By Don Wanlass
What Los Angeles baseball team currently leads the major leagues in wins?
Hint: It isn’t the Dodgers.
Yes, the Los Angeles Angels are tied with the New York Yankees with 21 wins as of May 11, one more than the Dodgers.
Although most Angelenos consider the Angels an Anaheim or Orange County team, Angels owner Artie Moreno would rather market his team with a Los Angeles brand instead of an Anaheim or Orange County brand. From a marketing standpoint, it isn’t a bad idea, even though the Angels are way down the totem pole when you consider the popularity of local sports teams.
That could be changing this year. The Angels, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2014 and last won a playoff series in 2009, are off to a tremendous start this season with a 21-11 record, good enough for a one-game lead over the Houston Astros in the American League West.
Now in the fourth year under manager Joe Maddon, the Angels might be on to something finally.
They have had the best player in baseball over the last decade in center fielder Mike Trout. They had the best player in the American League last season in Shohei Ohtani, the reincarnation of Babe Ruth, an all-star on the mound and at the plate.
And now add pitcher Reed Detmers to the list.
Making only his 11th career start, Detmers threw a no-hitter May 10 as the Angels put on a display of pitching and hitting while beating the Tampa Bay Rays 12-0.
Detmers, the Angels’ first round draft pick in 2020 out of the University of Louisville, wasn’t overpowering against the Rays. Only two of his 27 outs came on strikeouts.
But only two Rays’ reached first base on a walk and an error by first baseman Jared Walsh on a hard-hit ground ball in the seventh inning that could have been ruled either way.
The crowd of more than 39,000 — it was Ohtani bobble head night — cheered when the official scorer gave Walsh an error on the play and Walsh also applauded the ruling.
No one expected the Angels would be as good as they’ve been so far this season.
Granted, they are healthy. Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon are both back after missing most of last season with injuries.
The Angels also are getting some production from their farm system with Walsh, Brandon Marsh, Tyler Ward and David Fletcher being four position players who came up through the Angels farm system, along with Trout.
General manager Percy Minasian has cobbled together a decent starting rotation with Ohtani, free-agent signee Noah Syndergaard, Pat Sandoval, Michal Lorenzen and Detmers and the bullpen has been steady all season, with Raisel Iglesias the anchor as the closer.
Maddon, who was bench coach to Mike Scioscia for years with the Angels before leaving to manage Tampa in 2006, has won wherever he has managed. He guided Tampa to the World Series in 2008 (they lost to the Phillies) before winning the World Series with the Cubs in 2016.
With 1,300 career wins and two World Series appearances, Maddon is a borderline Hall of Famer. Guiding a third team to a World Series — and a third salvage job at that — would definitely improve Maddon’s chances for Cooperstown.
There’s a long season ahead and anything can happen over the next four and a half months.
But the Angels are off to a surprising start and finally have a balanced enough roster that can keep them there for the rest of the season.
Ending the streak of seasons without a post-season appearance would give baseball fans throughout the country a chance to see Trout play in October and could make Ohtani a worldwide star.
It might even make Los Angeles sports fan actually pay attention to the Angels for a change.
L.A.’S OTHER TEAM: The Dodgers keep rolling along, losing just often enough to rile up a certain segment of the fan base that expects the team to go 162-0.
Every time the Dodgers lose, a certain faction of fans on social media wants manager Dave Roberts fired, Cody Bellinger sent to the minors or Justin Turner benched. Or all of the above.
Fortunately, the Dodgers don’t pay much attention to the crackpots.
The latest fan uproar came May 9 when the Dodgers dropped a game to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-1. It was the first time the Pirates had beat the Dodgers in 16 games, so the law of averages may have been one reason for the loss. The fact that the Dodgers didn’t arrive in Pittsburgh until early Monday morning after appearing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball also may have had an impact.
The Dodgers trailed only 2-0 entering the bottom of the seventh inning. Julio Urias had scattered 10 hits prior to the inning, a left-handed hitter was leading off the inning and Urias had only made about 60 pitches so Roberts sent him out for the seventh inning. Catcher Michael Perez took Urias deep to lead off the inning, the Pirates scored another run in the seventh and two more in the eighth off the Dodgers’ normally reliable bullpen and the Dodgers lost 5-1.
No big deal over 162 games. The loss ended a six-game winning streak, the second time the Dodgers have won at least six in a row this season.
The Dodgers are on top of the best division in baseball. All five teams in the National league West — including the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks — have won more games than they have lost this year.
And the Dodgers still aren’t clicking on all cylinders. Justin Turner, at 37, has been off to a real slow start, hitting .168 entering the game May 10. But after hitting three doubles and driving in four runs in an 11-1 win over the Pirates, Turner had raised his average to .200.
Max Muncy is also mired in a slump so the Dodgers, who score more runs than any other team in baseball, can produce more offensively. And the pitching staff keeps mowing down hitters.
In 60 years of sharing a market, we have never seen a Dodgers-Angels World Series.
It’s too early to suggest we will see that this year, but we are closer now than we have been in 40 years.
BLAME GAME: The media and sports fan have been spending the last month trying to decide who to blame for the Lakers’ horrible season.
Owner Jeanie Buss finally stepped up to the plate this week in an interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, admitting she, too, was frustrated with her team’s performance this season and promising to fix it.
Five years ago, she was so angry with the direction of her team that she fired her brother Jim as head of basketball operations and also fired general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Three years later, the Lakers won their 17th NBA championship in a pandemic-caused bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Buss this week insisted she was in charge and should be held accountable for her team’s poor performance.
She also admitted that Phil Jackson had assumed an advisory role with the team, that she still consulted with Magic Johnson and that Kurt and Linda Rambis would remain trusted advisors and close friends.
That put general manager Rob Pelinka in the hot seat. All Pelinka has to do this offseason is hire a new coach and then overhaul the roster without any way to increase the payroll.
The coaching hire will be crucial. Pelinka needs to find someone who can handle LeBron James and his overwhelming presence, install a system that will best utilize James’ aging skills, motivate Anthony Davis to show up to training camp in shape for a change and then mold whoever Pelinka adds to the roster into a cohesive unit that can compete for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Western Conference.
That’s a hard task for Pelinka, or anybody.
It won’t be easy hiring a new coach. Vogel wasn’t the team’s first choice three years ago and the Lakers are likely to be turned down by their preferred candidates this time around, too.
To his credit, Pelinka is conducting his coaching search under the radar. While the rest of the world is watching the NBA playoffs, he is doing his homework, hopefully laying the foundation for a bounce-back year for the Lakers.
It is probably his last chance.
SPARKS FLYING: The Los Angeles Sparks have opened the season with back-to-back road wins over the Chicago Sky and the Indiana Fever.
Jordin Canada, who starred at Windward High and then at UCLA, has joined the team at guard after starting her career in Seattle where she won two WNBA titles in her four years there. After two games with the Sparks, she is averaging more than 15 points a game, almost double her career average.
New center Liz Cambage is a four-time WNBA all star. She is averaging 17 points a game so far and returning forward Nneka Ogwumike is averaging 16 points a game.
Former Laker guard Derek Fisher is running the Sparks as both head coach and general manager, trying to get his team back to the playoffs, where they have been 20 of their 24 seasons.
After opening the season with four road games, the Sparks play their home opener at 7:30 p.m. May 17 at Crypto.com Arena against the Minnesota Lynx.