September games were the ones meant to matter the most for playoff implications. Out of the playoff picture, the Angels play for individual merit and to finish as strong as they can.
To that point, young pitcher Kenny Rosenberg shined in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians, getting his first major league win in his third career start. And Carlos Estévez secured his 30th save of the season.
Yet, amid another lost season, Angels fans still show up to the ballpark in the tens of thousands. The lowest announced crowd over the latest homestand was 22,496 for a Tuesday game against the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles.
Sure, there are the remaining promotional giveaways and die-hard fans who continue to show up at the end of each bad season — the Angels entered Sunday with their elimination number from the AL West at five games and their elimination number from the wild card at seven games.
But here are reasons why watching the Angels in their final 18 of the season might be worth the time:
Many baseball fans show up to see the Angels play because of the two-way star. Even the team store at Yankee Stadium sold Ohtani jerseys — in English and in Japanese. One simply has to look at the crowd for the Ohtani jerseys, posters and paper kabutos to see that.
Ohtani has been nursing an ailing right oblique for a week, has been out of the starting lineup, and considered day to day the homestand. Before Sunday’s game, manager Phil Nevin said that the Angels’ next game in Seattle on Monday was realistic for him to return. He had also left open the possibility of Ohtani making an appearance in Sunday’s game, though Ohtani did not play in the Angels' series-winning victory.
Ohtani is not pitching after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm in August — his pitching days have typically attracted bigger crowds. But watching a game for the potential to see one of baseball’s best hitters is its own spectacle. He is still a favorite to win the AL most valuable player award. Entering Sunday, he led the league in on-base-plus slugging rate, 1.066, and slugging percentage, .654, and led the AL with 44 home runs, 91 walks, a .412 on-base percentage, while he's tied for the AL lead in with eight triples.
The flashiest of the Angels' rookies have been on the injured list or ailing in some way. Although there is still much to see from the young core — notably catcher Logan O’Hoppe, shortstop Zach Neto, reliever Ben Joyce and first baseman Nolan Schanuel — they have displayed glimpses of their bright futures.
“As many games as we can get with our core players and them just being around, it’s a learning experience for all of them,” Nevin said. “The better off we’re gonna be."
Neto, Joyce, O’Hoppe and Schanuel could share the same field before the season ends.
O’Hoppe returned from the injured list mid-August after recovering from labrum surgery and has been trying to implement all of what he has learned studying the games over the last few months. Schanuel is nursing a sore scapula and hoping to be back soon after taking the last two games off. Neto, coming off his second IL stint, this time with lower back inflammation, flew in from Salt Lake City on Sunday morning. Joyce also rejoined the Angels on Sunday after missing a few months recovering from ulnar neuritis.
Mike Trout has been limited to 82 games this season after fracturing his left hamate bone in July. He had surgery to remove the fractured bone, returned for one game in August and went back on the IL the next day because of pain in the hand. Trout has recently started holding a bat and taking dry swings without much soreness.
Anthony Rendon has been limited to 43 games for various reasons, lately because of a left shin bruise so bad that imaging showed bleeding inside the bone. That was the last substantial update provided on his status. This week, Rendon has performed some baseball activities such as hitting off a tee. On Friday, he did light running on the field. Saturday, Rendon ran on a treadmill, which Nevin called encouraging.
Whether Trout and Rendon play before the season ends remains to be seen.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.