The Home Runs Kept Coming, but It Wasn’t Enough

For a team that boasts Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels sure lose a lot of games: 61 so far, with only 44 wins.

But Thursday night’s game had to be especially galling.

Hosting the even worse Oakland Athletics, the Angels got two homers from Ohtani, and one each from Kurt Suzuki, Taylor Ward, Jo Adell, Jared Walsh and Mickey Moniak. Seven in all, tying the club record set in 2003.

And they still lost.

How could this have happened? How could versions of this happen so often that a tweet about the team’s futility in spite of its generational stars has become the franchise’s calling card?

Well, it sure didn’t help that all seven blasts on Thursday were solo shots — yet another first for a team that has become used to its singularity. Even then, seven runs should be enough to win most ballgames. But the Angels, of course, gave up eight, most of them in a six-run third inning. Janson Junk, the team’s starter, pitched two and a third innings and was credited with having allowed six earned runs.

Eighty-five teams have hit seven homers in a game, and their record is 79-6. Though the games stretch back to a Philadelphia A’s win in 1921, the losses have all come in modern times, starting in 1995. Indeed, the Detroit Tigers lost a seven-homer game, 17-14, to the Minnesota Twins just last year, and even in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Toronto Blue Jays managed to drop a game despite hitting seven long balls.

All 31 times a team had eight or more homers, thankfully, it won the game, although one of them, the 2006 Braves, needed 11 innings to beat the Cubs, 13-12, at Wrigley Field. The record for most home runs by a team in a game is still held by the 1987 Blue Jays, who smacked 10 against the Baltimore Orioles one day that season, with Ernie Whitt hitting three. The score then was more like what one would expect: 18-3.

The Angels kept bringing out their celebratory home run hat on Thursday, but it was hard to muster much enthusiasm in yet another loss.Credit…Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

To many traditionalists who don’t like the way baseball has been changing, Thursday night’s game might have been the ultimate example: plenty of home runs, but not nearly enough baserunners. The Angels had only two other hits in the game, a single and a double, drew just two walks and struck out nine times.

“I guess they always say solo home runs don’t beat you, but you feel like if you hit seven, you might,” Phil Nevin, the interim manager of the Angels, told reporters after the game. “It didn’t work out for us.”

The team’s batting average for the game, .257, was easily the lowest in a seven-homer-plus game. The typical average in such games is around .400.

The Angels are just above average in homers this season, but rank fifth from last in runs scored. While Trout (currently on the injured list), Ohtani and Ward have been hitting, the rest of the team is putting up uninspiring numbers.

Of the 13 batters with 100 plate appearances, eight are hitting under .250, and some quite a bit under. Not to pick on Walsh, because there are many candidates, but a first baseman hitting .231 with 20 walks at this point in the season will not win you too many games, his home run on Thursday notwithstanding.

The Angels are below average at every nonpitching position by Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, except, unsurprisingly, center field (generally Trout) and designated hitter (usually Ohtani).

And as that viral tweet implied, Ohtani’s having a huge game hardly guarantees the Angels a win. Thursday’s game was his 11th two-homer performance in the majors. The Angels are only 6-5 in those games.

The chance to see Ohtani and Trout means there are few teams that will draw neutral fans’ eyeballs more than the Angels. But those viewers are getting used to seeing two great players, a decent number of home runs, but not a lot of victories.

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