Why next 10 games are so crucial for Angels

July 21st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Rhett Bollinger’s Angels Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ANAHEIM -- The next 10 games are critical for the Angels.

After a three-game sweep over the Yankees, the Angels are 49-48 and still in postseason contention, trailing the Astros and Blue Jays by five games for the two final AL Wild Card spots. And they’re right in the mix with the Red Sox (51-46) and Yankees (50-47) and just ahead of the Mariners (48-48) and Guardians (47-49).

It puts the Angels firmly on the bubble whether to buy or sell at the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, which is a tough spot to be in with two-way superstar  set to be a free agent after the season. Ohtani isn’t expected to be traded but how they fare over the coming days could swing that decision. It’s starting to trend like he’ll stay but they’ll need to keep things rolling.

Angels manager Phil Nevin said his team knows what is at stake but they’re trying to filter out the noise and are focusing on winning each day.

“You can’t ignore the talk and what’s going on, you hear it every day,” Nevin said. “The more games we win, the better chance we have to have Shohei as our teammate the rest of the year.”

If the Angels go on a run, it assures Ohtani will stay with the club through the end of the season, and there’s even the chance they will add pieces as they try to make the postseason for the first time since 2014.

But if they stumble, they’ll have to decide if it ultimately makes sense to deal with Ohtani. And the Angels also have other veteran pieces who could get moved, such as impending free agents Matt Moore, Hunter Renfroe, Eduardo Escobar, Mike Moustakas, or possibly even closer Carlos Estévez, who is under contract through next year.

The Angels have a favorable upcoming stretch, as they host the struggling Pirates (42-54) for three games before a three-game set against the Tigers (44-52) in Detroit. They then get a chance to make up some ground with a three-game series in Toronto before a tough three-game set in Atlanta that begins on July 31.

“We’re playing with a sense of urgency, but it’s not a panic urgency,” Nevin said. “We understand what’s in front of us. Two and a half weeks ago, we were the second team in the Wild Card. And just as quick as we’ve gotten to the position we’re in, we can get that back in it by playing well. We just had a little rut in the middle, but we’ve played well around that.”

They’re also set to get some reinforcements soon, as infielder Brandon Drury is close to returning from his shoulder injury and reliever Ben Joyce has been throwing off a mound in Arizona. Lefty José Suarez has also made a rehab assignment and starts again Sunday, while third baseman Anthony Rendon continues to make progress with his shin contusion.

Superstar Mike Trout is likely to be out until mid-August with his left hamate fracture, while catcher Logan O’Hoppe looks to be on track to return from his shoulder injury in late August, potentially in his native New York against the Mets on Aug. 25.

So if the Angels continue to play well over the next week, there’s no reason to wave the white flag just yet. But as left fielder Taylor Ward said, it’s hard to know just yet what to expect during this crucial stretch.

“I just think going forward, you never know,” Ward said. “But hopefully we keep our foot on the pedal.”