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Things are going better for Angels this April

BaseballSportsProfessional BaseballLos Angeles AngelsJosh HamiltonHowie KendrickAmerican League West

The cruelest month comes to an end Wednesday. The Angels are not buried.

That counts as progress in Anaheim, where the home team has punted the season because of a poor April in each of the last two seasons. On the last day of the month, the Angels have a .500 record, and they are 31/2 games out of first place in the American League West.

"Is it better than last year?" second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "That's my only question to you."

BOX SCORE: Angels 6, Indians 4

The answer would have to be yes. The Angels beat the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, 6-4, with Erick Aybar collecting four hits and Joe Smith getting the save for the second consecutive night. Jered Weaver gave up two runs in 51/3 innings, and the Angels needed six relievers to get the final 11 outs.

The bottom line can be found in the records, and in the standings. The Angels last year ended April with a 9-17 record, and they were eight games out of first place. In 2012, they ended April with an 8-15 record, nine games out of first.

They're not crowing now, not at 13-13. The Angels are in search of their first playoff berth since 2009, but they have taken the first step toward the more immediate goal — a September that matters. You cannot win a pennant in April, but you can all but lose one.

"In the long run, if you don't come out decent, it hurts you in the end," Kendrick said. "The rest of the season, it comes down to the last month. You've got to set the table, obviously, before you get there."

The Angels might not have won every game, but they are in just about all of them, thanks to a solid offense and effective starting pitching.

The offense was expected. The Angels have averaged 5.4 runs per game, up from 4.3 last April and 3.5 in April 2012.

The starting pitching was not. The earned-run average among the Angels' starters is 3.58, down from 5.26 last April and 4.20 in April 2012.

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Even with starters Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in their first full season in a major league rotation, the Angels starters have thrown more innings than any team in the AL except the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox and defending AL West champion Oakland Athletics.

The bullpen is still a work in progress. However, the Angels have given up only six unearned runs in 26 games.

"We're still within striking distance," catcher Hank Conger said. "Record-wise, we're not exactly where we want to be. We have been playing good baseball. A lot of one-run games have gotten away from us.

"The biggest difference I really see compared to the previous seasons, knock on wood, is that we haven't been playing sloppy baseball. We've had a chance to win just about every single game."

Starting pitcher C.J. Wilson noted that the Angels have played well enough despite injuries to two-thirds of their starting outfield: cleanup batter Josh Hamilton and leadoff batter Kole Calhoun.

"We're still finding our identity as a team," Wilson said. "We're still fighting through injuries, the whole leadoff hitter thing, the loss of Hamilton. Our starting pitching has been better than it was this time last year. Our bullpen has been taking shape."

In spring training, the Angels set a good start as their first season goal, mindful of how April had gone the last two years. Should they be satisfied?

"Nobody in here should be satisfied with what we've done," Wilson said. "There is no satisfaction until the end of the season, anyway."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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BaseballSportsProfessional BaseballLos Angeles AngelsJosh HamiltonHowie KendrickAmerican League West
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