How the Angels gave Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani a real shot at the playoffs in 2022

The Los Angeles Angels are no strangers to the movie business. Owned by the Walt Disney Company until 2003, they were immortalized as the team with heaven on its side in 1994’s “Angels in the Outfield.” With its transparently preposterous premise and over-the-top winged interlopers, it was a family friendly flick that came with a tagline, “It could happen.”

That has, unfortunately, been about as much as you could say about the real-life Angels’ playoff hopes in recent years despite employing Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

But this year, finally, it seems the Angels have absorbed a useful lesson that might put them back in the playoffs, one that was emanating from “Angels in the Outfield” this whole time. I don’t know how recently you have caught the movie on TV, or stumbled across its IMDB page, but let me remind you: The supporting cast was STACKED.

Danny Glover, Tony Danza and Christopher Lloyd got their names on the posters. But a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt also played a big role. Keep scrolling, and you’ll notice that they had even more heavy hitters on this cast who just weren’t famous yet. Adrien Brody and Matthew McConaughey? Bit players? Yep, there they are.

The past four years of Angels baseball have been a little like watching Daniel Day-Lewis in a major dramatic role … with only high school theater students in support. That stars and scrubs approach just doesn’t work in the majors. Trout can’t bat every inning. And while Ohtani is theoretically capable of playing every position, it’s not a realistic strategy.

(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)
(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)

Enter the 2022 Angels, who are off to a 21-12 start and lead the AL West. At long last, there is real talent rising up to play alongside Trout, Ohtani and Anthony Rendon. On Tuesday night, rookie hurler Reid Detmers staked his claim by no-hitting the Tampa Bay Rays in his 11th career start, but he’s not even the most prominent of the burgeoning stars. If you’re trying to get to know the future McConaugheys who might help Trout and Ohtani bust down the door to October, start with these names.

Taylor Ward: Talk about a roundabout path to stardom. Ward was a puzzling first-round pick in 2016 who demolished the minors and initially reached the majors in 2018, only to flounder at the plate in short stints. Eventually he switched from catcher to the outfield and produced an above-average 65-game run in L.A. last season.

This year has been something else entirely. At age 28, he has turned into a Trout-like terminator at the plate leveraging a renowned eye at the plate into a gobsmacking .367/.490/.709 line so far. No one expects him to continue at this level, but the on-base ability looks real, and gives a huge lift to the run producers batting behind him.

Brandon Marsh: This shaggy outfielder looks like someone put Charlie Blackmon in the wayback machine, and frankly, that’s about how he plays, too. A lanky 24-year-old in his first full MLB season, Marsh sprays line drives from the left side and runs like the wind. He’s a threat to steal bases, or to take a tumble getting too exuberant with a Gatorade bath.

Patrick Sandoval: While the Angels are certainly benefitting from importing Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen to bolster their rotation, this 25-year-old lefty might be the most intriguing. Wielding a devastating changeup, Sandoval has built on progress from 2021. He’s sporting a 2.03 ERA through five starts and has yet to allow a home run.

He’d be a perfect starter for Game 3 in a playoff series, if the Angels could get to one of those. With these young players stepping up alongside the best player of the generation and the most exciting one-man show in living memory? It could happen.