ALL ABOARD!  The “Halo Express” is on Track and the Angels are Rolling Towards the Playoffs.  

Okay, Houston Astros fan!  You have had your brief moment of glory.  The “Halo Express”, namely the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has blown by you and you are going to have a tough time trying to catch back up with it.

On July 1, the Angels were languishing in second place, only three games above .500 and trailing the Astros by five games.  Since then, Anaheim has won 13 of 16 games which has enabled them to sling-shot their way past Houston into the AL Western Division lead.  The Halos are currently riding a seven-game winning streak, which began right before the All Star break.  Included in the sweep is a four-game, weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2013 but have fallen on lean times since.

The streak has seen Angels pitchers throw three shutouts in five games.  Last Friday, veteran C.J. Wilson tossed a five-hitter for a 1-0 win; the following night, Garrett Richards spun a complete game, two-hitter for a 3-0 Angels’ win; then, this past Tuesday, Matt Shoemaker matched Richards’ two-hitter and struck out 10 for a 7-0 white washing of the Minnesota Twins.  Anaheim has outscored their opponents, 44-9, during the streak.

In addition to some All Star-type pitching, Angels fans have witnessed a couple of white-hot hitters, outfielder Mike Trout and veteran Albert Pujols, both of whom made the All Star team in 2015.  Trout is currently batting .303 with 28 home runs and 57 RBI.  He is projected to club 40 homers and drive in 98 runs.  So far, in Trout’s career, he has been named AL MVP (last season) he has been an All Star four times (MVP the last two years!) and has won three consecutive Silver Slugger awards…AND HE IS ONLY 23 YEARS OLD!

Teammate Albert Pujols, healthy again for 2015, is batting .262 with 29 home runs and 62 RBI.  Projected to hit 41 homers, Pujols and Trout would be the first teammates to club 40 or more homers in a season since 2006, when Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome, of the White Sox clubbed 44 and 42 homers, respectively.

Sometimes, it takes an event to “jump start” a team and get them rolling.  The event for the Angels occurred July 1 when then-General Manager Jerry DiPoto packed up his office and, effectively, resigned.  Former GM Bill Stoneman took over, and the Angels took off…going 13-3 since.  In addition to the aforementioned pitching performances, the entire five-man rotation that Manager Mike Scioscia has run out in July has performed spectacularly.

Since July 1, the five starters of Wilson, Shoemaker, Richards, Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago have a collective record of 11-4 with a 2.88 ERA.  Heaney, who has made five starts since moving into the rotation, has a 4-0 record with a microscopic 1.57 ERA.  Santiago, who made his first All Star team, is 3-1 in his last five starts with a 1.90 ERA.

Long-time Angels fans will notice that I have not even mentioned the pitcher who used to be the ace of Scioscia’s staff…Jered Weaver.  He is on the disabled list with a left hip inflammation and is scheduled to be activated at the end of the month.  Weaver threw 60 pitches in a simulated game on July 21 and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today.  With the way the current starters are performing, Scioscia is going to make sure Weaver is 100% healthy before he activates him.

So, then, what happens to the rotation?  With every starter doing so well, does Scioscia want to send one of them to the bullpen?  Or, back to the minors?  If so, who would the starter be?  Shoemaker?  Heaney?  How about just going into a six-man rotation, until Weaver shows he is ready to take the ball every fifth day?!

The former ace is only 4-8 with a 4.74 ERA in 2015.  He is projected to go only 9-12 which would result in Weaver failing to record double-digit wins for the first time in his career.  Still, Scioscia will handle Weaver with “kid gloves” the rest of the season.

Even though Angels fan has to be extremely excited as to what it going on so far, there are still 68 games to go in the regular season and anything can happen.  Scioscia can only hope that Trout and Pujols and the other hitters can still “mash” the rest of the way, the starters can continue to turn in great performances and the Angels can escape the injury “bug-a-boo”.  If that happens, the Angels will return to the playoffs for the second straight year.

 

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