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Angels stage stunning rally to prevent the Rangers from clinching the AL West

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On the strength of a stunning five-inning rally in the top of the ninth inning, the Angels beat the Rangers 11-10 this afternoon in Arlington. The Rangers had a chance to clinch the AL West with a victory, but now the wait continues.

It was a wild one. The Angels grabbed an early 5-1 lead against Colby Lewis, but the Rangers battled right back to tie it in the bottom of the fifth inning. Johnny Giavotella put the Angels back in front with an RBI double in the top of the sixth, but the Rangers scored two in the bottom of the inning to move ahead. Josh Hamilton and Rougned Odor each homered off Mat Latos in the seventh to give the Rangers a 10-6 lead and it appeared that the march to the AL West title was on. Until it wasn’t.

Working for the fifth straight day, Shawn Tolleson was tasked with getting the final three outs. However, he failed to retire a batter, giving up back-to-back homers to Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun to begin the frame. Rangers manager Jeff Banister then turned to Ross Ohlendorf, who got Mike Trout to ground out to shortstop before Albert Pujols reached on a pop-up which couldn’t be handled by Mike Napoli and Odor. Pujols hustled all the way and made it to second base. Ohlendorf struck out David Murphy for the second out, but C.J. Cron followed with an RBI single to bring the Angels within one run. David Freese followed with a single before Carlos Perez singled in pinch-runner Collin Cowgill to tie the game. Giavotella then singled to bring in the go-ahead run. Andrew Faulkner replaced Ohlendorf from there and finally managed to get the Rangers out of the nightmare inning.

Joe Smith, pitching in place of injured closer Huston Street, notched the save for the Angels. Of course, it happened in an unconventional way, as Elvis Andrus reached on a two-out single and overslid second base on a stolen base attempt for the final out of the ballgame. Ouch. By the way, today’s winning pitcher was Jo-Jo Reyes, who threw just one pitch to get out of the bottom of the eighth inning. The win was his first since 2011.

The Rangers hold a 1.5 game lead in the AL West, but that could be trimmed to just one game if the Astros beat the Diamondbacks tonight. The Angels are half-game back of the Astros for the second Wild Card spot and the two clubs could be tied if Arizona wins tonight. There’s plenty of drama remaining between these three teams.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.