Column

When Mike Trout plays, baseball wins, even if the Angels do not

The kid is cursed, or so the story goes. Mike Trout’s talent is being wasted by the Angels, yada, yada, yada.

It’s an accurate description of what’s happened to the best player in baseball over the last couple of seasons, except here we are in mid-July, two weeks from the nonwaiver trade deadline and the Angels are somehow within arm’s reach of a place in the postseason.

This after 46 days on disabled list for Trout, who was activated Friday ahead of the team’s first game back from the All-Star break, a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings.

“We’re right there in the wild card,” Trout said.

Of course, this isn’t about what the Angels are doing. It’s about what the other teams in the American League aren’t.

But, hey, who’s complaining?

The baseball gods punished Trout by placing him on an average team. Why shouldn’t they compensate for it by making the competition equally average?

Call it parity, call it mediocrity, but if Trout is playing meaningful games over the last 2½ months of the season, baseball wins.

If he is playing in October, even better.

Trout was enjoying the most productive season of his career when he injured his left thumb, as he was batting .337 with 16 home runs and 36 RBIs through 47 games.

The Houston Astros went into the All-Star break with a 16½-game lead in the AL West, the largest margin in any of baseball’s six divisions. The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians are on top of the league’s two other divisions.

Beyond that is a group of teams hovering around .500, including the Angels.

The New York Yankees and the Rays were positioned to be the league’s two wild-card teams at the All-Star break, with the Angels trailing the Rays by only three games.

The Angels were two games under .500, as after going 19-20 in Trout’s absence. They should know soon if they are for real, at least by the AL’s modest standards. They will host the Rays through the weekend. They will be visited next week by the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, as well as the Red Sox. The eight-game homestand will be followed by a trip to Cleveland.

Their last game against the Indians is July 27. Their record at the time should dictate whether they are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.

Trout refrained Friday from publicly pleading with the Angels’ front office for reinforcements. Perhaps it was out of political correctness. Or perhaps it was because he recognized the organization doesn’t have many trade chips in its barren farm system.

“As a team, as players,” he said politely, “we can’t control what happens in the front office.”

They could win, which would pressure general manager Billy Eppler into making whatever modest upgrades he is capable of making. The Angels don’t have the caliber of prospects to land a front-line pitcher, but they should be able to add an arm to their heavily taxed bullpen.

If Trout’s speech reflected a lack of urgency, his play did the opposite. He singled in the third inning, advancing Kole Calhoun to third base. On the next pitch, Trout bolted for second base and made a headfirst slide similar to the one on which he injured his thumb six weeks earlier. Safe.

So if you were wondering, no, Trout isn’t playing scared.

Before the game, he spoke about what it was like to be on the disabled list. He talked about showing up at Angel Stadium when the team was on the road and seeing only the few other players who were also sidelined.

“It’s good to come to the ballpark and be able to see your name in the lineup,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”

Especially if the games matter. Why they matter isn’t important.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
69°