The euphoria of a three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox was palpable in the Angels clubhouse Sunday, especially in the corner cubicle of closer Ernesto Frieri, who notched his 10th save in a 4-2 victory in Angel Stadium.
Having rebounded nicely from a rocky 3-7 trip, the Angels set their sights on the American League West-leading Oakland Athletics, who open a three-game series in Anaheim on Monday night with a 4 1/2-game lead over the Angels.
The A's throttled the Angels during a three-game sweep in Oakland from May 30-June 1, outscoring them, 26-11, and they've won five of six games from the Angels this season, firmly establishing themselves as the top dog in the division.
But Frieri, buoyed by the sweep of the White Sox and somewhat ignorant of the two-time defending division-champion A's dominance of them, still made a bold prediction that could find its way to a bulletin board in the Oakland clubhouse.
"We're going to beat them — get ready to write that down," Frieri said. "I hate to say this, but they've had a little bit of extra luck against us. If you pay attention to the way we've played, it's stupid how the games have gone their way. But it's going to turn our way."
Garrett Richards will take the mound Monday night looking to avenge his last start against the A's, when he gave up five runs and failed to make it out of the first inning of a 9-5 loss on May 30.
"It's a big series, a chance for us to show not only everybody else but them in particular, the guys leading our division, what kind of team they're dealing with," Richards said. "We have a really good team here, as you saw in this sweep. We had a crappy road trip, but we came back.
"The teams we had the last two years, I don't know if we would have done that. But this is a special team. I've been saying it all year. Everybody battles. Everyone is pulling on the same rope. It's a collective group working for a common goal, and that's what championship teams do."
The Angels, 11-17 against AL West opponents and 22-11 against everyone else, will have one key asset that they did not have in the first six games against Oakland: cleanup batter Josh Hamilton.
The left fielder, who sat out two months because of a torn left-thumb ligament, hit a run-scoring double in the third inning and a two-run single in the fifth off Chicago left-hander Jose Quintana on Sunday. In six games since he returned, Hamilton is batting .348 (eight for 23) with a homer and four runs batted in.
Hamilton, who hit .201 against left-handers last season, also singled twice off Chris Sale, one of the best left-handers in the game, Saturday, an encouraging sign considering the Angels will face A's left-handers Drew Pomeranz and Tommy Milone this week.
"It helps the confidence, knowing Oakland is coming in with two good left-handers," Hamilton said. "I'll try to do same thing; have good at-bats and put the ball in play."
Hamilton was hitting .444 with two homers and six RBIs in eight games when he injured his thumb, but the two-month layoff does not appear to have affected his timing. Of course, Hamilton has had some practice at this.
He was sidelined 24 games in September 2010 because of a broken rib and hit .350 with four homers and seven RBIs for Texas in the AL Championship Series. He missed 35 games in April and May of 2011 but bounced back to hit .298 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs for the season.
"Keeping your legs in shape is important so when you come back, you're not too far behind," Hamilton said. "But the biggest thing is understanding you can't do anything to make up for the games you lost. That's a big deal. I've done it before. I've tried to come back and do too much and ended up spiraling the other way."
Twitter: @MikeDiGivoannaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times