With all of the off the field distractions over this past week, one thing has stayed constant for the Angels: Winning. Despite a front office upheaval that saw general manager Jerry Dipoto resign last Wednesday due to a rift between Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia, the team has been able to win 8 of their last 10 games inching closer to the first place Houston Astros. Not to mention the long-awaited “reunion” of sorts with former Angel Josh Hamilton, who greatly underachieved in his two seasons with the team. Hamilton was traded back to the Texas Rangers on April 27th after a two-month hiatus after admitting that he had a drug relapse in February. During his time away from the team Hamilton managed to alienate Angels owner Arte Moreno, and also lose the trust of Scioscia leading to DiPoto to seek a trade for the former all-star outfielder and the Rangers were the only takers.
Since the trade the Angels offense has struggled mightily, with the exception of reigning AL MVP centerfielder Mike Trout .299/.393/.575, and first baseman Albert Pujols who is leading the AL in home runs with 25 and has driven in 53 runs. With the American League’s fourth worst team batting average of .242 and also fourth fewest runs scored at 303 the Angels have been struggling to keep their record above .500 (38-37 as the week began last Sunday). However, despite only scoring 10 runs in the first four games of this past week the Angels won three of four games going into the series with the Rangers over the weekends. Although the players and Scioscia downplayed this reunion with Hamilton and his new/old team the Rangers, this was an important series for the Halos as they led Texas by only one game. The Angels also hoped to continue building momentum having won their previous three series going 6-3 over that stretch.
On Friday night the Angels jumped out to an 8-0 lead thanks to a 6-run 2nd inning and Garrett Richards(9-5, 3.35) made it stand up giving up only one run in 7 2/3 innings to take game one 8-2. Shortstop Erick Aybar started what would be a breakout weekend for him going 5 for 5 scoring three runs and driving in two. Right fielder Kole Calhoun also went two for five with four RBI’s to back Richards. In game two of the series it was more of the same as the Angels jumped out to a 5-0 lead after four innings thanks to Calhoun and C.J. Cron as the pair drove in four of the first five runs. In the sixth inning the Angels broke the game open with a six-run inning capped by a three-run homer by Cron that extended the lead to 11-0. Angels starter Hector Santiago made it stand up tossing seven shutout innings to help the Angels win game two 13-0. In total Cron went three for four with a career high six runs driven in.
So you may ask what could the Angels do for an encore in the final game of the series, how about scoring runs in each of the first five innings and building a 12-1 lead. Although the Angels would not score again C.J. Wilson and three relievers would make the lead hold up en route to a 12-6 victory that completed the three-game sweep. The three wins helped the Angels pull within three games of the first-place Houston Astros. The Angels also moved into first-place in the wildcard standings one game ahead of Baltimore and Minnesota.
With half the season completed the Angels (44-38) still rank in the bottom third of the American League in both team batting average and runs scored. Those numbers did go up thanks to the dominating weekend which saw the Angels outscore the Rangers 33-8 over the three games. The team batting average went up six points from .242 to .248 and runs scored went up from 303 to 336 as the Angels jumped two spots in both categories since Friday. In the series Cron raised his batting average 40 points, from .198 to .238 and Aybar’s average jumped 22 points from .258 to .280, Calhoun also saw a slight jump as his average rose 8 points from .258 to .266. The trio went a combined 23 for 41 a .561 average with 15 runs scored and 23 runs batted in.
Will the trio be able to keep up this pace for an extended period time, most likely not. However, if these three can contribute at a greater level than did in the first half of the season it will take a lot of pressure off of Trout and Pujols to carry the team down the stretch. This will make the Angels offense more dangerous and should help them continue to rise in the standings as long as the pitching continues to excel. The Angels have the fifth lowest ERA (3.63) in the AL, fourth lowest opponents batting average (.239) and the second lowest WHIP (walks + hits / innings pitched) at 1.20. The bullpen has been solid only blowing 3 saves in the month of June, after blowing 8 saves in the first two months of the season. In addition all 3 times the bullpen blew save opportunities in June the Angels ended up coming back to win those games. The difference has been the emergence of rookie Trevor Gott as the 7th inning man as Gott did not give up a run in his first 9 appearances before giving up 2 runs in yesterday’s game against Texas with the Angels leading 12-3. Street and Smith only blew one save a piece in all of June and three a piece the whole season, add Gott to the mix for the 7th inning and you have a solid back end of the bullpen. This allows the Angels starting pitchers to have a cushion knowing they only have to pitch six good innings each time out.
Hopefully, this past weekend is a preview of coming attractions for the Angels offense, especially in regards to Cron, Aybar, and Calhoun. This was only a very small sample size and I for one do not want to jump to any hasty conclusions, but it is definitely an encouraging sign for the Angels. Let’s hope it continues and you could be seeing another Red October in Anaheim.