They're sneaky, those Angels. Starting off the season looking a lot like last year's disappointing team. The rotation still floundering. Clutch hits threatening to become rumor.
Only look at them now. The Angels are quietly making a move. Putting together wins, moving up the standings, playing clean baseball and — surprise! — getting superb starting pitching.
A little over two weeks ago, the Angels were still a sub-.500 team (16-17), still searching for stability and direction. But with Friday night's 6-1 victory over the Royals, the Angels have won 11 of their last 14 games and pulled to within 2½ games of the Oakland Athletics in the American League West.
It's still May, but their 27-20 record at least hints at a team finally starting to turn things around.
"I don't know if you're going to consider this short sample turning things around," Manager Mike Scioscia said before Friday's game. "We're playing much better. That's what we're happy about. We have a ways to go.
"We're not firing on all cylinders. We don't have our deep lineup together on the offensive side that's going to pressure teams every inning. But we're getting closer to that."
The Angels at least have reason to believe this might be only a beginning. They are getting healthy and are poised to get healthier still. Slugger Josh Hamilton (thumb surgery) has begun a rehab assignment, and despite resting his thumb Friday, could rejoin the Angels as early as Monday.
After hitting 43 home runs with 128 runs batted in for the Rangers in 2012, Hamilton signed a five-year, $125-million contract with the Angels prior to last season. And if he didn't exactly bomb, neither did he live up to the high expectations, hitting 21 homers with 79 RBIs.
But this season he was off to a strong start, hitting .444 in his first eight games before injuring his thumb.
This week the Angels also activated third baseman David Freese and outfielder Kole Calhoun from the disabled list. And Friday they activated left-handed reliever Sean Burnett.
Burnett pitched to one batter in the seventh, inducing a groundout in his first appearance in almost a year. Burnett had an earned-run average of 0.93 in his first 13 games with the Angels last year before he was sidelined by the elbow injury.
"I threw great last year ,but it was painful and it was a mental grind more than anything to try and get three outs," Burnett said.
Yet the real key to the Angels' recent surge probably has been the much-maligned rotation. Jered Weaver is back looking like an ace, with Friday's win C.J. Wilson is continuing the run he started last June (19-5, 3.00 ERA), Garrett Richards (4-1, 2.90) looks like a rising star, Tyler Skaggs (4-1, 4.14) has been erratic but showing promise and Matt Shoemaker is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his starts as the new fifth man.
The Angels' rotation entered Friday with a 3.71 ERA and having held opponents to a .220 batting average — second lowest in the majors. Last season the rotation's ERA was 4.30, 22nd in baseball.
"Our starting pitchers have been terrific," Scioscia said. "That's one thing I think is getting lost. When people talk about our team, its Josh and Albert [Pujols] and Mike [Trout] and Howie [Kendrick], and guys on the offensive side who just have a chance to pound the ball.
"That's not what the foundation of our club needs to be. It needs to be what our starters can do day-in and day-out, combined with a bullpen that can hold leads. I think we've seen our team makes strides in both those areas. Along those lines, we're happy that's come together. That's really fueled our turnaround."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times