7/24/2014 2:02 A.M. ET
Angels have morphed into a monster team
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
If the Angels aren't the best team in baseball at the moment, they're on the short list, and isn't this how it was supposed to work out? Piece of cake, right, Mike Scioscia? You, too, Jerry Dipoto. No sweat, buddy.
Actually, the 60-40 Angels are a reminder that winning doesn't happen overnight, even when the blueprint is smart and the execution flawless. They're also a reminder that the best general managers find players here, there and everywhere.
The Halos were supposed to win two years ago after spending big bucks on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Didn't happen. They were supposed to win last year after signing Josh Hamilton. Again, didn't happen.
And now, just when some of us thought it might never happen, the Angels have morphed into a monster team. They're tied with the A's for the Major League lead in runs. Their bullpen is deep and talented after the acquisition of closer Huston Street from the Padres. And they have the second-best winning percentage and the second-highest run differential in the Majors.
Mike Trout is on his way to a 40-double, 40-homer season, and he is reinforcing his credentials as the best player on the planet. He'll win the American League Most Valuable Player Award by a landslide.
One of the wonderful benefits of the 2013 season was that the Pirates were able to show off Andrew McCutchen to an entire nation. There surely were fans who didn't understand that this guy is as great and as exciting and as dynamic a player as the sport has.
And so 2014 will be Trout's opportunity. He has been baseball's best player the last two years, but because the Halos play on the West Coast and because he hasn't appeared in the postseason, there may be fans who've seen only bits and pieces of his game.
Brace yourself, America. You're not going to believe this guy. Trout does everything well. He does it with confidence, too, with dazzle.
Garrett Richards is likely to be named on every AL Cy Young Award ballot -- and he and Trout are just the start. From second baseman Howie Kendrick and terrific shortstop Erick Aybar to Pujols and Hamilton, the Angels are an imposing club.
They're also tenacious. They came from behind to win, 3-2, on Wednesday night for the 31st time, tops in the Majors. They've won 13 of those games after trailing by at least two runs, and when teams do that sort of thing consistently, there's a confidence and a swagger -- and an invincibility -- that grows.
This season could also be a reminder about another guy who has been overlooked the last couple of years -- manager Scioscia.
Because Scioscia has been on the job for 15 years, it's easy to take him for granted, especially in Southern California. When the Halos missed the postseason four straight years, some suggested that his time had passed.
How absolutely and utterly idiotic. Almost no one is more respected by his peers. Almost no one communicates with his players better. In terms of dealing with people and running a game, Scioscia has few equals.
Scioscia may need another championship to punch his Hall of Fame ticket, but he's close. His teams have been to the postseason six times in 14 seasons and had just three losing seasons.
Unfortunately for the Angels, the only team in baseball with a better record is the one two games above them in the AL West. The A's and Halos will play each other seven more times this season. And then there's the Mariners, a third AL West team positioned to make the postseason, which could make for some must-watch baseball the last few weeks of the season.
OK, let's think big picture. The Angels are a tribute to an owner, Arte Moreno, who has stepped up in a huge way with a commitment to winning. And to a GM, Dipoto, who has worked tirelessly to fill every hole.
And Dipoto might not be done yet. He'd probably like to add a starting pitcher; cue the sound of two dozen other GMs saying the same thing.
Regardless of what else Dipoto is able to do, this team might be good enough. The acquisition of Street last week strengthened a bullpen that has a 1.97 ERA for July.
The Angels host the Tigers for four games beginning on Thursday, and if the series has the look and feel of an October preview, that might be exactly what it turns out to be.
The Halos have done it the right way. They spent huge money on a couple of guys. They've also gotten contributions from a long list of players from their Minor League system -- outfielder Kole Calhoun, designated hitter C.J. Cron, reliever Michael Kohn and others.
Dipoto focused on his pitching staff last offseason, acquiring starters Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago and reliever Joe Smith. He also got third baseman David Freese, a World Series MVP with the Cardinals.
Dipoto has kept at it during the season, getting three relievers -- Street from the Padres, Joe Thatcher from the D-backs and Jason Grilli from the Pirates. To look at the Angels now is to see a team with few weaknesses. Again, Dipoto would like another starter to put in a rotation with Jered Weaver, Skaggs, Wilson and Richards. He surrendered four players for Street, an indication that the Halos are all in for 2014. That means Dipoto will continue to work the phones over the next week in the hope of adding another starting pitcher.
Whether the Angels can get past the A's remains to be seen. Regardless, they're poised nicely for at least a Wild Card berth. Don't bet against them.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.