Richard Justice

At last, things come together for Angels

Justice: At last, things come together for Angels

At last, things come together for Angels
When things were at their worst, Mike Scioscia's mood seemed to consist of some mixture of disbelief and anger. He preached patience and said all the right things, but there had to be a day or two when Scioscia walked through his clubhouse and looked at the names above the lockers to remind himself how much talent he had.

This wasn't Scioscia's first rodeo, so he had to know that talent almost always reveals itself during a 162-game season. The tough part was waiting for the fog to clear and the real Angels to emerge.

That they have done. When the Angels begin a three-game series against the Rangers on Friday night, they'll barely resemble the team that left Arlington three weeks ago buried in last place.

It's not just that the Halos have gone 19-11 since a 7-15 start and trimmed the Rangers' lead in the American League West from nine games to 5 1/2. Their pitching staff has a 2.99 ERA in the past month, and even with the offense still wildly inconsistent, they're scoring enough to assert themselves.

And there's that guy Pujols. More on him later.

To say no one saw a 7-15 start coming would be a huge understatement. In Spring Training, we'd asked questions about overconfidence and invincibility as we fast-forwarded right through the grind of a regular season.

They looked THAT good. Even if Pujols needed some time to adjust to a new league and new surroundings, the Angels had all that starting pitching to carry them through.

Scioscia would shrug and say he trusted his guys to understand that nothing is guaranteed. If there was a cause for concern, it was that the Angels had so much veteran depth that some of their best young prospects might not get a chance to play, and every organization would love to have that kind of problem.

Besides, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout almost certainly would get their opportunities at some point.

All things considered, we may look back on the first month of the season as one of Scioscia's finest managing jobs. With Pujols off to the worst start of his career, with the back of the bullpen blowing up, with slumps in almost every corner of the clubhouse, Scioscia kept things under control.

When the story of this season is written, we may look back on a couple of moments that changed things.

First, Trout, 20, was summoned from the Minor Leagues and inserted into the starting lineup on April 28. He's hitting .303 and has given the Angels a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup. Trout's youth and enthusiasm probably has had a nice impact on a clubhouse desperate for some good news.

(Likewise, Trumbo, 26, is having a fabulous season, forcing Scioscia to rearrange his lineup to find a spot for him.)

And then there was May 15. That was the day Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto let go of Scioscia's longtime hitting coach and close friend, Mickey Hatcher. But the more important news of the day occurred when Pujols beat out three infield singles in a game against Oakland.

Pujols began the day hitting .197 with one home run in 142 at-bats. As silly as it sounds, those three infield hits might have turned out to be a breath of fresh air. At last, something good was happening for him.

During Pujols' 11 seasons with the Cardinals, he was one of the most unflappable, confident, disciplined hitters of his generation. That Pujols disappeared during those first weeks with the Angels. He was lunging at pitches, failing to get around on inside fastballs and barely resembling the Albert Pujols of previous years.

Something seemed to click on May 15. He hit his second home run the next night and has been the same old Albert Pujols ever since. In the past 16 games, he's hitting .344 with seven home runs and a .403 on-base percentage. And the Angels are 11-5.

Others get more hittable pitchers because pitchers don't want to face Pujols with runners on base. Suddenly, with Trout's blazing speed at the top of the lineup and Pujols emerging in the middle, the Angels had the makings of the offense they expected to have.

As Scioscia predicted in April, the Angels weren't transformed overnight. His bullpen has been tweaked a time or two. Trout and Trumbo have become regulars. Confidence is growing.

The Angels aren't without worry. Ace Jared Weaver limped off the mound and onto the disabled list with a back issue this week. But for the first time this season, the Angels are emerging as one of the power teams in the AL. Just how we had it figured. Well, almost.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.