Angels remain cautious despite five-game lead going into pennant race

Angels remain cautious despite five-game lead going into pennant race
Angels left fielder Josh Hamilton (32) has his helmet taken off by teammate Mike Trout (27) after returning to the dugout following Erick Aybar's run-scoring single against the A's in the second inning Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Angels players held their fantasy football league draft after Sunday's game, which means two things: The NFL season is about to begin and so are the baseball pennant races.

The Angels will enter their race with a five-game head start after completing a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics with an 8-1 rout Sunday. But a big lead, even in September, doesn't guarantee anything. Just ask catcher Chris Iannetta, who played on a Colorado Rockies team that once made up a five-game deficit in the final 10 games of the season to reach the playoffs.


"It can swing like that," he said. "There's a lot of baseball left. There's one month, but there's many games."

And Iannetta isn't the only one preaching caution.

"We've got a long way to go. I know a lot of people are counting down. Not us," said Manager Mike Scioscia.

Added outfielder Mike Trout: "We can't get too excited yet."

Maybe. But it's hard to imagine how the Angels could be in a better position entering the home stretch. Especially when you consider where they were just three weeks ago.

When the Angels woke on Aug. 11, they were four games behind Oakland in the American League West and had just lost starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John surgery. But the next day they started a streak that featured them winning 15 of 19 games, turning that four-game deficit into a five-game lead, the team's largest division lead since 2009.

The sweep of the A's also gave the Angels six straight wins and a baseball-best 83-53 record after 136 games, matching the franchise record. The last time they did that was 2008, when the team went on to win 100 games.

Add it all up and … well, it means absolutely nothing, Iannetta warned.

"It can go the other way just as fast," he said. "You could find yourself 10 games back. It could be that bad. You just have to keep it in perspective and say, 'You know what? We've got to keep going. We've got to keep grinding it out.'"

The Angels did that and more against Oakland's Scott Kazmir on Sunday, scoring six times in the second inning when Kazmir walked four batters — including two with the bases loaded. Erick Aybar contributed a run-scoring single to the rally, running his hitting streak to a career-best 16 games, while Trout knocked in two runs.

Iannetta and Trout also homered later; for Trout it was his 31st of the season while his three runs batted in gave him 97 for the year. That made things easy for right-hander Matt Shoemaker (14-4), who joined Nolan Ryan in the Angels record books with three consecutive starts in which he has thrown seven scoreless innings.

Shoemaker, who hasn't given up a run in 23 1/3 innings, also matched a team rookie record with 14 wins and, with a 6-1 mark in August, became the first Angel to win that many in the month since Dean Chance in 1964.

Add in a couple of impressive fielding plays from Aybar and the Angels did it all Sunday — hitting, pitching and catching. In the clubhouse, though, there was no premature exaltation.

"Right now we're still just in the heart of the pennant race," Scioscia said. "And you need to just chew these off one inning, one pitch, one game at a time. And that's what we're going to do."


But if the Angels are trying to keep from getting ahead of themselves, the A's are trying to keep from falling too far behind. To do that they'll have to stop a free fall in which they lost 17 of 29 games in August and went 29 consecutive innings without a run before finally scoring off the Angels bullpen Sunday.

"It was embarrassing. Pathetic," said A's Manager Bob Melvin, who held a closed-door meeting after the game. "We don't play like that. The last three games here were the worst I've seen this team play in I can't remember how long."

As the Angels keep reminding themselves, though, anything can happen in the next four weeks.

"There's a month to go and we're definitely a team that's capable," said A's third baseman Josh Donaldson. "So it's a wake-up call. This is the time of the season where you need to start playing your best."