ANAHEIM -- Coming out of the All-Star break, the Angels enter what will likely be a season-defining stretch for the club. As it stands, the Halos are 45-47 and only three games behind the Rays for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and whether the Angels emerge as buyers or sellers will hinge entirely on their ability to keep themselves in the Wild Card mix over the next two-and-a-half weeks.
The good news for the Angels is that they've likely played their last game without superstar Mike Trout, who has missed six weeks with a torn thumb ligament. Trout is expected to rejoin the Angels' lineup on Friday, when they open a key three-game series against Tampa Bay at Angel Stadium. His return should help boost the Angels' slumping offense, which averaged an AL-worst 4.10 runs per game in the first half.
But Trout will not be able to single-handedly cure all the Angels' ills. With three starting pitchers on the disabled list, the Halos could use some rotation help, though the club's ability to make impactful moves is limited by its lack of a robust farm system.
The Angels had an Opening Day payroll of $166 million this season, according to Cot's Contracts, and owner Arte Moreno said during Spring Training that the club would have some financial flexibility to add players if needed.
Here's a look ahead to how the second half is stacking up for the Angels.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
The Astros have set themselves up to be the runaway winners of the AL West, but the Angels are still fighting to stay in the Wild Card chase.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Angels will open the second half with an eight-game homestand against the Rays, Nationals and Red Sox, three contending clubs which are all above .500. Their series against Tampa Bay will be significant, as the Angels will have an opportunity to gain ground in the Wild Card race. The Halos will then close out July with a six-game road trip to Cleveland and Toronto.
No Trade Deadline acquisition will likely match the type of impact Trout could potentially have for the Angels. Widely regarded as the best player in baseball, Trout was in the midst of his best season to date before he tore a thumb ligament while making a head-first slide into second base. Before the injury, the 25-year-old was batting .337 with a 1.203 OPS, 16 home runs, 36 RBIs and 10 stolen bases over 47 games.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Left-hander Nate Smith has been considered the Angels' best pitching prospect, though injuries have limited him to just one start for Triple-A Salt Lake this season. Still, Smith, ranked No. 4 among the Angels' top 30 prospects by MLBPipeline.com, seems to be recovering well, as he's tossed 9 1/3 scoreless innings with two walks and 10 strikeouts in three rehab appearances for the club's Arizona League affiliate. If Smith stays healthy, he could be in line for a Major League promotion in the near future.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.