After a horrendous start to the season, the Angels, the team we picked to be the AL’s best, is finally on track, playing the way they should with their load of talent. And it is NOT just the Albert Pujols factor that is making the difference. Two other elements have been just as important and are key to the rest of the season.
Besides Albert, the play of 20-year-old Mike Trout and the bullpen, in particular the closer’s spot, are the keys to success the rest of the year.
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|Albert drove in just 5 runs in his first 27 games, but has brought home 20 in his last 19, along with hitting six home runs, including five in his last 11 games. More importantly, look in his eyes when he comes to the plate. That worried, apprehensive look of the early season is gone, and he now is again the aggressive, disciplined, confident power-hitting run producer he was for 11 seasons in St. Louis.|
Just about as important has been the emergence of super-star in waiting, Mike Trout. Trout has done it all in his first three dozen games after being recalled, showing power, speed, and defense. He has hit a bit of a slump, with only one hit in his last 18 at bats, lowering his average to just under .300, but talent like that will be solid and consistent, for a long, long time. Sure, he may, after all, not quite be ready yet and have some struggles through this season, but in a couple of years, he will be one of the games’ best.
But most important of all has been the bullpen. Going into the season relying on second year closer Jordan Walden was a major question mark, and it did not appear that there was any real second choice on the roster. Low and behold, 36-year-old Scott Downs has emerged as the number one guy, and along with newly acquired Ernesto Frieri, the team has a solid one-two, lefty-righty closer tandem. With Walden now in a less-stressful role coming in earlier, the bullpen is solid and balanced.
Interestingly, the team has played its best ball with some missing parts. Of course, some of those parts were part of the problem. While the team needs the return of Torri Hunter – which should be early next week – the loss of Vernon Wells is no loss at all. the over-priced, over-the-hill Wells his an occasional home rune, but does little else to help the team win, and the outfield and the team are significantly better without him. 39-year-old LaTroy Hawkins has been consistently inconsistent over the past several years, and while he did get off to a good start before his injury, he should be considered no more than an extra set-up guy at the bottom of the bullpen, and not a potential closer as was considered earlier in the season when that spot was in turmoil.
The rest of the season should be a blast.