Angels defeat Pirates as the Shohei Ohtani trade speculation saga hits the road

Luis Rengifo celebrates with Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani after hitting a home run at Angel Stadium.
Luis Rengifo, right, celebrates with Shohei Ohtani after hitting a home run in the fifth inning of the Angels’ 7-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday at Angel Stadium.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The reminders are everywhere, the underlying possibility that’s rippling through an entire franchise, business as usual around the massive shoe that might drop before Aug. 1.

On Sunday at Angel Stadium, an innocent idea formed about an hour and a half before an Angels win over the Pittsburgh Pirates that members of the Angels media and public relations team should take a commemorative picture together. Confusion initially spread. And then realization dawned.

If Shohei Ohtani was traded at some point in the next week, this would mark his last home game playing at Angel Stadium, and the large part of Japanese media covering Ohtani at Angel Stadium for six years would suddenly be gone.


Shohei Ohtani said Friday he will do anything to help the Angels reach the playoffs. The Angels should help him instead of trading him.

July 22, 2023

A Times post of the gathering drew more than 138,000 views on Twitter, with fans reacting with a mix of panic and Brian Windhorst “Now why is that?” confusion. No sneaky secrets abounded, and the moment bore no indication of the front office’s potential thinking. But it was a reminder: an entire ecosystem hangs in the balance in the next nine days, the very fabric of six years of “Shotime” frenzy around Angel Stadium threatened.

“I think we just try to keep it tight in here and just focus on every day — I think everybody’s aware of it,” shortstop Andrew Velazquez said to a postgame question about cognizance of the trade deadline. “We’re all fans of baseball, and aware of the standings and what other teams are doing.”

Riding a pair of Luis Rengifo homers, the Angels beat the Pirates 7-5 and have won five of their last six. They sit at 51-49, a three-game series against the 45-54 Detroit Tigers approaching, and then a three-game tilt against the 55-45 Toronto Blue Jays, who hold the third wild-card spot in the American League.

Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani watches his home run against the Detroit Tigers on July 23, 2023, at Angel Stadium.
Angels star Shohei Ohtani watches his solo home run in the first inning against the Pirates on Sunday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Angels closer Carlos Estevez celebrates after the final out of the Angels' 7-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

FanGraphs gives the Angels a 14% chance to make the playoffs.

Ohtani has, somewhat clearly, expressed his intention to make a playoff push as a member of the Angels. In a scenario where they’d make up significant playoff ground, it’d appear to be highly unlikely the front office would deal Ohtani and ensure a rebuild.


And players have dropped hints they’d be open to not just standing pat, but becoming buyers at the deadline.

“I think they know what we need,” Angels closer Carlos Estévez said, referring to the front office. “I think they’re going to go out and get the right things. And if we get some additions, well, welcome. Let’s get some Halos wins.”

Much of the responsibility of controlling the buyer or seller narrative falls on Ohtani: so essential to winning that the Angels are in some form relying on Ohtani to avoid a skid that would prompt trading Ohtani.

The Angels failed to capitalize on bases-loaded opportunities in the fourth and ninth innings as their winning streak ended in a loss to the Pirates.

July 22, 2023

He gave the Angels a first-inning lift Sunday with a solo home run that sneaked beyond the centerfield wall, a launch angle so narrow that manager Phil Nevin said he thought it would end in a lineout, before the switch-hitting Rengifo’s fifth and sixth-inning homers — from each side of the plate — dominated the day. And a small nugget emerged pregame: Ohtani’s scheduled start on Thursday against Detroit, Nevin announced, would be pushed back because a subsequent-start would be in Atlanta, where humidity could affect a recent finger injury.

That puts Ohtani’s next start on Friday. Against Toronto.

In many ways, the cards are in his hands.