Fresh faces taking Halos to new heights
Trumbo, Trout and Frieri provided lift when team was struggling
ANAHEIM -- Judging by their record (40-33) and standing (second in the American League West, five games behind the Rangers), the Angels are not what we thought they would be as they embark on a nine-game road trip through Baltimore, Toronto and Cleveland.
Those numbers lie. They're actually better than we reasonably could have anticipated.
Corrections have been made by new general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia following an abysmal 6-14 start that tested the resolve of the club and faith of the fans.
Since April 28, arrival date for Mike Trout, the Angels' 34-19 record is the best in the Majors. Albert Pujols getting comfortable certainly has been a factor, but the Angels' transformation revolves around three players: Trout, Mark Trumbo and Ernesto Frieri.
When the season opened, Trumbo was trying to play third base, Trout was regaining his strength at Triple-A Salt Lake after a debilitating spring virus and Frieri was a relatively obscure middle reliever in San Diego.
A case can be made that all three belong on the American League All-Star team for the July 10 showcase in Kansas City.
If you could combine Trout's speed and athleticism with Trumbo's power, you'd have a young Mickey Mantle. Not that there's anything at all wrong with a young Trout and a young Trumbo just as they are.
|"We were sitting on the bench wondering how anybody threw him out."|
-- Dodgers manager Don|
Mattingly on Mike Trout
The duo ranks among the league leaders in a wide range of categories, with slash lines and impact calling to mind Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly with the '80s Yankees.
Trout: .338 average (second in the AL), .399 on-base percentage (third) and .531 slugging mark. Trumbo: .316/.368/.612.
Trumbo is second in the AL in slugging and OPS (.980), fifth in average and leads Team Pujols with 17 homers and 49 RBIs. Trout leads the AL in steals with 21, getting caught three times, and is sixth in OPS (.931).
"We were sitting on the bench wondering how anybody threw him out," Mattingly, the Dodgers' manager, said after watching Trout run wild against his club over the weekend. "You don't see many Trouts. You see parts of the package, but not like that. The hype is well deserved. He's a game-changer."
Mattingly calls Henderson "the best player I ever played with," the standard for all leadoff men, and he believes Trout has that kind of otherworldly talent.
Good luck identifying a more dangerous leadoff man in the game than the kid from Millville, N.J., who won't be 21 until Aug. 7. His 43 runs scored and 91 times on base since May 1 lead the Majors.
Trumbo, second in the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year balloting, appears intent on being the Sophomore of the Decade. He left Giants manager Bruce Bochy shaking his head in wonder after his Interleague power display in Anaheim against San Francisco.
"Let him get his arms extended, he'll make you pay," Bochy said. "Tremendous power to all fields. But that kid's not just a slugger; he can play the game."
Frieri, acquired on May 3 for a pair of prospects, is in the midst of one of the most remarkable relief runs in memory: 22 appearances, 22 innings, four hits and no runs allowed, 38 strikeouts as an Angel.
Joining a potpourri of veteran arms, including shutdown lefty Scott Downs, Frieri was an instant hit with his unorthodox delivery and premium stuff. The Bolivar, Colombia, native has turned what had been an eyesore of a bullpen into an eye-popping, fire-extinguishing corps behind the best starting pitching in the league.
No wonder Angel Stadium, quiet as a library in April, suddenly is alive again.
Of course, there is that formidable roadblock in Texas. The supremely confident Rangers are showing no visible signs of distress or deterioration in pursuit of a third consecutive division title and trip to the World Series.
The Angels know the Rangers well enough by now to understand that they'll have to earn everything they get.
Trout, who appears to have Pete Rose's unbreakable will to go with Mantle's powerful frame and speed, clearly is up for any challenge.
"It was only a matter of time before this team was going to break out," said Trout, who will be met by dozens of family members and friends from Jersey in Baltimore on Tuesday. "Everybody goes through a slump. Ours came early. I wasn't here, but I heard a lot about it. It's not fun to lose -- especially with the talent we have.
"I think it's a matter of being more relaxed, playing our own game. Individually, we're doing what we're supposed to do. Torii [Hunter] has been tearing it up in the No. 2 hole, and [Erick] Aybar is getting it going. We saw what Pete [Bourjos] is capable of doing [two-run homer, double, walk on Sunday] when he gets a chance. Our pitching is great. It's really exciting."
The Angels and Rangers have split their six games, each winning two at home. They meet again July 20-22 in Anaheim and July 30-Aug. 2 in Texas. Then they won't see each other until Sept. 18, facing off six times in the season's final 15 games.
A great race is what everyone visualized when Pujols and C.J. Wilson climbed aboard owner Arte Moreno's train in December, lifting expectations to unrivaled levels down the street from Disneyland. And a great race appears to be unfolding, with both clubs clearly capable of carrying this argument to the finish line in October.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.