Albert Pujols adds two more homers in Angels’ 4-3 victory over Astros
Before the Angels opened a series against the Houston Astros on Monday night, Manager Mike Scioscia said he would probably keep Mike Trout batting third in the order and Albert Pujols fourth for the rest of the season.
“Unless personnel changes, which puts you in a different direction,” he said.
“With the group right here, I think it makes sense.”
It looked that way after the Angels’ 4-3 victory at Angel Stadium.
Pujols slammed two home runs for the 50th time in his illustrious career as the Angels pulled to within 41/2 games of the AL West-leading Astros.
Pujols hit a two-run home run over the center field wall in the fifth inning against starter Brett Oberholtzer to put the Angels ahead, and then blasted another homer against reliever Josh Fields in the seventh.
Pujols now has an American League-leading 23 homers, 12 this month. He has 15 homers in his last 24 games.
Scioscia moved Trout from second to third in the lineup and Pujols from third to fourth on June 16.
Trout has grown accustomed to Pujols’ power exploits.
“Right now,” Trout said before the game, “it seems like he’s squaring up everything he’s swinging at.”
The Angels needed Pujols’ blasts and an eighth-inning, run-scoring bunt by Daniel Robertson to hold off the Astros.
The last time the Astros visited Angel Stadium, they arrived with the best record in the American League and a five-game lead in the AL West.
The question in early May: Could the rebuilt Astros maintain that level?
Nearly two months later, not much has changed.
They entered Monday night’s game against the Angels with a 41-30 record — the most wins in the AL.
Monday’s loss to the Angels might just be a bump in the road for a franchise that lost 100 or more games in three consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2013 but has led the division since April 19.
Angels starter Hector Santiago acknowledged before the series that there was skepticism about the Astros in April and early May.
“We weren’t sure, but they’re in first place, have a lead, right now, they’re the team to beat,” Santiago said.
The Astros entered Monday leading the major leagues with 103 home runs and 665 strikeouts. They were first in the American League with 56 steals.
Their 3.65 staff earned-run average ranked fourth in the league and the bullpen ERA (2.56) ranked second.
Catcher Hank Conger, who was traded from the Angels to the Astros last November, said early media and fan skepticism about the Astros was not unfounded because of the team’s previous struggles.
“But you really look at this collective group — it sounds weird — it just kind of clicks,” Conger said."We have a good group of guys.
“We rely on the long ball as far as offense a lot, but I think our pitching has been doing an outstanding job.”
Conger said players in the clubhouse have not been surprised by their success.
“After the first week or two that we played, I think guys kind of really bought into, ‘Hey, we have a really good team. We can get on a good roll here and we can contend.’
“With the guys that have been here previously, and guys coming in, thinking that way is bigger than anything else.”
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.
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