Philadelphia, PA – The dusk of May is usually way too early to begin talking about a team approaching a make-or-break it portion of their schedule.
But as expected contenders for not only the American League West crown, but for the AL Pennant, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are no ordinary team.
The Angels looked as if they were in a fantasy baseball league when they landed both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in the offseason following the 2011 campaign. But that duo, along with eventual AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, helped Los Angeles improve by only three games in the win department and the Angels actually ended third in the division following a second-place finish the previous year.
With the rest of the division trying to keep pace with the Angels' talented roster, Los Angeles again opened up its checkbook to pull free agent Josh Hamilton away from the rival Texas Rangers.
With an offensive punch of Trout-Pujols-Hamilton and a staff anchored by Wilson and former 20-game winner Jered Weaver, there was nothing stopping the Angels heading into the 2013 season.
Los Angeles entered play on Friday 10 games behind Texas for first place in the division and is seven games under .500 at 20-27 despite a current season- high five-game winning streak.
Time to hit the panic button, right?
That could be the case by June 6, when the Angels will be one day removed from wrapping a 14-games in 14-days span against teams with losing records. Anaheim will take on the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs over that time and the Angels already drew first blood by beating the Royals on Thursday.
Including that outcome, the combined record of those four teams heading into Friday's action was 72-110, or a .396 winning percentage.
Even so, the Angels are in no position to take teams lightly.
"Every game on the schedule is going to be tough," manager Mike Scioscia told his club's website. "There's no such thing as a soft part of your schedule or a hard part of your schedule. We're playing much better baseball right now than we have at any time this year leading up to now."
To be honest, if the Angels haven't surged past the .500 mark by the end of this stretch, then the season may be lost. But L.A. is at least finding its rhythm with five straight victories, even if each win came versus a team with a losing record.
The offense is finding its groove even as Hamilton's struggles continue. Signed to a 5-year, $125 million deal before the season, the outfielder is hitting just .220 on the season with six homers in 47 games.
But over their winning streak, the Angels have scored 42 runs. Trout is batting .474 over the five games and has hit for the cycle once during that span. The future of the club is hitting .359 this month with eight homers and 19 RBI.
"We've been swinging it the past couple of days and you see what our offense can do," said Trout.
Pujols, signed through 2021, is without a doubt entering the twilight of his career and the money owed to both him and Hamilton may in fact cripple the club in the foreseeable future. But for now, Pujols is hitting .324 over his last nine games with three homers and still managed to pop 30 home runs and drive in 105 runs last year in what some still called a down year.
Though it will always be in the spotlight thanks to the money invested, offense really hasn't been the problem for the Angels. Instead, it is a collective earned run average of 4.57 -- one of the worst in baseball -- that has hindered the club.
But Los Angeles has pitched to a 3.89 ERA over the past nine and should have Weaver back in the mix by next week. The three-time All-Star has been out since fracturing his left elbow on April 7.
Weaver's return will certainly line the rotation up much better, slotting Wilson, Jason Vargas and even Joe Blanton into a better position.
While in theory there is still plenty of time for the Angels to make their run, continued stumbles into early June will leave management with quite a mess on its hands.