After finishing the first half on a 9-1 pace, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim find themselves in an ideal spot to make a second-half playoff push.
Thanks to a potent offense that ranks among the league’s best in most statistical measures, the Angels enter second-half play on Friday with a 57-37 record, just one year after stumbling to a 78-84 finish.
At the dish, there’s no doubt who leads this team: Mike Trout. After finishing second to the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in MVP balloting in each of the past two seasons, the 22-year-old is putting together one of the best seasons of his very young career. The Angels’ center fielder is batting .310/.400/.606 this season, adding 22 home runs and 73 RBIs through just 90 games. Last year, in 157 games, Trout homered 27 times and drove in 97.
A resurgent and healthy Albert Pujols has also been a major key in the Angels turnaround. The former St. Louis Cardinals icon has 20 home runs and 64 RBIs at the All-Star Break and has appeared in 92 games for the team this year – two more than even Trout – a promising sign given the infielder’s recent struggles with injuries.
Throw in the likes of Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar and a solid season from Kole Calhoun and you have the makings of a very imposing offensive ball club. Having a healthy Josh Hamilton back has made all the difference in the world to the Angels. This was a key topic in an early July Sports Illustrated article on the team’s “Big Three.”
A good chunk of the Angels’ improvement from 2013 — when they won 78 games, their lowest total since 2003 — owes to Hamilton, who after slumping to a dismal .250/.307/.432 in his first season in Anaheim is hitting .315/.403/.469. L.A. was 30-26 when he rejoined the club on June 3, but since then, it has gone 17-9 for a major-league-best .654 winning percentage, and the lineup has cranked out 5.15 runs per game while doing so.
On the pitching side of things, Garrett Richards has been nothing short of superb, going 11-2 with a 2.55 ERA, giving Los Angeles an answer other than Jered Weaver, who is, once again, quietly putting together another solid season. In 20 starts, the right-hander is 10-6 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. The rest of the rotation – C.J. Wilson, Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago – has not been nearly as good, but if any one of those three arms can take a step forward, the Los Angeles starting five will look much more formidable – especially come postseason time.
If Pujols and Hamilton can stay healthy for longtime Angels skipper Mike Scioscia in the second half, the race for the American League West could prove to be one of the most exciting story lines in the world of Major League Baseball late this summer.