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Column: Getting Mike Trout into the postseason would be great for Angels, fantastic for fans

Angels' Mike Trout prepares to bat.
The Angels’ Mike Trout prepares to bat against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 19, 2020.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Until last year, a World Series championship was the one glaring omission from the magnificent resume of Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Those dozen years of regular-season excellence followed by the team’s postseason failures had weighed on him in ways he didn’t understand until the burden was lifted.

Winning meant he no longer had to hear the “yeah, but . . .” that inevitably came up in discussions of his merits, no longer had to wonder how he’d feel or how he’d be judged if he never won a World Series ring. He felt lighter in spirit, and it showed. “I think you don’t really realize what you’re carrying while you’re carrying it,” he said during spring training.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout, also the owner of a magnificent resume of regular-season accomplishments, is still carrying the weight of postseason desolation.

The best hitter of his generation and among the best ever, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, eight-time All Star, owner of a .582 career slugging percentage and 1.000 OPS, Trout has yet to enjoy the kind of long playoff run that defines careers. Unlike Kershaw, who has appeared in 20 postseason series (one wild card series, nine division series, seven championship series and three World Series), Trout has made one postseason appearance: He was one for 12 while the Angels were swept by Kansas City in the 2014 American League Division Series.

Some years, Trout got no chance at the playoffs because the Angels were betrayed by their starting pitching. Some years, it was because their bullpen imploded. Last season, it was both. They’ve fortified their bullpen by adding closer Raisel Iglesias and have a newly healthy Shohei Ohtani to strengthen their planned six-man starting rotation, but their history inspires skepticism.

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani might hit on days he pitches. He might pitch every sixth day. He might hit the day after he pitches. It’s all on the table.

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In the meantime, Trout has been all dressed up with no postseason place to go, one significant box on his resume still unchecked. It’s tantalizing to think of what he could do if the Angels go deep into the playoffs. Would postseason success lift a burden off him, as it did for Kershaw?

“I mean, that’s the goal. There’s no pressure for me. I obviously want to get there and be successful,” he said. “I think the question every year is, ‘How are we going to get Mike to the playoffs?’ You know, it’s a team thing. We all want to get to the playoffs, and obviously, if it happens this year, I’ll answer that question after that.

“We have one goal coming into camp, and that’s trying to win a World Series. And obviously if you don’t do that, you fall short. So, I haven’t done that, obviously, yet. I’ve got to take it one step at a time, just get to the playoffs and see what happens.”

Trout is coming off a season slightly off his remarkable standards in a few areas. The only remedy is work, and he has been focusing on improving his defense. “Just going back to the fundamentals and getting the footwork right and getting in a good spot to make some plays,” said Trout, who will turn 30 on Aug. 7.

Angels' Mike Trout is met at home by Jo Adell and Max Stassi.
Angels’ Mike Trout (27) is met at home by Jo Adell (59) and Max Stassi on his three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 5, 2020 in Seattle.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

His fifth-place finish in MVP voting last season was his lowest in his nine full seasons, and his .281 batting average, .390 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage were down slightly across the board from 2019. He was fighting an uncomfortable feeling at the plate and it carried over to this spring, though he said drills that he and Ohtani have been doing are helping him stay square at the plate. Trout was batting .273 through Saturday’s exhibition games.

Like most great hitters, he’s better at hitting than at explaining how to hit or why he hasn’t felt right. “When you’re going good you’re going good, but when you’re not feeling so good, you try to get back to feeling good. It happens a lot,” he said of making adjustments. “People don’t see it but you’re trying to perfect that swing every day and it’s little stuff like this. Just get back on track.

“Hitting’s hard. It’s a grind.”

He has analyzed his swing, his stance and his hands in front of a mirror more often this spring than usual. “I don’t dive into it too much because then you could drive yourself crazy,” he said. “I think when you get too mechanical, that’s when you get in trouble. You’ve trusted yourself, your ability to be here, to have success, and it’s just minor stuff. It’s never like a full-out, do this, do that, change your swing.”

Manager Joe Maddon has said he’s inclined to have Trout bat third in the batting order this season instead of second; Trout said he has no preference. He has had 2,427 at-bats while batting second, hitting .301 with a .418 on-base percentage and .597 slugging percentage; batting third he has had 1,343 at-bats with a .310 average, .436 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage.

While the Astros and Athletics lost significant players in the offseason, the Angels could leap forward simply on the arm and bat of Shohei Ohtani.

“I like in the first time through that Mike has a chance to have two guys on in front of him, as opposed to just one. And then we’ll see, because after that it becomes serendipitous, anyway,” Maddon said. “I like him there because then, Anthony [Rendon] is sitting behind him and then we’ll set it up behind him.”

While Trout continues to search for the perfect swing, he has found new joys during his first spring training as a father. Eight-month-old Beckham Aaron Trout cries when his dad leaves for work but loves accompanying him to the batting cage. “I take him in there for five, 10 minutes and when I take him out he screams,” Trout said. “So I think he’s really enjoying the baseball thing.”

Watching Trout hit is enjoyable. Watching him get a chance to display his talent in the playoffs would be even more fun.


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