ANAHEIM — Khris Davis hit his major league-leading 48th homer and the Oakland Athletics locked up their winningest season in 16 years with a 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
Jed Lowrie homered and drove in two runs for the playoff-bound A’s (97-64), who hadn’t won 97 games since going 103-59 in 2002.
A majors-best 42-22 since the All-Star break, the A’s are already locked into a trip to New York on Wednesday for the AL wild card playoff game against the Yankees.
Kaleb Cowart had an RBI single for the Angels, whose four-game winning streak ended with a landmark loss. The Angels (79-82) are guaranteed to finish with three consecutive losing records for the first time under manager Mike Scioscia, who hasn’t announced whether his 19-year tenure is over.
Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton each went 0 for 4 for the Angels, who have made the playoffs just once since 2009 despite their annually bulky payroll. The Halos hadn’t had three straight losing seasons since 1992-94.
Liam Hendriks pitched the first inning, allowing one single, before Trevor Cahill (7-4) threw four innings of one-hit ball for the A’s. Hendriks also could start Wednesday in the Bronx, depending on how manager Bob Melvin decides to approach the one-game playoff.
Blake Treinen got pinch-hitter Eric Young Jr. on a groundout with two runners on in the ninth to secure his 38th save.
Davis connected in the first off Tyler Skaggs (8-10), driving a two-run shot for his ninth homer in September and his fifth in seven games. The 30-year-old slugger matched Jimmie Foxx’s 48 homers in 1933 for the fourth-most in a single season in A’s history.
Davis, who was born in nearby Lakewood and played a few miles from Angel Stadium at Cal State Fullerton, also drove in his 122nd and 123rd runs.
Skaggs was on a pitch count, and he yielded four hits and two walks while failing to get out of the fourth inning. Oakland added another run in the third when Ramon Laureano doubled and scored on Lowrie’s long fly to right.
Lowrie got his 23rd homer on Angels reliever Jim Johnson’s first pitch in the sixth, giving him 99 RBIs.
Andrelton Simmons reached on Chad Pinder’s throwing error and eventually scored on Cowart’s single in the fifth. Los Angeles rallied in the seventh against veteran reliever Fernando Rodney, who walked Jose Fernandez with the bases loaded before getting Trout on a long fly to right.
Oakland added Stephen Piscotty’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Although Scioscia has steadfastly refused to confirm reports that he won’t be back next year, the Angels essentially treated this game as a farewell: They gave away a bobblehead doll with his likeness and aired several video tributes to the winningest manager in franchise history at the Big A. Scioscia led the Angels to their only World Series championship in 2002, but the Halos haven’t won a playoff game in nine years.
Athletics: Melvin is unlikely to play many of his regular position players for full games in the season finale, giving them ample rest before Wednesday.
Angels: RHP Felix Pena won’t take his rotation turn for the series finale because he’s already pitched much more than expected this season. The former reliever will rest after seizing a chance to pitch in the Halos’ injury-ravaged rotation and posting a 4.18 ERA in 17 starts and 92 2/3 innings.
Athletics: Brett Anderson (4-5, 4.42 ERA) is likely to make his fourth start since returning from the disabled list. He has a 3.69 ERA since the All-Star break.
Angels: Matt Shoemaker (2-2, 4.82 ERA) makes his seventh start of the season. He missed 134 games over five months with a right forearm strain, but has returned in solid form for September.
For the last seven years, the Los Angeles Angels have struggled to build a winning team around the greatest player in franchise history, Mike Trout. The seven-time All-Star has yet to win a playoff game with the team that drafted him as the 25th pick of the 2009 MLB Draft.
That same year Trout was drafted was the last time the Angels won a playoff game; they defeated the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS (3-0) before falling to eventual champions New York Yankees in the ALCS (4-2). L.A. has made the playoffs on just one occasion since then, back in 2014 where they were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS.
Los Angeles sits at 79-81 heading into Saturday, two games below .500 with two games left against the Athletics in Oakland. Heading into the offseason after another disappointing season, this team has a lot of concerns piling up. Let’s break down the biggest ones:
What will the starting rotation look like in 2019 without Ohtani?
Lately, the Angels have really had it rough when it comes to their major-league pitching staff. In the last four years, six (Ohtani will be number seven) Angels pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery.
Los Angeles had some promising appearances from their pitchers throughout the 2018 season that could help when it comes to filling Ohtani’s spot, or reconstructing the entire rotation. Matt Shoemaker spent five months on the disabled list recovering from forearm surgery and returned to throw five innings against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 25, striking out seven while only giving up one run. Before he was shut down for the season due to shoulder inflammation, Nick Tropeano was 7-7 with a 4.74 ERA and 64 strike outs in 76 innings.
There was also Andrew Heaney, who threw six scoreless innings against the Houston Astros and Rangers in a season where he saw career-highs in IP (180) and strikeouts (180 Ks). Rookie Jaime Barria made his debut this season in April, and he reached double digits in wins (10-9) finishing with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. 2017 second-round draft pick Griffin Canning could also find himself competing for a roster spot during spring training after shooting his way up to the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate this season.
It’s still unclear whether or not Ohtani will hit in 2019. But if he does, he would become the first player in MLB history to continue playing in the year after surgery, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. It would also be a huge boost to the Angels’ offense next season.
Ohtani is hitting .283 with 22 home runs, 57 runs and 59 RBI in his rookie season. His .930 OPS would rank seventh in the majors if he qualified (Trout is first with a 1.090 OPS). Ohtani is also the first player in Major League Baseball history with 10 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 10 games pitched in a single season.
The Tommy John surgery rehab timetable is generally much shorter for hitters (6-9 months) than pitchers, though the Angels have yet to confirm that Ohtani will be hitting next season. They have indicated they will develop a rehab plan with the doctors in the coming weeks and months. You would think that the Angels would agree to letting Ohtani hit in 2019 as long as they get the OK from Ohtani’s doctors.
What has hurt the Angels the most under Scioscia’s reign has been his dismissive attitude towards analytics. When former general manager Jerry Dipoto tried to push the Angels in a more stat-heavy direction, Scioscia was painted as a manager resistant and misinformed to the advantages of advanced analytics. In 2015, Dipoto resigned as the Angels GM after just three and a half years and now holds the same job with division rival Seattle Mariners.
If Scioscia’s out at the end of this season, current GM Billy Eppler, who is heading into his fourth season with the Angels, will need to find a new skipper who is going to be on board with baseball in the 21st century.
Over Mike Trout’s eight years in the majors, he has produced a .307/.416/.573 batting line, hitting 239 home runs and 189 steals. He has made the All-Star Game in each of his seven full seasons, winning the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year and five Silver Slugger awards. A two-time AL MVP, Trout has never finished below fourth in the vote.
For the past five seasons, it has been as if Pujols has never not been battling through injuries. Back when the 2013 season began, he was recovering from knee surgery he had during his first offseason as an Angel, and his plantar fasciitis made it difficult for him to run hard to first base. In 2015, he aggravated an inured plantar plate on his right big toe and had offseason surgery.
The legendary slugger’s offense has been on a steady downward trend for about ten years, and he’s no longer an average hitter. He has just a .243 average and a .684 OPS since 2017. Pujols finished 2018 hitting .245/.289/.411. and while last year’s shortened season marks represent an improvement from 2017, they are also the second-worst offensive numbers of his career.
Pujols logged 70 games at first base and 47 as the Angels’ designated hitter in 2018. He hit .233 with 30 RBI while at first and hit .263 with 34 RBI while DH.
2019 is going to be the year where the Angels have to take a long and hard look at where Pujols fits in their lineup, and if they can fit him somewhere, will he actually be able to help the team win?
Shoemaker is scheduled to start Sunday’s game against the Athletics, Maria Guardado of MLB.com reports.
Felix Pena started the Angels‘ first game of the week Monday against the Rangers and had been lined up to start the season finale, but the team elected to shut down the 28-year-old due to workload concerns. Thanks to an off-day Thursday, Shoemaker, who last pitched Tuesday, will be able to take the hill against Oakland on his normal four days’ rest. After missing most of the season while recovering from a forearm injury, Shoemaker has been somewhat erratic since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. He’s failed to work longer than five innings in any of his five starts and has posted an unremarkable 4.84 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, though his 26:4 K:BB has been a bright spot.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind about the baseball’s primary postseason awards.
Each official award — the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie and Manager of the year — is voted on by 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. That’s it. Thousands of people weigh in with their opinions, but only 30 people decide who wins the AL MVP award — two BBWAA members representing each AL city, with national writers sprinkled into the mix.
And there aren’t strict guidelines for exactly how to vote. Nothing says voters have to place more weight on certain statistics or factors. It’s up to each of the 30 voters to rely on their own values and determinations to come up with their choice. And it’s very possible that those 30 opinions, values and determinations will stray from the groupthink that says “So-and-so HAS to win this award!”
Just something to keep in mind. Let’s take a look at a deep field of players who could receive top-five AL MVP votes.
Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Why he’s here: This is almost certainly a two-man race for first-place votes (hi, Mike Trout!), and hairs have to be split. It’s hard to find a flaw in Betts’ amazing campaign. Overall, he’s batting .343 with 32 homers, 29 stolen bases, a 10.7 bWAR and a 1.073 OPS. With runners in scoring position, his OPS jumps to 1.210. With two outs in an inning, it’s 1.216. With two outs AND runners in scoring position, it’s 1.571. He loves hitting at Fenway Park, sure, but he’s batting .331 with a 1.045 OPS on the road, too.
He’s an outstanding base runner and an excellent defender. Betts is a phenomenal player having a phenomenal season for the best team in baseball, and it’s not hard to imagine “playing more important games with a contender” being a factor in Betts’ favor over Trout, who is playing for yet another otherwise disappointing Angels team (though, of course, the Angels’ struggles have NOTHING to do with Trout’s play). I’m not saying it should (or even will) be a big factor, but it’s part of the mix.
Mike Trout, Angels
Why he’s here: Trout should finish with a bWAR above 10 for the third time in his career (it’s 9.9 as of Tuesday morning), and it might be the second time he finishes second in the MVP vote with a double-digit WAR. Which is, of course, kind of crazy. But we already talked about Betts’ fantastic season, and the first time Trout posted a 10-plus bWAR, Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, and that was enough to persuade voters.
Even by Trout standards — which are insanely lofty — this was shaping up to be a special year before he spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list. His on-base percentage is approaching Bondsian levels (it’s .459) and he’s just short of his career high in home runs (38) and his 198 OPS+ is truly rarefied air (nobody has been higher since Barry Bonds in 2004).
After Betts and Trout, you have as many as five players who could receive third-place votes (and in other years would deserve consideration for first-place votes). Alex Bregman watched his Astros teammate Jose Altuve win the AL MVP last year and spent the 2018 season making the leap from “very good player” to “legitimate MVP candidate.” Bregman leads baseball with his 51 doubles, to go with 30 homers, 101 RBIs and a 158 OPS+.
Cleveland teammates Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are turning in what might be the best second base/shortstop combo season in MLB history. They have identical 7.7 bWAR marks. Ramirez has 38 homers, 103 RBIs and 33 stolen bases, with a .952 OPS. Lindor has 36 homers, 89 RBIs (batting leadoff!) and 23 stolen bases, to go with 124 runs scored and an .879 OPS. They’re both just ridiculously good.
Speaking of teammates, Matt Chapman and Khris Davis have been doing amazing things in Oakland. Chapman, in his first full season in the majors, has already established himself as an elite defender, and that glovework is a big part of his 8.0 bWAR, which is behind only Betts and Trout. With 24 homers and an .873 OPS, he’s no slouch at the plate either. Davis won’t receive any top-three votes, but with an MLB-best 46 homers, 120 RBIs and an .873 OPS (identical to Chapman), he’ll be a popular down-ballot choice.
In another season, one without Betts and Trout turning in epic performances, J.D. Martinez might have had an opportunity to win the MVP award as a DH. He’s had an amazing season at the plate, batting .328 with 41 homers, 124 RBIs and a 1.043 OPS. Here’s a little historical context for his season. He’s made 61.6 percent of his starts at DH this year and has a 6.2 bWAR; the best mark ever for a primary DH is 7.0, set by Hall of Famer Frank Thomas in 1991 and tied by eventual Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez in 1995.
Ohtani, a Japanese rookie who successfully pitched for the Angels before ligament damage in his throwing elbow shut him down, hit a solo home run in the series opener on Monday night. The Angels went on to win 5-4 on a walk-off home run by pinch hitter Jose Briceno in the 11th inning, the sixth home run in the game.
The sixth walk-off win of the season for the Angels (76-81), and first since July 27, ended a five-game losing streak that included four straight games in which the opposition scored in double figures and saw the Angels allow 56 runs.
Ohtani went 1-for-5 on Monday and is hitting .327 with five home runs, four doubles and 11 RBIs in 15 games against Texas (66-90) this season.
Ohtani is 2-for-4 with two doubles off veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo, the scheduled starter for the Rangers on Tuesday.
Gallardo (8-6. 6.59) has made 16 starts this season. He went 7-1 from June 23 to August 8, but is 1-5 in his past seven outings, losing his past three.
Gallardo will start on six days rest following a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays last Tuesday. He went five innings in that game, allowing three runs and eight hits.
Gallardo is 0-2 in his career against the Angels with a 6.75 ERA. He faced them at Angel Stadium on Sept. 12 and was pulled after allowing six runs and six hits in three innings of the 8-1 loss.
Gallardo told MLB.com after his last start that he wants to finish the season strong.
“This year has been a grind for all of us,” he said. “Had some rough outings and good outings, I’ve shown I have been able to go out and compete and still have it. This game, you never stop learning no matter how much service time you have. You keep making adjustments. I feel good, my body feels great. The next few outings finish strong and go from there.”
The offense is averaging 7.54 runs when Gallardo is on the mound, but they’ve supplied just 10 runs in his past seven starts.
Shoemaker (2-2, 5.48) is 4-2 with a 4.91 ERA in seven career starts against Texas. He faced the Rangers on Sept. 3 in Texas and threw five shutout innings in his first outing since March but did not receive the decision in the 3-1 victory.
He struggled in his most recent outing, allowing five runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings of a 21-3 loss to the Oakland A’s on Thursday, the worst loss in franchise history.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com that Shoemaker is trying to regain his touch after missing five months with a forearm injury.
“There’s going to be some rough spots here or there,” Scioscia said. “He’s, at times, pitching very well, and at times, he’s missing his spots, getting behind and making mistakes. But the stuff is there, no doubt. Maybe the command isn’t as consistent as we know it can be with Matt.”
Simmons was lifted in the bottom of the seventh inning of Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Astros after landing awkwardly on his right knee, Alyson Footer of MLB.com reports.
After turning in a pair of two-hit performances to begin the three-game set in Houston, Simmons ended the road trip with an 0-for-3 showing at the dish in the finale before getting banged up. The Gold Glove shortstop indicated after the contest that he believes his injury is minor, but the Angels could nonetheless act cautiously with him over the final week of the season after he noted that he experienced some stiffness with his knee. The Angels should have an update on Simmons’ status later Monday when they kick off their homestand with a divisional showdown with the Rangers.