My, oh my. Things sure are heating up over here on the West Coast.
The Los Angeles Angels, who looked dead in the water after losing three of four to Texas at home, have clawed their way back into the race for the AL West crown. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The season is quickly winding down. With little more than a month to play, teams are scrambling to secure their place in the playoffs.
The Halos are no exception. Following their embarrassing series loss to Texas, the Angels clamped down and made some drastic changes. As a result, they’re currently riding a season-high, six-game winning streak.
The most important of those changes was the long-overdue benching of catcher Jeff Mathis. Mathis has long been a rally-killer and an overall drag on the club, regardless of how good his glove or personality may be. His .178 batting average speaks for itself.
Secondly, the Halos have shaken up their offensive lineup, with Peter Bourjos batting leadoff and Mark Trumbo batting fifth. The decision to rearrange the offense has paid off tremendously; the Angels have scored 39 runs in their last six games.
Bourjos has taken the Angels by storm in the leadoff position. Since the Angels last played the Rangers, he has batted .429 with six runs batted in. One of those six RBI was a walkoff base hit to defeat the White Sox on August 23. The young center fielder had hit in nine straight games before his career-high streak came to an end on August 24. Most impressive, though, was Bourjos’s remarkable streak of hitting one home run over three games. It’s obvious Bourjos is finally getting comfortable at the plate (although he took zero walks over the Angels’ six-game winning streak). With his already-impressive fielding skills, Bourjos is clearly on his way to becoming a complete threat.
Trumbo’s numbers are less impressive than Bourjos’s over the Angels’ recent winning streak, but the rookie first baseman is responsible for the turnaround in the first place. His walkoff home run the August 18 game against Texas helped Los Angeles narrowly avoided a sweep and kept the Angels six games behind the Rangers. From there, the rest of the club followed suit and started playing the best baseball they’ve played all year.
One of those who took Trumbo’s lead is Torii Hunter, who has entered somewhat of a season renaissance over the last week. Reports have surfaced that Hunter dealt with a pulled hamstring for a majority of the season. If true, these reports would certainly explain Hunter’s struggles in the first half.
Whatever the case, it looks like the Angels have the old Hunter back. He has hit three home runs since August 14, batting .304 over that stretch with seven RBI. It looks like the Halos finally have the wily old veteran back at full strength.
As for the pitching staff, their greatest move was securing Jered Weaver to a five-year contract extension for $85 million. The ace has really lifted Anaheim’s spirit with his decision to stay with the hometown club. Weaver responded to his extension with a spectacular seven-inning performance against the White Sox. He will pitch on short rest against Texas this weekend.
The club’s team ERA over this six-game stretch has been a reasonable 2.53, allowing only 16 earned runs. The starting rotation has been the most fun to watch, with Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Joel Piñeiro and Jerome Williams following Weaver’s lead. The starters have been able to buckle down and go the distance, allowing the Halos’ struggling bullpen a bit of leeway.
While the Angels have been dominant over the last six games, the Texas Rangers are spiraling. Texas is coming off a three-game losing streak headed into this weekend’s series against the Angels in Arlington. With the Halos only two games back, Los Angeles has an opportunity to either tie or take the division lead when they leave the state of Texas.
Of course, there’s no guarantee of what’s to come in the next month or so, which is sure to be a battle for both teams. Both clubs have the opportunity to make a major statement this weekend, but the decisive series may very well be the one in Anaheim to close out the season. This race has been wild enough to keep fans guessing until the very end.
One thing is for certain, though: things have only begun to heat up in the Wild West.