence the game on the defensive end, the way he can run the bases, and the pressure he puts on the defense. You can see where he has the ability to be a dynamic player that’s going to contribute in so many areas.”
After Trout stole a home run from Seattle’s Migel Olivo on Saturday night, leaping above the 400 sign in center field, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter teased him in the dugout.
“I respect the art, this is something I live for, taking home runs away,” Hunter said. “I talked to him and I said taking a home run away from a guy is better than hitting a home run. And he thinks the same way. He said, ‘I think that felt better than anything I’ve ever done in baseball.’
“I love the way he’s playing but I told him I have 37 (stolen home runs) and he has three this year so he has 34 more to go. I think he’s going to get it done.”
After the game many of his teammates congratulated him on the play, with Vernon Wells telling him, “That was amazing. But I guess that’s normal for you, right?”
The smile, however, that has seemingly been etched on Trout’s face ever since he was called up on April 28 has slowly faded in the clubhouse postgame as the team struggles to win. All of his gaudy statistics are harder to talk about when the end result is a loss.
“It’s frustrating,” Trout said. “We’re going through rough stretch right now offensively and defensively. We just have to turn the page. We’ll turn it around.”
It’s a message Scioscia stressed to the team during a closed-door meeting after Sunday’s loss.
“I just wanted us to have perspective on not how far we are from our goals but how close we are,” Scioscia said. “We have 47 games left. We’re going to have time to get back to playing the way we can to reach our goal. It’s all going to be in front of us.
“We’re not that far away from where we need to be. Some guys are doing what we need them to do and there are some guys that need to get into their game.”
If that happens, maybe, just maybe, Trout might have a chance to showcase his game this fall.