Surging Angels aim to stay hot vs. Mariners

( - The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will try to pick up right where they left off when they begin the second half of the season Friday night against the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium.

The American League West is essentially a three-team race, with the Angels and Mariners both in the thick of it. Oakland, which boasts the best record in the majors, currently holds a 1 1/2-game lead over the Angels, who went into the All-Star break winners of five straight and 10 of their last 11 games after completing a four-game sweep of the Texas Rangers.

In fact, their 57 wins before the All-Star break are a franchise record.

"When you're looking at the last 50 games, we're playing at the level we need to play," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's the challenge of the season. The last 20 games have been a tremendous run. Hopefully, they're poised well for holding up in a pennant race. Right now, we want to make sure guys stay fresh and healthy and continue to perform."

Seattle finds itself all alone in third place in the AL West, eight games behind Oakland and 6 1/2 back of the Halos. At the moment, the Mariners hold the AL's second wild card spot.

Staff ace Felix Hernandez is 11-2 with a 2.12 ERA, numbers good enough to earn him the start in this week's All-Star game. Third baseman Kyle Seager earned his first invite to the Midsummer Classic thanks to his team-best 15 home runs and 63 RBI. Newcomer Robinson Cano, signed to a 10-year, $240 million deal in the offseason, leads the team in runs scored (49), batting average (.334), on- base percentage (.393) and OPS (.855) to go along with 57 RBI. The bullpen leads the majors with a 2.39 ERA, a stark contrast from last year's unit that posted a 4.58 ERA.

"I think if we continue to pitch the way we're pitching and if we stay healthy from an offensive standpoint, we've got as good a shot as anybody else," manager Lloyd McClendon said.

McClendon will give the ball to Hisashi Iwakuma to start Friday's series opener. Iwakuma missed the first month of the season with a torn finger tendon, but he has been downright nasty over his last three starts, going 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA while striking out 25 batters and walking nobody.

Iwakuma is 5-0 with a 1.49 career ERA against the Angels.

He will be opposed by Jered Weaver, who threw seven innings of two-run ball against Texas on Saturday after a back injury forced him to exit his previous start early. Weaver has given up only two hits over his last 29 2/3 innings, although he has surrendered 16 homers on the season.

The M's have taken six of the nine meetings between these two teams so far this season.