One swing. Can it change a season?
The Angels were all but dead. Cooked. Over easy. Then rookie line and deep into the heart of Texas.
This was last Thursday night, late. The Angels were three outs from being dumped eight games behind Texas with just 37 to go.
With one swing, Trumbo pushed the Angels back to six behind the Rangers and launched them on a six-game winning streak. Three of those six wins have come in their last ups.
Now, they’ve crawled to just two games back after the Red Sox shut out the Rangers 6-0 on Thursday night. And as the Angels wing their way toward a showdown series in Texas beginning Friday night, by far the best thing going on the baseball calendar this weekend, they believe.
Weaver lowered his AL-leading ERA to 2.03 while stiff-arming the White Sox on Wednesday. Trumbo has 23 homers and 69 RBI, putting him on track to become the first rookie ever to lead the Angels in those two categories. Speedster Peter Bourjos, author of Tuesday’s walk-off base hit, is hitting .359 in August after hitting just .179 during May. And he’s making nightly highlight-reel catches in center field, where, according to Baseball Info Solutions, he’s saved the Angels 37 runs this season, most of any outfielder in the majors.
All over the field, suddenly, things are happening for the Angels. …
One phone call. Can it change a season?
The dramatic turnaround has been truly a team effort and, by that, I mean the entire team, all the way down to extended family. Hunter? He was hitting .232 on August 2 and not too far ahead of Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu in the ugly department. But on that date, he started an 18-game hitting streak and, now, he’s hitting a scorching .392 with a .448 on-base percentage, five homers and 15 RBI in the month of August.
The turnaround? He’s healthy now after battling a quad strain and bruised ribs. But no small key, he says, was a phone call from Matt Lawton, the former outfielder who was a teammate of Hunter’s in Minnesota.
“He told me, ‘What the hell are you doing, man? Keep your head down,’” Hunter said.
That small tip has worked extraordinarily well. Aside from being banged up early, Hunter says he was swinging for the fences too often, trying to make up for his team’s woeful lack of power and offensive production. Wells has been a bust. Abreu no longer is a power threat. Kendrys Morales’ season was finished before it ever started with a bum ankle.
Though Wells (.209, 17 homers, 46 RBI) and Abreu (.251, 6, 49) rapidly are becoming yesterday’s news, the emergence of Trumbo and Bourjos (and phenom Mike Trout is with the club as well) and the recent hot streak of Howie Kendrick (.328 against left-handed pitchers, two homers in his past five games) has helped.
Offensively, though, it is Hunter, 36, who has lifted the Angels onto his back by hitting in 23 of his past 24 games.
Just in time, too, because the Angels rank a lowly 10th in the AL in both runs scored and slugging percentage, 12th in on-base percentage. …
One decision. Can it change a season?
All along, pitching is what has allowed the Angels to escape receiving Last Rites. And they are close to leaning on their Big Three more than ever: Mike Scioscia, master of the One Game Is No More Important Than The Next school of managing, has indicated he may plug Ervin Santana (Saturday) and Weaver (Sunday) into the Rangers series on short rest.
“If you’re going to a four-man rotation or using guys on short rest three or four times through the rotation, some guys might unravel if they’re not used to it,” Scioscia said. “But this would be a one-time deal, so these guys should be fine.”
Neither Santana nor Weaver has started before in the majors on three days’ rest. But with the schedule now a 32-game sprint … Scioscia lifted Weaver after only seven innings and 95 pitches Wednesday despite the fact that Weaver was throwing a four-hit shutout.
“He came up and took me out a little early, and me being me, I wasn’t too happy about it,” Weaver said. “But it’s the smart thing.”
While Scioscia absolutely should give the ball to Santana and Weaver this weekend — even if Santana threw 115 pitches Tuesday and a career-high 129 against the Rangers last Wednesday — it’s no slam dunk, either.
Career, Santana is 4-6 with a 7.37 ERA in Texas (highest ERA of any road park). Weaver is 2-5 with a 4.09 ERA in Arlington (most losses of any road park.
Still, the Angels will live or die with their pitching. Their 3.45 ERA is the AL’s best. They’ve won 10 games when scoring two or fewer runs — most in the AL. They lead the majors with seven wins while banging out four or fewer hits. Thanks to Weaver, Haren, Santana and Co., they’ve done more with less offensively than any other major-league club.
“We’ve got some heart,” Hunter said. “I love the way we’re playing ball right now.”
As for the looming Texas series, he added: “Doesn’t matter. We don’t have to sweep the series. We don’t have to win the series.
“We want to, but we don’t have to.”
From just eight days ago, that shift could not be more dramatic.