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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Greinke makes Angels serious title contenders

Justice: Angels definite title contenders with Greinke

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Greinke makes Angels serious title contenders

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Are you surprised? You can't be, can you? You just had a feeling the Angels weren't done. They've been all in for 2012. Nothing else has mattered.

So from the moment the Brewers made Zack Greinke available last weekend, the Angels pursued him more aggressively than any other team.

The thing is, they probably could have won a championship without him. Perhaps that's the key thing to know.

They're leading the American League in runs since the All-Star break and have a pair of top-of-the-rotation starters in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. General manager Jerry Dipoto's trade for closer Ernesto Frieri has worked out brilliantly.

The Angels are 36-20 since May 22. Once Albert Pujols began to hit, once Mike Trout arrived on the scene, they've been as good as anyone.

Now comes Grienke, who has the stuff of a No. 1 starter and likely will line up behind Weaver in the postseason rotation.

Let's take a step back and admire them. Trout could be on his way to winning the AL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards.

He's one of the few legitimate five-tool players in the game. He has been so good that it has been easy to overlook 26-year-old Mark Trumbo and his 27 home runs.

They feed off one another, encourage one another and help each other through the high times and the low.

Weaver is putting up Cy Young Award numbers -- 13-1 with a 2.26 ERA -- and Wilson is smart and competitive and hoping to return to the World Series for a third straight season.

The Angels aren't a perfect team, and how's that for putting them in their place. If you want to nitpick -- and isn't that why we're here? -- you'd want another arm for middle relief, perhaps a left-hander as well.

At the moment, there's no team that looks positioned better for October. But you know how those things go.

The Rangers seemed almost invincible two months ago. That was before Josh Hamilton started swinging at pitches 12 feet over his head and the training staff needed a signup sheet to keep up with all the injured pitchers.

The Yankees and Nationals have done pretty good imitations of the best teams on earth at various times. There's a case to be made for the Reds as well, and only a fool would bet against the White Sox, A's and Pirates.

Yes, this is a strange season. At least 20 teams are still in contention, and this World Series may be decided by the team that gets hot at the right time.

With the non-waiver Trade Deadline still four days away, the Tigers, Yankees and White Sox have strengthened themselves. With the shelves emptying, the Dodgers, Braves, Rangers and others are still shopping.

In the end, the Angels and Rangers came to two very different conclusions about their seasons.

The Rangers have one of baseball's best farm systems and could have had Grienke if they'd been willing to give up their top two prospects -- shortstop Jurickson Profar and third baseman Mike Olt.

General manager Jon Daniels loves his rotation youth and talent, but he also wanted a bona fide No. 1 starter -- Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee or Greinke -- but he couldn't bring himself to pay the price.

He could still make a run at Josh Johnson, but if he wouldn't give up Profar and Olt for Greinke, he seems unlikely to do it for Johnson.

His team may be good enough anyway. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are gifted pitchers who are in the early stages of their careers. Either of them is capable of throwing a shutout in Game 1.

The Angels haven't been to the World Series in a decade, and with 3 million fans packing home games and with revenues flowing in, owner Arte Moreno decided to focus on 2012 and nothing else.

He began with a $317 million commitment to Pujols and Wilson. When the team started slowly, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. And on Friday, with starter Dan Haren struggling, the Angels swung for the fences again.

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

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