Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper: Round Three was no contest
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have been linked for more than a decade, most notably by the volume of hype attached to them as prospects, Harper appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “Chosen One,” when he was 16, and Trout drawing comparisons to Mickey Mantle before he was picked in the first round in 2009.
Both were called up to the big leagues for good on April 28, 2012, and both won rookie-of-the-year awards that season, Trout with the Angels and Harper with the Washington Nationals.
The star outfielders have opposed each other in eight games in their distinguished MLB careers, during a three-game series at Washington in 2014, a two-game series in Anaheim in 2017 and this past weekend’s series.
Trout got the best of Harper in their much-hyped first matchup, going five for 14 with a double, an RBI and three runs, as the Angels won two of three at Washington in 2014. Harper went one for 11 with three strikeouts in that series.
Their second meeting was a push, the teams splitting the 2017 series with Trout hitting a homer and Harper going four for four with a homer as the Angels won the opener, and Harper sitting out Washington’s win in the second game.
The third round was no contest. Harper went four for 10 with three homers and eight RBIs to lead the Phillies to a three-game weekend sweep in Citizens Bank Park, hitting two homers in Friday night’s 10-0 win and a score-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 9-7 come-from-behind win.
Trout, playing each game in front of a large contingent of fans from his hometown of Millville, N.J., went 0 for 11 with four strikeouts and one walk in the series, extending what has now become the worst slump of his 11-year career.
The three-time American League most valuable player is hitless in 26 at-bats with nine strikeouts and two walks in his last seven games, the longest drought of his career.
The Angels have lost 11 straight games, and Trout has been unable to lift his club out of its funk, batting .095 (four for 42) with a .364 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, one homer, one double, two RBI, 16 strikeouts and two walks during the skid.
“I think everybody kind of goes through stretches like that,” Harper, the reigning National League MVP, said of Trout. “I’ve done it in my career. He’s one of the best of all time. Everybody knows how good he is.
“He’ll get out of it, and by the end of the year, nobody will even think about this stretch that he’s on. He’ll be the same Mike Trout and hit .300 with 40 homers.”
Before this past week, Trout’s longest hitless stretch was 21 at-bats from May 11-18, 2018. Trout broke out of that slump in a big way, hitting .458 (11 for 24) with five homers, nine RBIs, 11 runs, 11 walks and five strikeouts in eight games after snapping the skid.
The Angels will play in Philadelphia for the first time since 2014, allowing fans from Mike Trout’s nearby hometown to celebrate his homecoming.
A similar Trout breakout would be a relief for the reeling Angels, who open a four-game series against the resurgent Boston Red Sox in Anaheim Monday night and host the NL East-leading New York Mets in a three-game series beginning Friday night. Trout, however, was in no position to make such a prediction.
“It’s baseball,” Trout said after Sunday’s loss. “You’re gonna go through good times and bad times, and right now is a bad time.”
Timing is at the root of most Trout slumps. The key for the slugger has always been getting his front foot down in time to start his ferocious swing.
Trout seemed to be locked in for the first month of the season, batting .344 with a 1.247 OPS, six homers and 11 RBIs in his first 19 games, but that timing has wavered over the past five weeks, his season average falling to .274 and his OPS to .953.
The Angels were 10 games over .500 and riding high on the same night the Anaheim City Council canceled the Angel Stadium sale amid an FBI investigation.
The result: Trout enters Monday night’s game with a 28.6% whiff rate according to Baseball Savant, up from his 20.7% career average, and a 19.2% chase-rate, similar to his career average of 19.5% but up from his 17.6% chase rate in 2021 and 14.4% rate in 2020.
His strikeout rate of 26.8% is up from his career average of 21.7%. His walk rate of 12.4% is down from his career average of 15.2%.”
“The last two weeks I’m trying to be on time,” Trout said. “I’m a little late. I’m trying to get in a good position to hit. That’s baseball. I’ll figure it out.”
The sooner the better for the Angels, who will need more consistent production from their best hitter if they are to save their suddenly sinking season.
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