Jul 13, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Josh Hamilton (32), center fielder Mike Trout (27) and right fielder Kole Calhoun (56) celebrate defeating the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Los Angeles beat Texas 10-7. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

First Half Report: Angels Trail by 1 1/2 for Best Record in MLB


Record: 57-37 2nd in AL West (2-1 vs. Blue Jays, 4-0 at Rangers last week)

Highlights: One year ago, the Los Angeles Angels stumbled into the All-Star break with 44 wins following a mediocre first half. Relievers were ineffective, the starting rotation lacked identity, and Albert Pujols’ plantar fasciitis kept him from being the power threat Mike Scioscia needed.

How things change over a year.

Led by All-Star efforts from Mike Trout and Erick Aybar, and outstanding play from dark horse Cy Young candidate Garrett Richards, the Angels trail Oakland by just 1 ½ games for the majors’ best overall record. Their 32-15 home records tops among all other major league teams.

After sweeping a road series in Arlington for the first time in team history, the Halos moved to 20 games over .500; the first time they’ve done so at the season’s midway point. They also carry a major-league best 26-9 mark since June 6 thanks in part to 12-1 mark at Angel Stadium.

Still, it’s kind of a shame. Everyone is working on all cylinders and there’s no telling how a four-day layoff will affect them. The difference between this year and last is that everyone is contributing.

Trout’s 65 runs scored heads a team that led the majors in most offensive categories, including runs (478), hits (883), RBI (454), and on-base percentage (.334).The 22-year-old is playing in his third straight All-Star game.

Howie Kendrick is on pace for a career year, hitting to a .290/.348/.386 slash line, and Aybar is finally playing up to his potential, leading American League shortstops in batting average (.283), fielding percentage (.985), and WAR (3.1).

That’s right. Aybar leads a group that includes Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera in wins above replacements.

Lost in the mix are Pujols’ 20 homers and 39 extra-base hits. He’s come a long way from “the Machine” that broke down last summer.

Considered a weakness coming out of spring training, the pitching staff and their 3.84 ERA have provided more than enough support. Jered Weaver’s bounce back season continues as he carries 10 wins into the break. C.J. Wilson -arguably the starting rotation’s weak link- is still on pace for 16 wins.

And then there’s Richards.

Player of the first half: Richards (11-2) is the cog holding the Angels’ starting rotation in place.

An All-Star snub, the 26-year-old righty rolled through June and never lost steam. He’s won eight straight decisions averaging 7.8 strikeouts per game while carrying a 1.28 ERA in the span.

The difference between Richards this year and last isn’t in velocity. It’s in location.

Richards hits 97 mph anywhere between the first and ninth inning. He clocked in at 97 mph well beyond his 100th pitch in a near-complete game against Chicago July 1.

More telling was his 53 percent ground ball rate against the White Sox. His sinker is work and it’s a perfect complement to a near-unhittable fastball. It’s what has him among the AL’s pitching leaders and what the Angels will need for a deep run into October.

Weaver is still the captain and Wilson is still a workhorse, but Richards is quickly become the staff’s ace.

Injury report: Collin Cowgill’s grisly nose break forced him to the 15-day disabled list. Cowgill was injured last Saturday when a missed bunt ricocheted off his thumb hitting him on the nose. Both injuries require surgery.

Wilson’s undisclosed ankle injury places him on the DL for the first time since 2010. Having thrown at least 200 innings every year from 2010-12, the left hander struggled through 116 1/3 this year carrying a 4.33 ERA through 19 starts.

Up next: Once All-Star festivities end, the Angels head home for a three-game weekend series with Seattle. The Mariners have taken six of nine games thus far including an opening series sweep at The Big A from March 31-April 1.

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Tags: Garrett Richards Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout