Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are swinging the bats like there’s no tomorrow. And after two underachieving months, the Los Angeles Angels are finally starting to look a team that could be playing into October.
Pujols homered twice, Trout and David Freese also went deep, and the Angels beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3 Monday night for their fifth straight victory. Just a week ago, they Halos were last in the league in team batting average and on-base percentage.
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"It took us a while to get going, but we’ll take it any time," Pujols said. "The main thing is being one of those eight teams in the postseason. Obviously, you wish you could have a better record than we have, and we’re playing like we should have a better record. We know what kind of team we have here."
The Angels (28-24) have 13 homers in their last five games — five coming in an 8-6 win over Detroit on Saturday during their four-game sweep of the Tigers.
"It’s fun to watch," winning pitcher Garrett Richards said. "We’ve got a talented team like we did last year. We’re a slow-starting team, as far as the history goes, but nobody in here doubts our ability to win ballgames. It’s a special group."
Pujols extended the Angels’ lead to 5-3 in the fifth inning with a solo shot to left off rookie Alex Colome, then hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Andrew Bellatti to end the scoring. It was his 13th this season and 533rd of his career, one shy of Jimmie Foxx for 17th place all-time.
"Albert’s resume speaks for itself," Richards said. "He’s a Hall of Famer. That guy with one swing of the bat can get you right back into a game, and he showed that tonight."
The three-time NL MVP, who has homered in four of his last five games, has 1,117 extra-base hits for his career — tying Foxx and Ted Williams for 16th in that department.
"I haven’t changed anything. I’ve been taking the same approach I’ve been taking for the 16 years that I’ve been a professional," Pujols said.
"My job every day is to get myself ready to play. Obviously, every night you want to get some hits and do something to help the ballclub, but that’s impossible. So the most important thing is to stay positive and realize that it’s a long season. Sooner or later, it you keep putting together good swings and quality at-bats, it’s going to come through. And that’s what’s happened."
Richards (5-3) allowed three runs, six hits and three walks over six innings and struck out four. He was 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA in five starts last June en route to a 13-4 record, but his season ended 5 1-2 weeks prematurely after he tore a ligament in his left knee covering first base in a game at Boston.
Colome (3-2) gave up five runs, nine hits and three homers in six innings. The 26-year-old right-hander had allowed four home runs in his six previous starts this season — all in an 11-5 home loss to the Yankees on May 11.
"Alex competed well against a hit lineup with some really good hitters," manager Kevin Cash said. "He made a couple of mistakes to their big boys and they made him pay. Ultimately, their home runs led to the outcome of the game."
Tampa Bay’s Nick Franklin snapped an 0-for-25 drought in the fourth inning with a two-run homer that sliced the Angels’ lead to 4-3. It was the switch-hitter’s first hit of the season batting left-handed, after an 0-for-20 start against righties. Franklin missed the Rays’ first 38 games with an oblique strain before returning to the lineup on May 17.
Rays: LHP Matt Moore, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2014, is scheduled to make his first rehab start on Wednesday for Class-A Charlotte, after throwing live batting practice twice and two more times in extended spring training games.
Angels: RHP Mike Morin, whose stint on the DL with an oblique strain has created a ripple in the bullpen, is expected to begin playing catch late this week.
Rays: RHP Chris Archer (5-4) won both of his starts last season against the Angels in matchups against Jered Weaver and Tuesday’s mound opponent, C.J. Wilson. Last Wednesday, Archer pitched eight innings of two-hit ball in his duel with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and wound up with a no-decision in Tampa Bay’s 3-0 loss.
Angels: Wilson (3-3) has a 3.12 ERA after eight starts, the left-hander’s second-lowest at this stage of a season since becoming a full-time starter in 2010 with the Texas Rangers. That year, it was 2.55 through his first eight outings.