We're only five weeks into the 2022 MLB season, but enough has happened to get our hopes up about something we've longed to see for the better part of a decade. That's right: The Angels are pretty good.
It's not that the Angels as a franchise have a reputation as America's lovable losers or the Little Baseball Engine That Could. It's actually the opposite: This is a team that has a well-earned reputation not just for underachieving, but for apparently inking a long-term deal with fourth place and essentially wasting the primes of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, two of the most dynamic and talented players in baseball history.
But, at least so far, 2022 has been different. The Angels, who have spent most of the season atop the AL West — and now sit just a half-game out entering play Friday — have the third-best winning percentage in the American League. And though it's still relatively early, enough games have elapsed to where we can label the Angels a pleasant — and welcome — surprise.
As of Friday, the Angels lead MLB in runs scored, home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. They're third in hits and stolen bases, fourth in on-base percentage, and they generally hit the ball really hard — they're second in MLB in barrels (86), behind only the Yankees (95).
But they're not just clubbing opponents into submission. Their pitching staff is tied for first in shutouts (six), ranks third in batting average against (.211) and fourth in WHIP (1.09).
Add it all up, and the Angels have the third-best run differential in baseball (+45). They're getting it done on both sides of the ball, and they're winning at home (12-7) and on the road (9-5).
So what does it all mean? Well, it's still May, but, yes, it looks like it's finally OK to believe in the Angels. In other Angel-inspired words, it could happen.
But why now? What's changed? Basically, in a nutshell, they're finally putting it all together and getting contributions roster-wide. It's no longer "Ohtani and Trout and pray for a shutout."
Though Ohtani and a now-healthy Trout have been doing their usual outstanding things, there have also been big contributions from Taylor Ward, who entering play Friday leads the league in average (.367), on-base percentage (.490) and OPS (1.199) and has cracked seven homers, and Jared Walsh, who leads the team in RBIs (23) and could be on his way to a second straight All-Star appearance.
When you combine Ward and Walsh with Ohtani and Trout, and throw in some timely hits from Brandon Marsh, Max Stassi and a few others, it's been more than enough to keep the line moving. It's also helped compensate for Anthony Rendon's relative underperformance thus far (though his left-handed homer was cool).
But let's not overlook the pitching, because the starters have done a solid job keeping runs off the board. Ohtani's 2.78 ERA is very good, but it's only the third-best on the team. Patrick Sandoval (2.03) and Noah Syndergaard (2.45) have been a touch better, while rookie Reid Detmers isn't far behind (3.77). Oh, he also pitched a no-hitter this week.
The highest ERA among starters belongs to Michael Lorenzen (4.13), though much of that can be attributed to his last outing, when he gave up five runs in 4.2 innings to the Nationals on May 7. The point is, the pitching has consistently been there all season.
The Angels have been a complete team so far, the kind of complete team that can find itself in the playoff mix come October — especially with the expanded postseason field. Baseball fans' nearly decade-long desire to see Mike Trout shine under the bright October lights has only gotten stronger in 2022, and the dream of watching Ohtani wow the world with his unique brilliance on the biggest stage is as alluring as ever.
Now for some cold water: It is, indeed, still May. There's plenty of season left, and many teams throughout baseball history have faded after hot starts and found themselves watching the postseason from the couch.
But there have also been plenty of teams that started strong and stayed strong, and some that got even better. The Angels' ultimate destination will become more clear as the summer unfolds, and it should be a lot of fun to watch.
So, for now at least, it's OK to believe.