Many doubted if the Angels could contend for a playoff spot this season, but here they sit just two games out of the division lead. Of course, the Halos are also one game under .500 as well, so many doubters remain. Over the course of the next 13 games, all at home, those doubters will either be silenced or grow exponentially in numbers.
Call it hyperbole if you want, but this homestand is going to decide the course of the Angels' season. Contender or pretenders? Buyers or sellers? A second half of hope or torture? One way or another, we should have all of those answers, or at least be very close to them, by the time this thirteen-game set wraps up.
For most teams, having thirteen straight games at home would be an undeniable blessing from the Baseball Gods, but the Angels just can't do anything normally, can they? With a 15-20 home record, the Angels will no doubt be entering this stretch with trepidation rather than temerity. For whatever reason, the Halos just don't seem to take well to playing in the Big A. The last time the Angels had the "pleasure" of playing at home, they dropped seven of nine games in the homestand and saw their record drop under .500, a hole from which they have yet to fully extricate themselves from. The problem, as it has been all season long, was an inability to genertate offense (just 21 runs in 9 games, only once scoring more thant three runs in a game). The question of why they struggled is a classic "chicken or egg" scenario.
Did the Angels merely go cold at the absolute wrong time? Or did the home-cooking actually cause the lineup to get sick all over itself?
I'd like to think it was just a coincidence, but this same Halo squad could only manage a 43-38 record at home last season. That isn't a terrible record, but it isn't much good either, not for a team that hoped to contend. A season later, things don't seem to have changed, in fact, the seem to be getting worse.
That being said, the Angels have a chance to reverse their homefield fortunes. Despite their getting boned over by the umpires yesterday, the Halos are coming in hot, winning eight of their last twelve. As much as they might still be licking their wounds from the last homestand, the collective confidence of the clubhouse seems to be as high as it has been since April with no more mention of all the "boiling over" frustrations that we heard so much about during that last fateful set of home games.
Better than any rhetoric about confidence and good feelings is how the schedule has set up for the Angels over these 13 games. They start with the Nationals, who had been one of the hottest teams in baseball, but they also just had their manager quit on them, so they could be ripe for the picking, especially since the Angels have long feasted on National League competition. After that, the Angels get a rematch with the hapless Dodgers, whom the Halos have owned of late (that horrible call notwithstanding). Their biggest challenge will be the Tigers, a team they haven't faced yet, but Detroit is a legitimate contender, so it should serve as a strong litmus test for the Angels' contender credentials. Finally, the Mariners come to town. They've been surprisingly competitive, but they've also needed multiple bizarre plays to beat the Angels this year.
If the Angels continue their home struggles and come away at something like 5-8, they might as well put a "For Sale" sign on the Big A's front lawn. That could leave them as little as five games back of the Rangers or even as many as eight or nine games back. Some might consider that a gap that can be closed, but what confidence would the Angels have heading into the All-Star break like that? If you can't win at home after half a season, there is little hope for that to change in the second half. As loathe as Arte Moreno is to let his Halos be trade deadline sellers, he'll have no choice but to order Tony Reagins to spend the three remaning weeks before the deadline to start trading away parts like Joel Pineiro, Bobby Abreu and really anyone that isn't considered essential to the team building back into a contender next year.
On the other side of that hypothetical, the Angels could easily finish the homestand at 8-5 or better and overtake the stumbling Rangers for first place in the AL West. I really can't think of a better way to build momentum going into the break than battling back into first place. It might even be enough to get Arte Moreno to crack his wallet open just a tiny bit so that Reagins can bolster the roster's depth for the pennant chase.
How will it turn out? I wish I could tell you, but I can tell you that by the time it is all said and done, we'll have a pretty good idea whether or not the rest of the Angels' season will be worth watching.