Keys for the Angels down the stretch

The Los Angeles Angels’ chances of making the MLB playoffs were at just 11.3 percent after a 5-13 start in the month of August, according to Coolstandings.com. They have since won 12 of 15 (including 9 of 12 on the road) and more than doubled their chances of a playoff berth to 27.9 percent.

Despite the recent hot streak, the Angels are still looking up at three teams in the AL wild-card standings -- the Athletics, Orioles and Rays -- with the Tigers right on their heels. Friday night’s game against the Tigers is the first of seven in a row at home against AL wild-card contenders.

Here is a look at the keys for the Angels down the stretch:

Pujols’ power surge

Since July 30 (30 games), Albert Pujols has been red hot, hitting .317 while slugging .690. Only Jay Bruce of the Reds has a better slugging percentage than Pujols during that time (.734).

The key has been crushing the hard stuff. Pujols is hitting .372 against fastballs, cutters, sinkers and splitters over the last 30 games with a home run once every 10.8 at-bats (4th in MLB).

The scary thing is that Pujols is hitting just .200 against off-speed pitches during the 30 game hot streak. That .200 BA and .167 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) should come up closer to his four-year averages of .269 and .270 respectively over the Angels’ final 25 games.

Haren’s fastball

Dan Haren had one of the most hittable fastballs in all of baseball during the first half of 2012. Opposing hitters boasted a .346 average and .588 slugging percentage in at-bats ending with Haren’s fastball before the All-Star break. Those numbers ranked 92nd and 89th out of 95 qualified pitchers during that time.

Haren has been much better with the heater during the second half. Opponents are hitting just .197 against his fastball (third in MLB) with a .465 slugging percentage. Haren has allowed just four singles in 33 at-bats (.121 average) ending with fastball during his last three starts.

Weaver’s health

Angels ace Jered Weaver has already been ruled out for what would have been his 26th start of the season this weekend with tendinitis in his right shoulder. Missing more starts could be devastating to the Angels’ playoff chances.

Jered Weaver Since Start of 2011

As the chart to the left shows, the 2011 runner-up for the AL Cy Young award has been nothing short of dominant over the last two seasons.

The Angels were off on Thursday and moved Ervin Santana, C.J. Wilson, Zack Greinke and Haren up one day without pitching on short rest. A Tuesday night matchup in Anaheim against the Athletics will likely be started by Weaver or his replacement.

If Pujols starts hitting off-speed pitches, Haren’s fastball continues to baffle hitters and Weaver comes back sooner rather than later, the Angels should make a strong push for one of the two wild-card spots.