There was an unusual notation by Anthony Rendon’s name on the Angels’ lineup card Wednesday afternoon.
“I listed him as a switch-hitter,” manager Joe Maddon said with a chuckle.
The not-so-inside joke was a reference to Rendon’s homer the previous night. With the Angels leading by 11 runs, rookie Reid Detmers about to complete a no-hitter and position player Brett Phillips pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth inning, Rendon batted from the left side for the first time in his career and promptly deposited the ball into the right-field bleachers.
“Obviously,” Detmers said, “what he did was unreal.”
Or, for these Angels, more of the same.
Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and company have made the spectacular commonplace, transforming the Big A into a metropolitan field of dreams.
The Angels aren’t the area’s best team — that’s the Dodgers. The Angels aren’t the most popular team — that’s the Dodgers.
What the Angels are is Southern California’s most fun team to watch, and it’s not just because they aren’t linked to Trevor Bauer.
A day after Detmers pitched the 12th no-hitter in franchise history, in a game in which Trout wasn’t in the lineup and Ohtani looked gassed, the Angels nearly stole their series finale against the Rays.
Breakout star Taylor Ward, who missed the previous two games with hamstring problems, erased a two-run deficit with a pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning. The Rays went on to win the game in 10 innings 4-2 but the Angels pointed to their late-innings approach as evidence for how much has changed since last season.
“Even when a good pitcher comes out [of the opponent’s bullpen], there’s a feeling that we can do it and I think that’s what’s different about this year,” Ohtani said in Japanese. “Last year, it was hard to create that kind of atmosphere.”
With 13 wins over a 20-day stretch in which they played 20 games, the Angels are in first place in the American League West.
They are the region’s best-kept secret in plain view. The Dodgers are more balanced, but the Angels are more explosive. The Dodgers wear down their opponents. The Angels blast away theirs.
The Angels lead the majors in runs scored and OPS. Their 45 homers are the most in baseball. Their 21 steals are third-most.
They have four players with six or more homers, including Trout with nine and Ward with seven. The Dodgers’ home-run leader is Mookie Betts, with five.
In most of their recent games, when Trout has stepped into the batter’s box, Ohtani has been twirling his bat in the on-deck circle. Rendon has been waiting behind them.
There’s no part of the Dodgers’ lineup that is like that. About the only Dodgers player who has the overall athleticism comparable to Trout’s and Ohtani’s is Cody Bellinger, who doesn’t share the two players’ baseball acumen.
Ohtani is batting .258 and Rendon .198, but the heart of the Angels’ order has nonetheless started to demonstrate how much damage they can inflict.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday, Ohtani doubled in a pair of runs to level a game against the Washington Nationals. Rendon followed with a single to center field, which allowed Ohtani to slide home to claim a walk-off victory.
In the series opener against the Rays the next day, Trout and Ohtani homered in consecutive sixth-inning at-bats. The following inning, Trout walked with the bases loaded, setting up the first grand slam of Ohtani’s career. The Angels went on to win 11-3.
While Detmers pursued history on Tuesday night, Trout homered twice more. But the highlight of the 12-0 demolition was when Rendon cleared the wall while wearing Andrew Velazquez’s helmet.
“I guess he takes BP like that,” Maddon said.
Maddon said Javy Baez, whom he managed on the Chicago Cubs, used to do something similar. “I thought it was great theater,” Maddon said. “I mean, baseball is looking for moments like that.”
Like the Dodgers, the Angels have a smart and capable front office headed by Perry Minasian and Alex Tamin, who bolstered the team’s rotation and bullpen. But the Angels have also retained some old-school sensibilities.
So, while the Dodgers are concerned about the downside of overextending their pitchers, the Angels are hopeful about what could be gained by allowing theirs to pitch into the late innings.
Maddon was pleased to learn Detmers pitched nine innings for the first time at any level in his no-hitter.
“Now he knows he can, so here comes the seventh inning, it’s a little iffy, [he thinks] I can work through this,” Maddon said. “That stuff matters. That stuff’s not considered enough.”
Which isn’t to say the Angels’ pitching will be better than the Dodgers’. It won’t. The Angels don’t have the collection of arms the Dodgers do.
But that’s also a reason to keep an eye on the Angels. Everyone knows where the Dodgers will be in October — the playoffs. The Angels? They could be there too. Or they could win less than half of their remaining games and miss the postseason again.