The Los Angeles Angels continued their recent climb towards American League relevance on Sunday night with a 3-1 win over the Houston Astros in the finale of their three-game weekend series.
CJ Wilson (8-5) won his fourth straight outing and struck out 10 for the Angels who concluded there six-game road trip with a series sweep in Houston.
More importantly, Sunday’s win was their sixth straight and with a (39-43) record, the Halos now sit in third-place in the A. L. West and have begun to close the gap between themselves and the top of the division.
Nine games back of the first-place Texas Rangers and 8 1/2 games behind the Oakland Athletics for third, the Angels are also starting to look more like the team that many expected to see heading into the 2013 season.
Having won seven of their past ten overall, the Halos are doing many of the little things at the plate that are needed to out hustle their opponents and their top-10 MLB rankings in runs (8th), on-base percentage (4th) average (7th) and slugging percentage (7th), are statistical proof that some of that hard work and patience has begun to pay dividends.
Angel’s Manager Mike Sciosia has noticed the change in atmosphere, but realizes that lot of hard work lies ahead.
“I think there’s a feeling of confidence in the clubhouse and on the field, which is more important. Although I don’t think were firing totally on all cylinders, were doing enough good things to get it done.”
While changes in the overall atmosphere are a good sign, there are still several issues, such as the poor performance of newly acquired slugger Josh Hamilton, that desperately need to be resolved if this team has any real shot at a playoff run this season.
Hamilton is hitting just .223 with 10 home runs and 29 RBI’s in his first season as an Angel, after signing a five-year,$125 million deal this past off-season. The former American League MVP (2010), is making just over $17 million this season, which the Halos obviously felt he deserved after his 2012 campaign in which he hit 49 home runs and drove in 128, as a member of the Texas Rangers.
On the other hand, second-year phenom Mike Trout (.315 BA, 13 HR, 52 RBI), has avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump”, and third-year first baseman Mark Trumbo (.251 BA, 18 HR, 51 RBI), is developing into one of the American League’s premier power-hitters. With two of the best young hitters in the game, the Angels were planning on having a lineup this season that consisted of both young talent and veteran leadership, that when healthy and performing at their best, would the unrivaled by any other in the game.
Another concern for the Angels since the start of the 2012 season, first baseman-DH Albert Pujols (.249 BA, 13 HR, 49 RBI), has continued to struggle with his new role in the American League and after an 11 year career with the St. Louis Cardinals in which he was named the National League MVP on three occasions (2005, 2008, 2009), Pujols may once again be headed towards career-lows across the board.
The fact remains that as long as the Angels have the issues that they currently do with their starting rotation, racking up enough wins to contend for a playoff spot seems highly unlikely. Ranking 26th in ERA, 27th in WHIP, 23rd in average against, and 12th in quality starts, just isn’t enough to compete with teams such as the Rangers and Athletics, let alone any other playoff-caliber team in the American League.
Unfortunately, the Angels will have to attempt to extend their winning streak against the St. Louis Cardinals (49-32), who currently own the second-best record in all of baseball and travel to Anaheim for the first time in franchise history to begin a three-game series on Tuesday night.
For Albert Pujols, this week’s series with the Cardinals marks the first time that the slugger has faced his former team since joining the Angels and luckily for St. Louis, their former icon is currently in the midst of a 4-34 slump at the plate.
In tonight’s series opener, the Cardinals will send Lance Lynn (10-2, 3.52 ERA), to the mound to face Anaheim’s Jered Weaver (1-4, 4.15 ERA), who’s winless in his last five starts.
After the conclusion of the three-game series with the Cardinals, things don’t get any easier for the Angels as their scheduled to host the A.L.East leading Red Sox for three games this weekend.
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