Nobody entered the All-Star break hotter than the Los Angeles Angels, who are looking to carry their success into the season's second half.
Jered Weaver takes the mound opposite Hisashi Iwakuma as the surging Angels open a three-game home set against the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.The Angels (57-37) are a major league-best 26-9 since June 6, hitting .295 and averaging 5.7 runs in that span. Los Angeles has won five straight and 10 of 11 to pull within 1 1/2 games of Oakland for first place in the West."We're playing at the level we need to play," manager Mike Scioscia told MLB's official website. "It's the challenge of the season. The last 20 games have been a tremendous run. Hopefully, they're poised well for holding up in a pennant race. Right now, we want to make sure guys stay fresh and healthy and continue to perform."The Angels closed the first half with a four-game sweep at Texas, winning 10-7 in Sunday's finale. All-Star center fielder Mike Trout went 2 for 4 with four RBIs and Albert Pujols collected three hits.Pujols, batting .476 with three homers and 14 RBIs during a 10-game stretch, is one of many looking to pick up where they left off. The Angels play their next 10 at home, where they've won 18 of 20 thanks in part to their staff's 3.05 ERA."There's a level of talent and a confidence that we're going to come back," said Weaver, whose team owns the majors' best home record at 32-15. "We're playing good baseball. I wish this break didn't come, to tell you the truth."Weaver (10-6, 3.45 ERA) is looking to win a fourth consecutive decision after allowing two runs over seven innings in Saturday's 5-2 victory at Texas. The right-hander also reported no back issues that forced him from his previous start after two innings.Weaver is 5-2 with a 2.18 ERA in his last nine home outings, but he's 2-5 with a 4.12 ERA over his last seven versus the Mariners (51-44) after splitting two starts this year. Robinson Cano is 13 for 36 against Weaver and Justin Smoak is 9 for 31 with three homers.Iwakuma (8-4, 2.98) has also been on a roll, going 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA this month. The right-hander has struck out 25 and walked none over 21 2/3 innings during his winning streak.He carried a shutout into the ninth inning and came within one out of his first complete game in Saturday's 6-2 victory over Oakland."I feel great right now," he said through an interpreter. "I feel like the momentum is there. I feel like I can start off the second half the same way. You go through your dead-arm period and now I feel better. Hopefully I can keep this going."Iwakuma, who has never won four straight starts in a single season, is 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA lifetime against the Angels. He's thrived against Pujols and Trout, striking out the pair 11 times and limiting them to a combined 5 for 38.The Mariners, 6 1/2 games behind the wild card-leading Angels, control the AL's second spot. Seattle was denied a three-game sweep of Oakland with a 4-1 loss Sunday."I think if we continue to pitch the way we're pitching and if we stay healthy from an offensive standpoint, we've got as good a shot as anybody else," manager Lloyd McClendon said.The Mariners have taken six of nine from Los Angeles this year, including a season-opening three-game sweep at Angel Stadium.
Mike Trout has slugged .796 against pitches in the lower third of the zone or below, by far the best in the league (Victor Martinez -- .579). Hisashi Iwakuma has thrown 58.5 percent of his pitches in that zone this season, the second-highest rate among qualifiers.