Column: Amid Angels’ fading playoff chances, Shohei Ohtani provides some tantalizing hope

Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws during Wednesday's game against the Giants.
Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws during Wednesday’s game against the Giants. Ohtani threw 97 pitches over six innings, allowing only one unearned run.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

The Angels are done.

But what if Mike Trout continues to make good progress in recovering from a fractured bone in his left hand and catcher Logan O’Hoppe (shoulder) can breeze through his current minor-league rehab assignment and return soon? And what if Anthony Rendon can make the miraculous recovery he seemingly will need to get past a long-lasting shin injury that he has declined to talk about? Never mind, scratch that last part. That’s asking too much.

No, the Angels are done.

It’s just that nights like Wednesday, when an admittedly tired Shohei Ohtani didn’t have his best stuff or best command but battled through six innings and scored the winning run in a 4-1 victory over the Giants, leave the slightest, most microscopically tiny opening for them to make a late push for an American League wild-card spot.


“I don’t think I pitched very well,” he said. “But I think it was a good thing I was still able to win.”

It’s not over until Ohtani says it’s over. And while he acknowledged Wednesday that the Angels’ chances of earning a playoff berth aren’t favorable, he will continue to do his part on the mound and at the plate to keep those flickering hopes alive.

“How much?” he said in Japanese, repeating a reporter’s question about their playoff chances. He paused. “Of course, it’s not as if they’re really high,” he said. “But as long as there’s a possibility, there’s no way we’ll give up. I think everyone is doing their best each and every game. I think our chances will improve if we can put together a winning streak.”

Shohei Ohtani believes the Angels need him too much to take days off. The Angels don’t disagree and are trusting him to manage his fatigue.

Aug. 4, 2023

Two straight wins qualifies as a winning streak for the Angels, who had lost their previous seven and have climbed back to .500 (58-58). Through Wednesday’s action they were seven games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, who hold the third wild-card spot. The Angels will have to pass the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners (who have won nine of their last 10) and the Blue Jays to get that last spot.

So much would have to go right for a team that hasn’t had enough go consistently right this season. But Ohtani continues to make history — and continues to make them worth watching.

Ohtani (10-5) on Wednesday became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record multiple seasons of 10 or more wins and 10 or more home runs. He leads the major leagues in opponents’ batting average (.185) and ranked fourth in strikeouts with 165 after recording five strikeouts on Wednesday.


For the third straight start — all after club management said Ohtani would not be traded at the deadline — he gave up no earned runs. He has allowed one run or fewer in 12 of his 22 starts this season and has an earned-run average of 3.17, in addition to his .306 batting average and major league-leading 40 home runs.

He was hitless in two at-bats Wednesday but also walked twice. The first time was intentional, his major league-leading 16th intentional base on balls this season. He scored the run that made him the winning pitcher, scoring the go-ahead run in front of Brandon Drury and Mike Moustakas on Moustakas’ 419-foot home run to right in the Angels’ four-run sixth inning.

Manager Phil Nevin joked that Moustakas had found the fountain of youth since the Angels acquired him from Colorado in late June, and maybe he has. Moustakas, who has hit seven home runs with the Angels, said he has thrived since the move because he has been free of injuries, and the Angels need him to stay that way.

In the last five weeks, the Angels have made several moves to improve their roster and, they hope, show Shohei Ohtani that they are serious about winning.

July 30, 2023

Moustakas, afforded a close-up look at Ohtani for a good bit of time now, praised Ohtani’s habitual preparation and dedication. But Moustakas was especially impressed Wednesday with Ohtani’s determination on the mound. Ohtani, knowing he couldn’t simply blow hitters away, had to pitch, not merely throw. Ohtani was at 47 pitches through two innings and couldn’t close out some 0-and-2 counts, but he had more success with his fastball in the middle innings and found a better rhythm. He threw 97 pitches, 60 for strikes.

“He has all these expectations every single day that people put on him and he goes out there and exceeds every single one of them. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to be a part of and obviously it’s great to be his teammate,” Moustakas said.

“Pitchers don’t always have excellent stuff and he was able to go out there and still be excellent with what he had, and it’s phenomenal to watch. His competitiveness is awesome to be a part of and play defense behind him. So going out there and watching him work and battle through some tough innings — and he only gave up one — it was an incredible performance by him.”


Ohtani, in turn, credited his teammates, noting that after he was walked intentionally, Drury kept the inning going with a single before Moustakas homered. “In high-pressure at-bats after I was walked, it was admirable how they did well and got us some runs,” he said. “I think it was big that we were able to win two consecutive games before going on the road.”

Thursday will be the Angels’ first day without a game since July 26, when a scheduled game at Detroit was postponed and rescheduled as part of a doubleheader the next day. They played 15 games in 14 days. For Ohtani, the burden is doubled. “The man’s just tired,” Nevin said. “The day off couldn’t come at a better time.”

Shohei Ohtani throws a complete game, one-hit shutout in Game 1, then hits two home runs in Game 2 of a doubleheader sweep over the Detroit Tigers.

July 27, 2023

But it’s a brief respite. The Angels will open a three-game series Friday in Houston against the Astros and continue to Arlington to face the Rangers for three more. “I think everyone is at their peak level of fatigue. Part of it is that we’re at the end of a long stretch of games,” Ohtani said. “We’ll check to see how I feel after the day off [Thursday]. I think it’s an important part of your job to rest when you’re told to rest.”

Ohtani might benefit from a breather, but the Angels can’t afford to be without him for long, not if they want to keep that whisper of a hint of a sliver of a playoff chance alive. It’s not over until he says it is.