Posted on 10 September 2012.
ANAHEIM, Calif. One hundred and forty games are gone and 22 remain, but the most important ones the Angels will play this season start Monday night.
They have climbed to within one game of the American League wild card leaders, and one of the teams ahead of them the Oakland A’s arrive at Angel Stadium for a four-game series that will likely put the Angels in position to reach the playoffs or crush their hopes.
At one point last month, it didn’t seem possible, but now the Angels are right where they want to be back in the race and believing they can get to the postseason.
“We’re playing like everybody was expecting us to play,” closer Ernesto Frieri said. “We still believe we’re going to make it. The first day I came here, I believed we were going to make it. Now I’m 100 percent sure.”
Sunday afternoon’s 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers was another step forward. It was the Angels’ sixth consecutive victory, their 11th win in 12 games and their 15th in 18 games since Aug. 21. In that span, they’ve swept the Boston Red Sox twice, swept the A’s, swept the Tigers and taken two of three from the Seattle Mariners.
The common thread has been pitching. Zack Greinke held the Tigers to two runs in seven innings and has won each of his past four starts, carving out a 1.88 ERA in those games. His strong performance comes on the heels of solid starts by CJ Wilson, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren.
In the Angels’ past 15 games, their pitchers have a 2.25 ERA compared to a 6.51 ERA in the previous 15.
“The rotation is the heartbeat of your team,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “As talented a group of guys as they are, we’ve seen that when they’re off a little bit it makes it tough to move forward. When they’re throwing the way they are, you can get on a roll like we are right now.”
And here’s the thing: It’s contagious. One pitcher does well, the next pitcher wants to do better. When Greinke arrived in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers before the trade deadline, he was struggling and so were the Angels.
But as the rest of the starting staff has found a groove, so has Greinke.
“One thing I like is, when you’re seeing the other starters pitch good, you’re like, it’s not that hard,” he said. “Or you think, it’s possible to get these guys out. But if, say, the first day against Detroit, they score eight runs, and the second day, they score six, you’re like, man, it’s going to be tough.
“But when you see other guys doing good, it makes you more confident.”
That’s where the Angels are now brimming with confidence, scoring runs early and riding their starters and bullpen. Sunday, they got a leadoff home run from Mike Trout his second in two games and a two-run shot from Alberto Callaspo in the second. Then Frieri nailed down the win by getting the last four outs of the game.
Haren will start Monday against the A’s, facing Jarrod Parker, but Scioscia has been noncommittal about Tuesday’s starter, who will take the place of injured Jered Weaver. It could be Santana, but Jerome Williams, Garrett Richards and Barry Enright are also candidates.
Weaver, who has tendinitis in his right shoulder, threw in the outfield before the game and will probably throw off a mound on Monday in the hope he can pitch Wednesday or Thursday against Oakland. But nothing is certain.
All anyone knows for sure is that the next four games are critical to the Angels’ season. They hold their fate in their hands. After they’re over, they won’t face another wild card contender the rest of the season.
“You can make a case for every game being important from now to the end of the schedule,” Scioscia said. “The games are all going to be important.
“We need to focus on tomorrow’s game and just start to build that momentum. We’re going to have a tough game every day. I don’t think it’s going to serve any purpose to put a label on any series, but we need to continue winning. If we continue winning, good things will happen.”
So far, they have.