The Los Angeles Angels lost the best player in baseball to injury weeks ago, but have remained in the playoff race as he now eyes a return to the lineup.
On Sunday, May 28, in the Los Angeles Angels‘ game at Marlins Park in Miami, something big happened. Something that could have been devastating for the Angels’ 2017 season.
In the fifth inning of that game, center fielder Mike Trout took off in an attempt to steal second base. He was safe on the play, his 10th stolen base of the year. The successful swipe left Trout with a double-digit steals total on the back of his baseball card in each of his first six full MLB seasons.
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However, it became apparent quickly that something was wrong. “When I did it, I knew it was messed up a little bit,” said the superstar in an interview as presented by Josh Mayhood of SBNation’s “Halos Heaven” site.
The “it” to which Trout was referring was an injury to his thumb. The left thumb ligament was torn, requiring surgery that would keep him out of the Angels lineup for six to eight weeks.
This was a first for Trout. His first major injury. First surgery. First time on the disabled list. At age 25, it has all seemed to come so easy for a player who is now already in his seventh big league season.
“I’ve never torn anything or broke anything, ever. It’s frustrating. The rest of my body feels good, it’s just my thumb doesn’t work.”
BIG LOSS LEADS TO OPPORTUNITY
At the time of the injury, Trout was enjoying a phenomenal season, but one that has become almost typical by his personal standards. He was hitting for a .337/.461/.742 slash line with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 32 extra-base hits, 36 runs scored and those 10 steals.
The Angels lost that afternoon, torn apart 9-2 by the Fish to put a further damper on a 10-game road trip. The defeat dropped the Halos a game below the .500 mark.
They would also lose the following night to the Atlanta Braves in their return home. That was the club’s fifth defeat in six games. It not only left the Angels two games below the break-even mark, but also dropped them five games behind an AL Wild Card position in the loss column. Facing a Trout-less lineup for more than a month, any hopes at a 2017 postseason berth appeared dead.
But here we are, over four weeks later, and the Angels are still surviving. The club captured the final two games of a visit to Fenway Park this past weekend to move back above that .500 mark. Entering play on Tuesday night, they now sit just one game back in the American League Wild Card race.
A big factor in helping the Angels stay in the race over this past month has been the play of veteran outfielder Eric Young Jr. Called up from AAA Salt Lake due to Trout’s injury, Young has hit for a .289/.379/.461 slash. He has three homers, 11 RBI, 16 runs scored and seven stolen bases.
Despite the success and veteran experience provided thus far by Young, manager Mike Scioscia knows that he will need the best player in the game back as quickly as possible if the Angels are to remain in the hunt. However, they also don’t want to rush Trout and risk a setback.
“Without him, we haven’t gone off the charts,” Scioscia said per Teaford. “I mean, .500 baseball is nothing to throw a parade about, but it’s a start. Hopefully, we’re going to continue to get better.”
It appears as though Trout will be back in the lineup at right around that six-to-eight-week time frame. He is pointing toward returning just prior to the MLB All-Star Game break, which comes following games on Sunday, July 9.
While .500 is “nothing to throw a parade about”, it is a far cry from a year ago. In 2016, the Angels finished 14 games below that .500 mark, and 15 games out of a Wild Card playoff berth.
Scioscia and the Halos will try to continue battling their way through these next couple of weeks. If they can remain in the race and get Trout back healthy and producing at his usual levels, the Angels may turn summer into a heavenly experience for their fans over the season’s second half.