By Christian Ilten- AngelsWin.com Contributor -
Overall Record: 44-49. Home Record (At Angel Stadium of Anaheim): 24-25. Away Record: 20-24. Position in Standings: 3rd. Games Back: 11.
That was where the Angels were on July 14th, 2013, as they ended the "first half" and headed into the All-Star Break when Mike Trout was headed to his 2nd Mid-Summer Classic, at Citi Field in New York, and the rest of the team went to their respective homes and/or vacation spots using binoculars to see Oakland and Texas ahead of them in the standings. The Angels ended the season 18 games behind Division Champions, the Oakland Athletics, and a sour taste was left in both the mouths of players and fans as the "It's finally next season" came to an end worse than the year before.
In the off season, the Angels decided not to chase the big name, but instead made some moves to help better their rotation, and their offense in general. General Manager Jerry Dipoto made a move to help the pitching side, sending 1B/OF Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3 team trade that acquired LHP Hector Santiago from the Chicago White Sox, and former Angels draft pick, LHP Tyler Skaggs. In terms of offense, the Angels brought in their new hitting coach, former Angel and AL MVP, Don Baylor. Baylor's presence was evident from the start of Spring Training.
The Angels also signed right handed reliever Joe Smith, who, the Angels hoped, would be a formidable asset to the back end of the bullpen with RHP Kevin Jepsen, and Closer Ernesto Frieri. Prospects like young Mike Morin, Matt Shoemaker, and a few others, also looked like they would be able to help the bullpen, which was a weak point for the Los Angeles club the past few years.
The season had a stumble before it even started for one of the newer members of the clubhouse as, on a Ceremonial First Pitch from newly retired former Angel Vladamir Guerrero, Don Baylor suffered a broken femur, and had to have surgery that would keep him off the road with the team for all but the last road trip of the first half. To add insult to injury, the Angels were defeated by the Seattle Mariners, who made big acquisitions of their own in the off season, by the score of 10-3. This was the first of 3 losses to the Mariners in a row to start the season. The season's outlook got shadowed a little more on April 9th, when Josh Hamilton slid into first base, tearing a ligament in his thumb, and sidelining him for 6-8 weeks. A week later, Kole Calhoun was headed to the DL with a sprained ankle, out for 4-6 weeks.
One of the positive moments of the month happened on April 23rd in Washington D.C., as Albert Pujols beacame just the 26th man in the history of Major League Baseball to join the 500 Home Run Club. Although celebrations ensued, the team still struggled. Battling through their injured team, the Angels finished April a game over .500 at 14-13, only 3.5 games out of first place.
The month of May was a successful one for the Angels, going 16 and 11. The injury troubles of April having happened, the Angels took advantage of some "should-beat" teams, and ended the month of May five games above .500, and still sat 3.5 out of the top spot in the American League West. While although they had not gained any ground in the month, the Angels showed progress in the month, and also made it clear that this year may not be similar to the past few.
Moving to June, the Angels started winning, and winning a lot. A very big highlight of the month came on the night of Saturday, June 7th, when the Angels were down 5-1 to the Chicago White Sox. Chris Sale had a dominant start, until he ran into trouble in the 8th Inning. With the bases loaded, Chicago manager Robin Ventura decided to leave Sale in to face CF Mike Trout. Trout proceeded to hit his second career Grand Slam, as the Angels tied, and in that same inning took the lead. Just a few nights later, the Angels faced the Oakland A's, and the game would need extra innings to decide the winner. In the bottom of the 14th Inning, with 2 outs and the bases clear, OF Colin Cowgill hit a walk-off home run into the bullpen, that sent fans home cheering. These would not be the only times that Angels fans had the chance to cheer in the month of June, as the team ended the month going 15-10 (with a game against Cleveland postponed to September 8th, and a game against the White Sox that was postponed to July 1 as part of a double header). The month also saw the release of OF/DH Raul Ibanez, and a trade that sent struggling closing pitcher Ernesto Frieri to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for RHP Jason Grilli. Also, although the Halos had finished five games over .500 for the month of June, and ten games over .500 overall, the team found itself five games behind Oakland.
The month of July started with a doubleheader against Chicago, due to the rain out the night before, in which the Angels swept the day from the White Sox, and although they lost the third game of the series, started a roll that seemed like it wasn't going to stop. Just like in the month of May, the Angels took care of business against teams that they should beat. Sweeping four games in Houston, taking 2 of 3 at home against Toronto, and then sweeping a four game series in Texas (for the first time in club history), taking them to the All-Star Break.
Overall Record: 57-37. Home Record (At Angel Stadium of Anaheim): 32-15 (Major League Best). Away Record: 25-22. Position in Standings: American League West- 2nd; Wild Card- 1st (+6.5 games).
That is the Angels Record details as of July 14, 2014. Looking back at the first half, the Angels saw a puzzle that might finally be coming together. One big pieces of the puzzle, a man by the name of Albert Pujols. Pujols headed into the All-Star Break with a batting average of .279 with 20 Home Runs, 64 RBI, and .325 On Base Percentage.
Josh Hamilton's first half was very notable as well, as he headed into the All-Star Break with a .295 Batting Average, with 5 HR, and 26 RBI, posting a .373 On Base Percentage in the time that he was not injured.
Starting Pitcher Garret Richards had quite the first half as well, going 11 and 2 in 19 starts, posting an Earned Run Average of 2.55 in 123.1 Innings. Although he was not selected to the game, Richards is easily have an "All-Star" Season, and convincing many that he is a young arm that will help the Angels presently and in the future.
There is one more player that has been able to help the Angels, Mike Trout. Runner up two years in a row to the American League MVP won by Miguel Cabrera. Trout has an explosive few weeks to start, but then stumbled for what seemed like the first time in his young career. Trout's strikeout numbers were high. Very high. 95 Strikeouts before the All-Star Break has Trout on pace to go beyond his previous high, of 139 in his Rookie of the Year season in 2012, and yet, his offense is still at its best. Trout headed to the All-Star Break with a batting average of .310 with 107 hits, 22 Home Runs (On pase to pass his career high of 30 in 2012), 73 RBI and 65 Runs scored. Trout is a leading favorite of getting his first American League Most Valuable Player award this season.
There are many other big reasons why the season has been how it has. Names like Erik Aybar (All-Star), Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun, Mike Morin, Matt Shoemaker, a recently resurgent David Freese, and many others have contributed to get the Angels where they are, and get them on pace to where they want to be: October Baseball.
The Angels still have work to do, but there is no doubt that spirits are flying high in the clubhouse, and in the fans, because the Angels have made it evident: This year is going to be different.