No Trout, but still in hunt

They still are in the derby for a wild-card spot de­spite nu­mer­ous in­juries, in­clud­ing to star out­fielder Trout.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - MIKE DIGIO­VANNA ON BASE­BALL mike.digio­vanna@la­ Twit­ter: @MikeDiGio­vanna

The An­gels have sur­vived a month with­out their su­per­star.

Last rites were ad­min­is­tered to the An­gels on May 29, the day they learned that star cen­ter fielder Mike Trout would need surgery on a torn lig­a­ment in his left thumb and be side­lined six to eight weeks.

The ro­ta­tion was al­ready in tat­ters, hav­ing lost ace Gar­rett Richards to a right bi­ceps strain after one start, Tyler Sk­aggs to a rib-cage strain in late April, and An­drew Heaney and Nick Tro­peano to sea­son-end­ing el­bow surg­eries.

Gen­eral man­ager Billy Ep­pler was run­ning out of spackle to patch a bullpen that lost its best re­liever, Cam Be­drosian, to a groin strain for two months, erst­while closer Hus­ton Street to a back strain for 21⁄2 months and late-in­ning man An­drew Bai­ley to a shoul­der in­jury for 21⁄2 months.

Third base­man Yunel Es­co­bar was on the dis­abled list, and left fielder Cameron May­bin was about to join him. First base­man Luis Val­buena was hit­ting .167, and se­cond base­man Danny Espinosa (.141) and right fielder Kole Cal­houn (.209) were in slumps.

The An­gels al­ready were buried in the Amer­i­can League West, a divi­sion the Hous­ton Astros led by 111⁄2 games through Fri­day.

Surely, they could not with­stand the loss of base­ball’s best all-around player, a two-time most valu­able player who was bat­ting .337 with 16 homers, 36 runs bat­ted in and a league-lead­ing 1.203 on-base-plus­slug­ging per­cent­age when he in­jured his thumb on a head­first slide into se­cond base.

Yet, as the An­gels en­ter their fifth week with­out Trout, they were 2 games out of the se­cond AL wild­card spot head­ing into Sun­day, alive and kick­ing, their abil­ity to tread wa­ter in a pool of medi­ocrity putting them in po­si­tion for a pos­si­ble se­cond-half play­off push.

“It’s mirac­u­lous, the job the An­gels and [man­ager] Mike Scios­cia have done,” John Smoltz, a Hall of Fame pitcher and Fox tele­vi­sion an­a­lyst, said on a con­fer­ence call last week. “Their pitch­ing has just been dec­i­mated, and then they lose Trout.

“If they can get some pitch­ing back, then they’re a threat for a wild card. I didn’t think with that many in­juries they’d even be hang­ing around.”

That the An­gels were 13-12 with­out Trout, and 39-39 over­all, through Satur­day seems as im­prob­a­ble as their 12-0 record on Tues­days. Even with Trout’s dom­i­nant two months, they were 14th in the AL in OPS (.709) and ninth in runs (335) through Fri­day.

But they’re av­er­ag­ing 5.0 runs per game in Trout’s ab­sence be­cause May­bin and Cal­houn heated up, Al­bert Pu­jols con­tin­ued to drive in runs and An­drel­ton Simmons and Es­co­bar con­tin­ued to hit. They’re pres­sur­ing teams with a league-lead­ing 67 stolen bases, and Eric Young Jr. has filled some of Trout’s void.

Young, signed to a mi­nor league deal in the off­sea­son, was called up from triple A when Trout went on the DL. He was bat­ting .288 with an .826 OPS, three homers, 10 RBIs, 15 runs and six stolen bases in 23 games through Fri­day.

Cal­houn fol­lowed an eight-for-65 skid by hit­ting .341 (28 for 82) with five homers and 20 RBIs in 22 games through Fri­day. Since mov­ing to the lead­off spot May 16, May­bin is hit­ting .374 with a .466 on-base per­cent­age, five homers, 10 dou­bles and 30 runs in 25 games. Pu­jols is fifth in the AL with 51 RBIs.

Bud Nor­ris, Blake Parker, Yus­meiro Petit, David Her­nan­dez and Key­nan Mid­dle­ton so­lid­i­fied a no­name bullpen that ranks fifth in the AL with a 3.62 ERA and has stranded 91 of 117 in­her­ited run­ners, an AL-best 22.2 scor­ing per­cent­age.

Nor­ris, a for­mer starter who signed as a mi­nor league free agent, had a 2.43 ERA and con­verted 11 of 13 save op­por­tu­ni­ties be­fore go­ing on the DL on Tues­day be­cause of an in­flamed right knee.

Parker, an off­sea­son waiver claim who made the club be­cause of Street’s in­jury, was 3-2 with a 2.16 ERA, 49 strike­outs and nine walks in 331⁄3 in­nings through Fri­day. Petit, a mi­nor league free agent, has a 2.42 ERA, 51 strike­outs and 11 walks in 442⁄3 in­nings of 28 games.

Her­nan­dez, who was pitch­ing for At­lanta’s triple-A team when the An­gels ac­quired him April 24 for cash or a player to be named, has a 2.28 ERA, 27 strike­outs and four walks in 232⁄3 in­nings of 26 games.

And Mid­dle­ton, with his 100-mph fast­ball, has risen to­ward a high­lever­age role with a 2-0 record and 3.43 ERA in 24 games since be­ing called up.

“When Mike went down, we needed mul­ti­ple peo­ple to step up and con­trib­ute, we were in an all­hands-on-deck sit­u­a­tion,” Ep­pler said. “It’s been an over­all team ef­fort, from po­si­tion play­ers to the bullpen hold­ing leads and the starters keep­ing us in pretty much ev­ery game. You look up at the score­board in the mid­dle of the fifth in­ning, and we’re gen­er­ally plus or mi­nus two runs, and that’s an op­por­tu­nity to win a game.”

The An­gels had a sim­i­lar rash of in­juries last sea­son, but the play­ers Ep­pler ac­quired to plug holes — Tim Lince­cum, Jhoulys Chacin, David Huff, Brett Ober­holtzer, Daniel Wright — were in­ef­fec­tive. This year’s ros­ter-bol­ster­ing ef­forts have paid off.

“I think Billy Ep­pler did a mag­nif­i­cent job of build­ing the depth to where we’re keep­ing our heads above wa­ter right now,” Scios­cia said.

Ep­pler said his ap­proach to adding depth was the same as it was in 2016: Tar­get play­ers with proven track records who may have un­der­achieved in the pre­vi­ous sea­son but could, with ad­just­ments, bounce back.

“The credit goes en­tirely to the play­ers,” Ep­pler said. “Those guys are out there night in, night out, com­pletely max­i­miz­ing their po­ten­tial, and it man­i­fests in their per­for­mance.”

The An­gels got some good news as they be­gan a 10-game stretch against three top-tier teams — the New York Yan­kees, Bos­ton Red Sox and Dodgers — on Tues­day. Trout be­gan swing­ing a bat and could re­turn by the All-Star break. Be­drosian also re­turned last week­end, and Street was ac­ti­vated Thurs­day.

But Richards hasn’t be­gun throw­ing, and Matt Shoe­maker, the team’s se­cond-best starter, is on the DL be­cause of a fore­arm strain. Sk­aggs should be back in July, but can Alex Meyer, JC Ramirez, Ricky No­lasco, Jesse Chavez and Parker Brid­well hold the ro­ta­tion to­gether for much longer?

The AL has re­sem­bled an old child-ed­u­ca­tion law — No Team Left Be­hind — for three months. Seven teams be­gan Satur­day within 31⁄2 games of a play­off spot, all hov­er­ing around .500. That won’t last. Teams will get hot and sep­a­rate them­selves.

The An­gels, to their credit, have not wilted. They’re a re­silient bunch, with 26 comeback vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing a 10-5 win Thurs­day in which they over­came a 5-1 deficit in the se­cond in­ning in Yan­kee Sta­dium.

Ep­pler said he sensed a spe­cial chem­istry in the club­house in spring train­ing, and those bonds have held in the face of ad­ver­sity. The An­gels have sur­vived for a month with­out Trout. That should bode well for when he re­turns.

“We didn’t throw any kind of pity party or wal­low in any cir­cum­stances,” Ep­pler said. “If we can get some play­ers back from the DL, it will strengthen us. But our guys aren’t wait­ing for any­one to re­turn. They’re bat­tling ev­ery day.”

Sean M. Haffey Getty Images

ERIC YOUNG JR., get­ting a cel­e­bra­tory shower after hit­ting a walk-off sin­gle this month, has been a solid ad­di­tion to the An­gels since Mike Trout be­came side­lined be­cause of a thumb in­jury.

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