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OC Register: Alexander: Mike Trout could finish five games ahead of his team

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ANAHEIM — When the best player in baseball is putting together one of the game’s greatest individual seasons, and his team is staring at a double-digit deficit in the standings in mid-June, it resembles nothing so much as another wasted opportunity.

But, then, the Angels have specialized in wasted opportunities throughout Mike Trout’s brilliant career.

It has been a perfectly rotten storm in Anaheim lately. The disabled list is still SRO, even as it was reduced to 13 players when Kole Calhoun was activated Monday. The pitching staff’s medical charts are a mess: Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, Nick Tropeano, JC Ramirez, Shohei Ohtani, Blake Wood, Keynan Middleton (for the year) and Jim Johnson are all sidelined.

But things are looking up. The DL count was 15 before Andrelton Simmons was activated Sunday.

Speaking of 15, that’s also the number of saves Angel relievers have blown this season, tying Detroit for the league lead.

The good news: They didn’t add to that total Monday. The bad news: They didn’t get a chance, in a 7-4 loss to the Diamondbacks that was the Angels’ seventh in eight games and pushed them 10½ back in the division and 8½ behind in the wild-card race.

It has been a dramatic fall. These are the same Angels that started out 13-3, that were tied for first as recently as May 14 and were just 3½ games out of the division lead as recently as June 9.

Amid all of this, Trout is having a magnificent and potentially historic season even by his own lofty standards.

He reached base four times Monday night, for the 12th time this season, with a walk and a single in three plate appearances against Zack Greinke, a walk from Yoshihisa Hirano and a single to lead off the ninth against D-Backs’ flamethrower Archie Bradley. Over the last seven games, he is 15 for his last 22 with a double, four homers and seven RBI in seven games.

That’s a slash line of .681/.727/.848. Ponder that for a minute.

And yet the Angels lost six of those games.

Trout is in the American League top 10 in nine different offensive categories: First in runs (60), homers (23), walks (62), intentional walks (9) and on-base percentage (.464), second in slugging percentage (.688), tied for second in extra-base hits (42), fourth in batting average (.332) and 10th in RBI (46).

And this is even with a 2-for-39 slump in mid-May that had people wondering what was wrong with him. In other words, Trout can give the league a head start and it doesn’t matter.

(Or, to put it another way, these days Chuck Norris tells Mike Trout jokes. If you didn’t immediately catch that reference, I’m sure there’s a middle school-aged boy in your neighborhood who can enlighten you.)

As usual, Trout is also dominant in Wins Above Replacement: 6.4 as of Monday night, best in the majors by almost two full victories. The two-time MVP has led the American League in that category in six of the last seven years, and the majors in five of seven, and his career WAR of 60.5 — over seven-plus years, and still a month and a half from his 27th birthday, puts him 10th among active players. The nine guys ahead of him are all on the other side of 30, led by 38-year-old Angels teammate Albert Pujols (99.8 in 17-plus seasons).

Trout said Monday night he doesn’t look at the standings, “because if you look at the standings you’re going to fall behind.”

That says he’s learned well from his manager, Mike Scioscia, who has preached that willingness to ignore everything but that night’s game since becoming a manager. And it makes particular sense at this point, given the deficit the Angels face and the temptation to try and wipe it all out immediately.

But doesn’t Trout look at the offensive stat categories? You know, just for fun?

“Do I look at ‘em?” he asked, repeating the question. “You know, I don’t really focus on that. I go out there and do as much as I can to help the ballteam win.”

Yeah, he’s too good to be true. But he’s real, he’s in our midst, and it’s easy to take him for granted — and maybe to miss the special nature of what we’re witnessing.

Others haven’t. Consider this Yahoo Sports headline: “Mike Trout Is Challenging Babe Ruth For Greatest Season in MLB History.”

Or this one, from the Washington Post: “Mike Trout should be mentioned alongside baseball’s greats: Ruth, Mays, Williams and Mantle.”

All of the above should have Angels management terrified, for these reasons:

• Trout can be a free agent after the 2020 season.

• In seven seasons with the Angels he has participated in three postseason games (in a three-game LCS sweep by the Royals in 2014).

• He may play in Southern California, but there has been this nagging sense that he remains a Northeast guy at heart and, absent evidence that a championship-caliber (or even playoff-caliber) club can be assembled around him in Orange County, he would bolt to the Yankees, or the Phillies, or (fill in the blank).

It is all speculation at this point, but it’s out there and it’s persistent. And there’s one sure way to change that narrative.

But to do so … yeah, it’s probably best not to look at the standings for a while.


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter 

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