The Angels are living a charmed life. They're currently the hottest team in baseball, they have the best home record in the majors and they've got the All-Star Game MVP in Mike Trout. So what's missing? With 2½ months left in the season, they still trail the Oakland A's in the American League West. It won't be easy catching the A's, especially not since Oakland added starters Jeff Smardzija and Jason Hammel, but it can be done. Here are five reasons for optimism.
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY SportsSteven Bisig
Home sweet home
There's no place like home. The Angels are 32-15 at Angel Stadium and begin the second half with a 10-game homestand starting Friday night against Seattle. They also play 17 of their next 22 in Anaheim. Meanwhile, Oakland plays six of its next 12 on the road. This is an opportune time for the Angels to catch the A's in the American League West and make the stretch run the best show in baseball.
MLB Photos via Getty ImagesPaul Spinelli
Pujols is en fuego
Albert Pujols struggled through May and June but ramped up his offense over the past few weeks, driving in 20 runs in his final 19 games before the break. He'll need to stay hot behind Mike Trout to keep the Angels at peak performance. With 20 home runs and 64 RBI, he joins Trout (22/73) as the first Angels teammates since Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus and Mo Vaughn in 2000 with at least 20 homers and 60 RBI at the break.
Bullpen: What a relief
Although its likely general manager Jerry Dipoto may continue looking for relief help, the current group has been a source of optimism. The trade of Ernesto Frieri and the additions of Jason Grilli and left-hander Joe Thatcher have strengthened the bullpen, and so far, Joe Smith has proven to be a quality closer. He's 10 for 10 in save situations since June 1, while set-up man Kevin Jepsen (pictured) seems over his early season struggles (0.36 ERA in his past 17 appearances).
C.J. Wilson's recovery
Wilson went on the disabled list because of a sprained right ankle, but it's likely the move was made to help him regain his confidence. The left-hander has given up 31 hits and 19 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings over his past four starts, and unless he reverses course, the Angels rotation will suffer. If he gets back to being the old Wilson, he gives the Angels a solid top three with Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards. The Angels' rotation has a 3.75 ERA, 11th best in the majors.
Defense stays strong
It usually gets overlooked, but defense wins games. The Angels' fielding has ranked among the best in the American League this season, with fewer errors than all but four teams and the third-best defensive efficiency ratio. Shortstop Erick Aybar could win his second Gold Glove, and center fielder Mike Trout covers more ground than anyone in the game. Winning teams don't give away games with defensive mistakes.