By Pete Zarustica/Garden Grove Journal
How long could a team with so much hitting potential and such pitching promise stagger around in the middle of the weakest division in major league baseball?
The answers? A) Longer than expected and b) not anymore.
Combining timely hitting, defense and stellar pitching, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have pulled out of their spring and early summer dive and are getting a hot as the weather.
Going into Tuesday’s game, the Angels had won 14 of 19 games, eight out of 10 and six straight series, to rise from third place in the American League West into a tie for first with the Texas Rangers.
On Tuesday the Angels won again, as Dan Haren outdueled Justin Verlander in the Halos’ 1-0 win.
Haren picked up his ninth win as he pitched a two-hit complete game to keep the Angels tied for first in the ALW.
The lone Angel run came in the second inning when Howie Kendrick scored from first on Erick Aybar’s double.
The loss was Verlander’s first in 13 starts.
“I have a lot of respect for him and what he can do,” said Haren. “It’s even more special because of the matchup and that lineup over there. Those 3-4-5 hitters are as good as it gets.”
The Angels concluded their series with the Tigers Wednesday (results too late for our deadline). Today (Thursday) the Halos open a four-game series at the Big A against the Seattle Mariners, concluding Sunday.
After that, most members of the Angels have a bit of a rest for the All-Star Game, resuming play on Friday, July 15.
The rise of the Angels this week including sweeping the Washington Nationals in three and taking two of three from the Dodgers in Anaheim.
In the deciding game of the Dodger series on Sunday, the Angels got a clutch hit from Russell Branyan. His seventh inning two-run homer lifted the Halos to a 3-1 win.
Without much playing time, Branyan hasn’t been exactly hot, batting just .186 in 20 games for Anaheim.
“I’ve only hit two homers this year, said Branyan, “so it’s not like I’m tearing the cover off the ball. But it felt good.”
Ervin Santana also felt good for the Angels, pitching eight innings and picking up the win. He allowed just one run and six hits as the Angels continued their dominance over their SoCal rivals. Since interleague play started in 1977, the Angels have posted a 50-36 record against the boys from Los Angeles County.
The fun continued on Monday when the Angels scored once each in five innings and defeated the Detroit Tigers 5-1. Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells homered, Joel Pineiro pitched seven solid innings and Peter Bourjos was spectacular in center field as the Halos won again.
Bourjos, a rookie, made a great shoestring catch in the fourth and a leaping catch at the wall in the sixth to prevent what could have been a three-run homer.
“I didn’t think about it,” said Bourjos. “I didn’t have a choice. I was going to hit that wall.”
Wells’ homer was a sign of good things for the second part of the season, perhaps.
A major free agent acquisition this season, Wells had a terrible start and is still batting just .215. but over the last week he batted .304 with three homers and six RBIs.
As the team heads toward the All-Star break, he holds the prospect of at least having half-an-All-Star season.