Doesn’t the 6-14 start feel like a really long time ago? On April 28, the Angels were 8 games under .500, trailed the first place Texas Rangers by 9 games, and were 5.5 games out of a wild card spot. Today, the Angels sit 4 games behind the Rangers (still tough, not impossible) and have a 2.5 game lead over Baltimore for the top wild card spot. They also have the fifth best record in baseball and sixth best run differential.
Many have hypothesized the reasons for the resurgence: Jerry Dipoto recalled Mike Trout*, Vernon Wells got hurt, Albert Pujols started hitting, Mickey Hatcher got fired, Mark Trumbo developed a more patient approach, Ernesto Frieri’s arrival saved the bullpen, Vernon Wells got hurt, Jered Weaver/CJ Wilson are having great years, Vernon Wells got hurt. Me? I’ll take a big helping of Mike Trout and mix it with most guys just returning to career norms. This team has always been too talented to finish under .500; some positive regression was expected.
* Trout is my midseason MVP pick, just edging out Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano. My other picks: AL Cy Young: Verlander, NL MVP: McCutchen, NL Cy Young: Dickey. Pretty chalk, I know.
If the Angels want to catch the Rangers though, they’re going to need a lot of things to fall their way. They either need to make a deadline acquisition for pitching or need the Dan Haren/Ervin Santana derp-duo to, you know, not give up 5 runs in 3 2/3 every outing. They need Pujols to stay on a positive, June-like trajectory, when he hit .326/.409/.568 for the month. More of that, please. They need Chris Iannetta to come back and give them SOMETHING, ANYTHING from the catcher position. Scioscia needs to not play Wells more than once a week when he’s healthy. They need Trumbo to change nothing. And when Trout eventually regresses, they need him to crash not too hard. Assuming he regresses. He has to, right? Even just a little? He can’t be this good already, can he?
And there’s also the schedule. The post All Star break schedule has been foreshadowed on this site before, and it’s finally here. Over the next 23 games, spanning until August 5, 20 of the Angels’ games come against the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, White Sox, and Rays. Those are arguably the best 5 teams in the AL, excluding the Angels. This also does not include 6 late-August games against the Red Sox, who could have Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia all back by then. Also throw in some more September games against the Rangers and White Sox, and the second half schedule is a beast. No more feasting on the Twins, Orioles (I’m still not a believer), and Rockies. If the Angels want to make the postseason, let alone catch Texas, they have to bring it, starting Friday.
With the break, the Angels only have a series against the Yankees this week. Since Trout was recalled, the Yankees may be the only AL team that can claim they’ve been hotter than the Angels. New York, owner of baseball’s best record (52-33), has opened up a 7 game division lead over the Orioles and 9.5 game lead over their rivals, the last place Red Sox. Significant injuries to Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, and Andy Pettitte haven’t really phased them. Their best pitcher, CC Sabathia, also spent time on the DL. Despite all those pitching injuries, the Yankees still rank third in the AL in ERA, third in FIP, and first in xFIP — their high home run rate (12.1%) is possibly due to the short porch in right field. The Hiroki Kuroda-Ivan Nova tandem has been a godsend for the Yanks, combining for 3.1 fWAR in 218.1 innings, mixing above average groundball rates with solid K/BB rates. With the Yankees offense (lead the AL in wOBA), you don’t need to be elite, just efficient.
The Angels stretch of good luck with avoiding pitchers continues, as they get to miss Sabathia, who will make his first start since June 24 on Tuesday, well after the Angels have gotten out of Dodge.
Probable Pitchers, according to ESPN
Friday: Wilson (2.43ERA) vs Kuroda (3.50)
Saturday: Jerome Williams, in his first start off the DL (4.46) vs Freddy Garcia (5.23)
Sunday: Weaver (1.96, best in MLB) vs Nova (3.92)
3 Bold Predictions for the second half
1) Mike Trout’s doesn’t win the batting title, but does win MVP. If the Angels happen to win the AL West, it’s all but guaranteed. The voters wouldn’t be able to resist the narrative.
2) The Angels acquire Ryan Dempster. He’s not as sexy as Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels, but he’s a damn good third or fourth starter and would be a significantly cheaper rental than the other two guys.
3) Texas wins the West (sad face), but the Angels host the wild card against the Red Sox and win, setting up a first round showdown with the Rangers.
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