If Mike Trout plays in his first postseason this October, he'll have a lot of people to thank. Most notably himself.
Two seasons removed from his breakout Rookie of the Year campaign, Trout has ascended to superstar status. Entering play Tuesday, he owned a .310/.396/.605 slash line to go along with 23 home runs and 74 RBI. He was just named Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, and he could soon add an American League MVP trophy to his case.
Trout's not the only Los Angeles Angels player getting it done. After a disastrous 2013, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have bounced back to join Trout in a fearsome and finally healthy middle of the order. Ace Jered Weaver anchors a strong rotation. And recently acquired closer Huston Street should elevate a formerly shaky bullpen.
But if Trout steps onto the October stage, he should also remember to thank two relatively unsung heroes who've been equally important to the Halos' success: Garrett Richards and Kole Calhoun.
Richards entered this season with a career ERA north of 4.00 and as a consensus back-of-the-rotation guy behind Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Yet, the 26-year-old right-hander has emerged as arguably the most effective arm on the Angels; he leads the staff in wins (11), ERA (2.47) and strikeouts (134) and was one of this year's most glaring All-Star omissions.
Whatever he's using for motivation, it's working. On July 19, Richards faced the Seattle Mariners and their stud, Felix Hernandez. It was, without question, a measuring-stick game, a matchup against a division rival and one of the very best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.
The result wasn't good for the Angels—they lost 3-2 in 12 innings—but Richards acquitted himself admirably, tossing eight frames of one-run, three-hit, seven-strikeout ball and looking every bit as dominant as King Felix himself.
Like Richards, Calhoun came in with modest expectations. He opened the season as the starting right fielder and leadoff hitter, but he landed on the disabled list with a badly sprained ankle after just two weeks. When he returned, he found himself splitting time with Collin Cowgill.
Recently, Calhoun has made a strong case for playing every day. Since June 1, he's hit .329 with eight home runs. He doesn't possess typical top-of-the-order speed, but he gets on base and sets the table for the boppers behind him.
"I don't know if there's a hotter player in our league right now than Kole Calhoun," manager Mike Scioscia said on July 11, when Calhoun was in the midst of a two-week stretch that saw him hit .420 with a .482 OBP, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna. "He's seeing the ball well. He's swinging the bat well."
Well enough to spark one of the league's most potent offenses and to help the Angels stay on the heels of the Oakland A's in the loaded AL West.
If the season ended July 22, the Angels would nab an AL wild-card spot. But 12 years after winning the first World Series in franchise history and five years removed from their last playoff appearance, the Halos have their sights set on bigger things.
This is a team that appears primed to contend for a title. If the Angels do, Trout will get his due share of the credit, and the rest of us will get the pleasure of watching one of baseball's rising stars shine under the brightest lights.
Those lights will also shine on Richards and Calhoun, though—and rightfully so.