AL West Report: The Angels Fly Back Into The Race

The Los Angeles Angels were gradually working up a head of steam in May and at the end of the month they finally came barreling in full-tilt. Since May 21, Mike Scoscia’s team has gone 9-2, including a series win over the Yankees and including a win in last night’s series opener against first-place Texas. With a  record of 27-26 and within 4.5 games in the AL West, the Angels are back on the radar of real contenders.

Mike Trout has given this lineup a tremendous spark, hitting .330 with five home runs for the month. He runs well and a thumb injury to Vernon Wells—mostly a big drag on this lineup—opened up the playing time for Trout and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Mark Trumbo, last year’s first baseman who was displaced by the arrival of Albert Pujols, ratcheted up his power stroke this past month, with seven home runs and got on base at a .404 clip. And speaking of Albert, he hit eight home runs in May and slugged .514.

The pitching staff took a big blow with Jered Weaver going to the disabled list, but at least the ace will only be gone until the middle of this month, and in the meantime, tonight’s starter C.J. Wilson, along with Dan Haren are pitching like the #1 starters each of them can easily be. The best news has been the work of Jerome Williams, supposedly the weak link in the staff at #5. But his own May saw his post a 4-1 record with a 3.46 ERA. The bullpen remains a source of concern, but Scoscia is finding a way to get outs with what he has—both Ernesto Frieri and Scot Shields have each closed all three of their save chances. This bullpen isn’t going to be great, but a steady hand on the wheel can at least keep it manageable. That’s what Scoscia is doing.

LAA’s weekend battle with Texas gets understandable focus—with the Rangers having brought in Roy Oswalt, the Angels can’t let their rival open up the race a second time. After this weekend, there’s every reason to think they can keep the good times rolling, as they host Seattle and go to Colorado. At that point the stage would be set for an interleague series with the Dodgers. In the battle to sees who owns Los Angeles, the Halos have put themselves right back in the discussion, along with the more important question of American League wild-card position and within the AL West itself.

Around the rest of the AL West…

Texas (31-21): Texas, for some reason, couldn’t handle Seattle, losing two series to the Mariners that were sandwiched around a sweep of Toronto. The Rangers are hitting the ball, especially for power. Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz combined to hit 14 doubles in the past week, while the latter two sluggers each popped a couple home runs. As to the pitching, I’ll leave you with this—the bullpen worked 27.1 IP in the last six games. Don’t ask how they did, because when you work that many innings it almost ceases to be important.

Seattle (23-31):  The Mariners got the bats going. Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, repeatedly panned here in previous reports, combined to go 15-for-42, while Smoak hit three home runs in the last week. Kyle Seager continues to be electrifying at third, going 10-for-26, while hot bats were swung by Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero. But just as the hitting came around and the team had the aforementioned wins over Texas, the pitching went south. Felix Hernandez has been knocked around by the Angels and White Sox his last two starts and his back is reportedly bothering him. The M’s lost four straight to LAA, lost at Chicago last night and have a road trip in Anaheim next.

Oakland (22-30): Yes, they’ve played the Angels and Yankees lately. But nine straight losses, including a series opener in Kansas City last night? When you have no offense, the pitching always has to great, so when Oakland registered an ERA for the week that ranked in the middle of the American League, it meant losses. We’ll give a nod to Colin Cowgill, who went 8-for-14, and Jemile Weeks, who went 9-for-25, but they were really the only productive players. Josh Reddick hit a couple home runs, but that was it and the rest of the offense was its usual non-existent self.