08/01/12 12:11 AM ET
Trout and Weaver at their award-winning best
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
And how can anyone besides Jered Weaver be the AL Cy Young Award favorite heading down the stretch?
Both Angels stars were at their soaring best on Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark in a 6-2 decision that shaved the Rangers' American League West lead to three games.
Albert Pujols homered twice, giving him 20. Trout also went deep, No. 18, and walked and singled in five at-bats while Weaver was muzzling the Rangers through 6 1/3 innings in dense, 103-degree heat.
After missing the season's first 22 games recovering from a springtime illness, Trout has become a force without equal. Nobody combines his power, speed and total impact. He's threatening to run away with batting and stolen-base titles while ranking among the AL leaders in on-base percentage and slugging. His defense in center has been Rawlings Gold Glove quality.
Through 81 games -- exactly half a season -- the kid from Millville, N.J., has scored 80 runs, leading the Majors. He has driven home 55, with 20 doubles and five triples to go with the 18 homers. He's clutch, too, hitting .385 with runners in scoring position.
Weaver is 14-1, tied with David Price for the league lead in wins, after yielding two runs on five hits and one walk. His ERA is a league-best 2.29. Opponents are batting a league-low .196 against him. His WHIP is 0.95.
"No doubt," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked about Weaver's Cy Young candidacy. "If you're talking about the three best pitchers in this game, Weave has to be in the conversation."
Rangers manager Ron Washington marvels at the toughness of a man he selected as the AL's 2011 All-Star Game starter in Arizona.
"That's why he's 14-1 -- he can pitch," Washington said. "He's at his best when he's in trouble. Seems like every time he's in trouble, he gets out of it against us. I tip my hat to Weaver."
Scioscia is close to running out of superlatives with respect to Trout.
"He's on his way to a remarkable career," Scioscia said. "He's just getting started, and look what he's doing. He's just an unbelievable baseball player."
Trout will be 21 on Aug. 7. Everywhere he goes, the Angels' superlative center fielder leaves fans stunned and in awe. He is Roy Hobbs or Mickey Mantle, depending on whether you favor reel or real life.
"Everyone says Mantle. I say he's Rickey [Henderson]," teammate Torii Hunter said. "The way he gets on base, steals, runs, hits with power -- that's Rickey, man. He's crazy good."
Trout doesn't occupy much spare time checking out numbers or historic figures in books.
"I've heard a lot about Rickey," Trout said, "but I don't really follow baseball history much."
He's too busy making it.
Trout's July was monumental. His 10 homers represented an AL rookie record. His 32 runs scored equaled the most ever by a rookie in July in MLB history, matching Cleveland's Hal Trosky in 1934.
The only other player in history to have hit .350 or better with at least 15 homers and 30-plus steals by the end of July? Rickey Henderson, in 1985 with the Yankees. The Man of Steal was hitting .352 with 16 homers and 47 steals.
Trout is batting a league-high .353 with 18 homers and 31 steals in 34 attempts, a superb .912 success rate.
"And it's harder to steal now than it used to be with all these slide steps and the focus on times to home and first," Hunter said. "Guys used to be able to just take off and go. Now you've got all this focus on stopping you from running -- and he's still burning it up."
The numbers tell only part of the story. Trout gets deep in counts, wears down pitchers, drives them crazy on the basepaths, and finally humbles them when he launches one.
Trout unloaded his 18th home run of the season in his third at-bat against Derek Holland, a first-rate southpaw. Next time they met, an inning later in the seventh, Trout walked on four pitches and Holland sauntered to the dugout, his work done.
Trout scored on Hunter's double. In the eighth, he raced to the track in center tracking down Adrian Beltre's drive for the final out. Then he walked up and beat out an infield hit -- great play and throw by the peerless Beltre at third -- in the top of the ninth.
All in a night's work.
"I just go out there and play my game," Trout said. "The numbers are what they are. I really don't think much about that stuff. I'm just being more comfortable at the plate and in the field, staying positive."
His on-base percentage is .411, leaving him behind only Joe Mauer and David Ortiz. His slugging percentage is .608; Ortiz leads at .609, playing in a hitter's paradise.
The Triple Crown -- last achieved in 1967 by Boston's Carl Yastrzemski -- actually discriminates against leadoff men. In this new age of statistical awareness, it should consist of batting, on-base and slugging, not batting average, homers and RBIs. Any self-respecting Bill James disciple would have to agree with that.
His one negative is the 72 strikeouts. That means on balls he puts in play, Trout is batting .451. If he can bring the punch-outs down, .400 -- last done by Ted Williams in 1941 -- is not totally unrealistic.
"He blows us away, every day," said Peter Bourjos, whose job in center Trout has seized. "He does things normal people don't do -- or even think of doing."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.