ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s taken the Angels almost three months to find themselves, three months to finally play the way they hoped they would in April and May.
It’s a little late, but maybe not too late to finally make an impact in the American League West race.
They are just past the halfway point in the season and still below .500, but the Angels are slowly beginning their long climb back. A 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night pushed them to within 8.5 games of first place, the closest they’ve been to the division lead since May 30.
“This is the kind of ball we expected to play early on,” pitcher Jered Weaver said. “It’s kind of the same deal as it was last year. We started playing better ball in the second half, and now we’ve got a nice little win streak going. Hopefully we can take a couple of more off these guys and keep it going against Boston.”
The win was the Angels’ seventh in a row, but that isn’t necessarily a reason to celebrate. They had an eight-game win streak in late May, then promptly lost 11 of their next 15, including a four-game sweep by the dreadful Houston Astros.
But in some ways, this feels different. Weaver pitched solidly, giving up just one run over seven innings and riding an offense that was efficient if not spectacular. The Angels scored all their runs in the second inning and finished with nine hits — all singles.
It marked the first time since June 29, 2011 that they won a game without an extra-base hit, but it hardly mattered. When teams are hot, they find new ways to win.
This one came despite a quiet night from Albert Pujols, who faced his former Cardinals team for the first time since he famously signed a 10-year, $240-million free-agent deal with the Angels before the 2012 season.
Pujols went down quietly, striking out twice, drawing a walk and then grounding out. But with Weaver keeping the Cardinals in check, Pujols’ off night didn’t matter.
Weaver was a 20-game winner last season, but a broken bone in his left elbow knocked him off track and put him on the disabled list from April 7 until May 29. But his stamina is coming back, and in his past two starts, he has yielded just two runs over 14 innings.
“He finished strong, and he got stronger as the game went on,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “That gave us some encouragement that maybe he’s getting his stamina back. That’s the way Weave can pitch. He threw some of his best fastballs in the later innings.”
Weaver, who won for only the second time this season, was out of the game by the time the Angels made their biggest defensive play of the night.
With the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, Angels left-hander Scott Downs induced David Freese to hit a sharp grounder to first base. Mark Trumbo made a back-handed stab on his knees, fired to shortstop Erick Aybar to get Allen Craig at second, and Aybar threw to Downs to complete the double play.
“That was the game-changer right there,” Pujols said.
And those are the kinds of plays the Angels are making now. Defense has been an issue at times, but not anymore.
“Everybody talks about pitching and offense, but defense has been a lot better for us as well,” Weaver said. “Everything is starting to click and come together, and we’re showing what this team is all about. Hopefully we can keep it going.”