Sports | May 20, 2022 10:59 am

Taylor Ward, Not Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout, May Propel Angels Into Playoffs

Ward, a 28-year-old outfielder making just $720,000 this season, leads MLB in batting average and many other stats

Taylor Ward of the Los Angeles Angels is congratulated by his teammates after scoring
Taylor Ward of the Los Angeles Angels is congratulated by his teammates after scoring.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

Between them, Los Angeles Angels superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout have a pair of Rookie of the Year awards, four Most Valuable Player trophies and an annual salary of $43 million. They also have just one playoff trip combined, which occurred when Trout and the Angels qualified for the postseason in 2014 and were ousted by the Royals.

That number may increase to two this season thanks in large part to the efforts of an unheralded right fielder who has been up and down between the majors and Triple-A since 2018 and commands an annual salary of $720,000.

Taylor Ward, who leads MLB in batting average (.375), OBP (.488), slugging percentage (.721), OPS (1.209), OPS+ (253) and batting average on balls in play (.435), has clubbed nine home runs and collected 23 RBI in 29 games this season. Ward, who has a 25-game on-base streak, is a huge reason why the Angels have started the season at 24-16, good enough for second place in their division and fourth place overall in the American League.

Selected 26th overall as a catcher in 2015, Ward changed positions and changed his swing while working his way up through the minors and is now reaping the benefits during a breakout campaign at the age of 28. While it’s easy to point out that Ward is an obvious candidate for regression and that his torrid hitting likely can’t continue for the rest of the season, the Angels are basically one-fourth of the way through their schedule and he is still raking with a walk rate of 18% and a strikeout rate of 21%.

“I feel like there’s no pitcher out there that can that can get me out,” Ward said after hitting his second grand slam of the season last weekend. “Of course, it’s not the way it is. The game can quickly humble you tomorrow. So kind of turn the page and lock it back in. I know my mechanics are in a good spot. Coming to the park every day, there are little things to tinker with, but once I go out there, it’s all my approach. Everything is flowing right now.”

As a team, Los Angeles has a +48 run differential despite having lost three in a row heading into a series with the last-place Oakland Athletics (16-24) before a two-game set against the Texas Rangers (17-20). The Angels are in a position to make a run and reclaim first place in the AL West from the Houston Astros and firm up their already strong shot at making a playoff push for the first time since ’14.

If they do make a run, Ohtani (+210 odds to win his second MVP award) and Trout (+475 to win his fourth) will be a huge part of it, but so will Ward (+6000 to win his first). No one saw that one coming, perhaps not even Ward himself.