Torii Hunter has peeked at the schedule coming out of the All-Star break, a grueling 23-game stretch with 13 games — 10 of them on the road — against the division-leading New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, and seven against Detroit and Tampa Bay, clubs with winning records.
The Angels right fielder isn't fazed one bit.
"When we're playing the way we've been playing, it doesn't matter," Hunter said. "We can play with anybody."
The back half of the rotation is a mess, their starting catcher is entering his third month on the disabled list, and there are still some soft spots in the lineup, but the Angels, thanks to a fresh-faced 20-year-old who wasn't even with them when the season opened, have their swagger back.
After their dreadful 6-14 start, the Angels, who open the second half Friday night in Yankee Stadium, are a major league-best 42-24 since April 28, the day heralded rookie Mike Trout joined them.
The speedy outfielder brought a Rickey Henderson-like presence to the leadoff spot, his league-leading .341 batting average and 26 stolen bases, his team-leading .397 on-base percentage, 57 runs and 88 hits, and his 12 home runs and 40 runs batted in jump-starting a lifeless offense.
The Angels (48-38) are still four games behind the Rangers (52-34) , but they're in the thick of the playoff race.
"The overall feeling in here has changed," said outfielder Mark Trumbo, who leads the team with 22 home runs and 57 RBIs. "The first month not included, I think we're one of the best teams in baseball."
Previewing the season's second half:
Keys to the offense
It doesn't seem fair to pin a team's World Series hopes on someone who turns 21 on Aug. 7, but Trout has been the driving force behind the team's surge, and he needs to continue being that spark plug. Manager Mike Scioscia thinks Trout is up to the task.
"Mike has the talent to put up the numbers he's putting up — this isn't a fluke," Scioscia said. "I'm sure there are going to be some rough patches, but … he's not playing over his head. He's playing to his potential at a very, very young age, and that's rare."
Keys to the defense
This is an area of strength — the Angels have premier defenders in center field (Trout and Peter Bourjos), right field (Hunter), first base (Albert Pujols) and shortstop (Erick Aybar).
It would help if catcher Chris Iannetta returned soon from wrist and forearm injuries that have sidelined him since May 9. Backups Bobby Wilson and John Hester have thrown out only 12 of 64 base-stealers (19%).
What must improve
Jerry Dipoto has no desire to trade Bourjos, but unless Dan Haren rebounds from a lower-back injury and Ervin Santana pitches more effectively, the general manager may have little choice but to package the highly regarded reserve outfielder in a deal for a front-line starting pitcher.
Haren, who is 6-8 with a 4.86 earned-run average and has allowed opponents to hit .297 with 16 homers, can come off the disabled list on July 19. Santana is 4-9 with a 5.75 ERA and 20 homers given up and has baffled the Angels with his inconsistency.
Who could help
Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke, both free agents after 2012, have been linked in trade rumors with the Angels despite owner Arte Moreno's aversion to rental players and Dipoto's reluctance to add much to the team's $154-million payroll.
A pitcher signed (Wandy Rodriguez) or under club control (Matt Garza, Edinson Volquez) through 2013 could be more attractive, or Dipoto could pursue a lesser-known, less-expensive starter for rotation depth without giving up Bourjos.
On the farm
Two players who spent significant time in triple A and could have an impact — hard-throwing reliever Kevin Jepsen and starter Brad Mills — are with the Angels now. One Salt Lake starter who could help is Garrett Richards.
Haren, Santana and Hunter are in the final year of their contracts and how they perform in the second half will go a long way toward determining whether they return. Vernon Wells, on the DL because of a thumb injury, has two years and $42 million remaining on his deal, but he might be a short-timer as well.
With Trout and Trumbo emerging as All-Stars and Kendrys Morales entrenched at designated hitter, Wells could be baseball's most expensive bench player when he returns in a few weeks. The Angels will have to eat most of his salary to trade him.
Haren and Santana bounce back. The bullpen, with shut-down closers Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs, continues to hold leads and the offense is productive enough to compensate for some of the soft spots in the rotation. The Angels get the best of the Rangers in head-to-head competition and win the AL West.
Trout is injured or goes into a slump and the offense begins to stagnate. Haren's back issues plague him all season and Santana continues to struggle. A not-so-great scenario: The Angels win a wild-card spot, but neither Jered Weaver nor C.J. Wilson is available to pitch in the one-game playoff.
The offense, when clicking, and defense are of World Series caliber, but the Angels need at least one front-line starting pitcher to play deep into October. That pitcher could come in a trade or it could be Haren or Santana.