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Angels pitch to be playoff contender with easier schedule ahead

Angels pitch to be playoff contender with easier schedule ahead
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Manager Joe Maddon has made it clear. General manager Perry Minasian, too.

The Angels are not where they want to be through 55 games, stuck in fourth place in the American League West with a 25-30 record. They’ve battled injuries. They’ve suffered from inconsistent pitching. They’ve struggled to produce extended stretches of strong play.

But, after splitting back-to-back series against the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, they entered the month of June with renewed confidence, buoyed by recent improvements from their starting rotation and stability from the back of their bullpen.

This week, they embark on a seemingly soft spot in their schedule, with their next 17 games coming against opponents that are a combined 17 games under .500.

And when asked Tuesday how important these upcoming several weeks will be, Maddon didn’t downplay his answer.

“Very large,” he said, recognizing a key opportunity even with the season only one-third complete. “We have to approach this with almost a playoff mentality, daily. I know that may be kind of a reach. But my intention is not to go home at the end of the season and watch other teams in the playoffs. My intention, our intention is to be one of those teams. In order for that to happen, it has to start sooner rather than later.

“You just can’t keep putting this off and expect to turn the switch on after the All-Star break and have great things happen. We got to start getting those wins. We got to win series and we got to win weeks. That’s the best way I can describe it.”

So far this season, the Angels are 6-9-4 in series and have had only three winning weeks (Monday-to-Sunday).

Recently, however, there have been signs they might be steadying out, winning six of their last nine games (their best such stretch since the first nine games) even with Mike Trout sidelined by a calf injury.

Solid starting pitching has been one factor. In nine of the past 13 games, Angels starters have gone at least five innings and given up no more than three earned runs.

“Our starters are feeding off one another right now,” Maddon said. “They’re motivated, maybe, by some performances they didn’t like earlier in the year.”

Mike Trout is out of his walking boot as he continues rehabbing a calf injury.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Strides from the bullpen have helped as well. Steve Cishek has emerged as a late-inning option and is currently riding a 13-inning scoreless streak. Closer Raisel Iglesias has converted his last seven save opportunities and surrendered just four runs (all in non-save situations) in 12 innings during the month of May.

“At times, we’ve seen him come into games early the first few pitches and he just tries to ease into the outing, and the velocity is down a little bit,” pitching coach Matt Wise said of Iglesias. “But we’ve talked to him about, from pitch one, let it eat, get after it a little bit. … He’s open to information. He asks good questions. I feel very confident in him going forward.”

The lineup also has managed without Trout, ranking seventh in the majors in runs since his injury on May 17. And that was with Anthony Rendon struggling for most of the second half of May, a slump Maddon thinks the third baseman is busting out of after a three-hit, five-RBI performance Tuesday.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Maddon said of Rendon, whose .646 on-base-plus-slugging percentage this season is more than 200 points below his career average. “Look at the back of his baseball card. About a month or so from now, it’s gonna look like that.”

The Angels are hoping a month from now, their record will look much improved, too.

If not, it could leave Minasian with tough choices to make.

Speaking with reporters last week, Minasian said it was too early to say how the Angels would approach the trade deadline, whether they’d be selling valuable pieces or preserving the group for a playoff push.

For as much as the Angels might like the chemistry in their clubhouse — Maddon this week praised the “grit of his team,” saying, “there’s a bunch of guys here that do have each other’s back” — the Angels also have to consider the contractual construction of their roster.

More than a dozen players will be free agents this winter. Although the trade deadline isn’t until the end of July, they’ll likely receive plenty of inquiries — either way they go.

“It is still early in the season,” Minasian said. “But the next month is obviously really important. Hopefully we play better, and that will take care of itself.”





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