The Los Angeles Angels are finally climbed above .500 for the first time since Opening Day, and have won 8 straight games, outscoring their opposition 40-19 over the hot stretch. The solution to their woes was fairly straightforward as well–play the youngsters in the outfield, and get the big money 1st baseman going.
Albert Pujols wasn’t going to hit .196 with 1 homer like he was through May 13th, and in the last 2 weeks he has gotten his bat going again. Pujols has hit .308/.373/.692 in the past 2 weeks, bombing 6 homers, driving in 11, and even stealing 2 bases. He’s beginning to look comfortable and patient at the plate again, drawing 6 walks in his last 13 games, after drawing only 7 walks in his first 37 games. This is excellent news for Angel fans because patience is one of the slugger’s best attributes. When he is hurried at the plate, Pujols tends to look mortal, attempting to pull the ball to often, which results in groundouts. As Albert has become more patient, he has begun to drive the ball to all fields again, a good sign that he is getting back on track.
The Angels and their manager Mike Scioscia have also benefitted from addition by subtraction. Torii Hunter has missed the past 2 weeks dealing with a family issue. Vernon Wells is out for 8-10 weeks after thumb surgery and hopefully will be reduced to sporadic at-bats off the bench upon his return, because he is a well-below average player. Bobby Abreu wasn’t hitting in any way, shape, or form for the Angels batting .208 with absolutely no power. Although he has turned it around to hit for a rather hollow .339 for the crosstown Dodgers, the Angels are still better off because they can give more playing time to youngsters, who could turn into future All-Stars.
Mike Trout his establishing himself as a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year Award in the American League. Since his call-up to the Bigs on April 27th, he has hit a robust .304/.364/.522 with an excellent combination of speed and power. Trout has 5 homers and 8 steals, and has really been the spark in the Los Angeles lineup. And he makes his presence known on defense as well.
The smoothness and ease Trout displays when tracking fly balls down in the outfield makes it easy to forget that he is only 20-years-old. By combining the electric Trout with the speedy Peter Bourjos in centerfield, the Angels have one of the rangiest outfield combos in the Major Leagues and one that can take away base hits in every single game. Against the Yankees the past 2 games, Los Angeles has taken away multiple hits, including this spectacular catch last night.
The new right fielder has been Mark Trumbo, who seems a little more comfortable playing defense out their rather than 3rd base. Trumbo has been very comfortable at the plate all season, ranking as one of the most valuable hitters in the American League. Trumbo is 4th in batting average (.338), 9th in OPB (.390), 4th in slugging (.609), 3rd in OPS+ (178), and 8th in runs created, which will probably add up to the slugger’s first All-Star appearance.
It’s no coincidence that an increase in playing time for Trout and Trumbo has added up to the best stretch of baseball for the Angels all season, these are the players LA should have been playing all along. It makes very little sense for the Angels, a franchise in win-now mode as much as any other in the league, to waste valuable and affordable resources like Mike Trout, by leaving him in the minors. Rather than compounding the mistake to acquire Vernon Wells by continuing to give him at-bats, the Angles should use players who provide more value at the plate, in the outfield, and on the base paths.
The combination of the Angels’ hot offense and dominant pitching staff (1st in runs allowed, 3rd in ERA) has reduced the Rangers division lead down to a much more manageable 5.5 games. If Jered Weaver can get back quickly from a back injury that landed him on the DL and return to form, the AL West is going to be a two-horse race.