By Pete Zarustica/Garden Grove Journal
Although the All-Star break isn’t until next week, July 4 has always been the traditional midpoint of the baseball season. The legend used to be that whoever was in first place on the Fourth of July would win the pennant.
Well, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim aren’t leading the American League West Division, but they are certainly in position to challenge for the lead, and very much a favorite to make it to post-season play as a wild card team in the new, expanded 10-team major league baseball playoff scheme.
After Monday’s 3-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in Ohio, the Halos are 45-35, five games back of the Texas Rangers. Although the Angels have been unable to gain much ground because the Rangers have been equally hot, they will get a chance to tighten the race July 20-22 when the two teams clash in Anaheim.
The Angels can approach that series with confidence. After a 6-14 start, the Angels have (pardon the overused pun) soared and risen from last to second place in the AL West.
Next week’s All-Star game gives a clue as to why. The Angels will have four representatives at the game: outfielders Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, and pitchers Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
The Halos are so packed with talent now that even Albert Pujols, arguably the best hitter in baseball (once he gets rolling) has to take a back seat to other bright lights on this team.
Trout’s batting average of .339 (going into Monday’s game) was the best in the American League. His compadre Trumbo is in Triple Crown contender territory. He’s batting .312, has 20 homers (tied for seventh in the league) and 55 RBIs (tied for fifth).
Wilson’s nine wins as a starting pitcher tied him for fourth in the AL; his 2.33 earned run average is third. Weaver had eight wins (tied for ninth; now he has nine) and is second in ERA with a glittering 2.31 mark.
The bullpen is also coming through in 2012 in a way it didn’t in 2011. Ernesto Frieri has 10 saves and (again, going into Monday’s game) pitched 24-plus innings giving up just seven hits and not a single earned run.
Behind all that star power is Torii Hunter, “only” hitting .281 with 10 homers and Pujols, batting .269 with 12 dingers.
Overall, the team is hitting .268, third best in the AL (behind only the Rangers and the Yankees) . In pitching (as ranked by ERA), the Halos are first in the AL with a 3.52 mark and also lead with shutouts with 10.
The fans seem pretty happy so far. Through 39 dates, the Angels have drawn over 1.4 million to Anaheim, fifth best in the American League. Three of the four teams ahead of them have played more games at home.
Of course, things can fall apart in the dog days of summer. The starting rotation wobbles a bit after Wilson and Weaver (remember “Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin’?”), and fatigue and injuries can slow down the strongest bats and swiftest legs.
But if you figure that Pujols is just hitting his stride at the plate, and the youth of the Angels’ newest stars, it’s not hard to imagine the second half of the season exceeding the first.