Off to the Great Western races

TAYLOR WARD (with his AL Player of the Week award) with Angels manager Joe Maddon (Angels photo).


Horse race fans certainly appreciated the recent Kentucky Derby in which Rich Strike – an 80-1 long shot – won run for the roses at Churchill Downs.

As the saying goes, “It’s differences of opinion that make for horse races.”

A horse race of a different color, or colors, is shaping up for LA-OC baseball teams, a gallop that could bring new intensity to fans … especially for those of us south of Coyote Creek*.

As the new week begins, the Los Angeles Angels are making the last few seasons seem like a bad dream. With a strong offense and newly-effective pitching, the Halos are atop the American League West at 19-11. They lead the surging Houston Astros (18-11) by a half-game. The fellas from Texas are on a seven-game winning streak and are the hottest team in the AL.

The temptation to look ahead to a possible showdown is strong but by the time the two teams meet again it’ll be July (July 12-14 to be exact, at the Big A).

In the meantime the Halos have another big series starting today (Monday) against a strong Tampa Bay team (18-11) in Anaheim. The Rays are in second place in the AL East, two games back of the Yankees.

Of the surprising developments for the Angels this season, the foremost has to be the rise of Taylor Ward.  Formerly a part-timer with no significant accomplishments, the 28-year-old outfielder has blossomed into a real star … so far.

As we reported, he was recently chosen American League Player of the Week. Ward batted .448 with 10 runs scored, two doubles, a triple, four home runs, 11 RBIs, two walks and a 1.000 slugging percentage over a seven-game stretch.

In this era of stats-uber-all, Ward is kicking asterisk. He leads MLB in OPS (on-base percentage, plus slugging percentage), OBA (on-base average) and BADIP (batting average on balls hit in play). He’s among the leaders (fourth) in WAR (wins above replacement) and the more conventional batting average (.364) in second.

Ward is a catcher-turned-outfielder and that may be the key behind his newfound success. “Getting out from behind the plate helped my offense explode,” Ward told the Los Angeles Times. “I could focus solely on my hitting.”

Yes, we know that May stats may not mean October results, but for the time being … wow!

Talk about your great races…

October dreams are blooming all across the National League West. The Dodgers (19-7), as usual, are on top, but all five teams in the NLW have winning records and even the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks are only 5.5 games out of first.

FREDDIE FREEMAN (Dodgers photo).

However, the Blue Crew (riding a six-game winning streak) is being chased most closely by the San Diego Padres (19-10). If that matchup stays vital, they won’t be able to settle matters until they meet in late June.

Speaking of stats, the acquisition of Freddie Freeman from the Washington Nationals is really paying off for the Dodgers.

He leads the team in batting average (.323) and runs created (22.08). He’s tied for second with 13 RBIs.

Final out: *Coyote Creek is the general boundary between Los Angeles County to the north and Orange County to the south.

 “Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica.


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