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CLEVELAND -- The Angels' underwhelming offseason gave way to an equally underwhelming first half to the 2011 season. Had the Halos sealed the deal with Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre at the free-agent bargaining table or had the effects of Kendrys Morales' leg-snapping grand slam celebration not lingered into another season, they might have trotted out a more reliable lineup on a nightly basis. In turn, they might have more adequately supported their impressive pitching staff.
Reality intervened, of course. And there have been points this season -- i.e., when Texas rattled off six straight wins to start the season and 12 straight before and after the All-Star break -- when reality has seemingly sided with the Rangers. It sided with them again Monday night, as Jordan Walden blew a ninth-inning lead against the Indians, just as the Rangers were trampling the Twins with 20 runs.
And yet, the standings at large don't lie. The Angels enter play Tuesday just four games back of the Rangers in the American League West standings, with a 55-48 record that would be good enough to lead either of the Central divisions.
So what do you make of this Angels team shortly before a Trade Deadline at which they are expected to be relatively quiet? A Trade Deadline at which the Rangers might very well make a major move? Sure, maybe the Halos will bring in another arm to augment a bullpen that actually has the third-best ERA in the AL, but don't look for any impact bats to be added to manager Mike Scioscia's stable. It's basically up to those already here to determine if the AL West power shift that took place in 2010 is going to be sustained, or if an Angels franchise that once dominated this division will do so again.
Scioscia, naturally, looks at in-house upside and assumes that this team is going to remain in the thick of things if it taps into its potential.
"I think [owner] Arte Moreno has spent enough money," Scioscia said. "I think we need to get our game in-house where it needs to be. There is very realistic potential for that to happen. It's not like you're looking at something that's a wing and a prayer. I think we will be better offensively as the year moves on, and we've already seen some signs of that."
Those signs exist in Vernon Wells (still a puzzling pickup) coming up with 12 homers and 28 RBIs in his last 35 games after contributing just four homers and 13 RBIs in his first 40. There is also the optimistic assumption that Torii Hunter, Maicer Izturis and Bobby Abreu, who have batted a combined .149 (14-for-94) in the ceremonial second half, have more in the tank than they've shown since the break.
To this point, the Angels have largely been carried by middle infielders Howie Kendrick (.301 average, .812 OPS) and Erick Aybar (.286, .757), and Mark Trumbo (.253, .764) has, in his first full year, done an admirable job filling the void left by Morales.
By and large, though, this 2011 team, like the 2010 one that preceded it, is, at least offensively, a shadow of past Scioscia-led squads. The defense and the bullpen seem stable, and the starting pitching is among the best in the game. But the "get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in" mentality is a lot more effective if, well, you get 'em on. The Angels, with the 10th-highest on-base percentage in the 14-team AL, aren't doing a very good job of that.
Perhaps one day the highly touted Mike Trout will be a big part of the solution. For now, with Peter Bourjos back from the disabled list, it looks likely that the 19-year-old Trout, batting .179 through 12 games, is bound to head back to the Minors soon. Scioscia doesn't seem willing to tinker with the roles of Abreu and his veteran corner outfielders in order to squeeze Trout into the lineup on a consistent basis.
So for this team to take that next step and tackle Texas, it's going to need said veterans to rise to the occasion.
"Wherever we are in the standings doesn't matter," Scioscia said. "We need to get better as a team. Whether we were three, four, five or six games up or three, four, five, six games down, if we're going to hit like we have in July, it's going to put a lot of pressure on our pitching staff to carry us the rest of the way, and I don't think that's realistic."
In spite of their offensive faults, the Angels have managed to win 10 of their last 11 series, including the two of three they took against Texas last week. It's allowed them to remain relevant even when the Rangers have made their runs.
"For us to be in this position right now," Hunter said, "we definitely have to commend our defense and pitching for keeping us close in games. The way the Rangers have been playing, we can't afford to lose a lot. We have to maintain."
They might be able to maintain with a rotation like this. Jered Weaver (13-4) has become the ace of aces, taking a ridiculous 1.81 ERA into Tuesday's start against the Indians. Dan Haren (10-6, 3.01 ERA) has been revitalized, like so many others, by the cutter, and he looked sharp in 7 2/3 innings against the Tribe on Monday night after battling back stiffness in his two previous starts. Ervin Santana (5-8, 3.69) has allowed two runs or less and walked two batters or less in six of his last seven starts. Joel Pineiro (5-5, 4.61) has been a serviceable fifth starter. The key for the Angels is that when Scott Kazmir collapsed, the 21-year-old Tyler Chatwood (6-6, 3.64) picked up the pieces. His first no-walk outing against Baltimore on Sunday was a huge step in his development.
"He's maturing right in front of our eyes," pitching coach Mike Butcher said.
The Angels' starting core could be dangerous in a postseason setting. Just imagine having to face Weaver twice in a short series.
Alas, they have to get there first. And the Angels have their own internal issues to sort through before they can worry about what the Rangers do on the field or at the deadline.
"Our team," Scioscia said, "has the potential to be much deeper than we've shown in a lot of areas."
Deep enough to reclaim this division? We shall see.