Series Preview: Cardinals face Angels squad riding hot streak

ST. LOUIS — For the fourth time in their past six series, the Cardinals will face a losing team. But like the previous three such meetings, that losing team meets the Cardinals on a decided upswing.

The Angels enter the Albert Pujols reunion series on a six-game winning streak after sweeping the Tigers and Astros on the road last week. Still nine games out in the A.L. West, the 39-48 Angels were desperate for a turnaround after being swept by the Pirates, already the third time this season they were swept at home.

Three reasons for their improved play:

1. Josh Hamilton. Early returns on the four-game break he was given on the Angels’ last home stand are positive. Hamilton had at least one hit in every game on the road trip, finishing 9 for 21 with seven runs scored.

“There’s no doubt that I think there’s a comfort level that you can see starting to form,” manager Mike Scioscia told reporters after Hamilton hit a game-turning RBI double on Sunday. “It’s good to see him swinging the bat better this trip.”

Hamilton’s main problem this season has been swinging (and missing) at pitches outside of the strike zone. He has swung and missed 222 times this season, more than any player in the majors (by comparison, Matt Holliday tops the Cardinals with 127).

Hamilton says the pressure of playing up to his $125 million contract hasn’t been the problem but there’s reason to doubt that. Pujols said the same thing after his bad start in 2012 before eventually admitting he was pressing because of his contract.

2. Mike Trout. All those doubting Trout after he hit .261 and stolen four bases in April should be back on the bandwagon. The 21-year-old has hit .342 with 11 homers since and stolen 16 bases in 18 attempts (which should make a great subplot against Yadier Molina).

With Peter Bourjos injured again, Trout should be in center field for his first series against St. Louis.

3.  Starting pitching. For the season, the Angels’ rotation ranks 21st in the majors with a 4.23 ERA, which is more than a run higher than the Cardinals’ 3.18. But the starters who will face the Cardinals — right-handers Jered Weaver, Jerome Williams and Joe Blanton — have pitched better lately with each turning in a quality start their last time out.

The Angels will see the Cardinals’ best three starters with Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright lined up to oppose Weaver, Williams and Blanton.

Besides marking the first meeting against Pujols, this also will be the Cardinals’ first time at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

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